Thought Vault exists simply as a place for ideas to be shared. No filters, just voices. Peace.
Text Anthony Thomas
You might not know it yet but cool has been redefined, and we have Brothers Hand Mirror to thank for that. “Who the hell are they?” I hear you asking? BHM is the collaborative effort between two of Melbourne’s most relevant and ground breaking musicians; HTMLflowers and Oscar Key Sung. They are an Australian hip hop duo, yes, but one that defies and challenges the associated stigma. They are a creative powerhouse standing proudly at the intersection where music, hope, melancholy, art, and friendship, fuse seamlessly. Oscar crafts the soundscape with his textured beats and arrangements, while HTML simultaneously weaves his messages through the sonic fabrics with rap verses more akin to poetry than lyrical prose. It is raw and thought provoking music that, at first, may seem abrasive, but don’t back down; it’s not supposed to be easy. Allow yourself to surrender and become completely immersed in its genius. Behind all these words though, the bottom line is that BHM are real. The concept of music from the heart is foreign in today’s musical climate and if nothing else, this resistance to conform to the norm is what makes BHM so special. I realise this sounds ridiculously illustrious so I thought having a cyber chat with HTML himself would put your doubts to bed.
MM: How are things?
HF: Things are good. I am drawing at the kitchen table, drinking in some Shabazz Palaces and working on a new set of comedy fashion drawings for free give away at our upcoming performance at Sugar Mountain. It’s just HTMLflowers here by the way, Oscar is busy exploring the culture of our local basketball courts for percussive inspiration (mmmm, all those balls smacking the burning pavement) and a bit of healthy DIY Phys Ed.
MM: Nice. Do you guys like to stay active?
HF: We do. I personally believe that a well-tended inner strength and sensitivity can be a thing that simply grows too much and puts your heart out of orbit with the rest of your physicality, if I can get a little metaphorical here, if it is not tethered by practice of regular physical exertion and growth. I think many artists and thinkers utilise their minds and emotions to an obsessive extent without giving the body any light. I try to run daily, though often I get my time balance wrong and I do over emphasize my work, Oscar has a far healthier balance than I do in that respect. One look at his shoe collections and you will notice two things right away – this boy likes to look good and this boy likes to play some basketball.
MM: The new EP, Muddy Now, has been out for just over a month now. Have people been digging it?
HF: Yes, we have received a lot of love and support for it, a good deal of radio play, some beautiful tumblr messages, also general support and kindness face to face with friends, family and our fan base. Thanks everybody, the love is mutual.
MM: When I first heard your music I couldn’t help but be reminded of Tricky and similar artists. Who do you look up to musically or otherwise?
HP: Wow, I have never had anyone compare us to Tricky. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez, and all of TLC, was a big influence on me when I was child. As were Salt n’ Pepa, Public Enemy, MC Lyte and al ot of other pop hip hop of the 80’s and 90’s. J -Dilla, Arthur Russell, Flying Lotus, Prince, Bjork have all played a part in the influence of our beats I would say. Currently I am very into Mykki Blanco, Zanzibar Chanel, House Of Ladosha, Fox & Sui, Ghostpoet, Azaelia Banks, Zebra Katz, Collarbones, Lief, Jessica Says, Patinka Cha Cha, Major Napier, Shabazz Palaces…it’s a very exciting time for singing, beat-making and general feelings sharing, in my opinion.
MM: Why’s that?
HP: Well we have strong womyn, queer, transfolk, non-gender conforming and POC artists getting some much needed light and at once increasing the dialogue of pop culture but also heavily criticizing the state of commercialist pop culture and all of its problematic paradigms. In Melbourne, we have artists like Zanzibar Chanel who produce synth driven house beats for boys who like to imitate their idol divas in full makeup at the club. In Sydney and Adelaide, we have Collarbones which is Travis Cook and Marcus Whale dig through popular culture digitizing things beyond recognition until they have built a soundscape at once pumping and dark enough for murky to sing pop Rn’B framed ballads and club jams to the boys who arouse his love and the ones who he has grown apart from, who he wishes he could still see in colour.
We have amazing artists indulging their cottony hearts and sensitive temperaments like Becky (Sui Zhen) alongside her BF Andy forming to create Fox & Sui (Melb) who make songs that sounds like early love feels – inspired with wonder at the world, obsessed with the simplicity of adventure and imagination in one another’s arms. And of course my boy Oscy in his solo project Oscar Key Sung where he balances his ambitious frail heart across a blade of thundering bass, extending the sharp tip up to the chest of every single audience member of the crowd with stripped back one persyn performances that often invoke sweat and tears. So I would say it’s a beautifully inclusive era of growth.
As well beat-making, in a global way, is at the point in my opinion where it has really begun to dig into dissonant sound, abused sound, lo fidelity sound; sounds that I wouldn’t have been expecting hear anywhere outside of a friends basement back when we used to play our new ideas to each other every weekend about 7 or so years ago. Not that we don’t now. It’s just grown a lot and the basements won’t hold us anymore a lot of the time. Some of the beats ASAP Rocky, Mykki Blanco, Shabazz Palaces are hitting have tones and textures in them that could have came from our dreams as teens fucking with delay pedals and disintegrating loops (lols, rep basinski). So yeah, I guess why I find it exciting is that it is a time for the often less heard and un-catered too or cared for express themselves with beats, poems, feelings and experimentations in sound, which is what hip hop and it’s culture is all about to me, it’s something I can relate too.
MM: Being a duo, is the writing process heavily collaborative?
HP: Yes, I try to consider what Oscar would like to hear in song when I write and I think Oscar builds beats for me based on what he thinks I would like to rap on or a space of sound in which I would vogue free and elastic, if you catch my drift. LOL so weird. We write a lot of it together in the same room at the same time. I think our music could be seen as an ongoing conversation between two intimate friends who desire to tell each other the things they have seen in the world, the feelings they have felt, and the dreams they rely on. I mean you could see it that way if you were feeling heaps romantic about what we do, LOL.
MM: I like that. How long have you guys been friends for?
HP: Well I guess it coming up on 3 or more years. I mean we had a quick bonding friendship where the honeymoon period just keeps coming back. The name of our group, Brothers Hand Mirror, is a reference to how many things we have in common. We have one of those wild friendships where we are always saying “oh my gosh you do that to? YOU’RE LIKE THE ONLY OTHER PERSYN I HAVE EVER MET IN MY WHOLE LIFE THAT DOES THAT TOOOOOOO!” We often find we have been doing things separately without having talked to each other only to find we are both involved in the same new practice or avenue of thought. It’s beautiful, I love that boy. Oscy <3 Grant 4 LYF.
MM: It’s all well and good for people to label your music hip-hop or whatever, but what is it you guys set out to create?
HP: Well we do set out to create hip hop on one hand, on the other hand we simply enjoy building small ecosystems from scraps – 2 or 3 seconds of a half-finished chord progression found on an old reel of cassette, Oscar then augments that with his own voice, a keyboard or a number of other instruments and production techniques. I dig through old notebooks – I am diligent to keep current ones and I try to listen for when something beautiful is said in passing or when a friend has a story to tell me, then I break that down into digestible chants, or a few lines of imagery and sing it with as much conviction as I can summon.
MM: BHM, lyrically, is heavily conceptual. Were you a dreamer as a child?
HP: What does heavily conceptual mean? Aren’t all forms of poetry heavy with concepts, especially in the context of hip hop? I was a shy dreamer as a child and I have been lucky to have had enough support throughout my life (thanks mom) to become a proud dreamer in my “adult-hood”. Dreams and their associative imagery and narrative play a large part in the development of my song writing habits. That’s also why I have found a home working in hip hop, because you are encouraged to believe in your unconscious associations, to draw metaphor from your experience and communicate as you see fit, not by a traditional standard of speech or language. This also resonates well with me since I was absent for much of the institutional education in reading, and writing, and speaking that most people receive in their formative years, due to chronic illness.
MM: The themes are quite personal typically. Do you enjoy creating gritty and challenging music?
HP: I like to be honest. I draw directly from my experience and day-to-day life to cope with the things I have seen or felt; to re-create them for the enjoyment and hopefully education in some instances for others. I have found in my life that if you are trying your best to tell it like you see it can be seen as being gritty and challenging, I am cool with this perception of my style tho. Oscar and I both have a history rooted in dissonant noise, lo fidelity recording practices and a love of something that can deconstruct what a pop song is, while still hitting that sweet spot that lies between “I need to fucking dance right now” feelings and “I have never heard a sound like that before in my life” feelings. So yes, I like doing what I do exactly how I do what I do, know what I mean?
MM: Exactly. That’s where I was coming from with the heavily conceptual comment. There are ideas behind the music not just a “slap that hoe” sentiment. Does commercial hip-hop bother you?
HP: Absolutely it bothers me. Misogyny is a selling point in all forms of commercial pop culture and it totally sickens me. But I would say while hip hop has a tendency to be held up as the mascot for bad values (for a number of different and important reasons to consider) it also has the most going for it in terms of outwardly and explicitly combating misogyny, homophobia, commercialism, classism and racism, which is what it was originally utilized for in the late 70’s early 80’s by the Zulu Nation.
Hip hop’s purpose is to address these things and expose the harm they have on our lives through the sharing of knowledge, positivity and peaceful, vibrant dance parties where we can unify as entities of love and support to learn from one another. So while I don’t think that hip hop is particularly more commercially driven and problematic than any other art form existing in our oppressive capitalist culture, I do believe it is particularly wack to be using hip hop as a vehicle for those sentiments.
But it happens with every art form when it becomes a viable commodity. I mean I still remember Good Charlotte singing that song “lifestyles of the rich and the famous, there always complaining, always complaining – if money is such a problem, I think we should rob them,” but just the other day at the store I saw on the cover of a magazine, “Why Joel Madden Fired His Stylist!” so there is an example of a group that started out by trying to paint themselves as outside and against the norm in lyrical content (even though it was clear to anyone who was paying attention that they were peddling a political candy pop-punk from the outset) but they show us with their actions that they perceive punk as an aesthetic choice – like the brand of hair gel you wear – rather than an art form that educates your understanding of reality and life as you know it; that you in turn owe respect and further progression closer toward its opulent form from where your generation originally found it.
Shit, at least with Snoop Dog we were never confused or tricked “got my mind on my money and my money on my mind.” I will always take an honest persyn I can disagree with over some fool pandering to what he thinks I want only to be appearing on Newsweek a decade or so later announcing to the world that he has committed the ultimate rebellion – fired his stylist! Any art that thoughtlessly and heartlessly regurgitates ideals from the marketing team’s Bible of successful subject matter is always going to be suspect to me. I can love a lyric within a song I disagree with, or a sound from it, but I will never follow those artists into an uncertain place of discovery trusting them with my blood and time like I have with so many honest voices before.
MM: The cover art is awesome. You guys are artists as well right? Is it your own design?
HP: Thank you. Yes we are both visual artists as well, I tattoo, paint and draw comics, and Oscar illustrates, embroiders and collages. It is my design, the image is a warp of a soap add from the 1960’s from a pile of very old magazines that Oscar gave me, so you could consider it a collage of edited found imagery and my own handwriting/computer processing. I still use preview, I don’t even have Photoshop, lol.
MM: Is BHM an entity that allows you to combine your passion for music and art?
HP: Yes, also fashion, tattooing and friendship. I’ll put it this way; if one of us is taking some time perfecting a snare or twisting an image, the other is often drawing while waiting to continue practicing or making [music] together. Then usually, we put these drawings in our zines and the paper versions of our releases. We also make an effort to pursue our individual characters through fashion and try to make that a cohesive thing when we go out to perform, as in we co-ordinate our outfits. LOL. Basically, we just try to use the strength of our friendship and our work as Brothers Hand Mirror to free ourselves emotionally and creatively.
MM: It’s obviously important, but every artist is different when it comes to their live shows. Where does the live element slot in with you guys?
HP: To us, it’s very important. We usually write a song and play it live many times to refine it in performance before recording. We dialogue with our crowd, listen to them and see what they love, what inspires them about us. When I see that a few hundred people have gathered to hear what I have to say and get low under the influence of one of Oscar’s beats, I have the feeling that I want to do everything I can for them in that evening. It has gotten to the point where I have instigated make-out parties, putting myself up for offer to the first person who wants it and is brave enough to come to the front of the stage. Lol. I mean that’s at once just a silly party thing and also a really good example of how I feel toward our fan base who support us. Sometimes I feel as though I would do anything for them. That’s why the commix, that’s why the matching outfits, that’s why the dancers, that’s why the energy. It’s a self perpetuating organism; we both bring the love (BHM and the crowd) and as we share it back and forth it grows and reverberates to fantastic proportions. The minute we are in that room with those people, I no longer feel individual or self orientated. I feel dedicated to satisfying the audience and in turn, myself in as many ways as I can before the inevitable after-show dance session, and later than that the satisfied, often solitary walk home where I can look back on the night and think, “Fuck yeah, I felt them and they felt me, that’s my true home.”
MM: 2013. Any plans? Would be great to see you guys up North…
HP: Yeah, we really wanna record, tour, release and give away more free commix even more than we did this year, maybe in a global context. It’s hard to say; we are both broke as hell but we really, really want it. We are trying to be all disciplined, and determined, and stylish, and shit. Looking good adorned in sun with our hair all long, hopefully we’ll get picked up by some hottie on their way to paradise and we can dink on the golden handles bars as the sun sets above. Know what I mean? lolz, I gotta stop doing these interviews first thing when I wake up, I’m still all dream headed.
MM: Thanks for chatting man!