Throwing The Rulebook Out with X CLUB.
Ben Clarke (Nora Drum) and Jesse Morath (DJ Speed) may have been brought together for an impromptu back to back set some four years ago, but in just a few short years, they have united as one singular force, and quickly become one of the country’s most promising names. That force (now known as X CLUB.) delivers techno-tinged, purposeful dance music intended to make you feel just as much as it is to make you dance. It’s driving, propulsive, emotive and introspective, and masterfully put together to suit solo headphone listening or pulsing DIY dancefloors.
With forces beyond their control working against them for most of the year, X CLUB.’s success is even more fascinating. The obvious global pandemic, and consequent screeching halt the arts industry at large was brought to because of it, saw the duo reschedule and completely cancel shows throughout most of 2021. Cutting off the viral lifeline an emerging act needs to breakthrough — performing — X CLUB. continued to grow, inking deals with global tastemaking labels, unleashing three exceptional records and legitimising the team around them so when the moment finally happened that they could play elsewhere, they were ready to do so.
It’s this determination and ambition which sets them apart from the slew of bedroom producers. In a time when dance music remains overly saturated with mysterious and intentionally aloof artists, X CLUB. kept their love of bringing experiences to their fans and communities in plain sight. Plus, buoyed by those around them in the incredibly supportive Meanjin underground dance scene, they maintained a strong link to what was available to them by playing local bills and throwing parties as GRID when they could.
Ultimately, as seen by their impressive and lengthy list of achievements in just 12 months, it’s paid off. X CLUB. have permeated the online spaces as much as they have their hometown events calendar, counting Mall Grab, Kettama, HAAi and more as fans, with their tracks being played to raucous and jam packed crowds all over the world.
Still just as inspired by their experiences now as they were when they were after that fateful B2B, X CLUB. are now gearing up for their biggest tour yet which kicked off in their home of Meanjin (Brisbane), and will see them finally play in Naarm (Melbourne) and Warrang (Sydney), as well as a quick stop in Mulubinba (Newcastle) to see out the year in true X CLUB. style. Pulling off shows which have to be seen to be believed, this tour marks the end of one thrilling chapter and the start of another, with 2022 set to only continue the duo’s trajectory into the stratosphere.
Here, I chatted with Clarke and Morath for one of their very first interviews to dive into where it all began, why they believe rules were made to be broken, and what they think is still to come.
You just wrapped up the first date of your Friends of Friends tour and it was a sold out hometown show. Talk me through the lead up to this tour and kicking it off at home?
Ben: We’ve never done a tour like this where there was no official Facebook event or anything. All we did was say, “Hey, we’re gonna go on tour!” And we got people to sign up to our mailing list. And I think because of that, we didn’t expect such a crazy response. But yeah, it’s been really rewarding seeing how crazy the response has been. They’re all sold out, it’s wild!
Jesse: Yeah, it feels good to start it here. A lot of the parties that we have done, the bigger and better parties, have been in Brisbane. So it’s good to be able to take what we do in Brisbane to the rest of Australia. Not all the cities, obviously, but as far as we can. We’ve always wanted to take our warehouse experience to Melbourne and Sydney so it’s cool that we can do that.
Regarding the way you’ve put on this tour, was it purely just to see what would happen if it was just kind of friends of friends, or a word of mouth kind of thing?
Ben: We wanted to encapsulate the whole package deal of a proper warehouse party. In the 90s or whatever, it would have been through a burner phone, like there’s no Facebook event. We were kind of inspired because in Brisbane in recent times, we’ve even had trouble just making events [for ourselves], like we’ve been hassled by the police as GRID. We were just like, “Fuck this. Let’s do it the old school way!”
Jesse: It worked out well. We were a bit worried because we were having to work around a few things in Melbourne and in Brisbane as well because we’re having issues with police with the previous events, and we didn’t want to have those issues again. We were worried that we would go through those if we just did a public event again, so we just thought like, fuck it, we can just do it all privately and low key, and we’ll see how it works. We were worried about doing the mailing list and whether people would actually sign up but the interest was crazy.
Ben: I feel like it builds such a direct relationship with the fans too and the people that showed up. We were on the door handing out wristbands for a solid amount of time, just saying hi to everyone and thanking them for coming.
Jesse: People were like, “You guys are working on the door at your own show?” We were like, “Yeah!” [Laughs]
Looking at shows like these then, it is more than just “X CLUB.” that you wanted to take to people, and it is a bit bigger than just the two of you with GRID being a big part of it as well. Is that what you’re trying to get across to people who maybe wouldn’t have come across that in the past or maybe haven’t experienced this in that way?
Jesse: Definitely. Our music, I feel, has always suited this environment and we realised that when we’re doing this stuff in Brisbane. We were getting messages from people around Australia saying, “You gotta bring this and bring what you do down to Melbourne,” or Sydney or whatever, but we haven’t had the opportunity. This time, we finally figured it out and realised that we could do it in other places.
Ben: It was a matter of resources pretty much. Before this tour, we got one Australian tour under our belt so we’d already spread the name a bit. And now we’ve a team behind us and the resources to do it. So we were like, screw it. This is what we want to do. Let’s throw our own events instead of going to a club again.
Yeah, and strike while the iron is hot! It really feels almost like a victory lap after such an exciting year. Is that how it feels to you?
Ben: This is the year we came out the gate and came onto a lot of people’s radars, so it’s like a really nice way to wrap that up.
Jesse: Definitely. With this tour, it’s the most intense schedule we’ve had probably this whole year, doing the next month like this. But it feels like we’ve almost been leading up to this.
I wanted to throw it right back to get a bit of history in the mix – can you talk me through the early days of X CLUB. to now? I know there was a back to back set at some point but can you tell me more about this?
Jesse: We were doing our own solid projects at the time. This is probably 2017 or 2018. We were playing this show that a bunch of my friends promoted at The Flaming Galah, on Upper Roma Street. It was just like a promoted show by some locals and a bunch of other dance acts were playing. We went back to back at the end, and it wasn’t a massive show but it was pretty fun. We became friends too through other mutual friends, and from there, we’re both playing at Oh Hello! and TBC during that time, and we just connected through music from that.
How did it get from there to making music together and realising that maybe you were onto something?
Ben: I think the reason that first set went so well was because we were both sort of transitioning between musical styles at the time. I had just come back from Europe and Jesse was about to go. I think going to Europe for both of us, as cliche as it sounds, did expose us to things like techno. I remember, especially after Jesse came back, we just got really enthusiastic about exploring that side of music and we were both in the same headspace.
Jesse: We were playing a lot and we started X CLUB. around that time, but it was more of a quiet, low-key thing. It wasn’t anything too serious. We started playing shows in the clubs and putting out remixes, and we were kind of pushing towards a certain point with our tastes in techno and electro but still trying to figure out what we could do and what kind of music we could make. And then we discovered the other side of the Brisbane music scene, like, all the other parties, warehouse parties. We discovered all of that after we had come back from Europe, and it sort of changed a lot for us. We started playing those parties and doing our own thing and that’s what built us to where we are almost now.
The music itself does include so much with a lot of 90s influence, but you’ve always maintained that you wanted to push it further as well. When you think about that aim, what does it mean to you now you’ve had a while in the game when you do look back at those first few formative moments?
Jesse: When we started, we were making house and tech house.
Ben: We had only really been exposed to the club life because we were resident DJs, and we hadn’t really explored [outside of that]. We didn’t know that there were parties going on below that scene in Brisbane. We were trying to incorporate the sounds we were finding at the time, like techno and stuff into our sets in the clubs, but when we found the stuff going on outside of the clubs that was already exploring that music, it really enthused us to keep going.
Jesse: And now, what we were playing and making compared to now, we’ve got such varied tastes like both of us. Not just dance music, but every genre. Every time we do something new, we’re always trying to push what we did previously. We’re always trying to push each EP, we’re always trying to push forward. It’s funny, going back to the first few tracks and listening to them, compared to now — it’s crazy.
Ben: If you listen to our music, it sort of goes all over the place. That’s because we’re inspired by all sorts and we take bits and pieces of inspiration from all sorts of things and sort of pack it into this general package that has the X CLUB. sort of sound, but I just don’t think that sound fits a certain structure.
It’s also inspired by experiences, right? Whether it’s a GRID experience, or whether it’s from when you went to Europe, or even just now going through COVID and things like that as well. It’s all rooted in making sure that that moment transcends from you through to the listener, whether it’s an all-out banger like ‘Psychopath’, or like more introspective moments like ‘Elevation (Journey Mix)’. It’s all so varied and it is very experiential. Is that where that’s coming from, of wanting the experience to come through or that feeling to come through, rather than just “We make techno and that is it”?
Jesse: Feeling is a big thing for us. We’ve been partying for a long time as well, and I feel like those experiences have really changed the way we make music. It’s hard to stick to one thing or one genre because I feel like the parties and the experiences we’ve had, we really put that into our music.
Ben: When you go to a party and you hear a certain song in a certain environment… I think people might shy away from the idea that even techno songs that are as minimalistic as a kick and a stab can make you feel like you’ve had a life changing moment. But I’ve definitely had experiences like warehouses where a certain song is playing and it just impacts you so hard. It’s those moments that we then go home and maybe the next day, we’re like, fuck, let’s jump on like Ableton right now and write something. It’s the experiences that we have that inspire us to write.
The sounds in your tracks are so varied and broad. You’ve got so much going on, sometimes even in the same song. Would you say you’re able to do this because you’re focusing on chasing that feeling or vibe, and in doing so it allows you to throw the rulebook out?
Ben: Yes, we do what feels right, for sure.
Jesse: There’s so many different kinds of rules with dance music, or underground dance music, like say with more poppy stuff. And I feel like those roles have never been a part of what we wanted to do with our music. We have our influence, but we have this our style and the way we make music. So when we put it together, whatever the fuck we feel like doing, we’ll do it.
Ben: Yeah, I think music in general is getting a lot more like that. Like, there’s nothing wrong with making techno tracks and putting like, a pop harmonic chord structure in. If that inflicts a certain emotion in a certain space, like in a warehouse whatever, then do it! I think rules are meant to be broken, for sure, and that’s how you come up with something new anyway.
Looking at the tour, there is such an impressive curation of artists along for each show as well which ties back to that experience focus, bringing that party that you’ve thrown at home to new places and new communities. All these DJs and artists are all unique and exciting in their own ways. Has this been something you’ve wanted to maintain as you’ve grown yourselves?
Jesse: Of course. We want our parties to be as diverse and inclusive as possible with the type of music that is played. Also at the parties that we have, we want everyone to be welcome. We wanted to have lineups that would bring everyone from every corner of the world in. We want to give the opportunity for everyone to come and to make it open to everyone.
Ben: It’s really cool because instead of going to a club and playing a club, playing our own shows gives us the power to put together our dream lineups. It’s so nice to be playing with all our friends from other cities as well we’ve made along the way. Like, we made friends with House Mum and Yollks and stuff, and we’re so excited to finally be able to play a show with them. It’s exciting to curate not only the physical space, but the sonic experience ourselves.
I’m sure you’ve got some massive things up your sleeves for 2022, so without any spoilers I wanted to ask – what’s one word to sum up 2021, and one word to describe or manifest for 2022?
Ben: I feel like this year is “rocket launch” [laughs]. We’ve released on three of our favourite labels that we’ve always admired this year. Coming out the gate like this is something we never ever expected.
Jesse: It’s all been a dream.
Ben: Two tours of Australia that have sold out like… It’s kind of fucked when we reflect on it, for lack of a better word. It’s pretty wild.
Jesse: So I don’t know, next year we’re hoping “space” if this year was rocket launch! We’re outta here! [Laughs]
X CLUB. FRIENDS OF FRIENDS TOUR DATES:
11.12 – NAARM/MELBOURNE
Supported by House Mum B2B Yollks, Eloyse, Caitlin Medcalf
17.12 – WARRANG/SYDNEY
Supported by Jensen Interceptor, Deepa, Jebbi
18.12 – MULUBINBA/NEWCASTLE
Supported by End In Tears
All Shows Sold Out
Interview by EMMA JONES
Image by Brodie Charters