One human is occupying a brand new leather recliner, arched over a Cuban Mahogany floor and pulled to face the double-glazed bay windows that open up to a wraparound terrace looking over West Broadway, New York City. Another human is occupying a form-mesh office chair in 40-degree West Australian heat, leaning forward in concentration to catch the intricacies of the sound that’s pouring out of a pair of studio monitors and spreading over the postered walls and unmade bed of his teenage bedroom. The first human is Justin Timberlake. The second is John Dewhurst, better known to Australian music fans as Sable, the young bedroom producer who recently doused Timberlake’s ‘My Love’ with his own gleaming brand of what’s becoming known as the ‘Australian sound’.
There are no real borders anymore. It doesn’t matter what continental plate an artist is sitting on, connections through music are increasingly lateral. The old days of musical feudalism, of artists clawing vertically towards cavernous recording studios and huge advances are over. Records are being made with a laptop, a soundcard and a microphone, re-edits can be done on a whim, acapellas can be scooped out of the Internet at will.
“Yeah” Dewhurst agrees, “The new way makes so many more things possible with so much less. In terms of resources, you can sit in a bedroom and if you’ve got a decent mic you can make a full album for any genre you want…”
This accessibility is the engine propelling the Australian sound around the globe. Recently Harley Stretten, better known as Flume, roll-called a list of Australian EDM acts as if listing columns in a gathering army. And maybe his fervour isn’t entirely misplaced, particularly if his own fame is anything to go by. The phalanx of Australian electronic acts is indeed gathering and proliferating. Sable is a good example. In just 18 months, Sable’s reached number 2 on triple Js most played, is the first signing to Pilerats records, has received almost 200,000 plays on Soundcloud for his main single ‘Feels So Good’ and is now embarking on a national tour.
“I suppose from the outside perspective it seems really fast” Dewhurt admits, “but I have been working on it for a few years now. A lot of groundwork was done locally and I just wanted to make sure everything was good first. Then Pilerats hit me up to play at Circo festival…” And so it went. But like he suggests himself, Dewhurst has a long timeline is buried beneath his 18 month rise to acclaim.
Through high school playing in punk and hardcore bands formed Dewhurst’s formative musical experiences, and to this day “still thinks of things in terms of how a 4 piece hardcore band would sound”. The connection between dance music and punk music is an interesting one. An entire dynasty of American electro seemed to come from punk or rock bands (Steve Aoki, Bloody Beetroots – by way of Italy, MSTKRFT etc). Then there were European acts like Simian Mobile Disco and 2ManyDJs who effectively dissolved their bands in favour of purely electronic music. But the interesting difference here is that in all of the acts above (with the possible exception of SMD) the influence of rock/punk music on the sound of their dance music is pretty clear. With Sable, there’s almost no way to tell. The soaring, glittering synth, slowly blooming arpeggiators and snatches of euphoric vocals are about as far from hardcore as I can imagine. But the hardcore influence comes out in mysterious ways. One of the most notable features of Sable’s music, is his ‘drops’. Dewhurst will build his songs by rolling up cutoff, pitch and sustains, and then a naked sound effect like a squeak, waterdrop or clap will fill one or two beats before the beat returns. It’s a clever dynamic tool and one that Dewhurst describes as “a Metalcore thing”. He alleges that a lot of Metalcore songs will “have a crazy build up and then just ride cymbal hit on the bell of the cymbal”. And it works.
But, despite some direct translation, Sable didn’t go straight from hardcore to the club. He cut his teeth making some “terrible EDM” before listening to Burial and Bonobo and deciding to recalibrate the outlook and his own execution of electronic music.
“When I listen to Untrue by Burial and Black Sands By Bonobo, [I found that] all the songs weren’t structured to any particular formula and they tried new ideas [that] completely worked. So I thought maybe I could start just doing things that I think would sound cool, and why didn’t I try that before with dance music?” Sable’s earlier catalogue is directly reminiscent of this sonic exploration, of languorous, nebulous songs, more evocative than his more recent work. Some standouts are the Studio Ghibli inspired ‘Haku’ and ‘ChiChiro’, released on Diehigh records.
But gradually, Dewhurt has bent his music towards the club. His beats are thicker, his sounds sharper, dragging with it the gallop of Jersey Trap, the Euphoria of Minimal House, all of which (as is so often the case) seems paradoxic, given that Dewhurst is fresh out of school, and has had somewhat limited opportunities to actually explore clubs.
“Yeah I think a lot of producers are like that” Dewhurst offers, a pause lingering on the line. The pause is long enough to sift through my mental Rolodex of producers – most of which are music heads, rather than club kids. The most notable for me is A-Trak— producer, DJ extraordinarre and owner of Fool’s Gold records. A-Trak openly admits (despite worldwide acclaim as a DJ and producer) that he doesn’t know what to do on a dance floor. This is a guy who has never taken drugs but who signs acts like Bath Salts, Danny Brown and does collaborations with rappers like Juicy J who have made hedonism into a multifaceted art form. A producer (and DJ’s) role in so many ways is reading people, reading what people are listening to, what they want. Maybe this distance from the dancefloor is what makes really good producers. They’re like satellites, collecting information from the periphery, relaying it to the stage and beaming it onto the audience. Finally Dewhurst continues.
“Yeah unless there’s something I’m really vibing on…” Dewhurst continues, I’m never up the front in the crowd, that’s a real fan thing. I like being there and enjoying the music if it’s good. Put it that way…”
But the club is definitely something he’s about to be very well acquainted with, as he plays clubs all over Australia, and seems pretty grounded about the whole thing. When I ask him about the vocal cut from ‘Feels So Good’ (“Feels so good up in the clouds”) and the unspoken transaction between the DJ and the audience wherein the DJ/Producer is responsible for the provision of euphoria and what I like to call ‘Forever Moments’ which simultaneously melt an existing reality away and promise something endless, something impossible, Dewhurst just pauses and yawns: “The only reason mine sounds like that is because I only write that stuff when I’m happy…And its got a summer sound cause I wrote it during warm summer times…” Whereas Dewhurst’s slightly older, darker and slower ‘Hypercolour’ EP sounds comparatively woven from shadows. Unsurprisingly, he wrote it during winter.
The unconscious, seasonal transience of Sable could end up being a hidden asset in an industry and genre where things are changing so quickly. It’s a world where the celebrity in his Soho Mews apartment in New York City and the bedroom producer in Perth are able connect in some way, a world of almost infinite limits. But of course this has it’s own cost. The flood of accessible technology has caused young music producers to become ubiquitous, and the musical landscape to become fickle. And Dewhurst knows it.
“Music these days is definitely more transient” he declares coolly, “because its quicker to produce…But now that you can make music, well made music, completely mastered in a week, people are expecting more and they want more so its harder to make something that sticks around…”
The Australian Sound is becoming the fastest way for Australian producers to collect passport stamps. But this is, of course, only the first half of a cautionary tale. These strident labels turn very quickly into mortuary toe tags. Dewhurst identifies with the term, conceding that it’s “pretty on point right now”, but while he possesses songs crafted in vogue he also possesses an awareness and a musical dexterity that will more than likely see the name Sable outlive the label of ‘Australian Sound’
You can catch Sable live in action on the dates below.