For those of us watching from afar, Australia seems to be a litmus test for life without COVID. The electronic music scene – which has been able to reopen with live events at limited capacity – is no exception. So when Naarm/Melbourne-based DJ Millú contributed to our mix series recently, we jumped at the chance to hear more about developments in the local scene. Below, she fills us in on what’s been keeping her busy over the last few months, including the launch of her latest community radio show and a new record label, and shares insights into what it feels like to return to the dancefloor in a country where daily cases hover close to zero.
We'd love to hear more about your mix for Patterns of Perception first of all. Was there a concept or inspiration behind this one?
I really enjoyed putting this mix together. I finally found myself back in my studio after what was surprisingly a pretty frantic summer of gigs and parties here – the pace of everything coming back to a new ‘normal’ was a bit overwhelming – and this mix feels like a winding down in a sense. Dub-tinged ambience into more atmospheric dnb. My mixes generally tend to be quite introspective, music for home listening with a cup of coffee...
How would you describe your sound to those who haven’t heard your music before?
I find that my sound as a DJ performing out differs so drastically from my sound as a DJ on the radio or for mix series such as this. I get a lot out of recording mixes that invoke a sense of calm: lots of atmospherics, drawing on elements of psych and shoegaze, and combining them with more conventional electronic sounds. I guess certain elements of this still come through in my DJ sets – an affinity for the more psychedelic and tripped-out sides of dance music.
People might know you as the host of the show Full Circle on Triple R 102.7FM, in your hometown of Naarm/Melbourne, which started in February 2020 – only a month or so before the pandemic began. How has the show taken shape over the past year? And has the pandemic forced you to make any changes to how you approach it?
I’ll admit it was a bit challenging starting a weekly radio show at the beginning of a global pandemic. My creativity and motivation really suffered last year and I felt like I got off on the wrong foot in a way with the show, but at the same time, it was really important for me to have something to focus on musically each week in the absence of gigs. It encouraged me to still connect with the scene and to keep up with new releases. I presented lots of shows from home at the height of our lockdown here when we weren’t able to leave our homes, and I did a bunch of Zoom interviews. This was all fun for a while until the novelty wore off – in the end, it stripped away a bit of the magic of radio. That all said, I think that radio was a really important thing for people during our lockdown – there was a huge increase in listenership and it felt like people were really enjoying the personality of a radio show as opposed to just putting on a mix. It was like a sense of solidarity or something, it felt really special.
What role has the show, and community radio in general, played for you during this time?
Community radio is huge here in Australia. We have a really strong relationship with these old school FM radio stations, where one hour you’ve got northern soul, the next you’ve got a metal show, and then there’s a dance slot. There’s a really strong community around these stations, the people who present shows and those who listen and subscribe. It was amazing to feel a part of that during the pandemic; everyone was there for each other regardless of your chosen subculture or genre, trying to navigate this shared experience. I think that was really grounding. It’s also led to a greater sense of connection now that events are back up and running. There is a heightened appreciation for what’s going on in other scenes and I hope this perseveres as time goes on.
Australia is in a very different state from the rest of the world when it comes to COVID-19 but Naarm/Melbourne has arguably been the hardest hit of any city from the pandemic. How did the prolonged lockdown there – and COVID in general – impact the local music scene?
It feels strange now talking about Naarm as being one of the hardest hit when we look around and see others battling their toughest lockdowns yet. Our lockdown last year dragged on for what felt like forever: 112 days of really strictly enforced social isolation. It was really hard but it was really special to see the dance community stick together in more online spaces during this time, and to see how much support people were willing to show each other. I think this sort of mentality of supporting your friends and those in the scene around you has definitely persevered into the IRL realm now that venues are reopening and the parties are starting back. Guest lists feel like a thing of the past – this expectation that you can go to a gig for free because you know someone.
Events have been selling out here, admittedly with lower capacity, but it really does feel like people want to show their support financially more than ever now. There’s this sort of sense of 'we almost lost this'.
In terms of Melbourne’s more underground scene, I think it’s going to take a while for things to properly find their feet again. Some of the most prolific parties in this city were the DIY ones, the park parties along the Birrarung with a bunch of people chipping in to hire a Funktion-One rig for the night. They’re the ones that feel like they’ll take the longest to recover. We still have strict capacity limits for public outdoor gatherings and I think there’s a sense of responsibility that we all feel to not fuck this up again. 112 days was a really long time. It’s harder to track people’s attendance at these kinds of events and with that comes an ability to contact-trace if there is another outbreak – no one wants to be responsible for that just for the sake of a rave. I’m excited to see how these DIY spaces will return in new, safer ways.
Together with your DJ partner Pjenne, you recently launched the new label Companion which you say “brings the language of ethereal '90s electronica, psychedelic IDM and ambient trance and techno to the present day”. Why did you choose to focus on this sound and this era?
Penny and I both have an affinity for the downtempo trance and ambient dub and techno sounds of the early ‘90s. We both play a lot of this on our radio shows and just found that this was our main area of musical overlap as DJs. Melbourne’s electronic music scene at the moment is largely dominated by more dance-floor-oriented stuff – breaks, prog, really driving techy stuff. There are definitely some amazing labels doing music geared towards the after-hours or for home listening (Best Effort, .jpeg artefacts, Daisart to name a few) but it felt like there was still room for a label celebrating the kind of music we hope to curate with Companion.
I saw you had an IRL event for the launch of Companion, which seems like such a foreign concept for those of us outside Australia at the moment. How did it feel to be on a dance floor again?
It was so surreal! We had the launch party at the Fairfield Amphitheatre, a really beautiful outdoor venue on the banks of the Birrarung. It was a day thing so we started with more downtempo and atmospheric sets and there was a lot of sitting around, catching up with people you hadn’t been able to see for a year. Then, when the sun set, it got pretty wild. People had been fiending for a dance like that I think, even if it was socially distanced. We were so stoked with the vibe of it, it left us on such a high.
Can you tell us a bit about the first release(s) you have coming up on Companion?
The first release is scheduled for early May. It’s from a Balinese-born, Melbourne-based producer called KiTA. It’s five tracks of sort of hazy atmospheric electro and washed-out breaks – it has a real cinematic feel to it overall. We’ll be pressing 300 copies locally at a new pressing plant here, Program Records, which is really exciting, and we’ve collaborated with Jaime Brohier for the artwork.
Lastly, since Australian music makes up such a big part of your DJ sets, which local artists should we make sure to keep an eye out for?
There’s so much incredible talent coming out of Australia at the moment – the list could go on forever! It’s a really exciting time to be a part of the community here. Cale Sexton, YL Hooi, Gallery B, Acopia and Cousin are all putting out amazing downtempo stuff, LOIF and Different Shades are killing it with the slammers. And miscmeg and the Vortex collective are doing some really cool stuff on the DJing front too.