He’s long been a favourite on the local scene and for his involvement with The Community collective, and this year marks 10 years of Diger Rokwell’s original electronic beats. To celebrate he’s got a new mixtape out called Crunchy & Smooth, which has been dropped on SoundCloud (check out both sides below) and will be officially launched at his Late Night Valentine show alongside friends Rok Riley, Akioka, Out of the Blue, M Y S T I C / F O R T N E and Nathan J. He spoke to HARVEY RAE about his prolific past, celebratory present and exciting future.
Congratulations on 10 years of epic Diger Rokwell sounds. What have been the biggest highlights for you in that time?
Yes, I know, wow, 10 years right?! The biggest highlights for me have been being able to create the music I have wanted to create, working mainly as a single entity, being able to work at my own speed with my own ideas and being hands-on with the music from its inception to fruition. Touring nationally, and a little bit internationally, has been a highlight also.
It all started with the release of Digstrumentals back in 2008, which you’re giving away practically for free on your Bandcamp these days, and you’ve evolved plenty as an artist since then. How do you reflect on that release and what have been the biggest changes?
In the early days it was about creativity by any means, in its purest form. It was about the doing and making of beats. Digstrumentals was very sample-heavy, innocent and raw, resulting from my early years just fiddling about in my makeshift studio. It definitely grabbed a lot of attention, as many people were not making that type of music in the Australian scene; the use of stranger-sourced sample music. Since then I have started to create music that reflects my abilities as a musician. The Seeds, Sprouts and Rows trilogy (of EPs) marked a more multi-instrumental direction of recording and sampling my own playing, voice and field recordings.
That last series of EPs or 10 inches you mentioned were supposed to find their way onto a full length LP I believe. Is that still in the pipeline or did you shelve that idea after the final release, Rows?
I was toying with the idea of producing a full-length release after the EP series, but it felt more natural to leave those ideas and releases as is. The (Crunchy & Smooth) two-part mixtape on (90-minute) tape that I am releasing as a part of the 10th Birthday Celebrations is a kind of sealing of that time, to celebrate the diversity of the different sounds and production methods over a decade. It’s a revisitation in some way, without the need to rehash the past, as all the releases were very different and I don’t think a greatest hits compilation would have sat well with me. A mix felt better.
That series of three EPs includes my personal favourite Diger release, Seeds. Seeds saw you embrace psychedelic music more than any release before or since I think it’s fair to say, and I for one would love to hear more Diger Rokwell sounds going in that direction. Was that a one off or is there more to come do you think?
I think that is where my sound lays, in the layering of psychedelic sound, and I feel that all the vinyl releases had that edge. And that is what I am dabbling with at the moment. But I am not sure if it will be under the guise of Diger Rokwell. I feel that Diger Rokwell is instrumental. For a long time, I have wanted to inject my own vocals and lyric-writing into my music and do something under a different guise, start from scratch. It is not the end of Diger Rokwell music, far from it, but a new musical project to stretch the capabilities of Ash Hosken. Imagine a Seeds-type release with vocals; I like the sound of that.
I was a big fan of your second album The Earth Head which came out in 2009, and Shadows Lonely remains on high rotation in my house. But since that time you haven’t released an album and favoured EPs and singles. Did you fall out of love with the LP format?
I feel the LP format didn’t fit with the visions of the releases, as a lot of my musical projects were conceptual. It felt more comfortable on an EP (four to six tracks), and also I feel the music industry changed from an album economy to more of a single-based one. I feel it has given artists more freedom to do what they feel and release what they like. I love albums, but it didn’t fit into where I was at with my exploration of my sound. The smaller format gave me the freedom and avenue to release more music and get in people’s earholes more often.
To commemorate the decade you’re dropping the Crunchy & Smooth mixtape – literally on two sides of a 90-minute tape, old school style. I believe Crunchy (Side A) delves into the ‘crunchier’ side of your productions, whilst Smooth (Side B) takes you to the dance floor. Have you got a bunch of old favourites on there that you can tell us about?
It is two 45-minute mixes of all my own music mixed by me, featuring singles, compilation music, favourites, remixes, and collaboration. Crunchy features all the lo-fi hip hop and beat tourism sounds whereas Smooth ventures into my more dance floor orientation of house, disco, and boogie sounds. I wanted to produce something collectable for the musical birthday, and not get sucked into to producing a whole truckload of material things.
Then there’s the show, A Decade of Diger Rokwell Music at Late Night Valentine coming up on Friday, May 25. What have you got in store for us in terms of your set and how it’ll be performed?
I will exploring my music in a mix format using my APC40, Ableton and some other gadgets to keep the dance floor happy. It will be a temporary departure from my live show. The instruments will be left at home, and I am just going to have fun and really enjoy the moment. No special guests, apart from the supports; just the music and a room full of people who have come on the journey with me.
The Community collective that you co-founded was always a huge part of your identity, and you a part of The Community’s. Where’s the Community at, and now that you’re older and have families? Is The Community still going strong or has it evolved?
We changed The Community from a collective-based model to more of a record label–based model about three years ago, as only a few members were really invested in the cause, and it fell upon mostly my shoulders (and a few others) to organise, coordinate, and finance projects. Also, I felt the term ‘the community’ needed to belong to the community at large and be something that all people could use and cultivate. It grew to be a real burden upon me, and I really wanted to focus on my music, WA Apparel and other graphic design pursuits. The core artists of the original Community are still involved and are planning on releasing music soon. It is still a musical vehicle for Mathas, my music and others. We are starting to reach more broader afield to other artists to release music on our label. We have released some new music from Sydney-based producer Captain Earwax and we are really excited about possibilities on the horizon. As with everything, change is something that is hard at first but becomes needed over time.
Finally, what lies ahead for Diger Rokwell in the next 10 years?
More beats, continuing to develop my live show, more touring and more releases. There is a new Beat Tourism project exploring my finds in Japan coming out this year. It harks back to the more sample-based hip hop of my earlier releases with the use of 100% samples from 50 – 100 Yen Records bins in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. I am also still working on a Indonesian Beat Tourism release. As stated before I would like to expand my song-writing skills into some more genres from psych folk, downbeat to lo-slung disco. I want to make music under a few different guises: so far I have an emcee name, a secret house producer name and a one–man psych band name. But my general endeavour is to explore sound and make music that continues to push my abilities and the ears of the listener, and to continue to experiment and have fun.