When he’s not making music as DnB producer Niwun, Michael Unwin teaches the very same course he studied years ago at SAE. Since graduating with SAE’s Certificate III in Music and Diploma of Sound Production, Michael’s found himself working in fields as diverse as radio broadcasting, developing youth outreach courses and education.
Perth’s developed a reputation as the DnB capital of Australia, but when Michael Unwin was flipping vinyl back in the mid-00s, he felt limited.
“I’ve been interested in electronic music for a very long time before SAE, and I’d done DJing a lot at nightclubs and parties and clubs,” says Michael. “Eventually I got a little bit bored with it, and at the same time, I was getting a bit bored with my day job – it wasn’t really aligning with my interests and my passion in life. At the time, I was just working a stock-standard government job dealing with contracts and securities.
“I guess I saw education as a way to upskill and get into an industry I wanted to be a part of, which was creative media. I didn’t really consciously think about it in those terms, but I do remember at one point wanting to leave the DJing part of it behind and being interested in how to produce electronic music, and I tried to sit down with some of the software and tools and thinking I could teach myself, but finding it difficult to find the resources to teach myself. Aside from that, though, self-directed learning can be a bit hazardous and difficult at the best of times, so I was looking for an outlet where I could have a structured learning environment. I guess it’s just that kind of frustration that lead me to SAE, and SAE had I wanted.”
Under the Niwun moniker, Michael continues to produce music with the skills he’s learnt (and continues to learn) at the Institute. He’s also seen the rise of a particularly exciting Perth bass scene. In a small city like Perth, the flow of ideas mimics the kind of collaborative learning that happens in his classes.
“For a while, the scene I was involved with got a little bit stagnant, and working with vinyl, there was only a limited selection of music I could get my hands on. I kind of decided, well, if I can’t really find the stuff I like, why don’t I make it?
It’s very much different now – there’s a really vibrant scene in Perth, and there was, ten, fifteen years ago, as well. But that intermediary period – I got a bit tired of the repetition and hearing the same music, I guess.
“Now, there’s so much interesting stuff happening, because there’s this constant cross-pollination of ideas. That’s something that’s definitely been replicated in Perth, hence why we’ve managed to produce some really big names. That kind of friendly competition with other producers is really good from that point of view – it helps you learn and really motivates you.”
Since graduating in 2010, he’s returned to SAE to teach. Education is something he’s particularly passionate about – both his parents are academics – and the resources he has at SAE keep him in tune with the lifeblood of bass music.
“Keeping up with industry changes does present a bit of a challenge,” Michael explains. “My employer offers me another of ways to do that as well. There’s a number of really, really good industry bodies in Perth that help with that sort of thing. Apart from that, SAE’s been really good for just keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in Perth, as is talking to your students and other staff members. The most important thing I have to keep up with are things like technology – what plugins are available, what’s new in terms of the tools for making music. That’s something we talk a lot about between the audio staff. Just having that collegiality and discussions between different staff members helps a lot.”
Michael’s still very much a part of the Perth music scene. “Music making absolutely is a part of my life. A lot of weeks, I’ll wake up much earlier before I have to start my job at SAE just to have a couple of hours to work on some sound design or composition. I don’t necessarily do that all the time depending on what other commitments I have in my life, but I’m always making music – whether it’s little compositions for my own sake or stuff I upload online, it’s very much something I enjoy doing. Just learning about myself and creativity, and being able to get better at something by practising it.”