True Vibenation are the kind of old-school conscious hip hop crew Australia loves so much – the Sydney three-piece are all about peace, love, funk horns, and Human Drum Machines. They’ve just released their second album, ON, which features big synths, riffs on robot takeovers, and soulful vocalists in straw hats and sunnies. ZOE KILBOURN catches up with Native Wit (street name: Bheki) before they hit Mojos on Friday, Sepetmeber 12.
Bheki’s twin brother and co-MC, Verbaleyes, makes a big call on opening single Crazy but…: “In a mad world, the mad are sane. What does that make you?”. True Vibenation have made a musical career out of that playful rejection of reality – for every fight-the-man sentiment or ecological observation, they’re still writing skits about current affairs programs and “Sixty Nek Minits”, robot takeovers, being Dressed To Chill.
“We were conscious of not being too serious. We grew up listening to Outkast, that was the band we were most influenced by. We pretty much just listened to Stankonia a lot – that’s got all these cool little interludes. We listened to albums like that and wanted to do it ourselves,” says Bheki. Did they manage to catch Outkast’s off-the-chain Splendour gig? “We actually had a Brisbane gig on that Friday, and we moved the date just so we could see Outkast. We’re huge fans. I was seriously just standing in that front section and losing my shit.”
Verbaleyes and Native Wit are Zimbabwean-Australian twins. They both play horns, they have “scarily similar tastes”, and with co-producer and instrumentalist Klue, they make synthy, soulful beats. “With this album, we had something like seventy or eighty beats when we started,” Bheki says.
“For me, Austraian hip hop at the moment is in an exciting place. Ten years ago, you’d go to gigs and it’d all just be dudes in hoodies. Very staunch, hardly any girls around. It was on a different vibe. all these different sounds coming through. It’s not like, Oh, you’ve got to make hip hop beats like Hilltop Hoods’ anymore.
“Before it was pretty much the stock standard Australian suburban male rapping about barbecues or getting drunk or whatever, whereas now it’s opened up. Australia’s such a diverse country, and I think that’s what hip hop has always needed. It crosses over to the audience, too – you hear not just one voice, but a whole bunch of different voices, and maybe you can relate to that better.”
For Bheki, that diversity is best represented by “the whole Elefant Traks crew, people like Horrorshow, Remi – these young artists presenting a different view. L-Fresh The Lion – I think ten years ago it wouldn’t have worked – you wouldn’t have had a young Sikh male getting played on Triple J. It’s awesome.”
They’re bringing ON, some guests, and their unfailing energy to Freo as part of their upcoming national tour. It includes some classic True Vibes “what ifs?” become reality.
“Our live shows are definitely something we’ve been working on for a while. We don’t just get up and do the songs, put our hands in the air, whatever. We’ve got live horns – we all play horns. Live beats – we all make beats. We’ve also got this thing called the Human Drum Machine. We get audience mebers onstage, and we’ve rigged it up through an electrical wiring system where every person on stage becomes a different drum machine. We hi-five them and one person becomes a kick, one person becomes a snare, another becomes a synth – it’s really awesome. Something different and something really interactive.”