Art as Catharsis, a label which has been single-handedly incubated, birthed, and nurtured by busybody and experimental lover Lachlan Dale, does exactly what it says on the tin.
Spanning a vast array of genres from psychedelia, dream pop, blackened hardcore, doom, post-metal and Middle-Eastern-tinged instrumentalism, there is potential there for artistic snobbery, a sort of holier-than-thou of diversity and experimentalist aesthetic.
Refreshingly, it was clear early on in my interview with Dale that such a broad and unorthodox mix flows from a personal love of supporting the Australian underground, of genuinely enjoying music with a difference and bringing local talent to the fore.
We even see this on the Art as Catharsis ‘About Me’ section; you’d be forgiven but remiss for thinking of being bombed with pages of platitudes about how cool and different we are. Instead, the directive is simple but passionate:
‘Art As Catharsis is an independent, Sydney-based record label with a love for music that is progressive, psychedelic, or different. We exist to support artists from the Australian underground.’
Lachlan reiterates this sentiment in our chat in regards to his slew of shows with Hashshashin and interstate NICEFEST tour dates in Brisbane and Melbourne. “The point of NICEFEST is to showcase Australian progressive and experimental underground bands. I kind of see it as an opportunity for people to find interesting music, and to help counteract this narrative that Australian music is dying.”
Exploring the inaccuracy of this perception about our music scene, instead, he views the interest and curiosity as something common to shows he is part of, whether as a musician or promoter. “Even though this was our first event in Brisbane, every time we do a show it feels like people are so engaged in what we are doing. We go through a wide range of genres every show, and I’m blown away by the fact that people will sit and listen to such a wide array of music.”
“Brisbane has some exceptional bands, we had really positive experiences with the venue crowd and venues as well,” he noted. The label owner is consistently intrigued by the growing fanfare for experimental music in the Sunshine State: “We played up there with Hashshashin alongside Kodiak Empire and Weightless in Orbit. The response was immense, in terms of turnout and response. There’s promise to bring them back up there.”
There are notable differences in both the musical and sociological atmosphere between state divides, it seems. As someone who recently moved down from Brisbane myself, I’ve noted an appreciable difference in the social, musical, and physical climate. Lachlan reflects this sentiment when considering the differences between the East Coast major cities.
“I noticed a lot of differences in Brisbane compared to say, Sydney and Melbourne,” he notes. “It’s kind of bizarre that there are such big differences, which could explain the resulting difference in sound.” Brisbane for Lachlan “feels like such an extroverted, I dunno, kind of almost party vibe. Real intensity walking around the town and the city, as opposed to playing in and walking around Melbourne which feels kind of cool and laidback, it’s a lot more subdued I would say.”
A common denominator across boundaries and biomes, however, is the appreciation for the diverse range of musical talents on offer. “In terms of crowds and turnouts and events, however, I’d say we have the similar kind of people coming along,” he remarks. These kinds of people are ones who “listen to music deeply, not expecting something necessarily catch or easy to listen to and maybe requiring some mental work. I think they seem to be pretty similar.”
Given differences in lineups between states, however, he is intrigued as to whether shows in the south will have a different ambiance and response. “It will be interesting, in fact, to see the difference between the Brisbane crowd and the fans at the upcoming Melbourne shows.”
“In Brisbane, we wanted to put on bands that reflect the city’s music scene, which feels grounded,” he notes. “Just thinking about bands in Brisbane, they tend more towards the heavier side – Weightless in Orbit, Kodiak Empire, Instrumental (adj.), etc, they all have that heavier Animals As Leaders style of urgency but also exploration.” I’m sure the guys in these bands would much appreciate such a comparison, and from experience, they do have an oomph; a live show that is as impactful as it is playful.
“In Melbourne, there’s this almost experimental indie vibe going on,” Dale remarks. “In particular, you’ve got half/cut, who’ve got this beautiful kind of post-punk music with gorgeous female vocals, you’ve got Lack the Low which is this really dense, ethereal sort of singer-songwriter, you’ve got Cold Hands Warm Heart, which is this kind of progressive rock/folk which is led by a processed harp, quite different. WarPigs too, which are a kind of droney, ethereal kind of band. It’s a lot floatier and outstretched as opposed to the Northern bands which are more intense and more grounded.’ It’s evident from these descriptions that the next leg of shows will be providing quite a different experience to the first NICEFEST show, showcasing just how far-reaching the labels’ spectrum reaches across the Australian underground.
When asked as to how he selects artists for the label, it’s quite a simple process: “The common factor is, generally, I have to like them [laughs].” Given the morphing style of bands on the roster, there’s evidence these tastes are changing over time, though. “I find as time goes on, my tastes are expanding as I’m being introduced to great new music and niche subgenres. To start with it was much more blackened hardcore, doom, and post-metal and expanded out into other subgenres.” His personal tastes seem to be casting an ever-widening net – hop on the label site and you can treat yourself to anything from free-jazz, post-metal, doom and grind to string-quartet, experimental indie, and hardcore.
Keeping himself and his listeners on his toes is equally important, however. “One thing that’s struck me as quite important that I’ve noticed, is the context of when album is released.”
Creating stark contrast is just as important for Lachlan, who likes to release music that is dynamically different amongst common themes. “The idea is I’d like to have listeners not know what the next thing’s going to be; to approach it openly, and that keeps it kind of fun.”
Working hard on his own for the past seven years with Art as Catharsis, he notes it “Possibly is a bit too much at times.”
“I work 2-3 days per week and I try cutting back on that to have more time for the label,” he continues. “I’ve started working with people in Brisbane and Melbourne such as Tom Brand, to help with promotion and press releases.” He notes a greater frequency and density of releases, touring and artists requesting shows and demos.
When asked about possibly hiring more staff, he’d consider the possibility but only “If I went into full-time work.” Bucking the stereotype of the label manager who gives it all up to suffer for his art, Lachlan instead prefers to have more life balance. “I don’t really want to quit my day job. I work in the charity sector and it’s great work.”
Having that contrast between work and art seems to suit his disposition towards music quite well, too. “I actually really like the fact that I don’t need to make much money out of Art as Catharsis, as I probably wouldn’t be releasing all this ridiculous music [laughs]. It’s ‘cause I care about the music and the art which makes it work.”
Keeping a realistic focus on the financial viability of the music industry is sadly something every musician and label in Australia must keep in check, too. “There’s no question the financial side of music has suffered immensely,” he laments.
“You had all these strong business models and merchandising opportunities, products, all that stuff in the last couple of decades being completely eroded. Additionally, the supply of music is much higher – digital reproduction, producing an album, you can do that with gear worth less than 500 bucks.”
Instead of being dire about it, Lachlan sees this loss of commercial mechanisation as a freeing factor for the true purpose of music – that is, to make art.
“People first of all are going to start a band and create music, and if the commercial aspect is off the table, then they’re going to have to find another reason.” Nowhere is that more apparent than right here in Australia, a unique country in a unique geographical and cultural position. “We’re this weird, bizarre, geographically and culturally distinct continent. You get all these artists that are like, ‘Well, that’s fine, we’re obviously not doing this to be creating money’, and they then go and create this really interesting art – they’re freed in a way.”
This freedom to work outside the confines of bottom-dollar, breaking even and driving music for profit seems to have helped Art as Catharsis become a project of actualisation for himself, his bands, and their listeners. “Yeah, this is one of the most fun and rewarding things I’ve done in my life. It’s completely enriching.”
Such integrity, honesty, and dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed, however. Bands are constantly being added to the label, tours are being organised, and the music community is paying attention in a big way. “In the last couple of years, it seems to have hit this critical mass where I’m getting people and bands contacting me and feeling like it’s building into this big collective that isn’t necessarily about just what I like or what I feel anymore.
“I feel like Art as Catharsis is, now more than ever, a place to harbour some unique and diverse Australian underground bands, and I hope we keep going for decades to come!”
Me too, Lachlan. Me too.
To learn more about Art as Catharsis, click HERE.
You can catch the Sydney leg of the NICEFEST Australian tour on April 7th with Brian Campeau, Meniscus, Instrumental (adj), Hashshashin, Hamed Sadeghi, raven, Comatone + Foley at 5pm at Lazybones Lounge Bar, Marrickville.
Tickets available for $25
For the Melbourne show, with Warpigs, half/cut, Kodiak empire, Hashshashin, Lack the Low, Cold Hands Warm Heart and Badskin, head to the Grace Darling Hotel in Collingwood in Collingwood. Doors are at 5:30pm.
Tickets available for $25 from: