OKO's March Curation: Feminism through music

19/03/2019 • 12PM - 1PM

with River Yarra

“The turn of the millennium sparked fears globally of a technological fallout: computers would crash at the changing of a ’99 to a ’00, security systems would fail, the world’s nuclear stockpile would be triggered. The impending panic of inaccurate ordering of automated dating in digital systems spread its fear far and wide and came to be known as the Y2K bug.
On the under side of the world, in Australia, where most things arrive late, distorted or totally different to their original form, there were two women embracing analog and digital technologies in all their glory. Nicole Skeltys and Kate Crawford were better known as B(if)tek, a pioneering electro-femme outfit. Feminism with a wink and a bleep. Ladytron before Ladytron. Nicole’s eccentric solo project was Artificial – Hillbilly House – as she likes to call it.
River Yarra speaks to Nicole & Kate about their time as B(if)tek and Artificial paired with a 1hr mélange of the two women’s music.”

Here is the retranscription of their Q&A session:
Q: I read somewhere that B(if)tek started in Canberra (1.) Can you tell me how that came about?
Wikipedia says B(if)tek’s debut album “Sub-Vocal Theme Park” was released on Geekgirl, but wasn’t it on a German psy-trance label? Who is Geekgirl and what was your relation to them?

A: In 1996, when Kate and I realised our late night noodlings with analogue machines in my garage in Canberra had accidently produced enough material for an album, we approached our friend Rosie Cross to help us with the costs of pressing and promoting the CD. Rosie Cross was a digital feminist pioneer, she had set up the first on-line e-zine/site/blog for women into tech & tech related arts called Geekgirl. So Subvocal Theme Park was released in Australia thanks to her support and encouragement. But seems like it was only a few weeks after that, that we got contacted by a German trance label called Nephilim who wanted to release the CD in Germany and Europe. So we agreed to that too. To this day, I still don’t know how they found out about our obscure independent antipodean release. But I’m glad they did, because Subvocal got a cult following in Europe, and even just a few years ago, it reappeared at top of the electronic charts in Hungary!

Q: Most of your associated acts from the turn of the millennium seem to be males. At that time, were there any other female identifying musicians in your circles?

A: We were (and I still am) a member of a seminal electronic arts collective in Australia called Clan Analogue. It was (is) a collective of artists – mostly electronic musicians – who support each other and release own material, put on our own events etc. Yes, there were very few women doing electronic music production & performance back then, we were certainly the most successful in Australia at the time. But Clan had/has some great women artists & DJs like Sobriquet, Lush Puppy, Bass Bitch, Charlotte Wittingham (in Telemetry Orchestra), Cindi Drennan (in Tesseract). It was only after we’d released our second album 2020 in 1999, that Ladytron hit the scene – and are still going strong today. I sometimes quip that ‘we were Ladytron before there was Ladytron’.

Q: What do you feel your experiences in the music industry were stacked against your male counterparts?

A: Because we surrounded ourselves with – and often chose to perform with our friends in the electronic arts community, particularly Clan Analogue, there was a political awareness and aesthetic & intellectual support for what we were doing. We also had a lot of fun taking the piss out of feminine stereotypes in live performances – we used to dress up as nurses, space-age airline stewardesses, geishas, girl guides etc and hop around on stage. So that all worked well for us, but when we stepped outside of that cognoscenti electronica world, we sometimes came face to face with the reality of male dominated rock. We were one of the support acts for the 1999 Beastie Boys Australian tour, but the first night we appeared on stage in nurses outfits, we got harassed and leered at by the mass of ‘right to party’ boys in the front row who didn’t get us (or indeed what the Beastie Boys then stood for). So we dressed in ‘normal’ clothes for the rest of the tour.

Q: In your 2020 album, were you imagining what the future might hold and how close are we to your predictions?

A: Ha ha! I was asked that last week in an interview for a forthcoming documentary about Australian electronica in the 20th century. And my response was/is – if you look at the cover of 2020, you see a lovely girl against a retro-futurist ‘life in space’ background, looking at her smart watch/ gadget – possibly for inspiration. And I can guarantee, that we are on track to next year looking EXACTLY like that. Not only that, but back in 1999, there was no 2020 – but very soon, there will be. How spooky is that? We were always ahead of our time…

Q: Your 3 albums are all quite different while still retaining the same analog vision. What influenced your genres and what did the change between them look like?

A: Subvocal was just a glorious outcome of innocent noodlings and experimentation in a Canberra garage, dark, brooding, cinematic, a bit magical. Canberra feels pretty remote, and we used to play a lot in our own forest parties late at night, so perhaps the music reflects some of that atmosphere. 2020 was more upbeat, perhaps reflecting the fact that by then we were in demand to play at clubs, raves and festival dance stages across the country. Our final album Frequencies Will Move Together was quite heavily influenced by Boards of Canada at the time, and we also had the pleasure of asking some of our local and international friends (like Monolake) to do remixes for the 2nd album in this double album release – thanks to a generous grant from the Australia Council.

Q: You played some live performances on SBS (2.) and won an ARIA (3.) for best dance record in ’99 How did that arise? – In the same year’s hottest 100 the only dance song in the top 10 was Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You”

A: Yes, we were on TV a fair bit from about 1999 – 2001 – including Saturday morning Video Hits show, which was kind of the Australian equivalent of Top of The Pops! We were nominated for best dance act that year, but didn’t win. However, that inspired us to set up own own awards to reward artists who were genuinely pushing the aesthetic boundaries, taking risks and had a political conscience. The WINK awards ran for 3 years, and were funded from our own pockets, with some equipment & venue support from the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. We gave away cash prizes, had a proper ceremonies with hundreds of attendees, & provided each lucky winner with custom made lightbox awards designed by a local craftsman. We got entries from all around the world. That is one of my proudest achievements, it was rewarding artists for all the right reasons (as opposed to just being commercially successful which is the mainstream music industry’s only criteria of worth), and it made a lot of people very happy.one hour show in March to the theme of women, feminism, and women’s rights…

(1) Canberra (Lands of the Ngunnawal people) is the capital city of Australia. It was decided as such after a bitter feud between the two established metropolitan areas of Australia – Melbourne (Birrarunga – Lands of the Kulin nations); situated on the south eastern coast, and Sydney (Lands of the Eora nation); the eastern coast- couldn’t agree on which city would best suit the capital. Thus they picked somewhere in the middle.
(2) Special Broadcasting Service providing multilingual and multicultural radio and television services that inform, educate and entertain all Australians and, in doing so, reflect Australia’s multicultural society.
(3) Australian Recording Industry Association and the ARIA awards is an annual series of awards nights celebrating the Australian music industry

B(IF)TEK – Into The Clouds – Frequencies Will Move Together – 2003
B(IF)TEK – Unisex – Frequencies Will Move Together – 2003
ARTIFICIAL – No Taste In Music – Electro-Lollipop-Explosion – 1999
B(IF)TEK – Machines Work – 2020 – 2000
B(IF)TEK – Bedrock – B(if)tek – 2020 – 2000
B(IF)TEK – Nylon Gods – Sub-vocal Theme Park (Acid Unravelled) – 1996
ARTIFICIAL – Sentiment – Libraries Are Fun – 2002
B(IF)TEK – Hi Fi – Frequencies Will Move Together – 2003
B(IF)TEK – Modern Woman – 2020 – 2000
B(IF)TEK – Ultimate – 2020 – 2000
ARTIFICIAL – Over The Fence – Stoner Classix Vol 3 ‘Carry On Electronica’ – 2003
ARTIFICIAL – An Englishman in Ibiza – Stoner Classix Vol 3 ‘Carry On Electronica’ – 2003
B(IF)TEK – Luxury – 2020 – 2000
B(IF)TEK – The Climb – Sub-vocal Theme Park (Acid Unravelled) – 1996
B(IF)TEK – Wired For Sound – 2020 – 2000

OKO's March Curation: Feminism through music

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