Experience Ta-ku & Friends: "A bucket list kind of project, what we brought together, honestly.”
Multidisciplinary creative powerhouse talks debut Perth Festival project Songs to Experience, his immersive installation in the historic Lawson Apartments to invite listeners into his new album in a feast for the senses like no other
Images: Ashlee Tough / Cardin Farnham
Regan Mathews, known to most as Ta-ku, is the true definition of a “creative” - depending on your world and interests you may know him as a photographer, creative director, music producer, DJ, or quite likely all of the above. Having made a name for himself around the world and back again over the last 15 odd years, Ta-ku has now found himself back in his hometown of Perth, and in 2018 founded creative agency Pretty-Soon alongside friend Ben Wright, which has seen them work with the likes of Red Bull, Puma, Nike, G-Star and more.
Being back in Perth and focusing a lot of his attention on this creative endeavour (as well as music, of course), has led to (in my opinion) a long overdue collaboration with Perth Festival - the epic immersive world that is Ta-ku & Friends: Songs to Experience. A truly innovative way to introduce a new album, listeners are invited into this fully enveloping, mesmerising world created by a myriad of artists, with different rooms containing different tracks from the album, and different visual art accompaniments to compliment.
To tell us all about the exhibition/experience, how it came to be, who are the friends and what they’ve contributed, and for any further information about the new album (at this stage still not yet fully named, referred to as Songs to ____ to), Ta-ku jumped on a call, and we started off talking about what the general idea for the exhibition was and how it came to be.
“I've been making music for a while now, I've done the whole 'touring thing', and I always preface it with that cos I just figured out it wasn't really for me, for whatever reason it's just something that I couldn't see me doing long-term. Then I got married and had other responsibilities and it became even more apparent.
Recently I've started a business in my hometown with my childhood mate Ben - we have a business called Pretty-Soon, we've been doing a lot of creative agency stuff for the last three or four years, and so that's the main thing that I've been doing here in Perth for a while, and so when Perth Festival approached me about doing something for them, I was really flattered and honoured, but also kind of explained to them that I don't really do shows anymore.
I've always had this bucket list idea, and same thing with Pretty-Soon that we wanted to do something that's like an audio/visual experience for people of all ages - even if you had no idea who I was or what my music was - that they could come and enjoy it and discover this thing in the middle of the city.
So we pitched them that idea and we're very grateful that Perth Fest were supportive of the idea and wanted to see it through, and that's where Songs to Experience kind of came about.
It's pretty much a step into what the album's gonna look like this year, giving people in Perth an exclusive pre-listening experience of the album. When you step through Lawson Apartments in the city, it's like a beautiful heritage building in the middle of the city, each room represents a different facet of the album and is accompanied by a bunch of visual artists, creative artists that have helped us put this together.
That's why it's called Ta-ku and Friends, cos it's not just about me, it's about the twenty to thirty amazing creatives that help us bring this together that you will experience when you go through the Lawson Apartments.”
The Lawson Apartments. One of those buildings that if you live in Perth have probably walked past at least once - if you’re in the CBD, probably many, many times, but have never had a chance to go in… there’s a chance that a lot of people haven’t even noticed the heritage building. I was curious if Ta-ku had been inside before the start of this project?
“Na bro, I said the same thing. I've walked past that place so many times, whenever I needed to go to the Lo-Fi store or Beyond Skate or any of the places around there - I'd walked past it but never looked up. But then when we were introed to the place as a potential spot to do this thing I was just like 'this is amazing!'.
The two levels that we're in is part of what used to be the Karrakatta Club - which was a lady's club for people that wanted to have meetings and socialise, which sadly isn't around anymore. Then you have all the apartments above it, so it's just this beautiful space that has a lot of history, a lot of heritage, it's already very well lived-in.”
With such an amazing space to use, I was curious to dig deeper into the exhibition itself - I noted the list of “friends” was fairly long (nearly 30 artists!), so asked about the friends and how this group came to be.
“It all really stems back to Pretty-Soon - Ben and I pride ourselves in making work that pique's people's curiosity and also pushes creative boundaries, and collaborates with amazing people. If I tried to do this all by myself the end product wouldn't be as good, but you bring in people who specialise in their field and are amazing at what they do you, you're just making the end product a lot more rich.
Pretty-Soon has always been very proud to be a highly collaborative agency - for this one for instance, we've worked with an amazing autogenerative artist in Berlin by the name of Pali AKA pppanik, then we go to Iceland with Carla Zimbler who's from Melbourne originally who's another amazing project mapping genius. We go to Canada with Matt McWaters who helped sound design this thing with me, so it's just this wonderful amalgamation of all these beautiful artists that make an awesome end product.
Then obviously we have a lot of great local talent in there too, Steve Berrick, Sam Price, Beamhacker, who are from this small town but kill it in what they do. A bucket list kind of project, what we brought together, honestly.”
Digging in deeper, I wanted to know more about the idea of the project becoming an unveiling of his forthcoming Songs to ___ to album - when did this become the idea for the Perth Festival exhibition?
“We wanted to do something different in Perth, and we wanted to do something a bit out of the ordinary. For you to come to the middle of the city, go inside Lawson Apartments and have this thing pop up in your face, to us, is really exciting
When we were thinking of the idea, we were like 'who can help us bring this installation to life'. One person I really wanted to bring up in this interview is Ian Kanik, who's from Perth originally, now based in the States and across the East coast of Australia.. and I used to play basketball with him so that's great. He specialises in these experiences where you build a world for people to step into and when we brought him on-board, he really took our vision to life and did such an amazing job on such a tight timeline.
I don't even know how to drill a wall in my own home sometimes *laughs*, without completely destroying it, so to have someone that has someone that specialises in this production and fully immersive installation experience - having the Ian Kanik team by our side, both Ian and Kasia - it really helped us bring something to Perth that I've always wanted to do. I'd love to do it again on an even bigger scale.”
Putting him on the spot a bit here, I quickly fired off - where might the next one be held?
“I'd love to do it again in Perth. That's the thing - when you're from Perth, everyone looks elsewhere for opportunities, ya know? It's like, I can go to Sydney and do something there, I can go to Singapore or Tokyo or L.A. Those opportunities are there for me, so to speak, but I would love to just do this again here.
Obviously it would be great so other people can enjoy it, but for me that's what makes this really special - I've always wanted to do something for Perth Festival, so for this to be my first collaboration with them? I'm really stoked, and would love to do it again if Perth would like to see something like this again.”
Wondering more about Ta-ku’s connection with Perth Festival, I asked if he’d ever even played a set at it before - I thought I might have seen him spin back at the halcyon days Becks Music Box?
“No, I haven't. That was the spot - you would go and see Four Tet there, or you would go and see FlyLo there. That to me is my earliest memory of Perth Fest, and that's why to fast forward all these years - it's just nice to be part of the programme.”
Getting back to the exhibition, I asked every artist's dreaded question (I’m still gonna ask it though…) - the “favourite” question, so I asked if one particular room jumped out the most, while noting the “call the album” telephone concept from the video trailer.
“It's hard - every room is really special to me. The "call the album" one was one we did right at the very end. There's this phone booth inside the Lawson Apartments and thought we should use that, so Steve Berrick who's like this local digital mastermind, he rigged this old telephone to actually play tracks as you press the buttons - it's almost like a mini MPC. That in itself, for my background of being a sampling, hip-hop based artist, that's really dope.
I couldn't say a highlight - every room is super special and every room has an artist linked to it that I'm really appreciative of. I would say, one of the things that's really made my heart super happy is that we've left these pads around the building that say "songs to __ to" and we're giving people the opportunity to write whatever they think. Then you get into the front and we have a pin-up board where people put their ideas.
When you walk in - when I first saw everyone's ideas, it's just nice to connect with the fans that way and see if they wanted to finish off the series where they'd take it. There's some really sweet ones, there's some mildly inappropriate ones *laughs* but all-in-all, seeing that, the culmination of the whole experience, seeing how into it they are, how much they're loving all the rooms and all the artists... all the rooms are great, but that in particular is quite heartwarming.”
I had to know if there were any particularly funny suggestions that sprang to mind?
“There was one - Garth who runs Lo-Fi, he wrote ‘Songs to eat hot chips to’ - that wasn't one that I had thought it could be but that's the one that I'm like "that actually sounds pretty delicious" *laughs*
No there's a bunch - I'm still trying to find one where maybe someone's guessed it... I haven't found it yet. That's the exciting thing - we're gonna grab them all at the end and go through and see if anyone guessed the right title.”
Finally, with the exhibition coming to a close on Sunday, March 6 AKA the last chance people will have to hear the album (for) now, do we have a date for the new record yet?
“Not yet, no, but it is definitely coming this year. Once Songs to Experience wraps up, we have some plans to soon start rolling it out... this is stuff that I've been making for the last two years or so, and more so the last half of 2021 it all really came together and I'm just at the point where I really want to let people hear it. We're definitely getting closer...”