Feels Like We Only Go Backwards: A Modular Recordings Retrospective
Looking back through some of the defining moments in Modular Recordings' hay day.
Modular Recordings, much like Future Classic is now, was the taste-making independent Australian label of the 2000s. They had a serious roster that included the likes of Klaxons, The Presets, Tame Impala, Wolfmother and so many more. They had the best complications like the Leave Them All Behind Series and the Gang Bang 12” compilations. They brought Daft Punk to Australia for THAT Alive tour. Sadly now only a shell of their former glory remains and they are currently engaged in a million dollar lawsuit with Tame Impala. Today though, we're gonna strap on our shiny disco balls and take a trip down nostalgia lane, when indie-dance ruled supreme and Modular had both hands on the steering wheel.
THE LIVING END - THE LIVING END
Funnily enough, when Modular Recordings started out in 1998, it wasn't to release a dance/rock outfit, rather The Living End's self-titled debut album and Ben Lee's third album Breathing Tornadoes. But the success of these two albums, especially The Living End's, was what got them on everyone's radar. Kicking off with Prisoner Of Society, it was arguably The Living End's best release they ever put out - just look at that absolute beast of a tracklist.
THE AVALANCHES - SINCE I LEFT YOU
Ahhh The Avalanches, a band so clouded in dulcet tones of praise they've basically become mythical based off the one album. But seriously what an album it is, taking southern rap, spoken word, funk, animal sounds, a whole lot of looping and samples and weaving them together into a massive tapestry of sound. When their second album is coming is anyone's guess, but until then any sample-based producer worth their salt will cite this release as an absolute landmark in dance music around the world.
THE PRESETS - BEAMS
Fast forward to 2006 and we come to the release of The Presets' debut album Beams, and despite not having the ball-busting atmosphere of Apocalypso it did lay down the blueprint for it. From the first track, Steamworks, it'll have you working up a sweat and then you leap straight into the anthem that is Are You The One? And from there, there is no turning back. It isn't all just hectic jams, as tracks like Girl And The Sea highlight the at-times introspective and sensual nature of Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes. Something they expanded on in both following albums with considerable success. Beams, along with Cut Copy's debut LP Bright Like Neon Love a couple of years prior, would lay the foundation for the live indie-dance craze that took over Australia in the mid-late 2000s.
KLAXONS - XAN VALLEYS EP
Acts like Klaxons signalled Modular’s interest in overseas acts and the formation of the 'Modular Sound', the merging of the alt-rock scene with dance sensibilities. Indeed, just listening to Gravity's Rainbow fizzing with restless guitar riffs and Atlantis To Interzone groaning under its warehouse-esque synths and fast licks. It was a highlight in the emerging genre and a perfect example of how the 2000s rock scene was becoming over-run with ecstacy-fuelled live dance acts.
NEW YOUNG PONY CLUB - ICE CREAM
New Young Pony Club was another early British signing for Modular and the track that caught their attention was Ice Cream. Where Klaxons leant more to a rock-sounding background New Young Pony Club fully embraced the synth-pop crossed with quick guitar strokes. Listening back to it, it does sound rather dated with the punchy drums and repetitive, slightly monotonic vocals but you can’t help but feel slightly nostalgic listening to it.
MODULAR PRESENTS: LEAVE THEM ALL BEHIND
Released in 2006 and 2007 the Leave Them All Behind series featured tracks from Bloc Party, Peter Bjorn & John, Death From Above 1979, MSTKRFT and Justice alongside a whole heap more. Along with original cuts from artists Modular also slapped together some legendary producers like Erol Alkan, Cut Copy, Digitalism, The Knife and Simian Mobile Disco to remix them. And despite only being around for two years the compilations really did leave everyone else behind featuring one disc mixed, and the second with the tracks separate, it was perfect for parties and your own collection.
Interestingly enough when Daft Punk released Human After All the overall response was of dismay with critics panning it and sales being mediocre in comparison to their previous albums. But it was their 'Pyramid' Tour, which you guessed it, saw them playing within a pyramid, much like the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury that brought the crowds around again. And Modular's Nevereverland festival in 2007 saw them headlining alongside The Presets, Cut Copy, Van She and a whole slew of other bands. It was absolute peak Modular in Australia.
WOLFMOTHER - WOLFMOTHER
Wolfmother's debut album scored Modular Recordings their first Grammy nomination (Best Hard Rock Performance) and Grammy in 2006. But just getting a Grammy isn't a cause for assuming it's good because so often the Grammys seem like a chance for the music industry to pat itself on the back and leave out truly talented artists. The reason this album is so important to Modular Recording's history is that it stuck out as a heaving rock record when the alt-rock scene had pretty much asphyxiated in the early 2000s. It burst out into the barren landscape fertilising it with colossal guitar licks and the yowls of Andrew Stockdale. Wolfmother would never scale the same heights critically or commercially following this album's release.
Now any retrospective list can't be complete without a fight of some sort. It all began in October 27, 2007 when Muscles spat the dummy saying he had had enough of MySpace Music (MySpace, lol) because it didn't support independent artists only those on major labels. There's an irony here in that Modular Records was funded by Universal Music, a major label, but that is for another time. He then states he had been cut from Modular's 2008 Nevereverland festival on December 2. December 3 Modular came back to say that he still playing the festival. December 4 Muscles says it's a lie and quits being Muscles.... Well until December 16 when he plays Meredith Festival and doesn't utter a word about quitting. The following day Muscles decides he will sue Modular over what has happened. Then things get a bit weird; Muscles plays a show with Tim Rogers and announces he is coming back to the music business (when did he leave?) and is now producing for Tim Rogers. And then he drops a song with Ben Lee...I guess Modular Recordings couldn't get everything right.
Muscles very recently announced a new album and Australian tour, although troubles continue with that tour being postponed to "work on his new album". Whatever happens, Ice Cream is still a banger.
BAG RAIDERS – BAG RAIDERS
Bag Raiders’s debut album ushered in an era of house mixed with synth-pop that acts like Miami Horror and later Flight Facilities embraced with open arms. There isn’t so much layer upon layer of depth to this album but an atmosphere of summer, gently lapping waves and dancing away into the night. Sunlight personifies this with its effervescent feel and a catchy hook to reel you in, whereas tracks like Shooting Stars and Way Back Home take a nostalgic twist on the summer that we never want to end. Speaking of never ending, the wait for their follow-up album seems to be doing the same, although we're finally getting some new tunes over the past few months.
CUT COPY - ZONOSCOPE
Throughout the 2000s Cut Copy was one of Modular Recordings's staple acts, they were everywhere - dropping majestic-sounding synth-pop and remixing a heap of artists, just look at the Leave Them All Behind series. But it wasn't until Zonoscope they truly came into a force of their own, particularly on the internatinoal stage. The epic opening track Need You Now nailed this point home as it would see many crowds singing back the memorable chorus. But this wasn't an album of just stand-out singles, it had depth to it like Blink And You'll Miss A Revolution which was tinged with jungle vibes and heady vocals. It was truly an album to listen to from start to finish and immerse yourself and discover what synth-pop acts could achieve. Bright Like Neon Love was a solid introduction, In Ghost Colours had the singles and Zonoscope was the complete package. As Australia started to move on from the "Modular Sound", this album was the one that took Cut Copy overseas, where they now regularly play to crowds of tens of thousands.
TAME IMPALA - LONERISM
Lonerism was not Modular's last release but it was definitely the peak of their gigantic mountain of music and it saw Tame Impala achieve worldwide praise for their electronic-tinted take on 60s psychedelic music. There's also a sad irony in Modular's biggest release also proved to be their silver bullet. But regardless, the songs on this album; Elephant which has no chorus, Mind Mischief with its fuzzed out guitar riffs, Why Won't They Talk To Me? with its desperation-tinged mood and so many more of these songs were some of the best Modular ever released, and set Keving Parker and friends up as one of the world's biggest bands.