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This is a press biography. It's supposed to tell you about a band: Bumblebeez. But which Bumblebeez?Read More...
The cavalier beat-mongers from the Australian bush? The confrontational punks who supported Radiohead and royally pissed off their fans? The neon-flecked electro-rap outfit infiltrating clubland worldwide? Or the primal screamers behind breakbeat blues tracks like 'Black Dirt'?
An intuitively eclectic outfit, and one whose personnel changes by the day - according to the whims and needs of chief Bumblebee, Chris Colonna - to try and pin down Bumblebeez, to sum them up in one bite-size sound-bite is to miss the point. Modern, contradictory, Bumblebeez are more a constantly mutating creative project than a band. As Colonna puts it: "We've never really known who the fuck we are."
Now 25, Colonna has been making music forever. Growing up in Braidwood (pop. 1100), nr. Canberra, it was just one of the things that he and his mates would do, like playing soccer, riding motorbikes and generally wreaking havoc in the countryside.
Out there, in the bush, Colonna wasn’t privy to the nuances of Australia's big city scenes, but he loved Nirvana and Public Enemy, Bumblebeez' debut album, 'Prince Umberto & The Sister Of Ill', tellingly ripe with fat beats and frazzled guitars.
A one-time drummer in a local marching band, by his teens Colonna had set up a DIY studio, with a basic computer, "recording whoever was around", and sampling everything that moved - even the family's pigs. In Year 11, money being tight at home, he stole a guitar from his school's music room, which he still uses to this day: "A while back I told the music teacher. She was like, 'oh, don't worry about it'."
However, it wasn't until Colonna left Braidwood to do an art degree at the Pratt Institute in New York - "From the age of 10 all I wanted to do was art. I've never had another job." - that his musical ambitions began to crystalise. In between matches with the college tennis team, he would suck up the local scene. He was listening to loads of hip-hop but, at the same time, felt liberated by the "dirty and raw, DIY revolution" going on in guitar music, led by The Strokes.
He returned home in 2002: "I sat down and the whole time I'd been in New York just came out of me in two weeks. I wrote ten songs. That's when I had to give the Bumblebeez a name, although, to this day, I don't know where it fucking came from."
Those early sessions laid down the Bumblebeez' modus operandi. "I come up with ideas, do all the writing and production," says Colonna, "but then it goes into a gang of people who're around the studio, mates and stuff. And if Pia [Colonna's sister, aka. MC Vila] is around, she'll rap on some tracks."
Colonna describes his approach to recording as "one mic, one take". There is little repetition or fine-tuning: "That initial 'bang' is what I always wanted to capture. That spark. I've always liked things that feel like they could collapse at any moment. You can try too hard to make music perfect."
This is partly a philosophy - "I quickly get bored of polished professional ," Colonna told one interviewer. "It always sounds the same and you know where it's going to go." - and partly a result of Colonna's notoriously short attention span. James Ford, the much sought-after producer of Klaxons and the Arctic Monkeys, who flew out to Braidwood to help Colonna sort his 300 demos (!) into the 'Prince Umberto...' album, says: "Chris is one of the most prolific people I've met. Ideas pour out of him. He's just too ADD to finish most of them off! Which is what we tried to do. It was an amazing experience. It was like reliving a teenage summer: recording drums in the kitchen, guitars in the sitting room, wandering around the bush, playing pool with the locals, them freaking me out with tales of poisonous spiders."
If that sounds chaotic, it works. Almost immediately after putting together those post-New York demoes, Bumblebeez won two national Australian unsigned bands competitions: Unearthed on radio station Triple J and Fly TV's new talent search. Two self-released EPs, White Printz and Red Printz, were subsequently picked up by various labels worldwide - UK observers may remember the 2004 hit, 'Pony Ride' - before being released as an album by Geffen in the US. Suddenly, this "pretty fuckin' lo-fi bedroom thing" was getting major airtime on MTV, and Bumblebeez were being touted as "the indie Neptunes". The Sugababes and Peaches approached Bumblebeez about producing tracks for them. In the space of months, Colonna went from Braidwood to, standing backstage at a festival, being given a pep talk by Beck.
Colonna, however, had no intention of allowing Bumblebeez to be rushed into the mainstream. Soon, they returned to Australia and consolidated their long-term relationship with that sympathetic cultivator of Aus-UK talent, Modular.
The forthcoming 'Prince Umberto...' (the title a reference to a relation of Colonna’s, a 12th century Italian aristocratic who, "caused a lot of shit”) is the result of Colonna being allowed to follow his singular vision to its manic conclusion. From the innocent, effervescent indie-pop of 'Spaceships' through the churning, processed garage rock of 'Freak Ya Loneliness' - featuring mates Jarrah (guitars) and Gordon 'Harvey' Smiles (vocals) - to Pia's Uffie-like sex rhymes on electro stomper 'Clubb Clubb', it’s a riotous cavalcade of styles and sounds, like a harder, rockier Avalanches, with whom Colonna is good mates. Ear-twitching segues and interludes mean the listener is never given a second to take stock. It's like repeatedly randomly spinning a radio dial, fragments of Happy Mondays, Beasties, John Spencer, Salt-n-Peppa, Go! Team, Daft Punk, Primal Scream, exploding and disappearing in the FM ether.
If that makes 'Prince Umberto...' sound like a party album, it is. But it has its dark moments too. 'My Girl' (a nightmare funfair version of Portishead, complete with the Yeah Yeah Yeah's Karen O, an old friend, crying on the outro) and 'Black Dirt' are like horrific, drug-induced panic attacks in the middle of all this drinking, dancing and grinding. Colonna's anguished vocal on the latter came about after days of mounting, unproductive tension, "where I wanted to burn down the studio.” However, he's loathe to explain any song in detail. "At art school, I'd do all the work, but I couldn't say shit about it. I couldn't ‘critique’ it. I couldn’t say it was about feminism or environmentalism; it just came out of me. I can analyse production techniques, but as for analysing songs, what they're about and what I was feeling... Sometimes they come from such a deep place that even I don't know where they've come from."
He is much happier talking about the perfect Bumblebeez album: "Ideally, I'd like to make a really fucked up record that goes everywhere, but which still has a pop sensibility, like 'I Am Walrus' by The Beatles. It's crazy, but it's still got huge hooks."
In 'Prince Umberto...' he may be closer to realising his vision than he knows. An irresistible, unstable broadside against complacent pop music, it plays self-assuredly with light and dark, noise and melody, the avant-garde and the retarded, all the while digging its brilliant, nagging hooks in. It is both "really fucked up" and "amazing pop".