With his debut album 'Eucalyptograph' out now, iDJ meets a fast-rising prog producer from Down Under
Hailing from Canberra, Doppel first emerged onto the scene in the mid-2010s. A long string of single and EP releases, mostly on Australian labels Open Records and Bassic but with outings, too, on Desert Trax, Proton Music, Dear Deer and Proton Music, among others, have since helped him steadily build his reputation in progressive/melodic/organic house circles.
Now he looks set to consolidate that reputation with his debut long player Eucalyptograph. Released on Open Records a few weeks ago, the album is an 11-track journey that sees him embracing a range of organic, downtempo and world music-type sounds while never losing sight of the dancefloor. Suffice to say fans of labels like All Day I Dream or Anjunadeep will love it, but there are tracks too that could cross over onto less specialist floors, particularly in the album's more techno-leaning final third.
It's also an album that's very much of its time: not in a "so achingly hip it's old-fashioned by the time it's out!" way but in the sense that the tracks were all written during, and inspired by, the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns – and in the sense that it was only thanks to a lockdown grant from a local arts funding body that it got made at all!
We reached out to Doppel to find out more, and here's what he told us…
As you haven't featured in iDJ before, can you start by telling us a little bit about your background and how you got into listening to/playing/making electronic music in the first place?
“Music has been a significant part of my life since I was a kid, but I think electronic music was the perfect coalescence of listening, playing and making. It was one of the main catalysts for me really coming out of my shell: being exposed to the power of dance music bringing people together and sharing music in the same space really added a necessary external dimension to music, which before was a very internal thing for me.
“The production side of things was a similarly perfect storm, in that the creative process really involves taking whatever’s in your mind and putting it straight down to paper with very few limitations. In art or life or whatever, I have always looked for tools that have allowed me to do that.”
Who were some of your key influences when you were starting out – and who's inspiring you the most right now?
“Key influences in the early days would have to be a lot of the music I first heard in the Aussie bush – Sun Control Species, D-Nox & Beckers, Max Cooper, Microtrauma, Tetrameth & Shadow FX, Thankyou City, Funkform, Jamie Stevens, Kollektiv Turmstrasse, Open Records, and more progressive/tech sounds of that bent.
“These days a lot of those people are still hugely influential but I suppose my tastes have rubber-banded back towards the realms of live music more. Neo-soul, jazz, hip hop and downtempo/world music are the kind of things that I listen to on the daily.
Your music's quite hard to pin down stylistically, but progressive/melodic house would seem to be the nearest best-fit, and I know you had early support from people like Nick Warren and Quivver. But how comfortable are you with that description – and how do YOU describe the music you make?
“I struggle to pin it down myself as genres and people’s familiarity with them are all over the place these days, but it definitely fits somewhere between progressive house and techno. I usually say one or the other when people ask me but I also try not to fall into the tropes and patterns of those genres – there are enough people doing those types of sounds better than me I think!”
People have also started talking lately about 'organic house' – again, is that a tag you're happy with? And do we really need another new genre tag?
“I guess when there are hundreds of tunes being uploaded to a platform like Beatport every day – I pulled that number out of thin air, but I imagine it’s not too far off – then maybe we need to be more specific when it comes to definitions. I also see the worlds of traditional and electronic music and their respective versions of more or less organic sounds as now being so intertwined that maybe it’s necessary to have that definition for that reason as well.
“That's just me spitballing though: my knee-jerk reaction to the question is that maybe it’s a little unnecessary, but then I'm getting old..."
How did Eucalyptograph come into being? Is it a collection of tracks you've made at different times over several years, or did you go into the studio, say “Right, album time!” and knock out 11 tracks in one long bout of productivity?
“It really was a reflection on 2020 and all of the tracks were written during that year, bar one or two which were older sketches twisted beyond recognition into new tunes.
“There were two main bursts of creativity: one right after Covid hit us and one a few months before release with a very strange lull in-between. That was also a massive part of the creative process – just with less active creation going on and more time spent swimming inside of my own head.”
Was there any kind of guiding concept, ethos or theme involved in these tracks' creation?
“Definitely! I’ve always wanted to write a concept album as one cohesive piece of work. I don't think I completely realise that with this project, but the tracks are all related.
“2020 began down under with bushfires and drought raging almost literally on my doorstep, through Covid and into floods and rain to bring the year to a close. Here in Australia our lives are so interwoven with our natural surroundings (just as they are anywhere else, but I feel it is particularly stark here) and I attribute our disconnection to that natural world with many of the issues that we face as a society and as a species, so the album is very much focused on that – our connection to nature and to others, through the lens of 2020.”
I know live work is a big part of what you do, so I”m guessing lockdown must have been quite a blow. Was this album in any way a result or reflection of that – and how accurately, do you think, does it represent what people might hear if they came to see you play live?
“It absolutely was, but one of the interesting turns in the creative process was the prospect of performing live which has always been a huge driving force for me. At that point the album was in a weird place, very introspective and twisted, but towards the end of last year there was a light at the end of the Covid tunnel, in that clubs and festivals were gearing back up again, and that completely shifted my energy.
“Maybe one day I will put myself back in that headspace and see what comes out – although I find that there is an inescapable melancholy in lots of my music no matter what – but when people hear what I’ve written live, a lot of what they’re hearing is me feeling hopeful, triumphant, energised and positive.”
Speaking of which… I spotted on Facebook you had a launch party for the album on Valentine's Day. So are clubs open in Australia right now, then, unlike Europe?
“Yes, they are pretty much all open! Albeit with limited (50-70%) capacity, but open. A lot of businesses really suffered during our lockdowns but it can’t be said enough – I am very lucky to be living in Australia for so many reasons, not least of which is that so many factors have added up to venues and festivals gearing up once again. Things are still touch and go, and we are proceeding with caution, but it is completely insane to me and almost seemed like a distant fever dream that we might be able to run an album tour so early into 2021.
“Our state governments have generally implemented good contact tracing and safety measures, we have a pretty small and sparse population, and we don’t really have any cases of Covid outside of quarantine at all, so the situation is way more manageable. But I think that any country can see where we’re at and have hope that before too long we’ll all be dancing together again.”
The press release mentions your “home labels” Open and Bassic Records, but I'm not sure quite what the relationship is – are these labels you own/run or just labels that have released your music regularly?
“So both of those labels are very near and dear to me, the relationship being a bit different with either of them but they are both essentially like families.
“Bassic Records is run by my good mate Zigmon, I used to just write music and upload it to Soundcloud almost as a personal catalogue, not necessarily for anyone else, and he was the first guy that really found it and wanted to release it. I put out my first EP on Bassic, he also booked me for my first interstate gig which was a huge milestone for me. At that point in time Bassic Records had just started as well and it’s been pretty incredible growing both as a person and as an artist alongside the label and the people who are a part of it.
“Open Records is different in that rather than coming up alongside it, it raised me in a sense. It was already legendary when I first started listening to house and techno music (they just celebrated 14 years strong), and it has played an integral part in shaping the sound of the Aussie scene as well as my own sound. Some of the very first tunes I ever bought off Beatport when I started DJing almost a decade ago were Open tunes.
“Similarly to Ziggy with Bassic, Jesse Kuch from Open Records just randomly discovered my music on Soundcloud one day and started messaging me. Not too long after we released the Melt EP to a pretty crazy international reception. That release really opened a lot of doors for me and lit a fire under both of our asses. I’m now partnered in running Open Records with Jesse, in what I feel is a crazy serendipitous return to one of the sources of my music in the first place. That's also part of what makes releasing this album on Open so special.”
The press release for Eucalyptograph also says it was “supported by the ACT Government & ArtsACT.” Please can you explain to us Poms what that means?
“To go back to living in Australia and how fortunate I am for that, it goes tenfold for those organisations at the start of last year when Covid cancelled all of my gigs. I was about a week away from flying out to Mexico to begin my first international tour when the world shut down.
“ArtsACT is a local arts funding body for the Canberra region, and along with my local government, they very quickly rolled out a grant programme to support artists who had lost work due to the pandemic. I pitched writing the album to them and was very lucky to receive a bit of funding, which completely saved my ass and allowed me to spend some months writing music. I can’t imagine where I’d be without it.”
Speaking of which… Australia's a long way away! Or from your point of view we are, I guess… do you feel the geographical distance is still a barrier for Antipodean artists trying to break through on the international stage, or does it not matter so much these days?
“Pre-Covid it wasn’t uncommon for Aussie artists to be pretty nomadic and spend half their year overseas. It’s obviously easier now than ever to connect with other artists and promoters through the internet, but I feel like those kinds of trips are really necessary to make connections and immerse yourself in other scenes when you’re establishing yourself internationally.
“Having said that, I've met some really amazing people and connected via the internet with artists I love and respect having never had the opportunity to meet them. I am cautious to predict what kind of world will emerge in the next few years, but I am excited to blend those two worlds and make digital connections firm in reality.
“The distance is a blessing and a curse for sure. The scene and population here are tiny and the distance between here, New Zealand and basically everywhere else is enormous, which means there are fewer parties and limited touring opportunities and people have relatively smaller followings which in turn makes it more difficult to crack the surface, but the scene we do have here is incredible. It’s so unique and there’s so much energy.
“At least from the perspective of a punter I have always maintained that Aussie crowds aren’t spoiled for choice with big names because we can’t just go down to the pub to see Sven Vath on a Wednesday, so when they do come here people get excited. Our local artists are world class as well, and I think that shared isolation down here in the middle of the ocean really encourages people to not take that for granted.”
And on that note… you're on the ground there and we're not! So what other Australian (or NZ) artists should people be looking out for right now – any mates or contemporaries you'd like to big up here?
“Absolutely! Check out Funkform, Thankyou City, Somersault, Moontide, Kasey Taylor, Luke Alessi, John Baptiste, Gabriel Moraes, Zigmon, Jesse Kuch, Butterz, Boy With Boat, Wilma, The Oddness, Jamie Stevens, Joe Miller, The Journey, Kase Kochen, Slipp, Smilk, Twisted Sibling, Handsdown and Leigh Boy.
“Lots of labels doing big things as well: Flow Music, Meanwhile Recordings, Recovery Collective, Beat & Path… honestly, there are too many to list off the top of my head! The scene here seems to be thriving right now and there’s such a crazy volume of amazing music coming out.”
Apart from the album, what else is going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
“Reception for the album has been incredible, so massive love to everyone who’s been enjoying it. I’ve been out of the studio for a bit just for a change of scenery and focusing on the album tour which has been amazing. I'm just focusing on achieving some balance right now – writing the album was a big process and I think it’s important to have a bit of input, not just output. It’s hard to create in a vacuum so soaking up some natural beauty, salt water, good food and good company have been the name of the game!
“On the release front, I'm very happy to be helping to launch Flow Music with a collaborative EP I wrote with my good mates The Journey, with remixes from Tim Engelhardt and Quivver, and otherwise just brewing some things in the background. Thank you for having me!”
Words: Russell Deeks
Eucalyptograph is out now on Open Records – buy it here.