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PostPosted: 26 Jun 2002 23:00    Post subject: freeNRGan interview with editor Graham St John



an interview with editor Graham St John

"freeNRG : notes from the edge of the dance floor" is a book about music - electronic music, the sounds, and methods of creating and sharing these sounds with other likeminded individuals. It's about people, the passionate people who live on the fringe of society celebrating electronic music with their DiY ideals and also the spiritualistic insights that music can bring. It's about technology, and how technology can be used to spread ideas and keep people informed. It's about information, information that cannot be suppressed by traditional media. And it's about history, the history of one sector of the Australian electronic music community, which to this day, hasn't been documented as completely as has been done by this book. It's a book of great importance. Anyone who deems themselves passionate about electronic music should have a read and also keep it as a reference as to how electronic music industry in Australia eveolved.

"freeNRG : notes from the edge of the dance floor" is an amazing book, not only because of the topics covered, or the depth and breadth of research done by the contributors and Graham St John, but also because of the amount of personal insight gained from reading the ideas of the people interviewed. In great detail, the book delves into the undercurrents of one of the more active aspects of the Australian electronic music community, gains insight into the collective's mind and philosophies - their social, ecological and technology based roots and leads the reader on a journey in which their ideas may be forever changed. Each chapter includes a comprehensive listing of references which, if the reader were to avidly follow, would lead them on new paths of discovery and knowledge.

Here is the transcript of a quick chat with Graham St John at the Sydney launch of freeNRG held at Frigid@Hopetoun Hotel on 17th March. In the spirit of the DiY/DiO nature of the book's topics, a free party was held for the Melbourne launch on Friday the 22nd March.

::: AliaK
>>> Graham St John

>>> I'm Graham St John, the editor and compiler of "freeNRG - notes from the edge of the dance floor". I guess the best way to describe it is the fact that it's all about how art is raised to inspire the imagination, is mobilised in the service of a cause. The art being electronic music, techno music and the various aesthetics that orbit around electronic music throughout the 90s. The causes are many - from establishing s sense of community, to intercultural reconcilement, to defending natural heritage. It's kind of an undercultural history, or a history of the underculture of the 90s, which has really been only documented in subterranean sort of formats - preaching to the converted. This is a book that hopes to reach a lot more people in the broader community.

::: Definitely, I don't think I've ever seen one written as an actual book, I've only seen articles on the websites and email lists so it's good to see. You've done a great deal of research for this work, cross-references and in-depth studies..

>>> It's a pretty solid compilation

::: How long did it take to compile?

>>> It was pretty miraculous really - it only took a little over about 14 months from conception to holding it in my hand. There's an electronic version as well - it's also available as an e-book (pdf), so it can be experienced in an electronic format.

::: Will it have updates of future events and future studies?

>>> Well yeah, there's a possibility for a second print run as well. It's pretty uncertain territory, electronic publishing, e-book publishing, it's never been successful in the past but I think there's an international tech-savvy readership for this type of thing and the very fact that there has not been this type of documentation of the culture of electronic music in Australia even though there's a lot of stuff coming out of the UK and their experiences there, and the States - this is the first compilation of such very inspiring stories.

::: Australia's got such a long history, such a tribal history, it seems sometimes that we haven't really delved into it as much as we could, but this book seems to do that?

>>> It does. Like I said, there's an underculture, a very vibrant thriving underculture that is captured in this book. The connection between politics and electronic music culture is the thing that's inspired me, particularly Earthdream. Earthdream 2000 was the principle inspiration for the book - I met half the contributors on Earthdream. It's an ongoing and annual phenomenon and there's a pretty good website associated with that to check out []. Labrats who are sort of half of Combat Wombat, is another story documented in one of the chapters in the book. Theirs is one of the most inspiring stories! If this book inspires others to perform such feats then it will have served its purpose.

::: So you go to a lot of the parties out bush and out west?

>>> Yeah I try to get out as much as I can with limited finances. Earthdream 2000, was a good experience, a good example of committing to 4 or 5 months in the desert. It's a nomadic party, and the principle node in the party protest movement in this country. We went all the way from Roxby Downs right through Central Australia and various Aboriginal communities, to Darwin and then East Timor and beyond. It wasn't just electronic music it was a whole raft of performances, youth cultural sort of formations who are committed to celebrating and defending natural and cultural heritage, who are committed to defending the planet from the nuclear industry and committed to engaging in solidarity with indigenous communities and various causes, Native Title, beleaguered communities who are subject to the incursions of uranium mines and again Labrats and Ohms Not Bombs are principle nodes in that kind of activity.

::: Did you find you had much support when you went around? Did everyone join in and celebrate with you?

>>> Yeah, we had a great deal of support from local communities, not only Aboriginal communities but white communities. In places like Coober Pedy, especially once they'd seen what we were doing - creating murals in towns and linking up with local organizations and youth organizations. Bringing some pretty spectacular performances to remote communities and giving those communities an opportunity to interact performatively as well. So it wasn't just performing for communities, it was an intercultural performance.

::: I'm from Brisbane originally, and I noticed that you've got a chapter from Kathleen Williamson. Did you enjoy meeting her? She does a great job up in Brisbane supporting the local community and spreading the word.

>>> Yeah, Kath's phenomenal, she's a legend! I met her for the first time on Earthdream, although we'd been communicating online for quite sometime and she's one of these examples of one of the many brilliant people I met on that event - it was sort of like a repository, a mobile sort of repository for the creative, people into creative resistance at various times. She's a great proginator if you like, of the new sense of opposition amongst younger people, or not so young people, to the current regime. She's very inspiring

::: Does the book cover the spiritual side of psy trance and the tribal elements of electronic music?

>>> There are four sections, one of them is called Techno Ascension, it features about 4 chapters on techno spiritualism and religious dimensions of electronic music, trance, alternative states of consciousness including the chapter by Robin 'Mutoid' Cooke on Earthdream and Mutoid Waste Company. There's some pretty bizarre stuff, including a chapter by Rak Razam on kind of the acid test of the noughties (2000's) you could call it, if you're familiar with the original acid tests. It's an out-there chapter!

::: Do you want this book to stay underground or do you want the wider public to know about what goes on

>>> Definitely was designed to reach the broader community. So many publications like small zines, and e-zines that really preach to the converted if you like, are in this endless loop of disseminating information to the same people. This is about that, but it's so much more than that - it's about disseminating these ideas, these concepts, to a broader audience.

::: Dispelling some of the media ideas that are out there at there at the moment which are generally negative towards electronic music and it's community?

>>> Absolutely. There's this popular understanding that young people are unmotivated, politically alienated, and not politically active.

::: They are thought to be just hedonistic, going out to have a good time and not thinking about anything else?

>>> Exactly yeah. I mean this is a book about young people being reflexive, young people taking action, creating a public new sense if you like, evicting spectators from their comfort zones and dispelling those popular sort of myths. I think you'll get a lot out of reading this book because it's really anti-commodification of electronic music culture. The commodification of electronic music culture in the form of various promotional organizations, various party organizations, various people is sort of the point from which this book departs, the departure point. The various people who are working in the freeNRG, DiY culture sort of exemplify that departure from just making money, just making more money.

::: Is the book available in bookstores?

>>> Yeah it's available in all good book stores, and is associated with university bookstores. Half the contributors are academics, currently academics, it's targeted towards the cultural studies and media studies type readership as well as popular readership. In Sydney, you can get it in Glebe Books and places like that.

::: Is it available online as well, so people in other parts of Australia or the World who may not have a bookshop which stocks it can still purchase it?

::: Yes. The best way to purchase it is to buy it online through Common Ground Press ( It is also available as an e-book through OzAuthors, and the link is available through It's much cheaper for the e-book (only $11). There are 3 different file sizes for people with different systems, different speeds and capabilities. The difference between the e-book and the printed book is that there are 80 colour images that you get with the e-book - 40 black and whites associated with the paperback. I'd have to say, that one of the more intriguing chapters in the book is by Robin "Mutoid" Cooke who is the co-founder of the Mutoid Waste Company and the e-book features so many more of his imagery, his installations and his creations than can be adequately conveyed in the black and white form.


::: Doof! Australian Post Rave Culture
::: Propagating Abominable Knowledge: Zines on the Techno Fringe

::: Sound Systems and Australian DiY Culture: Folk Music for the Dot Com Generation
::: Doofstory: Sydney Park to the Desert
::: Turning Technology to Ecology: Labrats Sola Powered Sound System
::: Techno Terra-ism: Feral Systems and Sound Futures

::: Mutoid Waste Recycledelia and Earthdream
::: Psychic Sonics: Tribadelic Dance Trance-formation
::: Chaos Engines: Doofs, Pyschedelics and Religious Experience
::: Directions to the Game: Barrelfull of Monkeys

::: Practice Random Acts: Reclaiming the Streets of Australia
::: Carnival at Crown Casino: S11 as Party and Protest
::: Appropriating the Means of Production: Dance Music Industries and Congested Digital Space

Contributors for the book include :
Ray Castle : Robin "Mutoid" Cooke : EugeneENRG (aka DJ Krusty) : Chris Gibson : Kurt Iveson : Labrats :Susan Luckman : Enda Murray : Rak Razam : Sean Scalmer : Graham St John : Peter Strong (aka DJ Morphism): Des Tramacchi : Kathleen Williamson

For more information about freeNRG, contact Graham St John via email : or visit the freeNRG website @

The book is available as a paperback from all good bookstores as well as online @ It is also available as an e-book from - the electronic version contains more images and is available at a reduced price.

submitted by AliaK - 2002-04-08 22:38:30

Related Article: FreeNRG: Notes from the Edge of the Dance Floor

More details about the project, along with a FreeNRG discussion forum, can be found HERE



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