For over 15 years, Dappled Cities have been striving for something new. Across four albums (plus one B-side collection) and countless gigs at home and abroad, they arguably found it, too. But that’s the thing about ‘new’: it’s a curve that keeps shifting, and you can never be too complacent in its company before it scurries away again.
Now arriving at their fifth full-length album, the appropriately titled ||||| (Five), and an epic spectacle-happy gig at this year’s Vivid Festival, Dappled Cities are set to once again show us what makes them so engrossing; why they’re a strobe-lit beacon of contemporary pop. Plus, Dave Rennick is a first-time uncle – which, given my own recent uncling, is a new experience for us both. I propose instead of a First Wives Club, we create the First Uncles Group. FUG.
“We can be FUGgers!” Rennick laughs. “What do FUGs do? They just go out together and get wasted, they have no responsibilities. You sit around and talk about other people’s babies. It’s FUG Life.”
Indeed it is. It seems that the primary role of an uncle is to showcase the child all the behaviour their parents would rather not encourage. Cool Uncle cares not for bedtime! Of course Cool Uncle will buy you that six pack! They’ll also be full of stories and insights into music and nightlife, and here Rennick can outshine most. For the last decade of its life, the Hopetoun Hotel in Surry Hills was his second home, and proved the launching pad for Dappled Cities’ first two albums – not to mention those of countless other bands.
“I was a piece of furniture there,” he says. “I also lived literally next door. I moved three times, and each time it was within a block of the Hopetoun. They couldn’t get rid of me.”
Nobody knew it at the time, but the Hopetoun’s closure in 2009 turned out to be the start of a long line of local venues going under. There’s a lot of gloom and despair about the Sydney music scene today, but Rennick has yet to throw in the towel.
“I’ve got a slightly more optimistic point of view. I certainly take issue with the lockout laws. They’re obviously incredibly hypocritical and just plain stupid and short-sighted and satisfying the agenda of some Satan-worshipper. But as far as the music scene, I definitely see change, and I see a place like Surry Hills becoming gentrified and not the creative hub it once was.
“But then you see it popping up elsewhere. Marrickville is really flourishing, other venues are starting to open. We played a show at the Chippo Hotel the other month. I’d never heard of it, but I walked in and, whoa, there are still really cool venues opening up all the time in good locations. So I’m optimistic.
“The other thing – and I have to say this delicately – a business is a business, and if it isn’t running well, then it’s going to shut down, and leave opportunities for other businesses to open. The Lansdowne is a classic example. It’s been closed down several times, and always gets reopened. That’s happening again now, which is really exciting. I think if you’re a venue you really need to stay clever and stay relevant. Apply good business sense, and then you can serve the music scene, and everyone walks away happy.”
Rennick is the first to admit that the same applies to musicians themselves. Five stands in the tradition of the hyper-colour ’70s scene of Roxy Music and David Bowie, all sex and soul, but it’s not a nostalgic record. The new single ‘Stone Men’ is a great song with a gorgeous video, but proves the band isn’t stuck in a romanticised past. Dappled Cities keep their business wheels greased, but only so their creativity can keep evolving.
“There’s definitely been times we’ve made decisions based purely on what we think will make us more famous,” Rennick says, and bursts out laughing. “I think it can be a bit of a flawed approach. I don’t think that necessarily leads to making the best music, and that ultimately is my role in this whole weird world. But certainly in terms of staying relevant, that always crosses my mind. We’re releasing our sixth record – how are we going to make it so that I like it personally, and then see other people like it?
“But that ’70s thing … I guess the best way to describe it is late-’70s pop-rock. We were really going deep in that. I think what drew us to it, it’s music made by bands, and more specifically musicians in the bands. You’d get Bowie walking in with these songs, and he’d have the most macking bunch of session musicians, and yeah, he’d have an idea where they’d go and would have some riffs, but the nuances are created by having the actual band there together.
“Talking about staying relevant, something we obviously look at is the rise of producers at the moment, which is awesome. All of these laptop producers. We saw this happening, and well, that’s not us. I see it as a fundamentally different art form, so it leaves us to question, ‘Who are we?’ And the answer really is, we’re a band! And what do bands do? Oh, that’s right, they get into the room with a song and fucking play together and try not to overthink it.”
Though many of Dappled Cities’ new songs found a debut at their Chippo set a few weeks back, Vivid will provide the first major outing for Five, and like all Vivid gigs it will do so with panache, showcasing a time in their career of comfort and creativity and laser lighting.
“You’re always collaborating with people, and we’re at a point in our career where we’d rather collaborate and let someone else bring [something] and let that shine, rather than be too heavy-handed ourselves. And that comes up with both video clips [for ‘Stone Men’ and ‘That Sound’], and the work we’re doing on the Vivid show.
“It all comes down to collaborating with awesome people. Being Vivid, obviously we’re going to be focusing on a substantial visual component. And it all sort of ties into the cover of the record. The artwork we’re using on the record is by an artist called Paul Juno, from California. He’s an abstract painter, and then the layout itself has been put together by a Sydney-based design agency called Studio Days, and the content that we spoke about, it has to be that stark, kind of cold feeling against a colourful, flowing colour scheme. That’s the concept we’re going to be bringing to life somehow.
“The beauty of doing this is that we have the means to really go crazy, and that’s totally what we’re going to do. I think it’s going to be the best show of Dappled’s career.”
Before Rennick wanders back to work, eyes on the not-too-distant prize of the City Recital Hall at Angel Place, he casually mentions his work on the side as a graphic designer. It seems an ideal opportunity to get our fledgling ‘movement’ off the ground and running.
“Ha, I’ll start work on a little coat of arms!” he laughs. “Catch you later, FUG buddy!”
||||| (Five) is out Friday May 5 through Chugg Music.