Ashley Anderson Turned Noise To Music

Bernard Zuel

Ashley Anderson is only just coping with the construction noise outside his Sydney apartment. I suggest he stick a microphone out and sample some sounds. It may come in handy in his regular job as Katalyst, one of Australia's leading dance and hip-hop producers and a man whose reputation extends beyond Sydney and Melbourne.

"You never know," he says. "I could use those industrial sounds in some way, shape or form."

The chances are pretty good though, once sent through the filters Anderson would apply, those sounds would end up as something completely different in a funked-up bit of pop music. The evidence has been piling up in his various production jobs but never more so than on the new album under the Katalyst moniker, What's Happening, which adds some genuine songwriting to his undoubted ear for a great sound.

"I really wanted to push myself to write a more sophisticated and more song-based record and not just be categorised as the funky dancefloor guy," Anderson says. "To make a record that was a more broad producer record than just getting in 14 rappers to rap on different tunes."

To that end Anderson wrote songs with specific voices in mind, including the operatic pop voice of Katie Noonan, the rock tones of Adalita from Magic Dirt and American rapper J-Live.

"All the people on the record, I wanted them to feel like they wanted to be on the record, that it was something special."

It has worked, with What's Happening already being talked about in terms of ARIA awards (he has been nominated before) and even tempting commercial radio and TV programs looking for something fresh to play behind their edgy new dramas.

Which may make you wonder why we've had to wait five years for Anderson to follow-up his ARIA-nominated debut album, Manipulating Agent.

He will tell you he has been busy running his label, Invada (with friend and mentor Geoff Barrow, of British group Portishead), operating as his own booking agent and business manager and producing and remixing here and overseas. That's all true. But you could ask how much of the past five years Anderson has spent trawling the crates and boxes of record stores here and around the world.

"It's a passion really, the old records," he laughs. "I still really enjoy them. Someone like Geoff [Barrow], he's almost moved on [from records]. The new Portishead album will have very few samples on it. But I enjoy finding the diamond in the rough, the weirder and more wonderful the better. I've been exposed to a whole lot of European music that on the first record I didn't know even existed: Polish, Czech records, Russian records. And then there's some really interesting Indian music I've picked up lately.

"Of course some of the European stuff is hard to get in Australia as not a lot of that made it here. You do have to keep your eye out and become a seasoned record digger."

So what is the key, the lesson we can all take, when digging through crates of old records?

"Firstly, if I haven't seen them before. Then I pick it up and look at the sort of instruments being played," Anderson says. "If people are playing a lot of steel guitar and harmonica it's pretty safe to say that there's not going to be too much funk-oriented stuff on there. Then it would come down to where it's from, what the artwork looks like and the vibe of the record.

"But in the end I just listen to a lot of stuff. I'll take a massive pile to the listening facilities or I will have a little portable turntable with me and sit there for hours listening to stuff."

Not surprisingly, there isn't a lot of room to spare in the Anderson house.

"It's almost like the Tardis in here. You open up every cupboard, every nook and cranny, and there's stuff everywhere," he sighs. "It has reached critical mass, I think."

Does he know where everything is, at least?

"On that point, I opened the lid of a juice the other day and they have these little facts inside it and it said, 'A year of our life is spent looking for lost items'." Anderson chuckles at the aphorism. "I wondered whether I spent more time than most."

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