"We certainly think about the idea of the non-actor in our performances," singer and lyricist Jonnine C. Standish of HTRK – pronounced Hate Rock – is talking thematics.
"There are recurring themes of desire and submission in the lyrics as I'm twisting or confirming the cliché that women are the weaker sex. In our first album Marry Me Tonight I was the predator and instigator of my own destiny. My stage get-up of banging the drum with a maraca was primal and dominatrix at the same time; that ‘boom’ would get anyone’s attention. In our latest album Work (Work, Work) I’m overcome by my desires and play a submissive and subversive role. I went under, got swallowed up, gave in, let go...."
With that, Standish is currently playing softer electronics in a counterbalance to Nigel Yang’s (guitar, synth, drum machines) stage presence.
Strong, soporific and charged with suspense; like the Ouroboros, the duo’s music gives birth and simultaneously chews itself up, an impression in sound of the intangible. You get the feeling they would do a brilliant job scoring an intense, psychological foreign language film.
"We love experimental narrative cinema – Philippe Grandrieux, Lucrecia Martel, Olivier Assayas and Carlos Reygadas are great," reveals Yang. "Over the years we’ve written a few soundtracks for artists’ films but would love to write a soundtrack for a feature film. We’re working on the music for a lookbook video by PAGEANT, and hope to provide soundtracks for new films by Emad Aleebrahim Dehkordi, David Ferrando Giraut and Pussykrew."
"One show I remember that still feels like the essence of HTRK was 3am in a club called Pony, a real shitty dive in Melbourne," Standish says of their most memorable gig so far. "You would only end up there if you were desperate at that time of night. This was in 2006 or something in front of many people we knew from the scene. The mixer got my vocal plug-in settings confused for the drum machines. The sound was a disgusting mess and the boys were on too much ecstasy to give a shit. Sean yelled at the mixer 'You’re a plug-in' from my microphone and the crowd was laughing. It was a truly awful show. Nigel called me the next morning and didn’t say anything on the line for ages – then, quietly 'Did that happen?' No one wants to hear about the best gigs with show-off sound systems, let’s face it."
"In our latest album Work (Work, Work) I’m overcome by my desires and play a submissive and subversive role. I went under, got swallowed up, gave in, let go...."
Founding member Sean Stewart tragically left this world in 2010. It was him who coerced Standish to jack in her day job as an art director (though the mindset remains) and rehearse with himself and Yang. After relocating to Berlin, HTRK are today willfully beyond geography, working out of London, spending time back in Australia and touring far beyond either – most recently inviting Pandora's Jukebox across Europe with them. "Everyone knows she is impossibly elegant but do they know she is also loyal and kind?" Standish tributes.
The HTRK logo was designed by the band’s singer in 2004. "It's an overthrow of the iconic LOVE logo crossed with political propaganda angles and big corporation confidence," she reveals. "We are very strict about the visual language we use but more humorous than people may know. Nigel once wrote to me in an email that the band will probably break up over a Tumblr post issue rather than something musical."
Naturally Standish has a view on the relationship between music and style, introducing the idea that both are fascinated with rebellion and romance. "I was talking to my friend Joe Dilworth (who's played in about a million bands) the other day," she says, "and he made this interesting point that being in a band full-time used to mean you were publicly throwing your life away, giving up a respectable career in an office. By the time you were washed-up in your 40s you had no Excel skills – there was no greater rebellion. It also attracted the genuine fantastic oddballs who against the odds, well, they won the lottery."
On stage, the musician taps into Patty Hearst "while she was under the sweet spell of Stockholm Syndrome wearing the military all-in-ones." Whilst her everyday look is more influenced by the androgynous boys in Bresson’s The Devil, Probably. "All unkempt hair and oversized taupe blazers."
"This will be our third studio album," Standish declares of the band's next step. "I wanna make five records with HTRK. The next chapter will be really interesting and important for us. I feel a certain liberation and optimism for it."
Text by Dean Mayo Davies