Cue Johann Strauss as we leisurely float past hoards of glistening stars occasionally interrupted by a hurtling meteor looping around a lumbering, complacent planet. Limbs weightless and body out of control, you’re probably wondering why we’re out here, floating through the cosmos, exposed to the unknown and possibly under the watchful eye of some distant, intelligent life. “If you haven’t heard already,” a garbled voice informs us over a two way radio, “2009 is the year of Astronomy and you’ve come to meet Ozi Batla, spaceman, rapper and voice of hiphop outfit Astronomy Class.”
The thick steel sheets of an airlock hiss to a close as we are greeted by a broad smile. I bounce off the ceiling and manage to shatter a neon vase. A thousand fluorescent fragments swirl around the room. Ozi just laughs, graceful in zero gravity. Trying to catch the floating fragments I ask him how he’s been. “Things are good, the album’s just been out a couple of weeks now and seems to be going well.”
Ozi is referring to the second installment of the Astronomy Class saga. Titled Pursuit of Happiness, it’s a stripped back, raw example of unadulterated Aussie hiphop. “We obviously wanted to approach it differently to the last album and make it something unique. We wanted to make it a bit more punchy and immediately accessible. A lot of the songs are pretty short and there is no excess fat on there. There were probably three or four tracks that were really good tracks that we didn’t include on the album.”
Currently Ozi resides in outer space relentlessly performing a harrowing routine of altitude training in preparation for Astronomy Class’ upcoming tour. “We’ve been hitting the rehearsal studio and obviously had a few drinks, trying to replicate game day. It’s really coming along. A lot of the new tunes I think will replicate really well live. So yeah we are just looking forward to getting back out there. It’s been a while.”
This year Astronomy Class is teaming up with fellow hiphop aficionados, Thundamentals, for a nationwide tour. The fact that these two bands come from competing labels seems irrelevant. I scratch the back of my helmet and ask why the Australian hiphop scene has such a friendly and supportive culture.
“I think it’s probably something to do with the Australian mentality. But the main thing is that most of the key people involved all came up together and are aware that it was a lot harder to get stuff out there and get people along to shows a few years ago. Every release that came out was another building block in a way so I don’t think that the main people involved in the labels have forgotten that. Before people had any kind of success everyone was working together and playing together.”
Ozi briefly pauses our conversation to float off to the cockpit and check on his ship’s orbit. It’s the perfect time to take a look around. There are screens everywhere streaming sci-fi classics like Aliens and Brazil, while X-men comics hover around the room blocking air vents. A certain source of inspiration is plain to see.
I ask how the name Astronomy Class came about and Ozi yells from the cockpit in response. “It just came about because of a few of the first tracks that I wrote. Midnight At The Observatory and also Brink Of War and Exist Strategy. There is a sci-fi theme there and I am a pretty big sci-fi fan. We kept on the sci-fi theme with War Of The Worlds and a few other tracks that are on this album as well. There is a hiphop and reggae tradition as well of that kind of outer space theme. We just were drawing on that as inspiration.”
Aside from a love for extraterrestrials and space opera the most noticeable theme on the album is collaboration. Artists from The Tongue to Ash Grunwald all feature, adding their own unique vocal spice. This diversity of musical influences and creativity generates a surprising new direction for Astronomy Class.
Unfortunately the stars did not align for every collaboration planned in Pursuit of Happiness. A combination of miscommunication and a lack of commitment led to one major international artist pulling out. “We were kind of glad that it didn’t happen,” Ozi reflects. “We just thought if it was going to be that hard and that person was going to be that difficult to get in touch with obviously their heart isn’t totally in the project.”
As we strap ourselves in for re-entry I realise that I might not be cut out for space travel. There’s a violent jolt forwards as we go into hyperdrive, hurtling back to Earth at incalculable speeds. The whole time Ozi is beaming. He seems to be enjoying the futuristic jaunt perhaps a little to much. So I ask a man obviously obsessed with progress and evolution what he wants to see in the future of hiphop. His answer: retrograde.
“The RnB, hiphop major label stuff it’s just soulless. It’s just become so throw away. Maybe someday people will get rid of autotune and the same mix sounds and it could go back to beats made on SP12s and people rapping on 58s. Who knows it might go back to that raw grimey sound.”
Check out Astronomy Class’s new album Pursuit Of Happiness out now on Elefant Traks through Inertia and be sure to catch the boys when they play Come Together on Sat June 6th.