Aussie BBQ rap is out – and future pluralistic hip-hop is in. Gill Bates belongs to a fresh wave of innovative and individualistic Australian hip-hop acts, together with Milwaukee Banks, B Wise and Sampa The Great.
Bates has travelled far. He was born in Sudan, an authoritarian African state with a troubling human rights record.
Arriving in Australia, he spent his formative years in Parramatta, Sydney, before moving to Brisbane. Here, Bates fell in love with progressive hip-hop while working in a nightclub. Local Fortafy helped Bates network, leading to his aligning himself with the Mutual Friends crew.
Putting his own spin on Drizzy-esque post-trap, Bates premiered in 2015 with She Knows, featuring Allday and produced by Wavy Milo. It became a cult hit, attracting airplay on triple j (Bates was even selected to perform at the Unearthed Bigsound showcase).
He’s since had two further singles – e and, most recently, Diamonds And Gold. And more “cool jams” are coming, with Bates talking up an EP (or, gulp, three). “I just wanna make music that makes people either think or feel something or just gets them out of their fixated shell,” Bates says. “I feel like I’ve been in my shell for way too long.”
This June the MC will join a roster of homegrown artists, new and established, at Come Together – the all-ages homegrown hip-hop festival happening in the Big Top at Sydney’s Luna Park over June’s long weekend as part of Vivid. Indeed, the co-headliners are Drapht and Bates’ mate Allday. Bates is excited at the prospect of trialling the unlimited free rides, so look out for him and his friends on the Wild Mouse or Dodgems.
Music Feeds: You’re playing Come Together. It has a huge line-up – and your buddy Allday is on there. Any chance you’ll do She Knows together?
Gill Bates: Aye (laughs), we’ll do it – yeah, we might do it! I haven’t really spoken to him [Allday]. He came down to the show in Melbourne on the UV Boi tour and he rocked up and I was like, ‘Yo, do you wanna do it?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ So I don’t know – maybe it’s on the cards!
For people who haven’t seen you live, what can you tell us about your show?
Ooh! Just prepare to have a good time, prepare to dance and sing and smile, I guess. I just want people to enjoy themselves, really – that’s it.
Do you have a DJ or is it more a live PA?
Nah, I have a DJ – DJ Polba. He’s the man!
You’ve had a few singles out now, but will you be performing other, upcoming ones in there?
Yeah, definitely. There’s heaps of new stuff I’m gonna play. We kinda set up the set in two parts. So the first half is a bit more slow and more story-based, and then the second part is more dance anthems and stuff like that – [to] get people out of their shell and dancing and grooving.
I hope you get to enjoy some of the rides at Luna Park!
Oh definitely. You know what, I used to live in Sydney – [but] I’ve never been to Luna Park. I lived in Sydney for, like, seven, eight years – and [I have] never, ever been to Luna Park. So I’m definitely gonna make use of that.
I was going to ask, if your music was a ride, what one it’d be – but you wouldn’t know yet!
Yeah! But I’m gonna do everything – that’s the plan! Me, Polba, Allday – we’re just gonna go and do every ride. Polba’s scared of rides, but we’ll get him out of his shell.
You are quite a mysterious figure. You haven’t done a lot of interviews. I do know that you were born in Sudan, grew up in Parramatta and ended up in… Brisbane.
I tell you what – Brisbane is amazing. No hate on Brisbane! I love Brisbane! But, nah, Sydney’s cool. A lot of my primary school friends are there and stuff like that – some of them are doing real well and it’s good. But Brisbane’s got my heart – Brisbane’s home.
Your sound is so fresh and innovative. For a long time Australian hip-hop was really fixated on the ’90s, boom-bap and turntable scratches. How did you get into the more progressive end? What was your musical journey?
I worked at a hip-hop club, so I was exposed to so much new hip-hop. It was pretty much like American hip-hop – nah, I should say international hip-hop. Every weekend that I was working at this club, I just heard new songs – and it was dope, it was awesome. She Knows is the first track that I’d pretty much finished. So my musical journey has really just been me experimenting.
That’s why the songs sound so different from each other – to go from a future R&B track like She Knows to an electronic pop kinda song with Didn’t Mind and then bring it back with Diamonds And Gold. I don’t want people to put me in a box, you know what I mean? I just want people to keep guessing. Kanye West is my figurehead – that’s the guy I look up to and go, This guy always reinvents, always changes his thing up.”
What did you think of The Life Of Pablo?
What did I think of Pablo – this is a tough question. Okay – there were some songs on it that I love heaps. But I can understand where Kanye’s coming from with that album – like he’s a guy whose sole focus isn’t music any more. He’s got his fashion line, he’s got his family, all this other stuff that he’s doing.
So I get it – it wasn’t his strongest album, but I can understand The Life Of Pablo being a life of a working man and a creative man. I get it. It wasn’t my favourite album, but I get it.
What is your favourite Yeezy album?
Ooh, so what’s my favourite Yeezy album? Yo, [2007’s] Graduation – hands down! Without question. But, in saying that, I love them all. But Graduation for the brightness of it. Even the album cover – I love that. Can’t Tell Me Nothing is on there – that’s one of my favourite songs… When I went to Africa the second time ’round, I downloaded the Graduation album – that’s what came out recently, at the time – and that’s all I listened to back in Africa.
That’s the one that got me through… There’s times where Kanye can say some stuff that he probably looks back on and goes, ‘Aye, I shouldn’t have said that,’ but I can’t hate the guy. From a creative standpoint, I love this guy. I really do really love him (laughs). I’m talking too much – yo, what’s going on?”
Do you plan an album?
I’ve got an EP. But, without trying to hype it up too much, I just got sick of being so dark! There’s a few more songs to finish like that – ’cause She Knows goes into Didn’t Mind, Didn’t Mind goes into another song, and then another song goes into Diamonds And Gold and then Diamonds And Gold goes into another song. So they’re all kinda connected.
But I got in this place where I just didn’t like what I had. Diamonds And Gold was never meant to come out. For me. I didn’t love it yet. But something was telling me, Just let it go and then focus on the next stuff. You gotta grow. So there’s two more songs to come out and then that’s an EP with the other songs connected. But I’ve got two other EPs that I’m planning to come out with probably, hopefully, by the end of September. They’re all kinda concept-based.
Where do you think that darkness came from?
I think everyone’s got darkness in them. No matter how happy you are, or how positive you sound, everyone’s got a dark spot. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s like, we all go through shit, we all go through stuff, and sometimes it’s not good stuff. Music is expression – I tell you what I’m feeling.
Some people say that darkness is more interesting to explore in art than happiness. Do you agree?
I do and I don’t. I feel like it is very interesting ’cause you can say heaps of stuff. I was saying stuff in some of my songs that I was just like, Whoa, dude, you need to calm down personally. So I think I kinda hated the darkness for a bit. I look at one of my favourite artists, Michael Jackson – his music was just feel-good.
I just wanna make feel-good music. But, at the same time, I’m not saying that I won’t ever make dark music. People all have their own darkness. But, personally, I just wanna make music that can get people out of that sometimes.
I’m fascinated that you have gone back to Sudan. We hear about the political turmoil and hardship. What do you see?
There is a lot of political turmoil… My fam, I don’t wanna get too deep, but the situation back home isn’t that great. It’s like, right now in my position, what can I do? Hopefully, the plan is to go back and give people opportunities and what not. But I’m not in the position right now to maximise the help I can give to them… It’s corrupt, it’s so bad.
My Mum’s always on the computer checking stuff out, trying to see if there’s any new information about my other family members. It’s just kinda shit when every time you call home and there’s bad news. It makes you just wanna do something. But you can only do so much.
Gill Bates plays Come Together 2016, see below for dates and deets!
Come Together 2016 Lineup
Tickets on sale now
Manu Crook$ – triple j Unearthed Winner
Saturday, 11th June
Big Top, Luna Park, Sydney
Tickets: Come Together