‘It’s Always Production And Vibe And Feeling First’: Sydney Artist Skeleten Looks Ahead To Vivid LIVE

Skeleten is the solo project of Sydney musician Russ Fitzgibbon, formerly of electronic duo Fishing. Fitzgibbon has been active in the Sydney music scene for over a decade. He’s currently a member of Babitha’s live band and Vlossom, the new project from Cloud Control’s Alister Wright and PNAU’s Nick Littlemore.

Skeleten is Fitzgibbon’s first solo project. It’s electronic music, but of a tuneful and vocal-centric variety. Skeleten’s debut single, the Arthur Russell-esque ‘Mirrored’, came out through Astral People Recordings in August 2020. Skeleten has since put out the singles ‘Biting Stone’ (2020), ‘Walking On Your Name’ and ‘Live In Another World’ (2021), as well as a cover of Digitalism’s ‘Pogo’.

The project’s latest release is ‘No Drones in the Afterlife’, a track built around a hypnotic dance groove and repeating vocal hook that’s reminiscent of Animal Collective savant Panda Bear. Skeleten’s debut album is expected in the second half of 2022, and Fitzgibbon and his band will be playing plenty of unreleased material at the Sydney Opera House Studio on Wednesday, 1st June for Vivid LIVE.

Music Feeds spoke to Fitzgibbon about the upcoming show, the Skeleten live set-up and his broader vision for Skeleten.

Music Feeds: You were supposed to play at the Opera House for Vivid LIVE 2021. Has the show changed much from what it would’ve been?

Skeleten: I guess it is technically the same show, but obviously since then there’s a whole other host of songs that we’re playing now. And also, I’ve always had a vision of making it a big band kind of thing – I love the feeling of lots of people on stage. So, we’ve got a friend, Oscar, who’s joined on percussion and I’m also getting a couple of friends to sing back-up vocals.

MF: You usually play live with a drummer, a bass player and a keyboardist, and you’re on guitar and vocals, right?

S: Yeah, that’s it. I say guitar, but I’m not really playing guitar for many songs. Guitar is the instrument but not the sound.

MF: That explains why I couldn’t hear much guitar in any of your live performance clips.

S: Pretty much all the music is synth-based and sample-based – like, production-based – but I’ve always enjoyed playing with a guitar more than I’ve enjoyed standing behind a keyboard. If I’m trying to sing as well, it just feels so much more natural and connected to have that.

MF: How do you get the guitar to make synth sounds?

S: I’ve got a guitar that I’ve made control MIDI, send MIDI information. So I’m playing an Ableton and synth and sample rig with the guitar.

I actually custom built the guitar and then put this wireless MIDI pickup inside it, which was a lockdown project. It took a lot of messing around, but that’s what I love to do anyway; just tinkering with music gear.

MF: Had you played any Skeleten gigs before the pandemic?

S: We did one show. It was even really announced. My good friend Al’s band, Vlossom, was doing a residency at the Lansdowne right at the start of 2020, and I play in that band as well. So Skeleten did our first little pre-show before I’d released anything. Just one, right before the pandemic hit, as a little testing of the waters. But since then, I think it’s only been three or four shows.

MF: Have you played at the Opera House before in any capacity?

S: I don’t think I have, actually. No, no I haven’t. So, it’s exciting. It’s funny, we were supposed to play last year and then the lockdown came and I was like, “Oh yeah, it happens, no big deal.” And then it wasn’t until I went on a big bike ride with my friend and we ended up down in Circular Quay. I was looking at the Opera House and then it sunk in – there was an opportunity to play in there.

MF: Your music is characterised to a large extent by the electronic production, but you also seem to be very much a songwriter. What’s your internal perception of the essence of Skeleten?

S: I’ve never considered myself a songwriter. I don’t really feel like I can claim to be in this tradition where I’ve got visions for telling stories and these kinds of things.

I’ve always enjoyed making dance music and electronic music because, without worrying too much about the song necessarily, you can just start creating a feeling with production and stuff. It can be very free in that way – you can free yourself from thinking too much about what you’re trying to do while you’re doing it.

MF: Do you think of your vocals as a core part of the Skeleten sound?

S: Yeah, definitely. It was kind of a natural progression where it was starting with this production-based approach and then seeing the song as something which emerged from that. It always came production and vibe and feeling first and then lyrics and song as this kind of sewing together on top.

It’s interesting, because I say it’s production first, but obviously it ends up focused on the vocals and the song. I guess it’s just my way of doing things. It allows me to be more confident and happy with what I’m putting down on the vocal and songwriting side of things.

Skeleten presents Utopian Sound for Vivid LIVE 2022 at the Sydney Opera House Studio on Wednesday, 2nd June. 

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