Sydney hip hop trio True Vibenation are in Byron Bay, where they’ve just played the first show of a new tour. They also found time to duck off to Splendour In The Grass for a day to see Outkast, rescheduling a Brisbane show to ensure they could see the act who are “one of the reasons we started doing hip hop and rapping,” according to MC, producer and trumpet player Native Wit. With a little understatement, he says, “We’re pretty big fans.”
Like Outkast, True Vibenation want each of their albums to be something different. Their second release, On, combines the soulful, old-school sounds of tracks like ‘Back In The Day’ and ‘Dressed To Chill’ with more up-to-the-minute production like the synths, sirens and clap-beats of ‘Question Mark Music’.
“The concept from the start was musically just to switch it up and make it a bit more modern and a bit more electronic-sounding, but still have that True Vibe sound, and still have the horns, and still have good songs,” says Wit. “That was the idea since the start. We could have come out and made a ’90s boom-bap album or something but our sound has shifted over time, so we decided we wanted to do something a bit forward-thinking.”
On the subject of forward thinking, ‘Attack Of The Robots’ takes that literally and imagines a future in which cyborgs take over the Earth. True Vibenation’s songs usually veer between life-affirming party tunes and message-heavy political tracks; sci-fi narrative is a new one for them. “I threw the beat to Verbaleyes and he came up with the chorus and went with the ‘Attack Of The Robots’ thing. It ended up being about this dystopic future, sorta like the plot of Terminator really, or The Animatrix or something like that. Looking towards the future at the point where robots and artificial intelligence become so strong and so tough that they figure out humans are one of the worst parasites on the earth and decide to wipe them out. It’s definitely, concept-wise, one of the most weird and out-there songs.”
Head along to a True Vibenation show and you might get turned into a cyborg yourself. Members of the audience are brought onstage and made into components in their ‘human drum machine’. Wit explains: “We get people onstage and we wire them up to the laptop – we figured out a way we can configure them so when we touch them or hit them on the hand it triggers the drum sample, so we can play each person like a human drum machine. One person becomes a kick, one person becomes a snare.” He’s quick to clarify that nobody’s in danger while being wired up. “You get people onstage and at first they’re a bit freaked out, they think they’ll get electrocuted or something. They have a good time in the end!”
A True Vibenation live show is more than just two MCs and a DJ recreating edited highlights of their albums and asking you to put your hands in the air. It’s not just “song, song, song, stop, everyone clap here”, as Wit puts it. As well as the audience participation like the human drum machine, they like to step away from the mics to transform into a live horn section – Native Wit plays the trumpet, while Verbaleyes and DJ Gabe are both saxophonists – which isn’t something you see at a regular hip hop gig.
“We’ve always put a lot of effort into our live show. When you can connect with people in a meaningful or a fun way it makes the show better. Rather than just do the whole call-and-response thing we try to flip it up in ways like that to make the show more interesting.”