Words and photography by Darren TYNAN
If you find yourself drifting through a ghost town of musical stagnation, the lingering phantoms of predictable cover songs impressed in your brain, perhaps there can be no better remedy than a good dose of original funky grooves.
Funk duo Axolotl fuse technical innovation with a superb level of musicianship. Bunbury was lucky enough to get a triple set of Axolotl as part of the Underground Cabaret held at the Lighthouse Cellars Bar over September and October 2013, and you were mad if you missed it.
Dave Nolan, a drummer with an impressive 39 years of experience, drives a nuanced rhythm section that compliments Pat O’Connor’s hybrid bass/guitar. The duo use looping devices, effects pedals and a mixing board to create different tonal textures, often spontaneously.
Reinforced by Nolan’s rhythm, the music is layered and it’s amazing to think that such a dynamic soundscape is created by two people. With a baffling array of gadgetry, it’s lucky Mr Nolan has a background in audio engineering; the sounds are tight, and if you didn’t look twice you’d think the digital drum kit being used was a state of the art accoustic set.
Built by forward thinking company Novax Guitars, Mr O Connor’s instrument is a custom 8 string which allows for bass lines and chordal harmonies to be played at the same time. When asked about his decision for playing such an unorthodox instrument, Mr O’Connor explained that he felt the need to split his resources between guitar and bass. He mentioned that this investment was a ‘new door opening’ and although it took him a while to have full control of his new axe, it’s come together quite well.
‘I’ve had it for two years now and honestly, it’s a lot of work’, he said.
Regarding the improvisational qualities of Axolotl’s sound, Mr O’Connor said that ‘at least 50% of it is created on the spot’. Even though they humorously categorise themselves as ‘Heavy Elevator’, Axolotl shouldn’t be confused with interchangeable background music; their sonic terrain is shaped by soulful guitar bends, warm, nostalgic tones and sophisticated percussion. A true sign of their skills is that they communicate so well with each other on stage; they are never ostentatious or inaccessible and the focus is always on complimentary grooves.
Mr Nolan said that after years of jamming, embracing new technology meant musical possibilities were more open than ever.
‘I think the hybrid guitar and looping system work really well together’, he said.
The duo agreed that being a musician can have its fair share of hurdles, and that constantly aiming for progression is what drives them. In a world that teems with absurdly glamorised pop icons and superficial notions of success, it’s refreshing to see such a genuine and unshakable commitment to the art of music.
‘We’ve never been driven by money. It’s about a personal journey of getting better at what you do’, Mr Nolan said.
The duo said that touring and playing at the Ellington Jazz Club in Perth would be a great way to progress their careers. Axolotl’s musical horizons remain open and they look forward to upcoming corporate gigs and weddings. They even talked about potential collaborations with locals, which could be a great prospect for another Underground Cabaret, so stay tuned!