MUSIC

The Avalanches resample the life-changing success of Since I Left You

LOOKING BACK: The critical success of The Avalanches' debut album Since I Left You changed the lives of Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi.
LOOKING BACK: The critical success of The Avalanches' debut album Since I Left You changed the lives of Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi.

IF you browse the comments section of Frontier Psychiatrist on YouTube you'll find one post that sums up the idiosyncratic song succinctly - "this is like a musical compilation of memes that never existed."

When The Avalanches released the single in 2000 the Australian music scene had never heard anything like it.

It's collection of bizarre spoken-word grabs like "that boy needs therapy" and "you're nut, you're crazier than a coconut" mixed with a ghostly choir, a casual drum track, flamenco guitar and horse noises showcased the infinite possibilities of sampling like never before.

It straddled the unique position of sounding futuristic, while maintaining a welcoming sense of nostalgia.

The Avalanches following debut album Since I Left You became an instant classic. It remains as ground-breaking in 2021 as it was when the Melbourne electronic band stitched it together from an estimated 3500 samples. US taste-maker Pitchfork lists Since I Left You as the 10th best album of the 2000s.

"It's really nice to look back on it like that because it was such a free and easy time," Tony Di Blasi says, who makes up the electronic two-piece with Robbie Chater. At the time of Since I Left You, The Avalanches also featured Darren Seltmann, James Dela Cruz, Dexter Fabay and Gordon McQuilten.

"There was no pressure, there was no expectations for anything. We weren't saying we want a top-10 record and anything for this. Now when we make things we want them to be successful, but back then we didn't care. We were just young kids having fun and good friends."

To celebrate the album's 20-year anniversary, Since I Left You is being re-released with a bonus album of remixes of the 18 tracks by other producers, including MF Doom, Black Dice, Leon Vynehall and Carl Craig.

PATCH WORK: Robbie Chater producing Since I Left You in the late '90s. Picture: Gen Kay

PATCH WORK: Robbie Chater producing Since I Left You in the late '90s. Picture: Gen Kay

Naturally it's given Di Blasi an opportunity to reflect on the formative years of The Avalanches and how Since I Left You changed his life.

"It changed everything," he says. "We were just young kids on the dole who would spend all our money doing music. I was living with my old Italian aunty at the time."

The Avalanches formed in 1997 out of a noise punk band and released a single and the hip hop-inspired EP El Producto later that year to little attention. It was then that Chater and Seltmann decided to change their focus on aiming to produce an album entirely of samples.

They searched through dozens of Melbourne op-shops for old funk, soul, disco and spoken-word vinyl, amassing an eclectic collection. Besides a slice of Madonna's '80s hit Holiday during Stay Another Day, the majority of the samples were from obscure recordings.

Di Blasi admits producing another album like Since I Left You would be impossible today with the international profile of the duo.

"It made it heaps easier because it wasn't like De La Soul asking to use a sample, it was this little Australian band that no one had heard of with a record company Modular that no one had heard of," he says.

"That made it easier because people didn't know who we were and they couldn't ask for too much money for it or play too much hard ball."

Since I Left You has maintained its freshness due to the fact it didn't replicate the electronic music trends of the late '90s. During the making of the album, tracks like The Chemical Brothers' Block Rockin Beats and The Prodigy's Smack My Bitch Up featured pounding techno beats, which was popular in clubbing culture.

Since I Left You arrived with sparkly and light textures, and felt almost whimsical in comparison to bombast of The Chemical Brothers.

"There was no bass added to this record at all," Di Blasi says. "So whatever bass was in the sample, was the only bass that got used.

"Any normal person or producer would have gone, 'we've got to fill out the bottom end' because there's bits where there is a bass sample and then others where the bass clearly drops out.

"That was the whole aesthetic of what we wanted to do, use samples and not fill anything with instruments and create this perfect sonic soundscape."

The album's success allowed The Avalanches to tour the world, but Since I Left You also created an almost insurmountable burden.

FRESH-FACED: The Avalanches were able to get off the dole due to the success of Since I Left You.

FRESH-FACED: The Avalanches were able to get off the dole due to the success of Since I Left You.

Work began on the follow-up in 2005, but Seltmann left the group a year later. By the end of the 2000s The Avalanches still hadn't produced a second album and were in danger of becoming the greatest one-trick pony in Australian music history.

Di Blasi admits the pressure to follow Since I Left You almost crippled The Avalanches.

"It wasn't until we got into a state of letting go of things in your mind and negativity that we were able to say, 'Wildflower is what it is and we're happy with it and we want to release it and we're not gonna worry about comparing it to Since I Left You'," he says.

Wildflower proved a triumphant comeback and was followed by the equally-impressive We Will Always Love You last December.

"Getting it out was like finishing a marathon and at the end you're relieved," Di Blasi says of Wildflower. "Going into We Will Always Love You, it could be the biggest pile of crap ever, but we don't care because we made Wildflower and we were so proud of ourselves. We did run this marathon and it was a bit of a free hit."

The Avalanches release the 20th anniversary edition of Since I Left You on Friday.

This story The Avalanches return to the magic of Since I Left You first appeared on Newcastle Herald.