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April 6 and 7, Darwin Railway Club | By Steve ‘Habibi Kelk 03 April 2017

Foldback Magazine had a chat with Urthboy about his single ‘Crushing Hard’ and his current national tour, which has sold out one Darwin show and prompted an extra gig at the Darwin Railway Club this week.

Listening to Urthboy’s latest single ‘Crushing Hard’, it is easy to see his departure from mainstream hip hop motifs with this exploration into the more vulnerable side of human relationships and indeed into his own psyche. This is perhaps risky for most artists but here the man, now more mature and introspective, carries it off with a depth of feeling that most songwriters can only aspire to reach.

‘Crushing Hard’ is a plaintive, visceral self-examination that anyone who has ever loved hard and from afar can identify with. Urthboy (Tim Levinson) has opened himself up in more ways than one with this track by singing melodic vocals that show that he is anything but a one-dimensional performer. The vocals only go to further expose the artist’s vulnerability as they are performed with a sincerity rarely heard in modern music. Says Urthboy of his shift to melodic singing in this track:

“I’m trying not to repeat myself if possible. I’m trying to keep making it interesting for myself and those listening. The only difference here is that this time I didn’t have someone who can actually sing properly and well to do the job for me. I find that there is an incredible difference between writing a melody and singing it and having a great singer coming and transforming it into something that takes it to a place I never could so normally I’d lean on that but this time it sounded okay so I just went with it.”

The accompanying video, excellently directed by Madeline Kelly, expertly uses symbolism that avoids cliché while subtly directing the viewer to the subject matter. Implicit in the message is that anyone can have those crushing feelings of longing (and the anxiety that goes with them when trying work up the courage to tell someone of their feelings for them), regardless of age, race, religion or sexuality. Urthboy spoke of Kelly’s take on the visual of him and another man wrestling on the beach:

“(Kelly) explained it to me such that sometimes love, it feels exciting and at other times it’s like a battle. Good things are never meant to be easy so it was just sort of juxtaposing the two of those sorts of things, so that made a lot of sense to me. The thought of having two men wrestling in a video clip of mine would never have occurred to me.”

Now married with children, Urthboy writes this track from the perspective of someone who can look at such emotions with more objectivity now than before but he can still remember those feelings of not being able to ‘speak like a normal person’ around someone he had his heart set on, even though that person would in all likelihood be flattered that someone had such feelings for them. The fear of rejection and humiliation binds us and cripples us.

Co-founding the Elefant Traks label in the late 1990’s and performing with The Herd, Urthboy has had a long, self-propelled career and this probably explains his self-reliant attitude to writing, producing and performing hip hop to this day. Of the current state of the industry, he says:

“I haven’t quite quit and joined the circus yet. Certainly it poses a lot more challenges now than once upon a time. There’s certainly less reliability on the traditional forms of music consumption now. If anything it’s a little bit easier to make a track and with that there’s pros and cons but it suits the artist that just wants to get on with it and work hard and not limiting themselves too much with wishing it was like the old days.  The music consumer is not usually sentimental. They’re not going out and buying records just trying to support musicians. They get with times and they have started streaming. For musicians, it may get tougher for you but you just have to sort of dust off your hands and get back into it because you just don’t have any choice. Rather than view technological developments in music as a negative even though it might feel that way, I generally try to be optimistic about it.  We just try and focus our attention on the number one priority and that’s writing good songs.”

Having been the master of his own destiny for so long with Elefant Traks, Urthboy says he has seen enough to know he wouldn’t want it any other way. He does see a great benefit in artists being able to hitch their wagons to the big machine of large labels but it comes with a price – being able to grow at your own pace, do things your own way, trust your own instincts – these are things that should not be taken for granted. As he says:

“Once you don’t have that, you realise what a wonderful thing it is to be able to back yourself. All of a sudden that freedom to just sit down with a guitar and just write a song….I’ve never had that distraction (of having to deal with labels as a signed artist). I wouldn’t have it any other way. ”

On this tour, Urthboy is bringing what he calls a ‘vocal band’ rather than a full band so the show will be quite vocal-oriented.  He is looking forward to playing the Darwin Railway Club and getting back to Darwin, having played a few shows here in the past, however he was quite deflated when he was informed he will be a few weeks early for the Sunset Markets at Mindil Beach.

Urthboy is supported on this tour by Joyride (live) and Alice Ivy.

*At the time of writing, tickets for Urthboy’s performance at the Darwin Railway Club on Thursday April 6 are still available. His show the following day, Friday April 7 has sold out.

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