Low End Theorists

Saturday. 11th June 2021

Words: Kieran Sim

LOW END THEORISTS: A CONVERSATION WITH GARY HUNTER

Kieran Sim catches up with Gary Hunter, founder of Australian based platform 'Low End Theorists' to delve into the workings, inspirations and complications of running a music publication.

 

A conversation between old friends, this feature presents an honest account of how the once audio-journal has grown to provide a welcoming space for ambient music from around the world...

As clouds begin to part for spring, the forecast for a life without lockdown looks brighter and brighter. With sunshine in mind, I chatted with Gary Hunter, a close friend, and more importantly, the co-creator of the Sydney-based music publication Low End Theorists, as he reflects on taking his first steps into the music industry, his highlights from the Australian music scene and how the past 18 months of madness have affected his ambitions and achievements.

Though his work with Low End Theorists more than merits its own interview request, our conversation started long before our poorly organised zoom call. I’ve known Gary since we were 5 years old, peering at each other from behind the legs of our parents. We grew up together, roaming around the coastal town of Musselburgh, trading skint knees and cd’s. We were in the same classes at every stage of school, we had similar grades, similar ideas about where we wanted our lives to go and crucially, a similar passion for music.

As our school days waned and the opportunity to make our own choices came around, we both opted for University, specifically Glasgow. Gary, who excelled at every subject, got in. I, who didn’t, well… didn’t. Our lives, which had passed in parallel so steadily, were due to veer apart. As people tend to do when they venture from their hometowns into the wider world, we gradually drifted, tethered only by the occasional pint, random Spotify recommendations and a group chat along with several other childhood friends. Though the group chat still lives on, the pints have dried up over the past couple of years. Not because we don’t want to see each other, but because Gary, always headstrong and confident, went off to start a life in Australia.

Now, with me writing on the side for pocket money, and Gary tirelessly running his publication from his flat, it seems fitting that music has brought us together again, an ocean or two apart, as Gary fills in the blanks on the trials and tribulations of his ever-expanding passion project, Low End Theorists.

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Created in 2019 with his like-minded friend Daniel Patrin, Low End Theorists was brought into being with a fairly simple premise; to share music that they love, with an emphasis on the artists that call Australia home. Since then, their original intention has remained the same, but the way in which they promote and share the music has grown:

“It wasn’t particularly well thought out and probably sounds naive, especially because I’m not actually from Australia — but I knew I wanted to say something about the scene here, because it’s really great. The sounds that I push on the website have narrowed a lot since then — one of the first learning curves was realising I couldn’t cover everything I like, so the focus now is mainly on ambient and beatless stuff — but the original intention, to cover predominantly Australian music, hasn’t.”

What started out as an online audio-journal now covers reviews, music premieres, bespoke playlists, featured guest mixes and an ever-expanding record store directory. In conjunction with the Low End Theorists website, Gary and Dan have expanded their reach, and beamed their impeccable music taste onto the airways, regularly contributing shows to renowned stations such as Balamii and SkyLab, often in collaboration with their favourite artists. Now with ambitions to build a record label from the ground up, it seems that Sydney’s clear, blue skies are the limit. With a constantly evolving project like Low End Theorists, it would be understandable to assume that there was some excel-based masterplan in place, but somehow the progression, though rapid, feels organic. 

When questioned on whether Low End Theorists has progressed according to plan or veered off on its own course, Gary responds in his typically nonchalant fashion. He explains that even the name, based on A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Low End Theory’ album, was chosen without much foresight;

“It’s changed a lot but I don’t think I had any real expectations of where it would go to say that it’s veered off course. For one thing, the actual name of the website Low End Theorists has become a bit of a misnomer as the music we play is mainly ambient, downtempo and other less bass heavy things. I’d love it if there was some way to cleverly reinterpret the name but I don’t think there is, so hopefully nobody’s disappointed that it’s not a hip-hop website.”

It seems fair to say that planning ahead has never been a significant priority; what drives Low End Theorists forward is a ferocious appetite and passion for music, something that Gary has retained since childhood – a point that I feel particularly qualified to attest. Its near impossible to steer him onto another subject and, more often than not, when our conversations do stray off topic, they quickly return to the thing that Gary, and everyone associated with Low End Theorists, has in abundance - a mutual love for music:

“One of the first things I did was reach out to a bunch of local label heads to see if they’d be keen to do an interview and playlist. That’s when I first got in touch with people like Jackson Fester who really do a lot for keeping the music scene going in Sydney — plus he is just one of the most down to earth guys you’ll meet, despite being crazy talented”

 

Though the seeds of Low End Theorists were first sown in early 2019, it's clear that since then Gary has built a network of like minded people that provide both support and inspiration:

 

“I’ve also got lots of help now from other really talented people, like Lauren Forde who does all the artwork and photography, which I am absolutely hopeless at — plus great writers like Fin Jonston. I also couldn’t have got started without Dan. We’re almost always talking about music and thinking about the next radio show and mix guest.”

The evidence is there to see; the focus on minimalist, beautiful ambient works runs through everything they produce. From the mixes themselves, to the artwork, to the website design – everything feels clean, seamless and considered. The balance feels reflective of the laidback life Gary now leads. As if to punctuate what I was thinking, he rounds off a quick, pixelated zoom tour of his apartment by relaxing into his balcony chair, a red sun setting over the palm trees and slate roofs of Sydney. I return the favour, rolling out of bed and pulling back the curtains to reveal grey 8am Glasgow skies, before changing the subject to something even more depressing - the unavoidable doom and gloom of the pandemic. Australia was subject to particularly strict lockdown rules, however, the isolation did provide Gary with a unique insight that might have otherwise eluded him:

“I mainly saw lockdown as an opportunity... The Lounge Sounds series (what people call their couch in Australia) for example, came out of lockdown and since then has become a cool way to basically find out what really good local DJs and producers listen to when they’re at home, not playing for a crowd.”

 

This is where Low End Theorists has really blossomed. For a project that was only conceived a couple of years ago, the quality of the mixes that they put out on a regular basis, and the stature of the guests contributing their own music, is staggering. Though the lockdown measures were tough, the country has slowly started to find its feet. Clearly, Low End Theorists has done the same. It’s hard to ignore a rising tinge of jealousy as Gary talks me through his evening, consisting of a visit to a restaurant and a pub, never mind his burgeoning musical success story. I push down the need to complain and, spurred on by his infectious positivity, we move onto greener pastures, as Gary ponders his highlights from the past 18 months:

'I only do stuff that I love so everything means a lot to me. Off the top of my head though, having Suso Saiz and Kaoru Inoue contribute mixes felt pretty special. They’re both absolute legends who I’ve listened to for a long, long time and I genuinely think the Kaoru mix is one of the best I’ve ever heard. Getting a spot-on Skylab show too — a popular Melbourne radio station — was pretty special. It’s had just about every great DJ and producer in Australia on it. And one more — having Matthew Hayes  contribute early on. I’ve been a huge fan of his music since before I moved to Australia and it was at that point I realised I was doing a real music thing with real people I actually know and listen to on a weekly basis, if that makes any sense.

Given his success selecting tracks and creating mixes for the various radio shows he features on, I asked Gary to give us some of his favourite Ozzy artists at the moment, and for old times’ sake, to throw in a couple of Scottish standouts as a bonus; I definitely know way more Australian stuff now than I do Scottish. Just not being there for ages it’s hard to keep up with general everyday music chat - I don’t even know where Hibs are in the league - let alone obscure music that 12 folk have bought on bandcamp. After a brief and typically depressing discussion about Scottish football, I squeezed out a couple of recommendations;

"The Scottish artist I’d say I’ve listened to most recently is Perko - his cassette on Posh Isolation was amazing, and I love The City Rings too cause it reminds me of the feeling of walking about in Glasgow on rainy days — even though he made the album in Copenhagen". Now firmly considering himself as a Sydney local, the Australian recommendations come thick and fast;

I’d say Santilli. He’s a Sydney-based multi-instrumentalist and he’s making ECM level shit that feels synonymous with Australia and the Australian landscape. He’s also one half of Angophora. I’d also highly recommend checking out every artist to release music on Analogue Attic, a Melbourne-based record label. Lots of their releases are inspired by visits to specific places in Australia and have field recordings of sounds from those areas."

Australia boasts perennial sunshine, dry swathes of bushland and vast, empty canvasses of open terrain. I get the feeling that this climate plays a significant role in the type of music Gary typically focusses on. Much of the homegrown releases that Low End Theorists cover feel like exactly that – homegrown, tied inextricably to the land upon where they were produced. There is something naturalistic about the long stretches of Santilli’s tracks – there is room to breathe, space to wander into, distant vistas glittering in heatwaves. It feels authentic and natural, as if it was captured fully formed, floating across baked earth. It is a theme reflected in everything Low End Theorists aims to do; their mixes flow effortlessly into one another, every shimmering soundscape rings true, every collaboration feels deliberate – each acts as another perfectly formed piece in an ever expanding mosaic of music. Though he might not admit it, Gary clearly sees a bigger picture, and as the red sun sets on Sydney and rises in Glasgow, I’m content that myself, and his ever-growing number of listeners and readers, are there to enjoy the slow reveal.

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