Shabazz Palaces

The word 'hype' can be used to surround many acts, but the fact of the matter is, at the best of times, we don't see those acts living up to that standard. Shabazz Palaces isn't one of those acts. Rather, they're the type of act that keeps listeners on their feet as they portray the rare ability to constantly keep their audiences guessing. Now getting ready to head down under for the Sugar Mountain Festival in January, one half of the Seattle-based hip-hop collective, Ishmael Butler, says that the group's unique sound isn't intentional. Rather, like the zen master that he comes across as, everything they create is mere bursts of creativity and instinct.

"We really give ourselves over to the moment of the performance, so it's very immediate and flexible. It's something unique, because there's no preaching. There's some type of exchange that we tend to pick up on, then we take that and use that. We've been doing that for a long time, so we get to feel relaxed and our instincts just prevail. It's always something new. It's not the same show, it's different every time, and we give a lot of energy."


Feeling "swell and well", the Grammy-award winning musician brings the band's self-described "white black" sound down to influences that can either be researched on the internet or found in the trees. Everything from Miles Davis and Prince to the US parliament are all on their list of influences, and then some.


"Like everybody else in the world, we have a list of influences that are both recognisable and also ones that we probably can't recognise that are just as profound as the ones that we do. There's so many that it's hard to pin down just a certain few, so what we try to do really is just rely on our instinct while we're making music and try to be spontaneous and believe in the things that we make instinctively, and just be confident in what they are and then just roll with it like that. You know, instead of trying to look for a particular sound or sound like any certain group or people, we just [aim to] sound most like ourselves."


I feel that now's a better time than ever to really emphasise the incredible presence of Butler. Despite our conversation being via a delayed telephone conversation, his voice was presence enough. He paid homage and honoured the fact that behind everything was the grass roots that made everything that something. My interest in speaking with him began as something purely on a fan-basis, yet as our conversation progressed, it was hard not to fall into the trap of his often deep and monotone yet intriguing words.


Despite not needing the clarification, it was this conversation with Butler that made me understand the hype around the Seattle-based outfit. But the mere fact is, with the success that has surrounded them this year, particularly after the release of their first LP Black Up, there wasn't much clarification needed. I mean, when you're named by Rolling Stone as a 'Band To Watch' for 2011, you must be doing something right.


"We started the Palaces about five or six years ago. And basically, my brother Tendai [Maraire, other half of Shabazz Palaces] and I, we just started making music together. We put out a couple of EPs in 2009, and we just did the album last year - put it out, and we've just been doing shows and all that kind of stuff for the last couple of years."


"It's been...something that you'd never think you could sustain or that could happen to you. So when it does, you're just living in that experience. We're aware that it's a lucky thing that's happening [to us], so we're just trying to make the most of it and give back as much as we've been getting."


Having never ventured down to this part of the world before, Butler can't express enough just how excited he is to head down our way. In fact, he thinks it's about time that Shabazz Palaces gave Australian audiences a taste of what other worldly audiences have already sunk their teeth into.


"It's really, really, really, really exciting that we have the opportunity to come down and play for all you people. I'm very excited. I can't wait!"


But excitement for their performances aside, it's the attractions of our country that he is looking forward to the most. And no, I'm not talking about the Big Banana, or the Big Pineapple, or even Uluru for that matter. The "attractions" that Butler is referring to, rather, is the people and the way that they live. Sure, he also wants to spend a bit of time soaking up the sun on our beaches, but when you're in Australia during the summertime, that seems to be an innate activity to participate in.


"I was actually just talking to a dude before who was from down there and he said that it's going to be hot when we come down. I'm looking forward to getting down to the beach and seeing - not necessarily the landmark things - but more just the kind of things that go on in everyday life to everyday people, and seeing the different spots where people live."


"I want to see the stuff that isn't everywhere, but more the stuff on the ground - the grass roots stuff, I like that. I enjoy that a lot when I travel."


It's one thing to be a hype band, but it's another thing to live up to that hype. And Shabazz Palaces match and exceed those expectations, believe me.

Shabazz Palaces will play Sugar Mountain Festival alongside Deerhoof, Tune-Yards and heaps more as it takes over the CBD for numerous days throughout January, with the main event take place at The Forum Theatre on Saturday January 14, 2012. And for all you extra eager fans, they'll be performing a sideshow at RAOB GAB Buffalo Club on Thursday January 12. Black Up is out through Sub Pop Records.