Reenie on DJing, drumming, and being a self-confessed Beatles psycho

We chat with Eora musician one of our resident DJs, Reenie, to learn about her musical journey, her Beatles obsession, and what she's learned performing live for Alison Wonderland.
Henry Johnstone
Reenie on DJing, drumming, and being a self-confessed Beatles psycho

We chat with Eora musician one of our resident DJs, Reenie, to learn about her musical journey, her Beatles obsession and what she learned performing live for Alison Wonderland.

Hey Reenie, how was your weekend?

I just took it really easy. I played the Undisclosed party on Friday, stayed in at home on Saturday and went out for some drinks on Sunday. Apparently it was a really quiet weekend in Sydney in general, which is great because it means I can take a night off without getting FOMO.

Did you play any gigs at SXSW Sydney?

I did, but not part of the official program. I played some private parties for some labels and an event at Tumbalong Park too, which was kind of strange but fun. I also had a single launch for the band I’m in.

What’s the band called?

It’s a folk rock/post-punk band called Good Pash. They're quite well loved on FBi Radio and 2SER. They were looking for a drummer so my friend Dobby (Sydney rapper), who’d seen my drumming videos online, recommended me. I already really liked the band before I joined and thought they were really cool. I'm part of the writing process now and doing rehearsals where we decide on song structures for live gigs, which is something I've actually never done before with a band. Normally I rock up, the song's done and I just do exactly what they tell me to do. With Good Pash, I've been getting more confident in giving suggestions. I recently convinced them to put a little breakbeat section into a new song. We've been doing a bunch of shows too, including Bigsound in Brisbane, which was really fun. I think we're playing some festivals next year and we’re going into the studio soon to then drop some singles next year.

When did you first start playing the drums?

When I was about 10 or 11. It was always my thing all the way through school.

Did you want to play the drums or did your parents encourage you?

I started off on piano and I was like, all right, I'm ready to start learning a second instrument. And they were like, great, what do you want to learn? And I was like, I want to learn the guitar. They said no, your brother learns the guitar so you can't do that. I suggested the saxophone, but they said it's too noisy. Then a bunch of my Dad’s mates got him a drum kit for his 40th birthday even though he doesn't play the drums. It was the same brand that Ringo Star uses. So I asked if I could play the drums and they were like, ok sure.

I love how they said the saxophone is too noisy, but drums are okay.

Yeah. You can get electronic drum kits though, but you can't get an electronic saxophone! I kind of wish I had learned the guitar - I feel like it’s a cooler instrument. But the drums ended up carrying me quite well because I didn't just learn the drums, I did classical and orchestral percussion too, so it means I play all the tuned percussion. I was in the orchestra playing the timpani and stuff like that. There were more melodic aspects to it rather than just hitting things, which I think is what made it tolerable for me.

What kind of music were you into back then?

Indie and rock music. My dad was a fan of early 2000s Aussie electronic music and all that Bang Gang era stuff too, so I always used to hear that in the car. From around 12 or 13, I used to pick up copies of The Brag and those street press magazines. They would have stacks of them outside this shop at Fox Studios and every time my family would go there for dinner I'd grab one of each. I would listen to every single album or artist mention in the entire magazine. It was a great way to learn about new bands and artists and also Sydney’s live gig scene.

It’s funny, I had never thought much about playing the drums professionally or anything like that. And then when I was 17, I became good mates with Client Liaison. They knew I was a drummer and suggested I start posting videos online. They said when you finish school, you could totally join us as our drummer. I started putting videos online of me drumming along to songs that I liked exclusively for those guys, but I began to get noticed by other artists too. I remember the Flight Facilities guys were one of the first who began taking an interest. Then I joined my first proper band when I was 19, Green Buzzard, when I was straight out of high school. We went on tour and my videos were circulating a bit and getting noticed by bands like DMAs and Jungle Giants. And then someone found my profile and I ended up getting booked to go on Alison Wonderland’s tour.

When was this?

It was in 2019 for the Festival X tour, so it was stadium shows. The biggest gig I had played before then was at the Chippendale Hotel with Green Buzzard. And then all of a sudden, I’m playing at Brisbane Stadium in front of 10,000 people!

What did you learn from those Alison Wonderland gigs?

I learned more about the concept of performance, which is something that had never occurred to me before. Prior to that, I was a band drummer who could chill in the background; rock up, do my job and be really professional about it. When I did the Wonderland tour, I realised it doesn't matter if I'm playing the part a little bit, you know? I can flick my hair around and have some fun. It was less about having to look cool and jaded [laughs]. It was also cool to be able to witness a totally different type of music and performance outside of the rock scene.

It’s interesting because I feel like in the DJ world more and more people do that performative kind of DJing, whereas others like to just keep their head down and play the tunes. I'm definitely more of a heads-down DJ. I like that when I’m behind the 77 decks you can't really see me. If it were up to me club booths would be like how they were back in the ‘70s discos, when the DJ was unseen and tucked away in a booth somewhere.

And everyone is dancing facing each other and not the DJ…that would be cool. I guess the performative style of DJing has manifested itself because DJing is much more of a visual medium now, given the popularity of social media and things like Boiler Room.

I think it depends on the type of music as well. Like with big EDM shows - where the music is synced to the lights and screen projections - that kind of music lends itself more to performing.

So you're drumming in bands and at festivals, but when did you try your hand at DJing?

I’ve been buying records since I was 12. I used to go to Red Eye Records quite frequently after school. I got into a habit of buying records of all the bands I was into. As I got older, sometimes I would buy records because I just liked the album artwork, which sort of inadvertently pushed me more into the dance music direction. I didn't necessarily want to learn how to DJ, because what I'd observed about DJing and that world wasn't really my cup of tea, but I really liked the idea of buying and playing vinyl.

What kind of DJing had you seen that you weren't into?

It was EDM DJs like Steve Aoki and Calvin Harris during the Festival X tour. That was the first time I'd seen people DJ live before. Then I saw this guy called Owen, who DJs under the name King O.P.P., which changed all that. He was playing 7-inches at The Landsdowne; all garage, funk, 60s, rockabilly and twist music. He wasn’t mixing, just playing one record after the other had finished, but It was effortless. He just knew what tune to play next and everyone wanted to dance. And I was like, holy shit, this is the best thing I've ever seen. Barney [Kato] always hates on me when I say this, but I reckon he's the best DJ in Sydney, if not the country.

After that I started going into The Record Store, which is where I work now, and I started DJing indie dance music digitally at home. One night I went to see Dreems play at Club 77. I saw on Facebook that Kim Moyes might be going and I was obsessed with The Presets, so I had to go. Kim ended up not being there, but Barney [Kato] was. I'd already started interning at FBi Radio at this point so I knew who Barney was. I introduced myself and asked if he offered DJ lessons with vinyl. I think we had two or three lessons. On the fourth lesson, he forgot his keys to the studio, so we ended up going for coffee instead. We’ve been friends ever since.

Did you find being a drummer made it easier to pick up the skill of DJing? Given you would’ve already known about phrasing.

It's going to sound wanky, but yes. I’ve actually found that a lot of other vinyl DJs I’ve met used to be drummers – it seems to be a common thing. If you know how to count to 16 bars under any circumstance, then you always know when the next bit's coming in. You can tell if something's faster or slower, or speeding up or slowing down, because you're used to your conductor yelling that at you during orchestra.

Where did you play some of your first gigs?

The first gigs that I ever did, which was to a proper dance floor, was the indie dance party All My Friends. I was billed under the Green Buzzard DJs. I played lots of dance edits of indie bangers – Soulwax, Digitalism, all that kind of stuff. Then I remember Barney said to me once, your goal this year is to try and play some tracks that don’t have any vocals. Which was interesting for me, because I then had to dig for music that didn’t have any vocals, but that I would still find interesting. And that really helped me to progress.

" I think the best skill you can have as a DJ is getting people to dance to something that they normally wouldn't dance to."

If we were to take a peek at some of your recent vinyl purchases, what would we find?

Trends & Boylan’s 'Ninety Nine EP' - a hectic breakbeat record. I got a 7-inch of 'Rag and Bone' by The White Stripes. Some Jurassic Five instrumentals. I also picked up a copy of The Beatles Concerto, which is a bunch of Beatles tunes arranged for Philharmonic Orchestra. I'm a Beatles record collector. That's kind of one of my niches - I collect bootleg and album art variants of Beatles records.

Did you see Paul McCartney when he was here?

I don't want to use the word psycho…but I was one of the psychos who spent a really questionable amount of money to go see the sound check. And then at the concert I held up a sign that said, ‘Saved all my gig money to be here’. Paul read it out during the gig and we had a little back and forth chat, which was really awesome.

Wow, that’s cool. What did you think of the newly released Beatles song, 'Now and Then'?

Can I be really honest? It was pretty weird. Even when you're obsessed with a band, you can't love everything that they do. You can dislike things. Like, 'Hey Jude' is super overrated. It's not even a good song.

I think the best thing about Now and Then is the story of how the song came to pass and also the fact that it's their last release. But I agree with you - as a song, it's not their best work. I wasn’t sure about some of the modern production on it.

I was chatting recently to Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip. They were one of the bands that really got me into electronic music, by the way. They’re actually one of my favourite bands that are still together. Anyway, he and I have the same mentality where we're like, oh my God, please leave the fucking production alone. It's been 50 years, just leave it! And you know what it was – it was the 'Love Me Do' remaster, which is the B-side to 'Now and Then'. And it sucks, it absolutely sucks. You can hear where they've had to split things apart and intervene in some of the frequencies in order to cut out bits of things that might not sound perfect. And I'm like, oh my God, just leave it alone. it's there for a reason. There's no reason add modern production except to get more money from people who are going to walk into a record store and buy the new version.

Here’s a question I feel you have to ask any Beatles fan: John or Paul?

Paul, obviously.

What's your favourite Beatles song?

That's really tricky. Okay, I know this goes against everything that I just said about not wanting to mess up old songs with remasters, but there's an exception to this rule. In 2003, Paul McCartney put out a version of Let It Be called Let It Be…Naked. With the original album, the label had Phil Spector come in and do all the Wall of Sound stuff. He put in all the orchestras, but none of that's really meant to be in there. The whole concept of the album was it’s meant to be recorded on the rooftop. That's the sound. Let It Be…Naked is how Paul originally intended the album to be. They pressed it once in 2003 in Japan and it's the most money I've ever spent on a single record.

How much did you pay?

I think I spent $500 for it. It was on vinyl as that’s the only version that exists. In answer to your question, I think my favourite Beatles song is the Let It Be…Naked version of 'Across the Universe'.

I happened to listen to an unreleased EP of yours – the Space Cadet EP on Air Signs Music. One of the tunes has a lengthy Paul McCartney sample.

That’s actually coming out early next year. The sample is from a famous BBC interview when they’d just released Magical Mystery tour. I found the whole clip and I was like, this is really cool because he talks about pop music and pop music is like the classical music of now. That’s a sentiment that I really remember.

Are you working on any other music at the moment?

I finished an EP with my mate Ashley aka Tunnel Signs, which is coming out on Motorik next month. December should be a big one!

What do you love about being involved in both the rock world as a drummer and as a DJ in club land?

I just really just enjoy being able to stimulate different parts of my brain. I feel like DJing makes me a better drummer, and drumming makes me a better DJ, and all of it makes me better at writing percussion for other people. When you're exposed to a bunch of different music, I feel like your horizons are more broadened and you're more likely to take risks and keep things really fresh and experimental. I get kind of bored if I play the same music all the time.

I was listening to one of your mixes on SoundCloud, I think it was a 77 set, and it was chugging along with some nice techno and electro for a long while, and then a disco track came in. It really worked. I like that kind of dynamic play in DJing.

I like it when people are dancing to your set and then all of sudden they’re like, ‘wait, what am I dancing to? This is so weird’. I enjoy those sorts of moments. I think the best skill you can have as a DJ is getting people to dance to something that they normally wouldn't dance to. And that’s why I think Owen is the best DJ in Sydney. It’s something that the DJs that I respect the most – DJs like Dreems and Andras – it’s what they do best. They create these really cool moments where you’re compelled to just keep dancing. It’s something I aspire to with my DJing.

Listen to Reenie on SoundCloud

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