Art Vs Science

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Art Vs Science


As American jazz legend Charles Mingus emphasised so fervently, creativity is more than merely being different. The pursuit of creating that which is unique has lent itself as frequently to self-aggrandising posturing as it has to otherworldly brilliance.

As American jazz legend Charles Mingus emphasised so fervently, creativity is more than merely being different. The pursuit of creating that which is unique has lent itself as frequently to self-aggrandising posturing as it has to otherworldly brilliance. It’s tough line to walk. For those who are willing to embrace risk, and humble enough to seek both wisdom and humour – while also being equipped with the earnestness to impart emotional potency – that bold creative pursuit has glided closer to the latter. In the case of Sydney dance-punk/electro-pop trio Art Vs Science, their long-awaited debut album – The Experiment – is a galactic and audacious offering of the schizophrenic, the hypnotic, the delectable and the bizarre.


As vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Dan "Mac" McNamee explains, spiritedly: "I think we just like putting together songs that are weird, but are – technically – still songs.

"We’ve got one criterion and that is to make music that we find interesting, either because it’s weird or it’s ethereal in a certain way or it touches on things that are relevant to our personal lives… but mainly it’s weird," Mac cackles.


"The big thing for us is that nothing is programmed – everything is played live. We want it to sound tantalising to the ear, but we also want it to retain its grungy band-in-a-room character."


In every pursuit of a dream, there are defining moments. In the case of Art Vs Science, two of those significant occurrences intertwine with two of the most influential electronic duos of our time. Art Vs Science were birthed after Mac witnessed Daft Punk in 2007. "I remember the light show and hearing the kick drum reverberating around the stadium," he recalls. "It was just such an epic, awe-inspiring experience… I felt ‘well, I’ve got to do this!’"


The other grand, defining moment – involving seminal electronic act number two – will take place in a few weeks when the trio support The Chemical Brothers at Rod Laver Arena. "We’re still trying to work out how that happened," Mac chortles. "But needless to say, we can’t wait to do it – we just hope that the Chemical Brothers’ fans can enjoy what we do as well. I’m kind of nervous about playing in front of crowds of those sizes… hopefully we don’t get booed off the stage."


Following those arena shows, Art vs. Science will perform at the Future Music Festival alongside The Chemical Brothers, Dizzee Rascal, Pendulum, Mark Ronson, MGMT and The Presets. What Mac discovered in experiencing Daft Punk live transformed his conception of what a band is capable of achieving in concert. "With Daft Punk, they’re a group that manage to do all sorts of genres but it’s still all Daft Punk – they have different vocal sounds and a robot kind of vibe, and they also have this cheesy thing with Digital Love and One More Time," he grins. "They’re able to take this huge stadium crowd on a ride for two hours and just get everyone really going crazy."


Consequently, Mac must be glad that he left behind previous band, Roger Explosion, to form Art Vs Science in 2008. "Oh my gosh, you know the name of the last band – you can’t tell people that!" he exclaims with abashed laughter. "It’s too embarrassing. It was on the way out, anyway; the bass player went overseas and me and Dan [Williams] started mucking around and plugging keyboards into the guitar amplifiers. We kind of bluffed our way into a gig and the show went well, so it slowly took off from there."


The Experiment is an apt title for Art Vs Science’s debut album. The trio have always concocted songs from a fusion of unconventional ideas birthed out of full-blown jams. "Experimentation has always been a big part of what we do because we’ve come from a rock ‘n’ roll background where guitars are the norm and keyboards are some funny thing," Mac laughs, "but one day we plugged the keyboard in and since then we’ve been discovering what different sounds we can come up with."


Touring the UK and supporting Groove Armada also expanded the band’s musical vision and overall ambitiousness. "We did quite a few shows in the UK where there weren’t any Australians there or anyone who knew who we were," Mac relates. "It was like starting out all over again. We’re playing this tiny club with 150 people squeezed in and this was at The Camden Crawl. And no one knows what we’re doing… [we’re] just funny looking guys from Australia… we played the first song and everyone’s just staring at us," he recalls, chortling.


"There was a horrific kind of silence for about two seconds after the song finished and then everyone burst into applause. I knew the set was going to go well after that. It’s always a good experience playing to different audiences."


Of course, the trio’s fearless experimentalism is prevalent on their much-anticipated debut album; there are the immediately intoxicating tracks such as Take A Look At Your Face and Heavy Night, and stunning surprises like the ethereal and pensive air of With Thoughts. "The great thing about our instrumental setup is that we’ve got literally hundreds of different voices at our disposal to play with," Mac enthuses. "So when you hear a song in your head, you have a bit of an idea about what you want the sound to be, but it’s not until you get into the rehearsal room and you turn on the keyboards and flip through the sounds and you go: ‘oh, that’s kind of cool – I’ve got a sort of harp-string sound; I’ll put that through a phaser and put a little bit of overdrive on it’. And then you can find some other synth line, which is like a trumpet but kind of like strings… it’s quite a liberating experience."


Art Vs Science worked with three unique musical minds on The Experiment – the album was produced with Simon ‘Berkfinger’ Berckelman (Philadelphia Grand Jury) and Magoo (Regurgitator, Midnight Oil, Gerling), and mixed by Adrian Bushby (Muse, Foo Fighters, Two Door Cinema Club). "Everyone was really cool in their own way," Mac affirms. "Adrian Bushby did an amazing job mixing it; it’s funny ’cause I went over to London to help with some mixing. And the thing with Adrian is he did Muse and Foo Fighters, so he’s used to making these huge-sounding, pristine, really clean and wonderful rock ‘n’ roll sounds. And I came in and he’s got these sounds going for the drums and I was just like ‘it’s too niiiice…," Mac relays, laughing, "…can you put some distortion on the drums… and put some distortion on the snare…’.


"And it was great working with Berkfinger again; he’s a mate of ours – we both grew up in Sydney playing in bands with limited success, and it’s weird as well because both our bands started getting some attention around the same time. He recorded our first EP, too – he really loves the kind of ‘dirty indie’ vibe, which is perfect for us. Because we’ve got synths, if you made everything sound so clean and perfect, then it would lose something of what we’re about."


What Art Vs Science are about can be attributed to their formidable reputation and identity as a thrilling live band. "I still love bands like AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses and Rolling Stones," Mac enthuses, "and to us, you are kind of defined as a band by how good you are live. I think it’s probably more important for us than the recording aspects of it. To me, I feel that the album itself – as proud as I am of it – it’s almost secondary; it’s there so people who want to come and see us live can hear some of the songs that we play at home. Playing live is everything to us."


When Mac, Jim Finn and Dan Williams formed Art Vs Science in 2008, the name held little significance besides sounding like "a cool name"; much has transpired since their humble initiation as has the band’s interpretation of their namesake. Despite the various wars that have been fought between art and science factions, many have come to realise the inherent relationship between the two. "I like to think about it in terms of art being the world that is created by the media and our institutions, the world that we see on the news and in the newspapers versus science which is actually the world of real human interactions," Mac muses.


"And another is about the art of music in that it’s a transcendental thing when a tune or chord progression comes to you out of the blue. You’re sitting there on an aeroplane or in your car, and suddenly from nowhere a tune comes into your head…you know, where does that come from?


"But there’s also the science one – if you write songs at 120 BPM and give it a straight beat and a groovy bass line and some catchy hooks, then that format is the most readily digestible way to present sounds to a big crowd. So there’s both art and science involved… I could waffle on for days," Mac cackles.


In other words, allow The Experiment to verify Mac’s meditations on the metaphysical versus the pragmatic, and the divinity of transcendence versus the anarchy of reality.


ART VS SCIENCE are one of Aussie acts on the huge bill for FUTURE MUSIC FESTIVAL – alongside The Chemical Brothers, Dizzee Rascal, MGMT, Mark Ronson &The Business Intl, Pendulum, Ke$ha, The Presets, Leftfield, Richie Hawtin Pres. Plastikman, Tame Impala, Gypsy & The Cat, Professor Green, Steve Angello, Sven Vath, Steve Aoki, Sander Van Doorn, Cosmic Gate, Loco Dice, Don Diablo, Zane Lowe, Flight Facilities, Zowie, The Subs, Sound Of Stereo, TAI, Stafford Brothers, Binary Finary, TyDi, Shazam, James Holroyd and The Cobra Snake – which takes place at Flemington Racecourse on Sunday March 13 (the Labour Day weekend). Tickets and info from

ART VS SCIENCE also support The Chemical Brothers at Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday March 9. Tickets from and 132 849.

ART VS SCIENCE’s long-awaited debut album, The Experiment, is out next week – Friday February 25.