Last year they returned for one of those projects, a “sonic sculptural installation” called Scream in which the audience interacted with them via tablets, controlling visuals as well as instructing musicians on the side of the stage so that they could, as Logan puts it, “kind of jam with us.” They’re planning to expand this when they bring it back in the new show (and album) that’s evolved from Scream, called Utopia. Logan explains, “Eventually what we’re going to have is that the app can be downloaded by anyone who has a smartphone or iPad there and can log in.”
They’ve always designed instruments of their own, combining art, music, and even fashion in hand-made objects like megaphone hats, guitars made from high heels, theremins made from tapestries, and “supersuits” that worked like wearable keyboards. “What they originally were more pieces which we actually wore for performances,” says Logan. “It also came from us looking around and thinking, ‘OK, which instruments do we play? We don’t play guitars!’” It’s this inventiveness with the intersection between technology and music that’s led to embracing apps. “The gadgets which all of society’s addicted to.”
One of the apps uses face-tracking, “a technology that’s also connected to this spying almost that’s happening right now with all these insane NSA revelations that are coming out. We worked on that about a year ago, but we thought face-tracking and the privacy of person, how it’s invaded, let’s play around with something that’s quite negative. So we used the face-tracking technology. Through the camera the user’s face then appears in the app and a mouth is stuck on, one of our mouths and it starts talking.”
The title of Utopia seems ironic, since they’re exploring the Orwellian modern surveillance of ordinary citizens, both in the tech surrounding the album and the songs themselves. Murray-Leslie explains the title track is a cover of “a song by Tuomas Toivonen originally called Urbanism In The House, which we renamed Utopia. It’s about renovating cities instead of generic gentrification, ‘stop knocking down our neighbourhoods.’ That whole notion of failed utopias, where we keep building these individualistic architect-driven dreams.”
Keeping with the theme, Julian Assange guests as a vocalist on the album, although speaking rather than singing. “He sounds very personal,” Logan says, “talking about the connection between humans and God in the way that it’s like a crime against humanity to have these in-between people filtering, saying for example, ‘I know what God says so you have to listen to me.’ Which is also a really interesting thing for him to talk about because it sounds like an abstract conversation about religion, but it’s not – it’s about the filtration of information and someone taking the power over information, which is really the basis of what’s happening with WikiLeaks and with Snowden.”
Utopia will bring Chicks On Speed back to Australia from Europe, which both are looking forward to for different reasons. For Logan, born in rural New South Wales, it’s about returning home.
“Living in Europe has been an amazing experience and we’ve had a great deal of support in Germany and Spain for what we do, but I feel it’s time to come and give back to Australian culture now, I’ve been away for so long.” For Murray-Leslie the reason is simpler: “I’m tired of this drizzle here. I haven’t seen the sun in a while!”
BY JODY MACGREGOR