Before the Australian mainstream fell in love with dance music, before the likes of Cut Copy and The Presets, there was Itch-E & Scratch-E. It wasn’t the summer of love but pretty damn close, as the dynamic duo debuted in 1992. The radio domination and gargantuan interstate festivals of today were but a dream as the rather underground movement was still trying to find its footing in Australia’s rock-dominated industry. “We were always sneaking in and out of venues and locations under cover of darkness. We seemed to be constantly breaking laws whenever we played live,” says the itchy one, Andy Rantzen. “Back then it had more of an underground, seditious feeling attached to it. It was a bit piratey, arrrgh!” The Sydney native, who first met his partner-in-rhythm Paul Mac in the early ‘90s, believes that dance music has grown “too comfortable!” Out of the scene’s underdog tenacity came much creativity, “You would try things out in the studio and it’d be new, a surprise.” He adds, “Those early experiments are now well travelled subgenres.” Blueprints and precedents weren’t there to follow; they were being set as the territory “felt less well mapped.” Things have changed now, “Electronic dance music has fleshed out, filled out, become middle-aged.”
To be involved in the dance community at the time Rantzen remembers was a hustle operating on “word-of-mouth.” It was all about “weird last minute phone calls, abandoned warehouses, long journeys into the night, dodgy rave promoters from the UK, not getting paid – we had it all.” With some pride he says, “There’s still plenty of underground music being birthed in warehouses and illegal parties in Sydney.” Living up to the renegade image of dance music at the time, the scratchy half of the duo Paul Mac raised some eyebrows during an acceptance speech at the ARIA Awards in 1995. Nabbing the award for Best Dance Single, for their game changing hit Sweetness and Light, Mac symbolically embodied the group’s cartoon counterparts by strapping an acme bomb to what was otherwise a self-congratulatory bore. He thanked the “ecstasy dealers of Sydney” in a moment that was later removed from the telecast.
Music connoisseurs may look back at the time as a turning point, a golden era even; however the group were not as confident. “When we’d finished mixing Sweetness and Light I said ‘Hmm, this is a bit disappointing’ and Paul replied ‘I know, where did we go wrong?’ There were other times when we were very thrilled about what we were doing, but time has not been good to all those tracks.” With their comeback effort, 2010’s Hooray For Everything!!!, he reveals, “We tried to write for the clubs – or at least, for the kind of club we’d like to go to.” Comfortable in their veteran status he affirms, “When it came to playing the tracks live over 2010 and 2011, we had no problem in the translation.” After not working together as a group for over a decade, as their importance became more apparent amidst a growing industry, it all came down to the simple fact, “We were feeling keen.” Filled with the “creative kevorka,” or the lure of the animal, Itch-E & Scratch-E reformed. “We don’t need a bigger reason than that. The chemistry was great throughout the sessions.” Admitting that Itch-E and Scratch-E “has never been a money spinner,” Rantzen points out, “It’s always been an indulgence and a chance to let of steam, hang loose and go nuts in the studio. We don’t need too much encouragement to do that, but we do both need to keep an eye on the bottom line.” Even with that in mind, Rantzen and Mac haven’t slowed down.