Since his move from Melbourne to London a year and a half ago, Rohan Bell-Towers has been adjusting to a new city, a busier lifestyle and a new-found disdain for fried chicken. From running Bamboo Musik in Melbourne for five years, to releasing an array of records on Public Possession, Hole In The Sky and Internasjonal, he’s shown that he’s serious about making music that’s playful and great to dance to. We spoke to him over dinner to find out how much location actually matters and how to get that work/music balance right.
What do you do apart from DJing?
During the week I work for a music production company that I’ve started up with my girlfriend. It’s operating as a subsidiary of a well-established music production company run by an award-winning British composer who has a background in theatre and film, but he now spends most of his time producing music for high-end TV adverts. The subsidiary is like the fun, kid sister version.
How many days do you work a week?
Four or five in the office. Friday are supposed to be for producing music, but if I’m DJing somewhere on Friday night I might be at an airport instead.
Do you ever feel like you have two jobs?
Yeah, totally. And then alongside that, trying to keep my bedroom in order and stuff like that. I’ve hardly had any time for music in the past two months, especially with DJing as it’s so exhausting. For me it’s impossible to not have a job alongside DJing – London is an expensive city.
How did you find the move from Australia to London?
I’d never been to London before I moved. It was quiet at first – I wasn’t working for 6 months and I didn’t have many gigs or friends. I didn’t really know anyone when I moved to London, just my girlfriend and like one other person. It’s kind of weird – my phone never rings anymore and when it does I get kind of shocked.
Woah okay, so you just jumped in at the deep end! What made you want to move to London?
A change of scene. Melbourne’s a pretty small city. I had a good life there but it was a bit easy – I didn’t really do anything and I didn’t have much to worry about, but things there probably couldn’t have gone any further.
What were you doing whilst you were in Melbourne?
Working at a shop a couple of days a week, DJing at bars, throwing parties and making records.
The music scene in Melbourne seems to be rising in an international way. We’re hearing more about it.
It’s really trendy, I feel like I left too soon!
Do you think you’ll go back at any point?
Maybe. It’s a really nice place but it’s just so far away if you want to DJ at an international level. I know people who come over to Europe (from Australia) 5 times a year, it’s a 24 hour flight one way! I probably couldn’t do more than twice a year. Plus if you want to have something else besides music, like a day job, it’s hard to get time off and do extended tours. I’ve only been back once since I moved to London, which was last month. I played parties in Melbourne, Sydney and Indonesia.
Do you prefer Melbourne or Sydney?
Melbourne is much better for parties. The Sydney licensing situation is really bad – you can’t get into a venue after 1:30am. Even if you’d just been outside for a cigarette.
Has the move to London influenced your music?
I don’t think so, each release kind of changes anyways. I never really look back and think about why that record was made.
The food is really good. You know an Indian restaurant is good when there’s loads of Indian people inside.
There was a guy in the toilet doing his hair, he had a special brush.
We really like Public Possession’s approach towards design. Do you contribute to this?
They do it all in house. One of the guys who runs the label is still doing post-graduate studies in visual or fine arts. Now that they’re 10 releases in, you really start to notice the artwork.
– SPILLS SOMETHING ON JEANS- GETS UP TO GO TO BATHROOM TO SPONGE THE STAIN –
I’d rather look like I pissed my pants then get a stain on my jeans. That’s one thing that’s changed since I moved over here – I used to be really fussy with what I wore and the state of it and my hair and everything and now I just don’t give a shit. Probably cause I’m really busy!
I think that it’s becoming really important to have that visual aspect with music.
Have you seen the latest one? With the saxophone?
Yeah, it’s really good! Labels seem to be making more of an effort with artwork, like 1080p. They have such a distinctive style and it really adds to the music. The visual side really does matter – it’s almost like a package that allows for so much more creativity.
The visual side of the music is really important, especially on a more practical level when buying records. There’s one thing I really hate in London – going to a record store to browse new 12”s from a blank generic sleeve with no record in it and every title is written in the same shitty graph/tag font at the record store. It totally doesn’t make any sense.
Do you ever buy records just for the cover? I’ve done that so many times and then been disappointed with the record.
Occasionally, if the record ends up being bad you can just chuck it out and put a good record in the sleeve – I do that sometimes!
Have you played many parties in London – how have you found playing in London in general?
Clubs close early, at around 3am whereas in Melbourne they’re open till 6am and some things only happen after 3am. It’s funny because 3am is such a big point in the night where people are either going way into the club and staying for the night or going home.
I saw you at Rhythm Section a while ago. You played my favourite Yoshida Minako song!
That was probably the best place I’ve played at in London! It seems like a very young and enthusiastic crowd. Did you stay till the end? I was quite wasted and for some reason felt compelled to make a speech, apparently no one had ever done that before.
Do you have more fun playing in London than Melbourne?
I dunno… In Melbourne I had my own party every couple of months and that was the best place for me to play. I had a partner who I would play with in Melbourne and we’d go b2b. It was cool, we’d never really talk during the set. From vantage of the DJ booth you see some pretty interesting things. Most of the bigger gigs I played were with my partner and now I’m out here in London on my own, I’m probably becoming a better DJ. In general I probably have more fun here because I’m playing at new places and doing so breathes new life into my old records. Especially here as I don’t have many records – most of it is in storage.. If I were to do it all again I’d probably make more trips to London and not spend so much money on records, ha.
When did you start making music?
When I was a teenager. At university I studied fine arts majoring in sound art and around the second or third year in I became interested in pop music, mostly 80s stuff, which then extended into dance music. I got a big bank loan and got my first set of turntables when I was 21 and started DJing. I started producing at the same time.
What do you value more – DJing or producing?
I can’t pick a favourite. That’s like a B-Boy saying they need to break dance and do graffiti. The records I find and the records I play in a club inform the music I put out, and vice versa.
Did you hear the most recent Dekmantel podcast I did?
Yeah! They’re killing it with their podcast series at the moment.
That was recorded live in Indonesia in one single take. There’a a quiet part in the mix and if you listen to it on headphones you can hear screaming, it was like that throughout the whole set! It’s a bit high energy tho so it’s was kind of hard to listen back to.
I never really listen to podcasts to be honest, or any music. During the week I have to listen to music for work. I might check out some new releases but often I just need to rest my ears. If I’m ever at an afterparty I’m always that one annoying person who asks people to turn the music down.
What’s the biggest gig you’ve done?
Golden Plains Festival in Australia. I DJ’d for the sunrise slot with my partner as Bamboo Musik. Have you ever seen footage of DJ Harvey smashing up the mixer? We were lucky enough to play that same slot a few years later but we didn’t smash the mixer. We did carry the couch from the green room onto the stage though. The guy who played before I was playing the rudest Diplo kind of music. Oh and thinking now, I’ve also played at the Sydney Opera House for Vivid festival which was kind of big. Bamboo Musik played twice during the two week programme one year and got booed both times. We were probably taking the piss a bit.
At a festival do you ever feel like you have to match the person who’s playing before you on a line-up?
Not really, because the time is so disjointed and broken up as everyone is playing for an hour or so.
How do festivals compare to clubs?
More people. I haven’t played enough festivals to properly compare the two, but when I have played on bigger stages there’s so much separation between you and the crowd that it feels like you’re in a smaller club with no one in it. DJ like nobody’s watching you or something like that! Playing on Boiler Room is weird, like a small club with loads of cameras. You feel really conscious! The first one I played in London couldn’t have gone any worse. I got locked out of the studio before I played and I was really flustered, visibly anxious.
Do you feel pressured to constantly put out new music?
Of course, though it’s what I enjoy doing most so the pressure isn’t a bad thing. I do wonder if people buy my stuff, and have a bit of anxiety about that which is stupid because there are usually only 500 pressed up so it doesn’t really make a difference, it seems so small. I should just be happy! I’ve done 5 singles now, so now I kind of feel pressure to succeed but in a way I don’t really hold myself responsible for that, I’m just going with the flow.
Do you have anything new coming out soon?
Just a few remixes. For RAP, Cale Parks and Zanzibar Chanel.
I listened to ZB’s live session they did for Leisure Link, it’s insanely good! They were singing about butts. I’ve heard they’re pretty crazy live too.
They’re funny – Zach (the singer) is so hotblooded. Every time I hang out I’m like ‘dude, you’re such a hater!’, but he’s also very sensitive!
Do you think your DJing and producing will become a full time career at some point?
It’s hard to say, it would be nice of course but I don’t really want to be DJing when I’m 40. I’m 28 now and I already feel too old for the club! My hangovers are getting worse and sometimes I go out and I feel like the oldest person in the room, even though I still have a baby face. DJing is a hard profession, but it would be amazing if you could make some money out of it and that’s all you do. I’ll see how it goes!
BELL TOWERS FOOD FACTS:
– He likes saag paneer and salami
– He doesn’t really have a favourite food
– Besides rent, most of his money goes on food
– He was a vegetarian when he was 15 to 21
Bell Towers will be playing at Found Festival on Saturday 13th June. You can catch him on the NTS Stage from 4 – 5pm.