Extreme rapper with a deadly bite

September 24, 2011
King Brown (Damion Hunter)
King Brown (Damion Hunter), as Jandamarra.

Australian Made
King Brown
Sound Planet Records

When far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik went on a mass killing spree in Norway on July 22, he was listening on his headphones to "Lux Aeterna", a mournful piece of music by British film soundtrack composer Clint Mansell.

A more appropriate Mansell composition might have been “Ich Bin Ein Auslander”, written by the musician when he was fronting cartoonish electronic indie rockers Pop Will Eat Itself in the 1990s.

Translating from the German as “I Am An Outsider“ it was, ironically, an anti-Nazi song.

The song also resonates deeply with a certain extreme outsider here in Australia.

“I’ve always been an ‘Auslander',” says Aboriginal noise terrorist King Brown, also known as Damion Hunter. “No one seems to like the shit I like to the degree I like it at.”

Like Mansell, Hunter does not seem to fit neatly inside any category. Raised in the far north-west mining town of Karratha, the Pop Will Eat Itself fanatic has played in thrash metal bands in Perth, acted in everything from staged Shakespeare to BBC dramas, written numerous film scripts and says he has a killer idea for an album built around his banjo.

Yet he has just released a very different album from his new home in Sydney’s Blue Mountains that is characteristically indefinable. Falling somewhere between brutal heavy metal, pop parody and block-rocking hip hop, Australian Made is an album that would make sense to the genre-bending Mansell.

Equally, Breivik's decision to choose Mansell’s music to commit murder to holds a twisted logic for Hunter.

“I guess it kind of makes sense,” he says. “He writes some really ambient stuff that really gets into your head and under your skin … I think [Nine Inch Nails frontman] Trent Reznor’s soundtrack to Quake would have been a better choice. But hey…”

That same dark humour is abundant on Hunter’s album. Going for laughs is a brave choice, considering humour rarely works in music. It’s a problem that even prompted one of its most successful exponents, Frank Zappa, to release an album titled “Does Humour Belong in Music?”

So, does it?

“Absolutely,” says Hunter. “Music is supposed to affect people. Otherwise we wouldn’t listen to it. We are stupid to act like humour isn’t an emotion that affects us all the time. It does.

“And I enjoy humour. I get my drama and hurt and stress and love and heartbreak and anger from life. I escape to music for all the other stuff to help forget about it all.

“I’m here on Earth to enjoy life. Music helps me do that.”

King Brown’s comedy is at its strongest on the super-stoned “Let's Go Smoke Some Hooch”. He and fellow rapper KILLMONKEY carry off a nuttily narcotic call-and-answer routine that sounds totally improvised yet is so well-written it can't have been adlibbed.

“We did it in a day,” he says. “KILLMONKEY and I laid down our vocals in about three takes. We had a lot of fun and laughter that we decided to keep in there just because it made us laugh. We found a lot of new things in the song.

“We ended up, on the day, trying to entertain each other and make each other laugh, so hopefully it makes the listeners laugh also.”

But there is a serious side to Australian Made. On the hard-hitting “Hunter”, King Brown spits venom, sinking his fangs into “politicians, crackers, fool players” and “player haters”.

“Yeah, that was just an adlib rant while I was recording,” he says. “To paraphrase it, it could also read ‘[far-right politician] Pauline Hanson, bigots/rednecks, tryhards/posers, people who hate [Aboriginal champion boxer] Anthony Mundine’.

“Generally, [they were] the first things that popped into my head at the time. It could have just as easily been other people or things. But who doesn’t hate those guys?”

The album also has seriously heavy moments, not least in the down and dirty “Cross For Ya”.

“Well, I used to spend a lot of time in [Sydney’s] Kings Cross,” says Hunter. “Well ... not a lot of time, but certainly enough time.

“A good friend of mine [Morgan O’Neil] was making a movie [the contract-killing film noir, Solo] and he wanted to get some of my tracks on the soundtrack. This song was born out of this process, so I thank Morgs very much, it’s actually one of my favourite songs.”

“Cross For Ya” has been getting plenty of radio play, along with another infectious head-nodder, “Five Minutes From Now”. The song’s wailing, drowning guitars are punctuated by an insistent, nagging question: “Where ya gonna be five minutes from now? Five months from now? Five years from now? How ya gonna get there? How? How?”

“I wanted to show a bit more depth on this one,” says Hunter. “I wanted to tell my story how I saw it at that time and how I see it now still, I guess. It is what it is.

“I’m trying to make my way in life out of creativity and I’m hungry to make it happen, I’m sick of living hand-to-mouth and I’m sick of being depressed.”

Yet Hunter’s CV is hardly anything to be depressed about. When asked about his acting, he replies in a similarly gloomy manner: “I have been known to tread the boards, but that ain’t solid, it comes and goes, ebbs and flows.”

However, when pushed, he reveals he has just fulfilled one of his dreams by playing Aboriginal freedom fighter Jandamarra in a tour of the Kimberley. The play was even staged in Bandilngan ― Windjana Gorge, where Jandamarra fought a legendary pitched battle with police and pastoralists in 1894.

Talking about it seems to awaken a strength in Hunter.

“This role was on my bucket list to portray for many, many years now,” he says. “So I was very proud to be asked to do this job, playing Jandamarra himself.

“His was the most successful campaign to defend Aboriginal land in Australia’s history. He was eventually shot dead at the age of 24.

“The show was incredible. The reviews were great. Not a dry eye in the house. I was very proud to be such a big part of such a heroic success. Hopefully we can do it again on a national level.

“I’m very thankful to be part of telling his story. His story is slowly coming to the surface. He really was a hero and a warrior.”

The tour also came across some modern-day heroes and warriors in Broome, where protesters were railing against Woodside Petroleum’s proposed gas hub at James Price Point.

“These are decisions that affect this environment and therefore the likelihoods of a lot of Indigenous and non-indigenous people to the area,” says Hunter. “These are the people that would have more understanding of the value of the land and should be deciding themselves where these projects should go.

“I’m no expert on the subject, but I’ve seen what industry has done to my home town, Karratha. So fight the power.”

As for his latest acting project, it seems he is again venturing into Pop Will Eat Itself territory by juggling art, crime and sport. The Poppies released the single “Touched By The Hand Of Cicciolina” in a campaign to get Italian sex actress and politician Ia Cicciolina to present the 1990 FIFA World Cup to the winning team. Hunter is playing 1980s Aussie rules star Jimmy Krakouer in the forthcoming film Killing Time.

“He was a famous footballer who got done for a massive haul of drug trafficking, the biggest of the time in the early-mid nineties,” says Hunter. “True story. So I got to work with [Lord of the Rings actor] David Wenham. That was really cool.”

Appropriately, Hunter also closes his album by covering Pop Will Eat Itself’s “Fuses" ― yet, cryptically, the song does not appear on the album’s tracklisting.

“I do have kind permission to reproduce it,” he says. “I asked the band if I could cover it ― but not the record company, so I don’t know where I stand on the copyright issue.

“I wanna do a punk version for live shows. The track I’ve done is good for listening, but that’s not what live shows are about. Live shows are for moving.”

[To win a copy of Australian Made, just email your details to ward.mat@gmail.com before the next issue of Green Left Weekly comes out. Winner picked at random. Download free King Brown tracks at: http://www.triplejunearthed.com/KingBrown1.]

Video: Cross for Ya. TheDamionHunter.

Video: King Brown: Five Minutes From Now. TheDamionHunter.

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