Australian hip hop royalty Joel Ma aka Joelistics returns with a mesmerising new project in his forthcoming conceptual long-play Film School. A departure from Joelistics’ typically evocative, smooth and considered wordsmithery, Film School is a project of music and film; an album of beats and synths, ‘70s Asian pop samples, psych-rock journey music and studio improvisations and a short film incorporating dance and animation. Following his serendipitous accolade as the inaugural Best Producer winner at the recent Music Victoria Industry Awards, Joelistics is thrilled to finally present the first taste of his ambitious new cinematic production with the psychedelic single ‘Yokai’. We recently had a chat with Joelistics about the track and his forthcoming production record Film School.

Hey Joel, congratulations on the release of your new single ‘Yokai’! Can you give us a bit of an insight into this track and its accompanying film clip?

Thank you! Yokai started as an abstract beat sketch after a trip to Malaysia where I found heaps of old Canto pop records from the ‘70s in a shop in Kuala Lumpur. Fast forward 2 years and I dug it up on my MPC during lockdown and resonated with the dark and ambient vibes mixed with that screw face funk, so I finished the track. I was showing a director friend of mine named Rhys Graham and he said he got ‘ghost vibes from it’. We contacted some of my favourite Asian Australian dancers in Melbourne, immersed ourselves in Chinese and Japanese ghosts stories and shot the clip in between Melbourne lockdowns in different suburbs around the city. 

The song and the clip are totally informed by the weirdness that was the year 2020.

After releasing two hip hop and beat poetry albums, your next instalment Joelistics Presents Film School is set to be a departure for you as a vocalist, swapping out the role of MC for producer and concentrating on beats and synths, rather than bars and rhymes. Why the shift? Was there a particular catalyst for wanting to release a production record?

I still love writing lyrics and I should state for the record I am in the midst of writing a vocal album but a few things pointed me in the producer direction. I’ve been working as a producer for other artists for some time with Moju (FKA Mojo Juju) plus the Haiku Hands album which was 3 years in the making and I guess I just wanted to flex my production skills on something more experimental and not at all commercially oriented. Something that was equally about visuals and abstract imagery as it was about song structures and musical parts. Something that you could get high and vibe out to without having to think about lyrics.

You’ve previously produced tracks for artists like Mo’Ju, Haiku Hands and have written and collaborated with such artists as Tim Rogers, Emma Donovan, Ecca Vandal, Hermitude, Wil Wagner, Parvyn Singh and even Madonna amongst others. How important is collaboration to you and what features/collaborations can we expect from your upcoming album?

Collaboration is a beautiful thing, it is itself an artform, for those few hours in a writing room or studio you are sharing secrets, writing the future into existence and generally in each others’ heads. I love it and have a good community of people who I work with on the regular.

For the Film School project there’s a few singers like Parvyn Singh from the Bombay Royale and a soul singer named Hailey Cramer (HAYCH) but most of the collabs for Film School are with musicians – drummer, guitarists, guzheng (Chinese harp), cellists, violinists. A lot of the tracks started as psych jams and improvs and then developed over time. I really wanted to push the sonic boat out into deep waters with the whole project.

You recently took out the inaugural Best Producer award at The Music Victoria Industry Awards for your work on Mo’Ju & Joelistics Ghost Town EP. Where were you when you found out the big news, and how did you celebrate? 

Like so much of 2020 I was at home when I found out, I was at home when the award was given out and I was home when I celebrated. 

For the celebration my partner and I got Uber eats, I think it was Vietnamese.

I ordered the chicken rice.

Joelistics Presents Film School seems to hone heavily into your love for the visual and performing arts as well as the music world as you plan to release the conceptual long-play with an accompanying short film. How does this next project interrogate or explore the worlds of music, performance, and art and what is it about their overlap that you’re drawn to?

Again, it’s all about collaboration. I reached out to some of Melbourne’s finest dancers including Tony Yap who describes his style as Malaysian Shamanic dance, which I find super inspiring and Yumi Umiumare who is Australia’s leading purveyor of the Japanese form of Butoh plus Elle Shimada and MaggZ both of whom contributed heavily to the project. The visual side has culminated into a short film called Still The Quivering Air. 

I’m not sure how to describe it and do it justice, but it fuses beautiful, grotesque, abstract images and amazing dance with the tracks from the record.

There was no master plan, it was just a series of conversations and experimentations with other people who are also passionate about their work. All up Film School came into being because some crazy people came up with crazy ideas and other crazy people said ‘yes’. 

You’ve previously co-written a piece of musical theatre In Between Two with James Mangohig which showed at Darwin Festival, Sydney Festival, OzAsia Festival, and Melbourne Festival, and you’ve also starred as a lead role in ABC’s Nowhere Boys. Will you be starring in the short film as part of this next release? Can you give us any more details about what we can expect from the film aspect of Film School?

I have a zombie ghost cameo in the film.

Musically, how would you describe Joelistics Presents Film School?

Asian, psychedelic, cinematic, electronic, future cities, ancient ghost stories, 70’s synthesizers, the age of fear and information, mixed Era textures.

Any plans for upcoming live shows now that Melbourne is waking up again?

I would love to translate this into a live show format with live musicians and the dancers and the film footage playing behind us. I think it will happen, I don’t know where… Maybe Brunswick Music Festival 2021 ; )

Finally, if the world’s borders opened up tomorrow, COVID-free, where would you go and what would you do?

Well… my daughter hasn’t met her family in Sydney or Spain (her mother’s side) so maybe a trip to Marrickville to see grandma and swim at the beaches in NSW and then Vigo in Northern Spain to see the primas y primos.

Catch the premiere of Film School and a live Q&A with Joelistics and his collaborators at his upcoming Mapping Melbourne show.

Multicultural Arts Victoria – Mapping Melbourne
Thursday 3 December
7:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Free
Watch the online live premiere of Joelistics Presents Film School plus the Joel Ma collaborators in conversation with Margot Tanjutco, on Multicultural Arts Victoria’s FacebookInstagram and YouTube.
More information: Multicultural Arts Victoria website

Check out Joelistics‘ video for ‘Yokai‘ below and stream the single and his latest track ‘Memory Palace‘ featuring Garden Tiger via his Spotify here, and be sure to stay up to date with Joelistics via his Facebook, Instagram and Bandcamp.