Basking in the glory of uone’s recent Balance mix, Kate Stephenson has a giggle with the cowboy of Rancho Relaxo about chihuahuas, Nick Fouquet hats, Steve Bug and what happened with Adam Freeland after the blood moon.

‘Spring is in the air,’uone typed into Messenger with a flourish. ‘I can smell the creativity.’ As he duly changed the colour of our Facebook conversation to neon fairy floss pink, I knew that the interview we’d just locked in for next week was destined to be a treat.

Fast forward a week and the fun really began. ‘It’s been a rollercoaster wild day,’ said the Melbourne-based DJ, who has been basking in the success of his recently released double whammy Balance mix, as well as prepping hard for his inimitable Chi Wow Wah Town festival, launching into oblivion on 1 November. ‘I’ve been making a Chi Wow Wah jingle for PBS radio. A little disco number. I like when a challenge comes to hand. I wanted to get the vibe out to people. So I dived into the studio and made a little jingle,’ he says. Then there’s a pause as he inhales deeply.

‘Hold on, I’m just burning some palo santo.’ I can almost smell the gorgeous sweet smoke drifting through the phone, taking me express to another Samsung Galaxy. It would seem that everything Melbourne’s caped vigilante does is dived into with his signature verve, swagger and charming kookiness. The branding for his boutique festival speaks – or perhaps that should be yaps – for itself. So what is his affinity with chihuahuas?

‘Well, there’s a lawless zone between Mexico and America called Chihuahua, where anything can happen. This was our muse for the ideology behind the festival. It’s a place where freedom is artistic and non- governed. There are no boundaries to how you want to express yourself.’

‘Our take on “chi wow wah” flips the script. The chi stands for energy. The wow is brought on by the music and arts. “Wah” is what the what the audience says – and town, well that’s our community, where everyone is welcome.’
So how many chihuahuas does uone own? ‘Actually, we only got our first one this year. His name’s Chi and he is Lord of our existence. We’d like to get two more and call them ‘wow’ and ‘wah’ so we can shout chi-wow-wah in the park and they all come running in sync.’ Why is everything this man says so fucking wonderful?

Sadly, the puppy himself will not be making an appearance at the pet-free festival, but among a paw-some lineup featuring hot dawgs like Steve Bug, Andreas Hennenberg, Jimi Jules and top pedigree locals like Jamie Stevens and Thankyou City, plenty of other legends will be.

Like many of us, uone’s love of Steve Bug began as an early 2000s obsession with Poker Flat Records. And of course he has a great story to go with what happened next. ‘Steve has been a huge source of inspiration for me for many years. The opportunity to take it further came when I was at ADE last year. I was at a gig with my good friend Robag Wruhme. While he and Steve were playing back to back, I got talking to his manager. I spoke from the heart, that there is a bunch of people in our community who adore Steve, myself included. I told them that we aren’t a huge commercial event, but that we’d love to make something work. The home grown concept of Chi Wow Wah Town sold it to her. It all tied in with the new Balance album coming out. Steve worked on the remix. It was like a cross pollination. The exchange of energies all felt like an organic process.’

But it’s not just about hosting amazing overseas artists. There are plenty of local heroes sewn into the mix. ‘The guys from Melbourne-based duo Thankyou City have been making great music for over ten years. They are going to be doing a very special live 80s hip hop-esque band experience, with a singer, drummer, guitarist and scratch DJ, debuting on the Saturday at midday. I really like to challenge artists that I work with. For my record label Beat & Path, I’m harvesting upcoming artists and encouraging them to show me something amazing. I put the challenge to Scott and Brenny and that’s the concept they came back with. For me, that’s what Chi Wow Wah town is all about – daring, flamboyance and creativity.’

Uone is also very much looking forward to Jamie Stevens’ live show on Saturday night. ‘The audio visual team will be doing tailored visuals and sending a signal from the mixer, he is triggering the visuals as he is playing. There’s going to be so much special stuff kicking off.’

What’s also unique about the festival is that a percentage of every ticket sold goes to MS Australia. Uone was diagnosed with the disease in 2011. ‘I knew nothing about it when I first found out I had it. Chiw Wow Wah Town is a great platform to raise money and awareness in a positive way.’

Initially, Chi Wow Wah town was held out in the forest, but permits, laws and other nasties took this right away. This year’s venue is pretty damn special though. Just an hour’s drive out of Victoria, Our Friends Farm is a beautiful ranch getaway with a truly intimate vibe. ‘You feel like you’ve been there before,’ says uone. ‘It feels like coming home. We’ve got just one stage, so there’s only one source of music and one common vibe. It’s our objective to have everyone connected on the same energy level.’

It’s no coincidence that uone chose a ranch-style property for his festival, as our favourite cowboy lives and works in one himself. The infamous Rancho Relaxo has become the stuff of legends. ‘It’s an double storey old furniture store on the Mornington Peninsula. My studio is on the second floor. We have animals. A sauna. Our own creative environment. It’s a haven for creativity and visiting artists and DJs often come to stay with us. In fact it’s like a vortex. DJ Guti came supposedly for one night on his tour. When he saw the studio, he cancelled all of his plans to stay longer, lock himself in our haven and make tunes!’

It sounds like the perfect place to bring a Balance mix to life.

The first time I listened to uone’s Balance series, was on a long train journey. I was lucky enough to have the entire carriage to myself. It was early morning and the sun was yawning and stretching the world awake. The mix seemed to unfold organically, wading through tribal territories and jumping off melody mountains into deep valleys of a magical land. You might find yourself in some kind of hip hop nebula for a while, before you blink out of it and there you are on the top of a cloud, surrounded by angels playing sitars, a full symphony through many different spaces and soundscapes. As I recount the spiritual joys of my first encounter of the mix to the man who made it, he fuckin loses his shit.

‘The way you described that just now, that’s the whole intention. I love listening to music when you’re in a car or travelling. My mix was made for watching landscapes unfold. Put it on and it helps you travel – perhaps to another dimension, some surreal territory that doesn’t even exist. I love listening to music when I am on the move.’
The Balance series of course started in Melbourne, so it was quite amazing for uone to bring it home. It’s fair to say the album is a piece of history in itself, a study in the sounds that shaped the city’s scene.

‘I remember listening to Balance CDs when I was catching the train going to buy my first records. It started here in Melbourne 17 years ago. All of a sudden it went global and it was huge, with mixes by James Holden, Lee Burridge and Joris Voorn to name but a few. I thought it was really fitting to pay homage to everyone in the scene within that process. When I started the project, the ideas were around remixing classic tracks that I love. Danny [Bonnici] is like the headmaster. Luke [Chable] was always huge influence. I was addicted to his records. It was a natural process to remix tracks like “The Shepherd” and really bring the Balance series back to Melbourne.’

The masterpiece took over two years to bring together. ‘I’ve been travelling a lot, making music with some incredible producers; touring artists to the ranch, pottering around with remixes, ideas and originals. The compilation is full of nostalgia. I just got all these ideas and gradually they rolled into one. Collecting them together made me grow as an artist.’

Uone curated so many sacred texts and icons, he likens the mix to a thesis. ‘In the end, it was like getting a PHD in Melbourne music. I worked closely with Jamie [Stevens] who is probably one of the best music producers in Australia, and Danny [Bonnici] who is a master of engineering. Let’s just say they were great professors. As an artist, I was learning how to make, finish and finalise. Finishing Balance was like submitting my thesis – it was like this is my degree here you go.’

The mix is a meticulously woven tapestry of collabs, including uone’s new bezzies Jam and Spoon ‘who I met in the back of an artist transfer,’ rancho regular Luke Chable and to uone’s starry eyed delight, his all time hero Adam Freeland. Strap yourself in for another story.

‘Mojo Filter had invited me to play at Secret Garden festival. I played the closing set at the Lost Wood stage and saw Adam Freeland on the dancefloor. I was like oh my God. ADAM FREELAND. So I yelled, “Adam!” and went over to introduce myself. I totally fan-boyed. I told him how much of an influence he’d been on me. How I used to listen to his fabricLIVE CD on repeat tripping on acid ten years ago. When he told me he was coming to Australia at the start of this year, I invited him to Rancho Relaxo with Jamie and Mojo Filter. Adam lives on a desert ranch in Joshua Tree, so we were already kindred spirits. There was a blue blood moon eclipse happening and the four of us watched the eclipse together. The next day, we created the track after the blood moon. It felt like a true cosmic alignment of everything. Which is why it is such a special track.’

There’s no doubt that when you are running, dreaming and creating at a million miles an hour, there is not much time for downtime. When I ask uone what’s coming up for next year, he is most enthused by the prospect of some down time on the horizon for the first few months of the year. After that, he has big plans including rumours of gigs in Mexico, India and South America. But what makes our toes very wriggly indeed is that he will definitely be bringing us more music, including the possibility of some downtempo beats. ‘There was originally supposed to be a third arm of the Balance series under my Fallen Giants alias with a sofa sounds vibe. I think it’s time to get back to work on that.’

As a champion of so many new sounds and mentor to many, uone is well versed in upcoming artists and new kids on the block. His hot tips for 2019 include Jimi Jules, who just happens to be playing at Chi Wow Wah Town. ‘He’s a Swiss country house master,’ beams uone. ‘He’s a very talented and highly-skilled musician who makes music that is a kind of cosmic house acid jazz gumbo.’

‘I’m also loving Bondi, a duo from Berlin. I’d say they are basically like Bob Moses meets Extrawelt. Put in Bob’s salty, sexy emotional vocals and Extrawelt’s toughness and emotive driving basslines and there you have it.’
I couldn’t resist one last question to conclude our cosmic pow wow. I just had to ask the burning question on everyone’s lips. The festival goer’s biggest chin stroker. And uone loves it. In fact he bursts into fits of very infectious laughter and soon we are both giggling away.

‘What will I be wearing to Chi Wow Wah town?’ he manages to splutter. ‘Well… my Nick Fouquet hat… He’s an Australian designer operating out of LA now. They’re incredible. I scored mine when I was touring in Tokyo, I’d been looking for one for ages.’

He’s so caught up in Nick Fouquet he forgets the rest. ‘Just a hat?’ I ask, and we’re laughing again. ‘No, I will be wearing my KTZ drop pants, my Beat & Path t-shirt and probably my gold boots.’ So ravers and gentlemen, if you didn’t already, now you know who to high-five at Chi Wow Wah town. We’ll leave you with that fabulous image, and see you at Chi Wow Wah next weekend, front left speaker.

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About the Author

Kate Stephenson's dangerous obsession with music and words has taken her to every corner of the globe in the quest for the filthiest bassline. Heralding from the mean streets of Harrogate in North Yorkshire, England, she earned her raving stripes in the early 2000s at celestial institutions like Back to Basics in Leeds and Bugged Out in Liverpool, standing in queues snaking for hours round the block in freezing February nights before she knew how to hustle a guestie.

Having decamped to (slightly) more clement temperatures, Kate now calls the outstanding city of Melbourne home, feeling oh-so-very-welcome in a place where you are actively encouraged to party from Thursday to Tuesday. Kate stays alive on a strict diet of techno,jungle drum and bass and cheeky garage remixes, smooshed in with a little bit of everything in between. You can either find her with hands in the air, by the front left speaker or typing up a storm in bed drinking Yorkshire Tea by the gallon.