Offbeat inspiration guides Jonti's sonic experiments
Musicians don’t often list filmmakers among their greatest influences, but Jonti Danilewitz is an exception. The South African–born artist and producer, who releases music under just his first name, is a big fan of the late Norman McLaren, whose animated shorts helped establish the reputation of the National Film Board of Canada while pushing the form’s technical and aesthetic limits.
Danilewitz, who has lived in Australia since his early teens, reveals that he learned of McLaren’s work through another of his favourite artists. “I was always a big Stereolab fan, and it was fun seeing what their influences were,” he says, reached in Los Angeles on his cellphone. “And they were always influenced by that kind of stuff.”
For a good measure of Stereolab’s fandom, consider that the band has a record called Dots and Loops, and Norman McLaren’s films include the shorts “Dots” and “Loops”.
“I guess that’s how I found out about it [McLaren’s work],” Danilewitz says, “and then I went on my own adventure to find out what it was all about, and I was just blown away.”
Jonti’s debut album, Twirligig, takes its name from a film that McLaren produced, and the percolating, percussive squiggles that pop up at the end of “Frightened Mice” are actually samples from the Oscar-winning animator’s 1940 short “Dots”. The filmmaker’s influence permeates the disc in another, less explicit way, too: Danilewitz is a keen experimentalist, stitching together disparate samples and loops—and his own voice—into an exotic, impossible-to-pin-down whole. On the basis of the lounge-leaning “Batmilk”, it would be tempting to classify this as space-age bachelor-pad retro-futurism, but that idea goes out the window by the time you reach the buzzing electro weirdness of “Snickers Hiss”.
Danilewitz says Twirligig owes its charming unconventionality to his willingness to view his time in the studio as play rather than work. “I approach it like, you know, when you first get pencils in playschool, and you don’t know how to properly draw a picture, but you just go for it,” he says. “You just see what happens. That’s the fun part to me; just trying to create something that you didn’t know could be created, basically. I mean, not to say that I did that, but it’s fun just trying to experiment and put Lego blocks that don’t fit together, and make them fit together.”
Having said that, though, Danilewitz notes that future Jonti releases might not be quite so esoteric. “I’ve learned to appreciate more traditional structures and simpler sounds,” says the Sydney-based musician, who also has collaborations with Melbourne sampling wizards the Avalanches and 13-year-old Aussie soul singer Tré Samuels on the horizon. “At the moment I like the way those can communicate. More people can understand them. The more something has the ability to be shared, I’m learning to appreciate that now. It’s kind of come full circle.”
Jonti plays the Waldorf on Saturday (June 16).