HTRK is a band that refuses to bow to adversity. Whether it be attitudes towards their nonconforming sound, strenuous album release issues or an ultimate tragedy taking away an intrinsic part of the whole, the entity has continued to develop and absorb any obstacle into its transient output.
From the shadows emerge Melbourne duo HTRK, with their ominously experimental electronic sound sure to send some shivers down your spine and cause paranoia.
HTRK (verbally manifested as Hate Rock) formed as Hate Rock Trio in Melbourne in 2003. Mates Nigel Yang and Sean Stewart recruited Jonnine Standish to provide vocals to their post-punk, heavily industrial feel. With a couple of EPs that exhibited a want for slow drum machine beats, grinding basslines and an abundance of gritty texture, the trio were far from in sync with the local rock mindset. A nomadic existence felt more comfortable, with them roaming between Melbourne, Berlin and London, before calling the latter home in 2007.
A debut album came in 2009, after sitting on a shelf beneath red tape for a few years while legal rights were settled. Marry Me Tonight, whilst organic and at times violent, was considered a pop effort and garnered critical success in the UK. The success allowed the band to be invited on various European tours that year, including with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Horrors.
Just as HTRK looked their brightest, in a second their world plunged into darkness. Bassist Stewart was found dead from apparent suicide. The band was well into the generation of their second album Work (work, work) at the time, which became an expression of the disaster upon its release in 2011. The 808 beats eerily slowed and the synth lines were consumed by heartache and loneliness, whilst Stewart’s distinctive bass grind was inevitably absent from the final production. Standish acknowledges though that the group had already moved far away from their livelier debut, and that this album “was a really dangerous exercise in going into your passive side” that found all three members in a depressive state. Her buried vocal harmonies still manage to add a luscious character to the blatant emptiness.
With some time for their mental wounds to heal, Yang and Standish continued HTRK’s wilful progression earlier this year with the band’s third album Psychic 9-5 Club. Striving for some clarity, their creativity has reached a place where it is wanted to be heard. Whilst remanning shadowy, the vocals are higher in a mix that is precisely sparse, not wanting to hide any meaning beneath superfluous elements. The album is a warm acknowledgement of the brighter side of life after a period of utter darkness. Now at their most mesmerising, HTRK ask on the beautiful Blue Sunshine, “Were you born with beautiful days, or did you find them on the way?”
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