When you step into Good Time Hotel, the new album from Dugong Jr, he says, “The room is full of temptation trying to get you to act on your first impulses.” If the first single ‘Coup De Grâce’ was any indication, that first impulse is more than likely dancing with no consequences. But as you learn throughout the 15-track project, your feet are still going to be sore tomorrow.

A mainstay in the Naarm/Melbourne scene, the Chinese Australian artist is one of the country’s multifaceted producers redefining dance music. With previous releases ‘Changes’ and ‘Something About U’, Good Time Hotel boasts a plethora of sonics and an immaculate feature list including IJALE, Billy Davis, Quiet Blue, Julia Lostrom, Keelan Mak, Yung Shōgun, Evangeline and Mali Jo$e.

AUD’$ spoke with Dugong Jr about his east coast tour, the importance of collaboration, and escapism at Good Time Hotel.

Frank Tremain, AUD’$: You’ve always been involved in the electronic and hip-hop scene throughout your career, what love came first for you and how has that evolved?

Dugong Jr: I grew up listening to quite a diverse collection of music. Hip-hop’s always been something that I’ve been interested in and when I first started making music, it was a bit more beatsy and 808-focused stuff. That sound has always been synonymous with hip-hop for beatmakers like placing beats for rappers and vocalists. I was trying to make stuff originally that didn’t have vocals on it, and then found the point where I was like ‘You know what, I want to pull this back into the hip hop world’. It started through early SoundCloud days, which funnily enough, is having a bit of a resurgence now. In the early days, I really looked to SoundCloud for inspiration with crews like Soulection and HWW, and people like Kaytranada and Mr. Carmack.

When I first started, I was putting up bootlegs on SoundCloud and someone from LA hit me up and they were part of this collective called Moving Castle. They had just put out a compilation on SoundCloud, and I downloaded it the week before on Run The Trap or one of the websites that were massive at the time. They were like, ‘Oh, we love your stuff. Would you be down to put something on one of our compilations?’ I’m like ‘Wow, this is so crazy. How the hell have you heard of me? I’m just some random dude from Melbourne’. So I put out a couple of things on some compilations with them, and I ended up going over to the States to meet all those dudes. We were bouncing around studio sessions together and going to different parties – just seeing how the scene works in LA like you’ll be out at a party and you’ll meet somebody and then they’ll be like, ‘Oh, let’s jump in the studio tomorrow’. When I came back after that trip, I was like, ‘This is the kind of energy I want to start bringing into my music career within Australia’. I really focused on collaboration from that point on, trying to reach out to different vocalists, rappers, and producers – jumping into the studio and making as much stuff as I could.

The curation of guest appearances is often what makes a great producer album. You enlist names like Mali Jo$e, Evangeline, Yung Shōgun – were these collaborations that naturally came about or was it a matter of sitting down and thinking about who could fit in this world? 

I’ve been super lucky to have worked with so many amazingly talented artists. Those artists are all people I’d reached out to based on the sound that I’m trying to achieve. I’m always chasing character and personality. All those people have their very own unique sound so when we jump into the studio together, it’s like you get a new set of tools or, if you’re in the kitchen – a new set of ingredients. I find that really exciting because you can’t approach it with a method of ‘this has worked before, this is going to work again’. I’m naturally drawn to those artists because of the personality and character that they have within their own projects. They’re all amazing artists in their own right and I’m a big fan of all of them.

I love the instrumental choices on ‘Bushido’, how does your production process work?  

Well for that track in particular, I know that Shōgun is a big fan of anime and Japanese culture. My grandparents were always watching old martial arts movies and Chinese cinema so those sounds are very nostalgic for me. I knew I could tap into these old-school samples from Chinese cinema and weird, acoustic instruments that typically wouldn’t go with hip-hop – unless you think back to early Wu-Tang. We were chatting about what we wanted to create at the start of the session and we came up with this whole narrative of a samurai-type character. It just evolved from there.

Talk to me a little bit about your relationship with IJALE, you’ve both been mainstays in Melbourne’s underground and have constantly collaborated throughout the years. 

IJALE is the homie – shout out Jerry – he’s an amazing artist, and he does everything. He’s a really dope producer, a dope rapper, a vocalist who writes for people, he does scores for podcasts – he’s a crazy, crazy artist. We share a studio in Brunswick so we’re constantly bumping into each other and sending ideas back and forth. We have the same manager as well. Working with IJALE always seems to come very easy. When you collaborate with people, connecting with them is such an important aspect of it. Feeling like you’re both working towards the same end goal is important when you’re jumping into the studio together. Because we know each other so well, we can go straight in and often get to a good idea quite quickly. That’s just IJALE for you, man is crazy.

There’s a strong narrative theme of escapism throughout the project, was this album your form of that and if so, what was it that you felt you were escaping from?

Yeah, it definitely was. There is a theme of escapism throughout and that’s kind of this weird paradox for myself that I was going through these struggles while I was writing the album, and also knowing that diving into it was a form of escapism for me at the time. But it was also therapeutic because I was working out my own emotions as I was going through them, track by track. Looking back at it now, mentally I’m in a lot better place than I was when I was writing it. 

There is something to be said about the struggles I was going through at the time and how I was able to use that as a creative catalyst to create this album. I’m in a place now where I can look back and I don’t feel upset or sad or heartache around looking at that. I’m just like, ‘Whoa, that’s cool. I can move on to the next thing’. It’s cathartic in a way.

It’s a fine line, especially with music, to do something for the therapeutic nature of it but also as a source of escapism. Did you find it hard juggling ‘Is this still therapeutic for me?’ and ‘Am I doing this because I still want to escape?’

Yeah, I don’t know. I haven’t asked myself that yet. I’m extremely grateful I had a creative output and energy to focus it all on. Like I’ve got this album out of those struggles. But that’s a deeper question I have to ask myself.

Projects like Freddie Gibbs’ Soul Sold $eparately come to mind for their hotel aesthetic, do you have a favourite conceptual album that inspired Good Time Hotel

Not so much in terms of the theme for this album but To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick is probably my favourite album ever. Just in terms of the sonics of it all and how they’re consistent, how there’s like an overarching narrative from start to finish, and how there are recurring motifs throughout the album. From a production point of view, when I first heard that I was like, ‘Wow, that’s really cool’. And that’s something I wanted to try: an album that tells the story from start to finish. In terms of the theme for the story, I was living it and putting it straight into the music. The reason I’m able to look back on it now and have an appreciation for it is because I know that it’s always gonna feel authentic to what I was going through at that time.

How would you describe a one-night stay at the Good Time Hotel?

The room is full of temptation trying to get you to act on your first impulses, rather than thinking about what’s best for you. That’s kind of a metaphor for the escapism of the album.

You’ve done a few live shows for the album, including a listening party in collaboration with Ichpig, how was that experience?

We had a listening party in Brunswick at the Ichpig warehouse which was a lot of fun. We just did a collaboration piece – a clothing capsule – with the Melbourne streetwear brand Ichpig so we had a few leftovers from that we were selling. Also jumping up on the decks, we had Jewel Owusu who’s an amazing vocalist from Melbourne, and SUBMERSE DJ’s. Then we had a little surprise guest DJ appearance from Tentendo which was really cool.

Those guys [Ichpig] are super supportive of the grassroots scene within Australia, especially within the hip-hop community. It’s crazy how many people are coming through there and they’re supporting with clothes. They’re quite big in the streetwear community so for them to be quite tapped into what’s going on in the music community, it does feel really special and I’m super appreciative of the support they give to the community.

What can people expect from the rest of the tour?

So the listening party was more of a DJ-type thing, like a dirty warehouse rave which was a cool. The next one is, it’s still gonna be big party vibes but we’re going to have live instrumentation and vocalists jumping up and performing their verses. I dont want to give too much away but yeah, it should be a lot of fun. 

Can you speak to how the hip-hop and electronic scenes in Australia have expanded since the start of your career?

I would consider myself more of an electronic artist that taps into the hip-hop world. The genre is questionable, and that’s what I’m trying to achieve with my sound. That speaks to the scene within Australia, a lot of artists here aren’t scared to jump ship and try a new genre or work with different musicians. The hip-hop scene has really started to find its feet over the last couple of years and it’s finding its own sound.

Then you look at musicians working within that space and they’re also playing keys or producing for some of the best hip-hop acts. That level of community is starting to shine through and people are really starting to take notice of it too. I’m lucky enough that I’m able to work with artists like Jordan Dennis and IJALE – often people will find my project through them. And then vice versa, people who are more tapped into the electronic world will find this amazing, Australian hip-hop track through the electronic scene. So I think that the communities are all working together and it’s starting to be quite fruitful for a lot of the artists within Australia.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

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