Parralox’s John von Ahlen provides some insight into the electronic outfit’s extensive career…
Based in Melbourne, Australian electropop outfit Parralox came to life in 2008. Their debut album Electricity achieved critical acclaim and paved the way for an impressive catalogue of energetic electronic pop releases, which has led to their 10th studio album Subculture.
Collaborations with the likes of Ian Burden, Ade Fenton and Marcella Detroit have all been part of the Parralox story. Meanwhile, the striking visual style and branding of the outfit is masterminded by Parralox founder John von Ahlen, giving Parralox one of the most distinctive looks of any electronic band.
Parralox are due to perform at the Silicon Dreams event this July, an electronic music festival which will pull together 6 different acts for a stunning showcase of electronic music talent.
John von Ahlen kindly set aside time from his punishing work schedule to field some questions from The Electricity Club…
Parralox have been one of the most prolific electronic music acts of recent years. Overseeing the sleeve design and videos for all the releases, remix projects, plus your stint as a radio host, how do manage to fit it all in?
Good question, I sometimes wonder the same myself! To be honest, this last year has been very challenging in terms of time management. I’ve decided to take a break from Neon Nights (my radio show) in the next grid, which means a break from August to December this year, and I’ll come back to the show in January 2018. The radio show is a large time commitment, due to the insane amount of work I put into it, such as the graphic design work that goes into the show. I approach it the same way I approach Parralox, insofar as that everything needs to be branded and planned to within an inch of its life haha!! So if you look at the web page for Neon Nights you’ll see that each show has a unique theme and cover art to go along with it.
So all of this happens in addition to my regular work in Subterrane Studio, which is focused on Parralox, but also with remixing and producing other artists. I kind of feel like I’m reaching the same point a decade ago, before I started Parralox, when I was operating Subterrane Recording Studio as my sole source of income. I was just working on so many other projects, that they took focus from what I really loved doing – my own electronic music!
To give you an example, the next single for Parralox is ‘Electric Nights’ feat Johanna, and it should have been released at the start of 2017. We have all the remixes ready, all the artwork is done. The only thing holding up the release is the film clip. We shot the film clip last year at the same time we did the photo shoot at Nik Pate’s studio, but I haven’t had the time to finish editing it. I spent the first three months of this year renovating a few of my investment properties, so that took a large chunk out of my production schedule. It’s going to take at least another month to finish the ‘Electric Nights’ film clip, and then Parralox will be back on track!
The real secret to how I work is this… when you love what you do, it’s never work! I pretty much work on Parralox 7 days a week. Even on the weekends (when I should be taking time off!!) I’ll be answering emails or updating the website and social media. But I’m not a robot, I do go on holidays sometimes!
How would you describe Parralox’s evolution of sound since your formation back in 2008?
I guess it’s a little like a tumbleweed that bounces across the countryside, and passes through many different towns along the way. We don’t stay with any one specific style for too long, but there is a common thread throughout all our music. The only way I know how to describe our sound is “electronic music”, “synthpop” or “electropop”. While we don’t have exactly the same sound as we did when we started in 2008, I guess maybe the sound has matured a little.
The first album Electricity was definitely a catharsis for me, a distillation of all my music ideas and inspirations. The latest album Subculture has a more stylised approach, in that I took a dual approach of Italodisco and then ’90s pop. I borrowed from The Human League and designated half the tracks as Red, and the other half as Blue. So you can see the first half of the album has a commercial ’90s sound and feel, while the second half is straight up Italodisco / Synthpop.
I never really think about what the “Parralox Sound” is. The reality is that our sound will always be driven by what is influencing me at that time. Meaning it’s a mix of my musical heroes from the ’80s and also the latest club sounds I’m hearing. That’s really the key to the Parralox sound, having one foot firmly stuck in the ’80s, while the other is always listening to the latest sounds and club tracks. I have zero interest in commercial pop music, and don’t listen to the radio or watch TV.
Is there one Parralox track over your impressive catalogue which you feel stands as the outfit’s signature song?
Well, I have my own opinions on what is the definitive song for Parralox, but I have to go by the feedback I receive from the public, most of which seem to think that ‘Sharper Than A Knife’ is our signature track. I guess that’s what really exposed us to a larger audience, thanks to the press we got from Perez Hilton (thanks Perez!!).
Parralox has led you to working with an impressive range of collaborators. Are there any singers or musicians that you’re keen to work with in the future?
OMG, don’t ask me those sorts of questions haha! I have a VERY long list of people I’d like to work with. I’ve already approached a few to record on the next Parralox album, and so pending time commitments (and a dash of luck) the next album is going to be mind-blowing.
What is Parralox’s typical live gear setup?
The entire sequence runs from my laptop, which runs Cubase and a shitload of VSTi’s. So what you hear on stage is exactly the same as what you’d hear if we were in the studio. Of course you need to take a few parts out to allow for some live playing. I try and mix it up and change the mix and create a new arrangement for the song, so people get to hear a new interpretation. But some songs I’m very careful to leave as close as possible to the original version, based on the feedback I get from our fans.
I usually have at least 2 or 3 synths on stage with me, plus or minus a drum machine. I always get Johanna (or whoever is performing with Parralox at the time) to play a few keyboard parts as well while I’m singing. I also spend a lot of time on the visuals and so the fans will always be treated to a lovely video projection at the same time. Parralox doesn’t have a massive live budget, so we do what we can to make the show look impressive for the audience.
Do you think music festivals such as Silicon Dreams are an important component for the electronic music scene?
Absolutely. It’s an amazing showcase of the varying styles of electronic music that are out there. Most other genres all have their own festivals and legions of fans, and those events are generally run quite professionally and give great exposure to the acts involved. I think it’s really important for events such as these to be happening, because people need to have the opportunity to experience what real electronic music and synthpop is all about.
There’s plenty of manufactured and soulless music in the Top 40, and that’s fine for the masses. But events such as this really highlight how unique electronic music really is. Parralox has performed at many Electronic Music Festivals over the years, and every single one of them has been a real privilege to be part of, both as a performing band and then as an audience member when we get to see the other bands play!
It’s also important for the continuation of this genre of music. I’m so grateful that we have promoters out there who genuinely care for the music (and the bands) and selflessly work to further the exposure of electronic music.
What does the future hold for Parralox?
I can say that it’s a shame that I only have one lifetime, because there are so many things to do, and I know I’ll never get everything done! In the short term, we will be releasing ‘Electric Nights’ feat Johanna Gervin in the next month or so, and then the follow up single to that will be ‘Paradise’ feat Marcella Detroit! Then there will be a third single taken from Subculture, most likely at the end of the year or start of the next. As always we have our annual Holiday EP/Album coming up. The next one is Holiday ’17 and I’ve already recorded a few tracks for that.
I have a huge backlog of remixes I’m slowly working my way through. I’m also producing 2 local Australian artists, one of them is Peter Wilson, and the other is an emerging new talent – Venus Virgin Tomarz. I also dabble in a bit of video production work (apart from directing all the Parralox film clips) and have done promo videos for Julia Fordham and Basia Trzetrzelewska’s album reissues, and the new trailer for Damage Control’s album.
Then of course there’s the next Parralox album that I’ve already begun writing. We are also looking at releasing some sort of 10 year Box Set for Parralox, in conjunction with conzoom Records, Ingo and I have been floating ideas for exactly what to include in it. So yeah… there’s so much to do. I’m always bursting with ideas for Parralox, it’s a wonderful feeling.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to John von Ahlen.
Parralox are performing in the UK at the following events: Silicon Dreams on 8th July 2017 at Liverpool Philharmonic Music Room (tickets via http://silicondreams.org.uk/). Synthetic City London 9th September 2017 (Tickets via www.johnnynormal.net).
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and OMD Messages.