Run Robot Run: live and clicking

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 June, 2006, 12:00am

Ten years after the creative collective known as Robot started their sprawling and somewhat ad hoc collection of club events, multimedia and publishing, the whacky crew are finally setting the stage for bigger things.

Best known for DJ-ing and hosting avant-garde club nights, their side project of playing live has until now been restricted to an annual slot at the Rockit festival in Victoria Park.

But as the crew has grown over the decade, their musical dabbling in the studio and on stage has morphed into a finely tuned, seven-piece band that composes their own music. Tomorrow, they play their first Central gig, at the Fringe Club, and they have an album due out later this year.

'We're putting a lot more effort into it now and we have more of a complete sound,' says founding member Jay Forster. What started as 'arsing about' has become a serious and time-consuming endeavour.

The live project began when Forster and bandmates Mike Hill and James Chan began tinkering with computer software six years ago. They soon added real instruments to their cut-up experiments and, by the time of the first Rockit festival in late 2003, they were ready for their live debut.

Three years on, the Robot live experience has developed into a unique form of entertainment. The sound comprises dub electronica and deep tech-house blended with a weird array of real instruments, while visually there's a performance art element that includes video, animation and comical theatrics.

On Saturday, for example, tracks will be interspersed with one-minute clips from their documentary, based - no doubt loosely, if experience is any guide - on the theme of evolution, while Forster will at one point play a sewing machine as he makes a glove.

The live Robot crew is Forster on vocals and operating laptops with Hill - alternating duties on the beats and drum section with the bassline and melodies section. Chan plays keyboards, Sammy So on lead or bass guitar, Martin Chappell on theremin (a screeching instrument better heard than described), and members known simply as Rob (mouth organ) and To (glockenspiel).

How does it all come together live? 'We rehearse as much as possible and everyone knows what they're doing. It's not sequenced but looped, so there's no pre-arrangement,' says Forster, adding that the tracks are ultimately a result of teamwork.

'We all work independently, as everyone has their own setup and studio space. Then we come together and bring what we have to the table. We decide what's good, what's crap, hack bits apart and rob and steal from each other, and it comes together.'

Robot now have enough original material for an album and their debut is due for release by local label Love Da Records by year's end. Emboldened, they're now looking to step up their live outings.

Robot rarely perform because of the amount of equipment involved and the fact that so much effort goes into the show. 'It took two months to prepare,' says Foster. 'We should probably do a short tour with the evolution theme and then move on to something else rather than a one-off gig.'

But being conventional isn't Robot's style. Although they've always liked to do their own thing with little regard for commercial success, they're taking the upcoming album seriously. 'We want to make it as good as it can possibly be,' says Forster.

What about Saturday's gig? 'It'll be energetic, with lots of things to watch and hopefully be amused by,' he says, before heading off to practise on his sewing machine.

HK Live! featuring Robot, Vibration and Malfunction, Sat, 10pm, Fringe Club, 2 Lower Albert Rd, Central, $100 (advance, Fringe Club), $150. Inquiries: 2534 9509