What is Dirt Music? Well that’s relatively straightforward. Luther Fox, fish-poacher, lonely hunter, enchanter, “shamateur” and tragic hero of the modern Australian masterpiece ‘Dirt Music’ by Tim Winton conveniently drawls out a definition for us: anything you could play on a verandah. You know, without electricity. Dirt music.

Who are Dirtmusic? Well, that’s a little more complicated. What we’re dealing with are three veterans of the independent musical state of mind, with over half a century of musical experience and adventure between them; three natives of ‘big’ countries, with landscapes that offer generous horizons, where immensity inspires both fear and wonder, where emptiness frees the imagination and haunts the soul; three men who travel and search in order to feel alive, geographically, musically, spiritually. Let’s introduce them...

CHRIS ECKMAN. Born in the watery wilds of America’s pacific northwest. Met Carla Torgerson whilst working in a fish cannery in Alaska and formed The Walkabouts in 1984. Melancholic, INTROSPECTIVE songwriter extraordinaire. The Walkabouts recorded for VIRGIN, Sub Pop USA and Sub Pop Europe (later Glitterhouse Records), and became treasured as one of Seattle’s ‘best kept secrets’, inspiring effusive devotion from their loyal fans. Chris also formed one half Chris & Carla and has been part of The Strange, Host, Midnight Choir, Tosca and Willard Grant Conspiracy.

CHRIS BROKAW. Born in the wild urban immensity of New York City. Moved to Boston and became ‘Boston’s hardest working indie rocker’.Has played with, written with and collaborated with Evan Dando and The Lemonheads, Liz Phair, Come, Thalia Zedek, Steve Wynn, Codeine, Pullman, Consonant and The New Year. Has also accompanied spoken word performances by the crime writer George Pelecanos, one of the scipt-writing mainstays of HBO TV series ‘The Wire’, as well as Kino Dance Company, Dagdha Danco Co and playwright Rinde Eckert. Currently plays with The Thurston Moore Group, The New Year, Geoff Farina, Flashlights and The Lemonheads, as well as Dirtmusic.

HUGO RACE. Born and bred in Australia, land of broad horizons and splintered dreams. One of the original members of The Bad Seeds. Worked in Italy, France, Germany, UK and USA. Previous projects: The Bad Seeds, Sepiatone, Rogall’s Electric Circus, Transfargo, Ted Merola Matrix and especially The Wreckery. Now a citizen of the world, screenwriter, poet and leader of True Spirit, with whom he has recorded a total of 13 albums for the Glitterhouse label. Described by recondite Italian website Debaser.it as “a psychedelic prophet, a 360 degree artist who makes compromises with nobody.”

There, as I said; a complex, rich and variegated identity. Suffice to say that we’re talking about three passionate individuals who’ve done time, musically speaking. And perhaps that piled-up experience is the key to understanding their desire to strip back the accumulated layers, to go back to basics, to rediscover simplicity and the unspiked joy of just making music, with mates, on a verandah, while the sun sinks over a vast horizon.

A hint of this new and naked direction flashed at the end of Chris Eckman’s liner notes to his solo CD ‘The Black Field’ (Glitterhouse, 2004): “We live in a time of absolutes and dogmatism. A crass, digital sheen hangs over much of our experience. Like many, I am exhausted by it all. We need to paint new, and more honest pictures. We need to get our hands dirty.”

Yet, with characteristic self-effacement, Eckman claims that the genesis of Dirtmusic lies not in his own imagination or desire. “It was actually Hugo’s idea,” he says. “I think he had taken what he was doing to a certain conclusion...I wouldn’t say ‘crisis’, that’s probably too heavy a word. But a sort of crossroads. He wanted to do something with acoustic guitars and he hadn’t really done something like that...well, really ever. I had done a lot of that kind of music. Chris also. So Hugo kinda hand-picked the two of us.”

Despite the fact that Eckman and Race had shared the same record label for almost a decade, they never actually met, and BARELY knew Brokaw personally, before that day in the spring 2007 when the trio gathered in a rehearsal room in Eckman’s adopted home city of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and the first raw notes of the project rippled the air. Was the chemistry there straightaway? “Well it had to be!” remembers Eckman with unrestrained laughter. The trio had two days to meld a sound together and create a whole show before playing their first gig, and then embarking on their first tour soon afterwards.

In the event, the ‘acoustic’ manifesto was soon ditched. Too many rock’n’roll corpuscles in those veins. “That was also the funniest part of the story,” Eckman muses. “We were supposed to do this acoustic album and both of the guys showed in Ljubljana with electric guitars!” Let’s say it was back to rock’n’roll basics, to the raw power and melodic innocence of ‘Exile on Main St’, ‘Entertainment’ by the Gang of Four or the first Velvets album, while the ghosts of bluegrass and country greats like ROSCOE HOLCOMB or The Carter Family lurked in the background. But in affirmation of that original intent, Eckman maintains that “in the back of our heads, we never really wanted to take it in some...let’s say...too overtly modern direction.”

Dirtmusic went out and played twelve gigs and then recorded their debut album ‘Dirtmusic’ at the Sono Studio in Prague. The guiding principles remained raw, basic and ‘honest’, to use that much maligned word. Race borrowed the name Dirtmusic from Tim Winton’s novel. It was a neat and tactile phrase which encapsulated the band’s philosophy. And it rang another fateful echo.

Eckman had been a fan of African music for years, since the earliest days of The Walkabouts in fact. But by the end of the 1990s, he’d lost the thread. It took some field recordings brought back by a friend from the west African state of Mali, one of the continent’s pre-eminent musical powerhouses, to reignite the flame. For the next six years, African music became an obsession, and in the latter part of that gathering love affair, getting to the famous Festival in the Desert near Timbuktu began to seem like an absolute necessity. “It was just like music I knew I was waiting to hear,” he remembers.

And so, in January 2006, Eckman found himself juddering down the dirt track to Timbuktu, on the southern fringe of the great Sahara desert. “I had travelled a lot in the deserts of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. But when you’re out there in the Sahara, what’s interesting is the way people interact with it. Because it’s a completely different thing, meeting nomadic people on the side of the road. I mean, you park your jeep and it seems nobody’s there. But three minutes later, there’s somebody standing next to you.” And the book that accompanied Eckman on this dusty adventure, before he had an inkling that he would be collaborating with either Race or Brokaw...yes, you guessed it, ‘Dirt Music’ by Tim Winton.

The Festival itself was like a baptism, a revelation, an epiphany. “I really spent those three days very much in a dream state,” Eckman recalls. “I mean, the music, the sounds, the sights...it was just something absolutely overwhelming. My highlight was a showcase of young Touareg bands, in the spirit of Tinariwen but in a much more raw state, because of their youth and inexperience I guess. And I remember adding this to my mental to-do list: wouldn’t it be great to work with a band like that someday.”

Well Eckman obviously takes that mental to-do list seriously, because two years later, he and his fellow Dirtmusicians touched down at Timbuktu airport on a flight from the Malian capital Bamako, and then hit the non- existent road to the silky white dunes of Essakane, home to the Festival in the Desert since 2003. Exhilaration and exhaustion, a common combination in the experience of many a newly-arrived desert traveller, accompanied them to sleep under their traditional Touareg tent. And in the morning, they woke up to the sound of music.

Hugo Race describes that first fateful meeting with Tamikrest, the young Touareg band from Kidal, in a beautifully evocative account of the trip he later wrote for the Australian literary magazine Overland: We find ourselves billeted facing the tent of a young Tuareg band called Tamikrest. There’s a US Vogue photoshoot taking place, using the extended Tamikrest tribe as a picturesque backdrop (and musical soundtrack) for a lithe American model clad in poverty chic. The Vogue team sets up and breaks down with lightning speed but the ten or twelve guys and girls of the Tamikrest group seem indifferent, with nomad desert cool...Brokaw grabs the dobro and wanders over to play cross-legged in the sand. All around there’s a sense of movement, expansion, as several thousand people converge on the campsite and the sun rapidly sinks behind a sine-wave horizon. Something’s going to happen here now.

Contrast that with Eckman’s succinct summary of the meeting: “We relocated over to their tent and basically for three days we didn’t leave.”

The desert has this habit of dousing meetings in magic. This encounter feels like a definitive example. The chemistry was so right it seemed pre- ordained. With only a few commonly understood words at their disposal, Dirtmusic and Tamikrest made music almost continuously for the duration of the Festival, initially in that low slung tent, and then also on the Festival stage where each contributed to the other’s sets. Here was back-to-basics in the flesh, cross-legged or lounged out on the talcum-like sand, sipping invigorating cups of bittersweet Touareg tea and jamming together like it was the most natural thing in the world. And when Brokaw struck up the first few chords of ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ by the Velvet Underground, and Tamikrest just jumped right in without a second thought, as if they’d been listening to the Velvet Underground since the release of the Banana album, which they hadn’t, Eckman, Brokaw and Race just looked at each other and knew that lives were changing, theirs included.

Between thought and expression lies a lifetime...well, thankfully not quite so long in this case, but still, a mountain of organisation and cross- cultural confusion needed to be climbed before the two bands reunited a year later in Bamako’s famous Bogolan Studios, which had originally been set up the late great Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure.

The aim was to make two separate records...one by Dirtmusic and one by Tamikrest, but to leave room for plenty of cross-pollination and mutual inspiration. And that’s exactly what happened. Under the influence of Tamikrest, Dirtmusic’s songs became simpler, more skeletal and essential. Under the influence of Dirtmusic, Tamikrest experienced their first adventure in a professional studio. It was a mutual appreciation society, a win-win hoedown of music generosity. Two days of rehearsal, three days of recording...simple!

‘BKO’ is the international abbreviation for Bamako Airport, and by extension for the city itself. It’s also the title of the album was born out of Dirtmusic’s Malian adventure. The moniker pays tribute to one of the Africa’s most vibrant, most welcoming, most musically bubbling cities. Bamako was also the common ground on which the two groups met to create their musical statements. Both Dirtmusic and Tamikrest found themselves in a foreign place that was neither Berlin, Ljubljana, Boston nor the lone stretching sands of the Sahara. Both mainlined on Bamako’s petrol-fumed bustle and chaotic energy. And after those three days of intense recording with Tamikrest, a host of other legendary local musicians just dropped by, in a dirt music fashion, to add their particular touches; the Malian bluesgrinder Lobi Traore, two master musicians from Toumani Diabate’s Symmetric Orchestra and the Fadimata Walet Oumar, aka ‘Disco’, a prime example of fearless desert womanhood and founder / leader of the world famous Touareg band Tartit Ensemble

The songs themselves however never abandon the frontier spirit, the wide open spaces, the idea of landscape as friend, enemy, teacher and tormentor. Take the song ‘Desert Wind’, which features a phantom wailing vocal by Disco. The song is inspired by the numerous tales of desert spirits told to Race by Ibrahim Ahmed aka ‘Pino’, then the PERCUSSIONIST of Tamikrest. Spirits, or the Kel Essouf as they’re known by the Touareg, are legion in that seemingly empty vastness. They trick travellers all the time, making them hear the sounds of human activity, of phantom caravans, and bustling campsites, when all that’s there is sand and stone, and the whistling wind.

That’s the desert for you: stark, denuded, magical and hyper-real, where the doors of perception get jammed open by the soul-stripping abundance of space and time, the two commodities we suffer the lack of with such dumb obliviousness in our post-industrial ant heaps.
And that’s the nub of this story. Three talented musicians came together in the cultured baroque beauty of an eastern-European city because they were looking for something essential, something simple, basic, free of saturated intellect and artifice through which they could each rediscover the most basic joy of making music. In the end they found that something under a red, goatskin tent, sixty kilometres due west of Timbuktu.

Here’s Chris Eckman with the final word:

“I certainly wouldn’t every try to generalise about Touareg people because I really don’t know that many. But these guys (Tamikrest) were just incredibly warm and really open to us being there. And there were other people in the tent that weren’t actually in the band, but they were just there passing guitars around. Everybody played the djembe, everybody played the guitar. It was just a really communal and democratic approach to playing music.

I mean, I don’t think I’ve sat in jams like that since I was probably 17 years old. Like, for three days. Who has time now for that king of thing? But you know, time is a different thing to them and I learned a lot from that. It really made me think a lot about what I’m doing. You know, musicians should be playing. We get so diverted by so many other things. And it’s not really a romantic idea. It’s actually a really practical idea. Musicians should be playing their instruments. It’s as simple as that.”


Lion City buy item herunterladen


Lion City

Release Date: 03/28/2014 · Format: CD/LP+(CD)/DIGITAL · Cat-No: GBCD/LP 011

“What truly sets this album (“Troubles”) apart is the democratic approach to the music. Neither the Western nor the African element is more important. Each instrument’s voice and idea is a vital part of the whole. This puts Dirtmusic on...
read more

Troubles buy item herunterladen



Release Date: 06/07/2013 · Format: CD/2-LP(+CD) · Cat-No: GBCD/LP 005

'Troubles' is the new album from Dirtmusic - Chris Eckman (The Walkabouts) and Hugo Race (Fatalists/True Spirit/Bad Seeds) - recorded in Bamako , Mali , in September 2012 during the high-tension and tragic recent crisis - hence...
read more

BKO buy item



Release Date: 04/19/2010 · Format: CD+DVD / 2-LP+CD+DVD · Cat-No: GR 704

‘BKO’ is the international abbreviation for Bamako Airport in Mali’s capital city. It is also the title of the forthcoming album by Dirtmusic, a group of rock’n’roll veterans from the USA and Australia, which was recorded at the famous...
read more

Dirtmusic buy item



Release Date: 11/23/2007 · Format: CD · Cat-No: GR 676

DIRT MUSIC is Chris Eckman, Hugo Race and Chris Brokaw. Digging back to their roots in search of the raw urban folkblues, Eckman, Race and Brokaw converge paths in the European spring for full immersion in the journey of a brand new...
read more