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1300: Awakening the Beast

After a challenging two years, Sydney’s preeminent boy band are dialled in on their new mixtape ‘GEORGE’.

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1300 never stops moving. The last time the Sydney boy band was in front of me, about a year ago, they were spilling over the top of each other on stage during a sweaty night in Fitzroy. The audience’s energy oscillated between adoring and apocalyptic and 1300 whirled like a hurricane, a wild storm of streetwear, flailing limbs and molten energy. 

Today, they’re once again in motion—albeit, under different circumstances. When I join the Zoom call, producer/singer Nerdie is driving to the studio while rapper rako boards a train, linking with bandmate DALI HART as the crew—rounded out by rapper goyo and producer pokari.sweat—converges on the studio.

It’s release day for their latest mixtape, GEORGE, a scintillating blend of interstellar club sounds and acrobatic rapping, but work hasn’t eased up.

“I was working on this release ‘til 4 am today and now I’m here and we’ve got to keep going,” Nerdie says. On today’s agenda: “admin shit”—preparing a music video, posting on social media and working on their upcoming national tour

It’s not the jovial release day partying you might have expected from a group that goes as hard as 1300—rako tells me they don’t really celebrate, while the most Nerdie will concede is that they might get Thai food “as a treat”. But, as the pair tells me, the prevailing sentiment as GEORGE comes out is relief.

“It’s like a demon that needs to be exercised from my body,” Nerdie says. ”It just took way too long to finish it, we started it almost two years ago. It’s not that many songs, but the whole journey was just so drawn out.”

“Life is getting more difficult for people in this country, especially if you don’t have any money,” he says, exhaling. “We’re all starting to feel the effects of that.”

“Making money as a musician, you have to do a lot of things that you don’t want to do. We learn together to make those sacrifices because we have a lot of mouths to feed, but we still don’t make that much money.” 

It hasn’t been for lack of trying. Since exploding onto the scene in 2021 with their breakout ‘No Caller ID’, 1300 has been among the brightest prospects in Australian music. They’re a bilingual boy band oozing with charisma, grassroots credibility and creativity. Already, they’ve cracked high-profile placements on the NBA 2K24 video game soundtrack (‘No Caller ID’) and the hit Disney show American Born Chinese (‘Oldboy’). That 1300 is still forced to scrap as doggedly as they are speaks volumes of the crisis facing the creative arts in Australia.

Go back to the genesis of GEORGE and it all seemed far more straightforward. A two-week escape to the Blue Mountains turned into a furiously productive session, laying the foundations for what would become the mixtape. 

“We woke up with new music, slept, more new music.” rako says. “We were writing with a process we’d never done before, a lot of freestyling. There was a lot of switching—we were working on this project for an hour and there’d be a new project the next hour. It was fun, it felt very refreshing for us.” 

The lead single of GEORGE is ‘Apeshit’, an intoxicating club thumper that sets the project’s rules of engagement. On the hook, goyo snarls “Running through the jungle with my team/It’s fuck you, pay me”. The twitchy atmosphere of ‘Apeshit’ carries through the record—‘Follow Me’ feels like being serenaded inside of a spaceship, the Naruto-nodding ‘Rock Lee’ starts low, squashing down the vocals, expanding and expanding until a tectonic drop while mixtape opener ‘Yao Ming’ sizzles thanks to a massive cantillating hook.

GEORGE is also rich with collaborations. By now, the five members of 1300 have telekinetic chemistry, but they play well off the cadre of Korean stars enlisted across the project—sokodomo on ‘Ape Shit’, Easymind and oddeen on ‘Wire’ and EK, who shows up for a blistering verse on ‘GANTZ’. 

“Before 1300 was 1300, we were listening to their music,” rako says. “Luckily, thankfully, they started paying attention to us as 1300.” 

As rako explains, ‘GANTZ’ was mostly finished when they reached out to EK on Instagram, asking if he could add “another burst” to the song.

“After receiving his verse, we changed the beat. The verse was too crazy, it was really crazy. We were like, ‘fuck, when does it stop?’. We needed to make a lot of changes to the beat so it complemented both sides,” he says. 

Nerdie adds: “I remember getting the verse and being like, ‘fuck, that’s a rapper right there. He’s a real rapper’ … I’m very grateful that he just fucking went in.”

Perhaps on earlier projects, competition of this calibre might have overwhelmed 1300, but they hold serve on GEORGE. Nerdie and pokari.sweat set the pace behind the boards and the rest of the group doesn’t flinch, picking out pockets on everything from the Gesaffelstein-evoking ‘Lalaland’ to the crunchy pop-rock sprinkled closer ‘Levitate’. 

But, for all the pyrotechnics, something ominous sits behind the eyes of GEORGE. Bass rumbles, voices ricochet and sirens wail. When pressed on the state of Australian music, Nerdie and rako are measured but candidly share some frustrations. Nerdie chastises the “people with money bags in their eyes” who dipped into the country’s emerging rap scene and then back out when lucrative returns didn’t immediately follow, while rako contrasts the high interest in Korean artists in their home country to the way Australians see local music here. 

At one point, Nerdie mentions that he’s been watching a YouTube clip of US alt-metal mavericks Deftones performing on the Late Show with David Letterman in 2000. At first, it seems a curious touchstone for an act more indebted to K-Pop and hip-hop. But watch the grainy video back and you can see what might’ve drawn Nerdie in: a band at their creative zenith, fronted by someone who isn’t white, given a chance to reach the masses on their terms. 

Whether 1300 gets the same opportunity is beyond their control. Across the interview, Nerdie and rako share some of the commercial pressures they’d had put in front of them across their career—playing the TikTok game, upping their streaming numbers and doing all sorts to justify an investment beyond simply making the best music that 1300 can make. 

Still, despite the headwind, GEORGE triumphs. It’s effervescent and electrifying, screeching through its 30 minute runtime like a supercar with spotty brakes. For a band whose live shows are characterised by, as rako describes it, “pure chaos”, GEORGE is their best effort yet at replicating the fervour in the recording booth. They may hate me saying it, but celebrations are well and truly in order.

Follow 1300 here for more and stream the mixtape GEORGE here.

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