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Learning To Be Your Own Hero with Scan + SUS1ER

Emerging from the depths of the Australian SoundCloud underground, MC Scan and producer SUS1ER's debut album, Trying To Do Better, sees them embracing the role of hero in both their individual and combined journeys. We spoke to the duo about the value of community, embracing the learning curve and operating in a music industry that doesn't always embrace sounds outside of the norm.

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“Life is like a precious fleeting moment. Can you catch it?”

When Scan poses this question on ‘Perspective’, the twinkling opening chapter of his collaborative album with SUS1ER, it’s an insight into how the Eora/Sydney MC views the world. Trials and tribulations abound, but ultimately, a hero will always triumph. Forged in the fires of SoundCloud’s underground rap scene, the rapper has teamed up with Boorloo/Perth (and now Naarm/Melbourne-based) producer SUS1ER for Trying To Do Better, an ambitious sonic adventure that takes place across 11 tracks, weaving together elements of cloud rap, trap, hardstyle, jersey club and more.

At its core, Trying To Do Better is a celebration of life’s ups and downs. The album centres around the hero’s journey, a 12-step structure that forms the backbone of some of the greatest stories ever told. The 12 steps are typically: Ordinary World, Call To Adventure, Refusal Of The Call, Meeting The Mentor, Crossing The Threshold, Tests/Allies/Enemies, Approach To The Inmost Cave, Ordeal, Reward (Seizing The Sword), The Road Back, Resurrection and Return With The Elixir, all of which progress a narrative forward in some way. 

Trying To Do Better’s release comes long after the first discussion about the project was held back in May 2021, according to SUS1ER. The pair are palpably relieved when talking to Acclaim about the release, having weathered the many ups and downs along the way. Scan explains, “it’s been a long time coming. It feels good”, while SUS1ER highlights that it’s their first “proper commercial release, which neither of us have done before. It was a massive learning curve.” 

Despite the pair’s initial aversion to more comprehensive/traditional promotion, they’ve released a slew of singles for the project: ‘RIVER STYX’, ‘Move’, ‘Spend Something’ and ‘Shake It’, each acting as a vignette of the hero’s journey. As Scan puts it, “I feel like if we didn’t go as hard as we could with the cards that we had on the promotional and rollout side of things, we would have probably regretted it in the end because we knew that we could do it.”

Gabby Bortolot, who runs Rude Baby Records, shares this sentiment. As close friends of the Rude Baby Records community, Scan and SUS1ER have appeared on multiple Rude Baby event line-ups, as well as working with Gabby on the rollout of the project. Speaking about working alongside the duo on the rollout, she highlights the need for artists that sit outside the traditional frameworks of Australian music to push that extra bit harder to be heard. 

“I think working in more of these underground communities you have to work really hard to individualise your project because it is such a niche environment,” Gabby says. “A lot of artists in the scene get lumped in together because there isn’t a straightforward pathway to get your music heard/play shows/grow your project. It’s a hugely competitive space, where few get the opportunity to highlight their music. “

Call To Adventure
Trying To Be Better is an album indebted to the Internet. Separated by the various landscapes of Australia, the album was almost entirely made via files being transferred back and forth. The joyful ‘The Light’ is the only song made even in part in the same room, with SUS1ER, WALKERRr and Lovefear making the beat in the studio together. This Internet-first approach to the album means it’s able to feature international MCs Joeyy and RIP Eternal, as well as Australian producers Laces, Lovefear, Heartthrob, Effective Power and WALKERRr, and if you’re looking for a list of new artists to discover, then this is an excellent place to start.  

This back-and-forth of files might be considered an atypical way of making a project for those more used to artists basing themselves in the studio for weeks or months at a time. However, it worked for the pair, with SUS1ER acting as the conduit between the various producers. He summarises the process by saying, “It goes through this web of getting changes until we get to the final product. And then, and then I’ll take it back and tie everything together. And then it’ll go off and then Scan will rap on it, and then it’ll go off for mixing and mastering.” 

These steps sound natural when Scan and SUS1ER recount how the album was made, and it lays out a roadmap for anyone looking to make music over the Internet. Similarly, structuring the story around the idea of a hero’s journey made sense to Scan because it’s a concept that can apply to everyone. As individuals, we are all on our own unique hero’s journeys, and these journeys are constant, always operating as cycles. He goes on to say, “The purpose of the album itself is for you, the listener, to feel empowered, that you are the only hero of your journey.”

Meeting The Mentor
Scan and SUS1ER both have their individual origin stories: Scan highlights producer WALKERRr as a key figure in his artistic development, while SUS1ER attributes his love of music to “unmonitored internet access from a very young age”. However, listening to their chemistry on Trying To Do Better, it’s hard not to assume that they’ve done some kind of mental fusion dance since meeting. The synergy between Scan’s laidback, oft-gentle delivery and SUS1ER’s ability to create beats that weave in elements of trap, hardstyle, hip-hop and anything else that takes his fancy is captivating, and their goal is unified: they want to remind the world that you can be the hero. 

Speaking about their relationship, Scan stresses that it’s one built on a few things: friendship, a shared love of SoundCloud and a mutual appreciation of rap music. “We’re definitely better mates than we are working partners, and that isn’t even a comment on our actual working relationship.” SUS1ER adds, “I’ve always loved rap music, but Scan has definitely helped to refine my taste, and he’s always putting me on new artists, which we constantly take inspiration from in this big melting pot of stuff that we both like.”

No artist is an island, and the pair’s approach to collaboration is central to their artistry. Visual artist John You is one creative that gets mentioned throughout chatting with the pair, due to John’s role in shaping the visual identity of the project. He developed the graphics for the project alongside Scan, SUS1ER, Gabby and photographer Dylan Marriott (aka @video.loss), and it’s a process he remembers fondly. He says that the journey of bringing the visuals to life was “like 5 brains working on every single aspect of this release simultaneously. We all had our specialties within our own areas but always cross-pollinated and worked on it all together.” 

Gabby recalls the experience similarly, highlighting the various skillsets of the quintet. “We all came from various creative backgrounds (music, fashion, graphic design, photo/videography, publicity/industry-side), with different strengths and skills – which is why we formed the team in the first place. Using our existing skills and networks we worked together to conceptualize ideas and rolled out various stunts to build momentum around the album. Specifically, Scan has a super strong knowledge of Instagram’s algorithm so planning posting times and how we positioned these stunts online came from him. 

“John You and video.loss are hugely skilled in creating content and making everything look consistently high quality helping to form a super-strong brand and aesthetic for Scan + SUS1ER. My background is in publicity/management so I was able to help connect a lot of the dots in the process and bring the story together in more of a formal outward industry-facing way. Looking back at the resources we had when we started working on the project, about 16 months ago, to now it’s kinda wild how much we achieved.”

Unpacking the visuals for the project, John says, “I think our main focus was bringing ideas in ‘real life’ – the symbolism of creating something that actually exists within the real world, manifesting if you will – which contrasts the story of how we were all brought together, through the ‘online’. To create something beautiful that has its physical place within the world, something that others can use to guide them on their own journeys through life. We drew from experiences to art, philosophy/literature to fiction – everything was open. 

“Symbolism, both historical and contemporary, played a large role in shaping the direction – we wanted to convey our ideas through relatable, known imagery that show themselves to us throughout our human experience. All in all, we were inspired by the human experience and all that comes with it, because at the end of the day, we all love what we do and want to share that with the world.” 

Trying To Do Better’s ethos stems from organic community support – as SUS1ER puts it, “Everyone has a bit of advice that they can input. Everyone’s got their own general wisdom in this scene, including the people we spoke to about releasing music. Everyone’s got a gem that they’ve thought about.” This genuine support is evidenced in John’s clear love for the duo’s music. He says that the first time he heard Scan rap ‘RIVER STYX’ live, he thought “these guys have something special and the world needs to hear it”.

WALKERRr is someone else that comes up frequently throughout conversation with Scan, and it’s clear that WALKERRr’s mentorship has helped accelerate his growth as a musician. Speaking about WALKERRr’s guidance, Scan reflects, “I wouldn’t be where I am if I wasn’t such good friends. We lived together for so long as well, and I think I always would have had that passion [to rap] in me and I would have hunted it down somehow but we had our own journey with music together.

“He was already on a level where he was making insane beats, and to have crazy ass beats when you’re first trying to make music that are exactly what you want is always going to fucking change the game for you.” He also credits WALKERRr with helping him learn how to use Ableton and teaching him booth etiquette – both utterly important for any MC. We can all use a wise figure to guide us during our journey, even if we must ultimately face our trials and tribulations head-on ourselves.

“I’m crossing through the River Styx I might not make it back/Made it through/Seven seas I kept my mind intact/Took a toll, on my soul but it was part of it/Don’t think I’ll ever be alone again” – ‘River Styx’ 

In Ancient Greek mythology, the River Styx acts as the boundary between Earth and the underworld. Souls looking to get to the underworld had to pass through the River Styx. On the hypnotic cloud rap odyssey, ‘River Styx’, Scan paints the picture of a weary traveller that’s making their way through the River Styx, with their return uncertain. It’s another tie into the album’s exploration of the hero’s journey. 

Of course, Scan didn’t actually go to the Underworld (if he did, it should have come up during the interview), but he did open up about a real-life trial when talking to Acclaim – living with ankylosing spondylitis. Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of inflammatory arthritis, and there is no cure – but it can be managed. It mainly affects the spine’s joints, though as Scan explains, it can have a range of effects on the body. 

It typically happens in men from around the age of 19, and while Scan says he’s come to terms with the mental side of it, it’s pretty constant in his life. However, rather than viewing it as something that stops him in his tracks, he uses it as a “challenge from the universe”. He describes it as “just another part of the hero’s journey”, but he also highlights that it is a reminder that you never truly know what someone’s going through. 

“The first 18, 19 years of my life, I was able-bodied as hell. You’re running around playing soccer and shit, that sort of thing,” he says. “You never really know when someone’s going through something like that. And it can just happen to you. And you’re just like, damn, this switched up my whole life. It does give you more strength as you push past it. But I think it’s important – and it’s such a basic concept – but you just don’t know what someone’s got going on.” Kindness goes a long way, and as Scan remarks, “You don’t know whether someone’s minor disability is affecting them majorly. And there’s no scale of how minor or major something can be.” 

Return With The Elixir
The physical manifestation of the pair’s journey took place on the same day as the project’s release (April Fool’s Day, for anyone playing at home). To celebrate, Rude Baby put on a heaving listening party at Footscray venue Mamma Chen’s. The pair performed every track off Trying To Do Better, as well as some unreleased tunes, and the show marked the ‘end’ of a journey that began back in May 2021. It’s a journey that’s largely taken place over the Internet, with the pair slinging files back and forth – but watching them perform on stage together, packed crowd in tow, the pair seemed to embody the role of heroes, even just for a fleeting moment. 

Reflecting on the purpose of a hero’s journey, however, Scan refutes the idea that being on stage makes someone the hero – indeed, we are the only one that can be the hero in our story. He explains, “The thing that I think about a lot is that every artist is just some guy or just some person existing and they happen to make music… I don’t think you can healthily idolise artists. It’s okay if you do but I think part of really believing in yourself is treating your favorite celebrity or rapper, whoever, as just another person.”

John You shares some similar thoughts on the hero’s journey, explaining, “The hero’s journey to me… is probably one of the most important lessons that we can all learn from life. Every day we all go through our own journeys, our own battles, our own triumphs – and at the end of the day, when we hang up our boots and rest, we should be proud of all the things we have achieved, who we are and the people around us. We are all the heroes in our own story, and we should love the idea of waking up and doing it all again tomorrow, alongside the people we value most in life.”

Talking to Scan, SUS1ER and their associates paints a picture of a better Australian music industry, one that feels not only possible, but inevitable. The pair operate in a space where community support reigns supreme, rather than waiting for gatekeepers to catch up. Trying To Do Better is a project that’s emerged from the underground Australian SoundCloud scene and crossed both state and international borders, bringing together a coalition of musicians that are building each other up in tandem with reaching for their own dreams. 

So, the question remains: “Life is like a precious fleeting moment. Can you catch it?”

Follow Scan here and SUS1ER here for more.

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