Kurt Eckardt has no problem admitting he hates competition when it comes to creativity. A founding member of Psychic Hysteria, the small-run record and zine label follows its own pace by putting the artists' creative control first. Acting as a source of capital and experience for those who yearn for full creative control, the freedom of Psychic Hysteria comes from its deep appreciation of the DIY ethos beyond aesthetics, focusing on how forms can be part of a larger political movement that can ignite a better participatory democracy.
It makes sense then, that Kurt's own work spans across different mediums—from creating music under Astral Skulls and Heat Wave to centering his photography under the guise of Mixed Business Collective—his love for wide-ranging DIY permeates every part of Psychic Hysteria and in his work at PBS 106.7FM. Knowledgeable across the gamut of arts sector publicity, digital downloads, books, zines, cassettes and handcrafted vinyl pressings, we caught up with Kurt to discuss the process of his photography alongside his advice for experimenting with form and expectation.
Hey Kurt, thanks for chatting with us! Let’s talk about your work. From film photography to playing music, have you always been a creative person by nature? When did you start making music and shooting photos?
I’ve always felt like I’ve been a creative person, but I’ve only acted on it sporadically. I’ve picked up a camera here and there throughout my life, but I only really started trying to learn more about photography two years ago. I remember really wanting to be a photographer in my final years of high school, but I broke my camera soon after my parents bought it and never got it fixed. It’s kind of the same with music —I’ve been in bands on-and-off since I was about 12, but I never really took it seriously until a few years ago when I bought my first synth.
"I feel the most creative when I have a time set with no specific goal or deadline... I block out time with no obligation or expectation of what I need to achieve."
There’s an observational value in your work, where you document your surroundings and the people that make those communities. Is it therapeutic to just shoot or write without any expectation?
Absolutely. The only photography—outside of the live music stuff—that I’ve ever gotten anything out of is when I’ve set-off in a direction with my camera without any plan or obligation. I love being interstate or in a new suburb, just walking around with a camera in one hand and nowhere to be. I feel the most creative when I have a time set with no specific goal or deadline. For example. I've trained myself to know when the right time to write music is; I block out time with no obligation or expectation of what I need to achieve. Sometimes I get 20 minutes in and am not enjoying it and know just to stop. And other times I look at a clock and it’s been 8 hours and I’ve written countless parts of songs or even complete ones. A few Sundays ago, I wrote 12 songs which I’m making into an album, and that was after a few weeks of not writing anything.
Totally. You recently exhibited your photography work for ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ and published a zine last year called ‘Fakation’ as part of Mixed Business Collective. Is collaboration important to you, and how did Mixed Business Collective begin as a way of celebrating these connections?
I love working on my own so much, but I still need a motivator. I’m really lucky to be a part of an amazing and supportive music community, but with photography, I rely on the influence of my two favourite photographers: my partner, Kalindy Williams, and my friend, Hon Boey. The three of us make-up Mixed Business Collective, and also run a record, tape and zine label together called Psychic Hysteria.
Kalindy essentially taught me what I know about live music photography, and other aspects of photography too. She gave me a film camera a few years ago, so I really have her to thank for the obsession I’ve developed. Kalindy is a great music photographer, but focuses mostly on fashion photography and is always inspiring me to try new things.
"It’s a really amazing feeling, to have a group of people to share your work with that’s completely devoid of competition. I think that’s really rare."
Hon is an old friend of mine who lives in Sydney, and he happened to get into film photography around the same time that I did. We used to play in a band together and are always looking for ways to work together. The three of us decided to start a photography collective—a kind of place to swap ideas and tricks—but for me it’s been great for motivation. It’s a really amazing feeling, to have a group of people to share your work with that’s completely devoid of competition. I think that’s really rare.
I’ll Be Your Mirror was amazing, as I got to exhibit work alongside some of Melbourne’s best photographers. I was originally approached to do a solo show, but suggested a group show instead and got to hand-pick the other exhibitors which was great. It was nice to share wall space with people that I respect and admire, and we all have really different styles. Again, competition-free art is the only way I like it.
I love the idea of competition-free art, and can see the DIY ethos beyond aesthetic is a major influence in your work. What does DIY mean to you and how do these attitudes shape your work?
DIY is a funny thing to me—I’ve always been drawn to it’s aesthetic, in both music and art, and it’s ethos defines my approach to everything artistic and beyond. Things like making and recording all of my own music, and organising my own shows and events. I feel like a bit of a phoney too, though: DIY for me has been a choice. I’m a middle-class white male, and while I don’t have much money to my name, I’ve been given every opportunity you could imagine throughout my life and feel so thankful for it.
"I believe in maintaining control of your output, and in not making art for any reason except fulfilling yours and your community’s needs—even just as artists—by making a positive contribution to your community"
DIY, for other members of our communities and beyond, isn’t a choice but is a necessity. I think it’s really important to acknowledge that and not take it for granted. I’m inspired by what people have done and continue to do with very little access to resources, without the support of close family and friends. It’s often been those people that have created the best work, and I almost feel like I’m disrespecting that by just taking the aesthetic—or even the ethos and approach—and having some kind of stake in it.
But I genuinely believe in it as a way of creating and managing work. I find it crazy that so much control is given away by artists. I believe in maintaining control of your output, and in not making art for any reason except fulfilling yours and your community’s needs—even just as artists—by making a positive contribution to your community. It’s good to be able to make a living off your art—you should —but I don’t believe that should be the driving factor.
"So many creative people are great at producing work, but not great at getting people to hear or see it. Psychic Hysteria is set-up in a way that people have complete control over what they do; we just help them spread the word..."
Being a founding member of Psychic Hysteria, how does supporting other creatives inspire your work and encourage you to experiment with different forms?
Psychic Hysteria is really run as a distribution point above all else. It’s not even that I’m that good at promoting things, but when I really believe in something —whether it’s my own or someone else’s—I get really stuck into it. So many creative people are great at producing work, but not great at getting people to hear or see it. Psychic Hysteria is set-up in a way that people have complete control over what they do; we just help them spread the word and provide a place for them to sell things, as well as minimal retail distribution.
We take 10% or 20% depending on what is expected of us, and this helps cover costs of the website and packaging and things, but the rest of the money goes to the bands or artists directly. The way that we work with artists is to support them through the recording/printing process, give them ideas and contacts, and then help with promo and sales. This means that we don’t get to see too much of the creative side of what people are doing, but are super inspired by the dedication of some of the artists. It’s also made me want to do a few extra things, like we’re planning a compilation tape early next year, and we’re starting to look into doing split 7” records between a few of our artists.
Playing in bands Astral Skulls and Heat Wave, your passion for music and art covers multiple mediums. What is the most rewarding thing about performing as a musician, in comparison to capturing a shot?
I think it’s the instantaneous aspects of performing. I probably get a similar feeling when I finish playing a song that I feel like I nailed, to the one I get when I press the shutter on a shot that I know is going to turn out well. The difference is that the music is there and in that moment only, and once that set is over it will never happen that way again. While that might apply to the taking of the photo, the real enjoyment is sharing it for years to come. The nature of film photography is also a strange one, because you’re never sure if it worked or not until you have the film processed and then scanned or printed. It’s exciting, but nerve-wracking.
"How amazing is it that two people can pick up the same instrument, camera or whatever, at the same time, in the same city or even the exact same spot, and each will create something entirely different and unique."
With photography, music and publishing defining your scope, how does documenting other people’s art teach you about your own?
It gives it a frame of reference, it shows me where my influences lie compared to others, and also what my limitations might be defined by. Seeing the way that other people write music—hearing something that just seems so raw and impulsive like Piss Factory, which is so different to my most recent work that had such a clinical approach—reminds me that there are infinite ways to create art, and helps me remember to break my habits every time I approach something new. On that note, how amazing is it that two people can pick up the same instrument, camera or whatever, at the same time, in the same city or even the exact same spot, and each will create something entirely different and unique. I’m so inspired by all of the people in our wider community just picking stuff up and having a go—you never know what’s going to come of it.
Over the years, how have you seen your personal growth reflected in your work?
Massively! Especially in my photography. I can look through photos from the past two years and see my confidence building—not just in the photographs, but in who I am and in what I’m doing. Having a camera has made me feel more confident and more sure about what I’m doing day to day, and the positive feedback that I’ve received for my photos has made me really focus on what I love and what I want out of it. It’s been life-changing, and I can see it in my work.
"Don’t feel any obligation except to yourself, and your community. Take criticism in your stride, but don’t let it stop you."
What advice would you give those wanting to follow their creative projects, but are not sure where to start?
Start anywhere. If you don’t like what you’re doing, change it. Don’t rush but don’t waste time. If you really love something, it’s okay to treat it like a job—give it space and time, parameters to work within, but when you’re there, let it go and let it do it’s thing. If it doesn’t work out don’t force it, there’s always tomorrow—but do it tomorrow. Don’t feel any obligation except to yourself, and your community. Take criticism in your stride, but don’t let it stop you. If the criticism is negative and you don’t respect the person who gave it to you, why should you listen to them? It doesn’t matter. If you love what you’re doing give it time and it will show.