Known for his audible tales and passion for dub, ethnic percussion and electronic sounds, Grouch has been electrifying the dancefloors of festivals such as Burning Man, Glastonbury, Boomtown, Universo Paralello, Boom Festival, Ozora, Doof Festival, Rainbow Serpent, Earthcore and countless other shows all across the globe. On the night of his birthday, and two days before leaving Mauritius his home for the past couple of years, we catch Oscar Allison, aka Grouch, to learn about his music, travelling, spirituality, future plans, and Psylo experience;
How did your connection to music start?
It all started from the music records my dad was playing to me when I was a child. From ‘Phantom of the Opera’ to obscure 80’s techno to weird blues mixed with distorted electric guitar. Listening to this cool music I thought: “I want to learn how to do that”.
So at age 5, I received a couple of lessons on electric guitar. The teacher was trying to get me to hold my fingers in a certain way, to play the chords. But all I wanted to do was play the distorted sounds, not some prescribed notes, and gave up straight away. After that short experience, I did not think of music for a while. Being diagnosed with ADHD and medicated at one stage, did not help. I was a bit of a recluse, and video games were “my thing”.
In the mid-’90s, my older sister was getting into mixing vinyl, and she got me into it, too. Around the same time, while visiting a family friend, he played me a song he made on a computer, using Impulse Tracker. As I loved computer games, I was hooked and got myself a copy of this program. It came with only 10 samples (sounds), which I was endlessly arranging, not knowing I needed more to find more. Back then, there were no YouTube video tutorials, and there was no one around me to learn from. So I didn't get very far with it, but I was already learning about creating with sounds.
At the age of 15, my sister took me one afternoon to a studio, where she introduced me to FruityLoops (now known as FL Studio). I started jamming and looping every day when about a month into it, I had this full-on experience. It was a spiritual, even transformational moment in my life. I was playing music when a strong wave of this magical feeling came to me. That bliss you get as a child doing something you love, like building castles or going to the beach. So it was that special feeling 10x more! My body, mind and spirit were electrified, when I heard this voice saying: “this is what you're going to do for the rest of your life”.
What are your motivation & inspirations for creating music?
Life is my inspiration. The world, the universe, all those experiences that I've had; the people I’ve met, the mountains I’ve climbed, the road trips with my dad, paragliding, those nights at the botanic gardens eating mushrooms and experiencing a deep shamanic state while playing the drums. All those epic experiences are translated into my electronic music and drumming. Those deep states are a big influence on the evolution of my music, and my inspiration comes from connecting to that source. When I can tune into it, it's not a space where I'm thinking about “what inspires me”, “what I like”, or “what's gonna make people dance”. I’m in a state of not thinking. Because as soon as you think - you're out of the flow. I think almost everybody who plays an instrument, or any creative process, knows this feeling of being in a state of flow.
Also, performing has not been something I ever wanted to do, and I find it terrifying going up on a stage. So confronting this irrational fear feels like a healing process, thanks to the feedback of people having a good time. As when I get on stage it’s not a “me playing to the crowd” DJ scenario. When it goes well, there is this moment, a symbiosis of everybody. Those dance floor moments where there's not one person standing around talking, and everybody's dancing, including me. I become completely comfortable. It feels like something organic, alive. I love that special moment and feeling.
Maybe it’s because I’m very lucky to have found my passion for music. I don't consider myself talented, but lucky to have found something that I genuinely know is what I'm gonna do. I feel fully blessed with the life that I have and grateful for everything that has led me to do what I love. And this love is the creation.
Let’s put it this way - I love to create music. When I'm in that zone, it's like meditation. It's feeling a connection that is bigger than me. Music is this beautiful thing that's been in my life, and this is why I continue to make it.
What was the best moment/s in your career, and why?
I have a best professional moment, and best moment on a deeper, personal level.
The first is ‘Grouch in Dub’ first-ever set at ‘Earth Frequency’ festival, Australia. We'd only been a band for a few months, and I'd never really been in a band before… We had rehearsed a bit, so we knew our parts and the vibe was good. We came on stage after a 20-minute break between the sets with no music. Our Bansuri player started the set by saying: “Good evening everybody. I would like you to close your eyes and just listen to my voice…”. He’s the 10th generation of Indian flute masters from Varanasi, India. Not just a master of the flute, he embodies that spiritual guru archetype. He started the meditation, and within five seconds, a crowd of 3,000-5,000 people fell silent. It was incredible. His words were deeply touching, followed by a 3-minute flute solo. From that moment on, everyone was present and part of that symbiosis. It was such an epic moment for me. working with other musicians, doing something different, being completely comfortable on stage (I don’t usually!) and experiencing this epic moment unfold - that was my favourite set that I've ever played.
But the best moments of my career aren't necessarily on one stage. They happen when I return to New Zealand: coming back home to perform and be part of my community. Seeing how proud they were and how much they loved me, was important to me. Although, the Earth Frequency set was seriously out of this world, on a soulful level, meaning, what touches me deep down at my core - was that moment I felt being home. Performing to my people and feeling embraced, that's the one.
Were there challenging moments? What did you learn from the experience?
The last few years posed some real challenges. Launching the ‘Grouch in Dub’ back in 2018, our first booking was Ozora’s main stage. Which is a pretty big thing for any new band. I was surrounded by friends, and we were doing cool things. But coordinating this band has been hard, too. We played lots of shows and I was budgeting accordingly. However, as soon as a show was cancelled, we had to cover up to 9 international flights, leaving us broke. Then covid happened, and managing an entire group of musicians over different continents and time zones, felt like herding cats on catnip during a tsunami.
I was already stressed out and going through a hard time, jaded from too much touring. Don’t get me wrong, being a musician is an amazing job. But being constantly on the road and away from closed ones does have an emotional toll. I was exhausted and emotionally unwell when I landed in Mauritius, where I ended up in a deep depression. I felt that I didn't want to make music anymore. That I’ve lost my passion. Since music is all I’ve ever done, I feared could not do anything else. It was a dark time and I felt lost.
Eventually, I went back to visit my family and went on a road trip with my dad for a month, climbing mountains, mountain biking, sailing and paragliding. I felt “a spark of my passion” which gave me hope that it was still there, and I have been growing it into a flame, an inferno. Also, having the band stick together through the hard times, with the support of our fans, has given me the drive to continue this amazing ride.
What’s your experience with Psylo’s clothing & style?
I like Psylo as a brand, and love the designs - the clothing is awesome. This style is totally up my alley. Although I went through a short period of wearing full-on crazy gear, I prefer wearing “normal” stuff. Shorts and hoodie kind of guy. What I love about the Psylo style is that it’s sort of a crossover, somewhere between streetwear and fashion. I feel comfortable wearing these clothes being closer to what I would normally wear while being stylish and doofy at the same time.
I first met Tehila and the Psylo crew at a festival in 2012. I did not know many people there, and the openness that I felt from the team was great. The Psylo shop became kinda my base - if I wasn’t sure what to do, or “where is everyone?” - I’ll just go and hang out with them. I guess it was just an organic friendship, being on the same wavelength. Both as people and creatively.
What’s next for Grouch?
After 11 years of touring all around the world, I’m going back to my roots. It’s cool and interesting timing for me. Packing all my stuff into boxes to be shipped from Mauritius to New Zealand - it’s a big and challenging change, but one that feels right. Being away from home for so long has made me appreciate even more its people, culture, and of course, scenic nature. Since ‘Lord of the Rings’ production took place in NZ, the local film and creative industry have been flourishing. With my family involved in this industry, it’s a direction I want to move into, along with continuing to design concerts and shows.
I’m looking forward to being in a place where I’ve got both the people to collaborate with and my studio accessible. So I can get in the studio and create, as I have big plans! One of them is starting to get a Dolby Atmos epic show together, involving 3d sound, light and interactivity. I’m also in the process of setting up a label - ‘Grouch town’. As well as working on finishing touches to the new ‘Grouch in Dub’ second album. So it's an exciting time.
Before I head back to Wellington, I’ve played at ‘Eudaimonia’ festival, Guatemala, in South Africa, and currently touring Australia for ‘Rabbits Eat Lettuce’, ‘Rainbow Reunion’, ‘Earth Frequency’, and more. After Australia I'll be doing a few band shows in New Zealand. Then heading to tour and relax in India for a month, before heading to Europe for the summer in July and august. Hope to catch you there!