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Once a little nobody

An expatriate Melburnian, Andrez Bergen’s passion for writing has led to his debut novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat. Radhika Chopra spoke with him before his much-anticipated return to Melbourne.

Perhaps the book industry isn’t doing so well, but that hasn’t stopped Andrez Bergen from writing.

The Australian-born expat recently added the title of novelist to his extensive list of achievements. And in true Aussie fashion he says that to be a writer ‘you have to love the written word and the way it interacts with its little mates on the page.’

Living in Tokyo, Japan for the last ten years, this self-described ‘idiosyncratic’ released the book Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat in April, and has achieved what some others may only ever dream.

From musician to writer and journalist, Bergen grew up on a diet of Cat Stevens, art and words. He developed a passion for writing very early on, describing it as being his first passion, says he wrote ‘as soon as I could hold a crayon and put words together.’

His professional writing career began when he was a university student, with a fierce drive to be published. Fiction writing paved the way to journalism, which appealed to him because of the creativity within the medium.

‘I’m not good at study,’ he says. ‘If I love something I just jump into it. It means there are less constraints.’

‘At uni I discovered the joy of writing about stuff I liked – movies and music especially – for university newspapers…the interest dovetailed after that.’

Over the years Bergen made a name for himself writing about pop culture, anime and music, for Australian publications like The Age, Herald Sun, Vice magazine, Oyster, and street press publications Beat, Inpress, Rip It Up, Rave, and 3D World. Not to mention the countless online and Japanese publications that pop up when you Google him.

One of his first print jobs though, spawned from an entirely different art form – electronic music.  In 1995 Bergen and his friends, Mateusz Sikora and Brian Huber, started up a record company called IF? Records. The label was created to spotlight ‘excellent, young unsigned Melbourne electronic producers’ and out of the project spawned Little Nobody, Bergen’s DJ alias. Starting out as a ‘joke’ Little Nobody became an important part of his artistic endeavors.

‘Little Nobody started out as a joke – a non-existent act we could add to event flyers and pad out the bill at the IF? gigs’ says Bergen.

‘I thought ‘Little Nobody’ was a healthy poked-out tongue at some of the pretentious people involved in the scene at the time. Then somehow the creative bug bit me on the bum.’

Several albums and Eps later and Little Nobody had made his mark on Melbourne. All the while Bergen found himself to be a long-term contributor, and editor for a year, for the now defunct dance and electro magazine, Zebra. It seemed the perfect fit, allowing him to further his musical career and allowing him to refine his writing skills.

‘Zebra was a fantastic idea when Darren Fishman set it up in 1993 or ’94,’ says Bergen.  ‘And it helped a lot of local electronic musicians, and really defined the Melbourne scene in the 1990s … it opened a lot of doors for me [too], meeting and interviewing international DJs and musicians I really loved, many of whom I’ve stayed in contact with.’

Speaking of his two different roles over those years, Bergen confessed he ‘preferred being a writer … handling the whole caboodle meant I could push through things I loved, but I was ham fisted with the other stuff like dealing with promoters, advertisers, club crack-pots, and their ilk.’

While writing and making music, Bergen also developed what he describes as ‘an unhealthy obsession’ with Japanese cinema directors such as Akira Kurosawa, Momoru Oshii, and Satoshi Kon. Mashed with his love for manga, Japanese techno, cuisine and anime, Bergen was eventually persuaded to take a trip to Tokyo, Japan. A six-month holiday turned into a decade-long stay.

‘I always did love so much about Japanese culture, and I’m fascinated with its history as well. Having said that, I thought I’d be here six months at most – it never dawned on me that I’d be celebrating a decade in this city.’

Living in a different country however did not make Bergen immune to the slow demise of the print industry, and the rise of the internet. Many of the publications Bergen once wrote for since folded; a predicament that many in media are struggling with today.

‘It’s sad because a lot of passionate editors and writers were involved with these mags,’ he says.

‘Music has gone net wise, hence the demise of sales of CDs and vinyl. But there’s also an over-saturation of the market, and it’s much tougher to get noticed. The internet means there are a lot more writing outlets, of course, especially via blogging, but sometimes the quality control is lacking. I think the net has opened up a lot of possibilities though.’

Despite the supposed black cloud hanging above the industry, Bergen still jumps headfirst into writing. In amongst all the exciting things that he did, his childhood dream of writing a novel never vanished; instead he used his experience within journalism to further his goal.

‘There was no transition for me – I wrote my first novel in primary school, and I have several different attempts at novels tucked in a cardboard box at my mum’s place … I like both outlets – doing the novel and doing journalism stuff – equally; they’re very different, but sometimes I snatch bits and pieces from each other … Bits of my articles are littered through Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat.’

Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat from conception to production took Bergen almost 23 years, and is a manifestation of everything he is fanatical about. His last Little Nobody album Hard Foiled is an accompaniment to the novel; the futuristic city in the book is partly modeled on a modern day Tokyo; his uni thesis on industrial music in Britain in the 1970s affected his references; and even IF? Records, has a cameo appearance.

Set in a post apocalyptic Melbourne, the book harks back to the detective era, with sci-fi undertones. It also has countless references to the 1960s noir films which he claims he included because he, ‘[wanted] to convince people that they should take the time to check it out themselves. It’s stylish, fun, and the set-designs are so unrealistic. Plus they smoke and drink and that’s ok.’

‘At first it was going to be a city with-no-name, shades of the Clint Eastwood man-with-no-name in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns,’ he says, revealing his obsessive referential nature.

‘In the final rewrite three years ago, I decided to let people know it was Melbourne on the very first page. Partly that was because in The Third Man, they let you know we’re in Vienna in the opening narration; also I’d been away from the city for several years and I felt like this could be a kind of homage to my hometown. And besides, Melbourne had played the role of last town standing once before, in Nevile Shute’s On The Beach.’

After all the toil, the book was published through independent publisher Another Sky, which he was excited about because he loved the idea that they were ‘knocking off the big boys’. But even with all his success, did Bergen really think it possible to make a living from writing nowadays?

‘Nah not really –unless you steer mainstream or get an extremely lucky break and license the book to Steven Spielberg…But that’s cool, it’s created a bit of a level playing field and people are more inspired to intermingle as a result.’

With his positive attitude in tow, Bergen is now making the trip back to Melbourne for an Australian book launch.

‘I always love coming back,’ he says.  ‘It’s brilliant to see friends and family and tucking into essential local food like flake and chips, Cherry Ripes, Mint Slices, etc. Melbourne’s changed a lot over the past ten years, and sometimes I feel like I’m 50% home, and 50% not. But that strangeness appeals to me. It’s like traveling to a foreign country – but knowing everyone.’

You can catch Andrez Bergen at his launch on Wednesday 10th of August at Miss Libertines.

Radhika Chopra is a final-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University and is a former member of the upstart editorial team. You can follow her on Twitter: @ihitthewall.

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