‘Off The Grid’

Sydney high school pals MCs Bliss and Eso plus DJ Izm have achieved much since 2004’s debut, Flowers In The Pavement. They’ve broken records, won ARIA and APRA awards, staged spectacular live shows, and toured internationally. Today Bliss n Eso loom as one of Australia’s most successful, and esteemed, acts. They famously command a loyal fan base. But, as their hugely anticipated sixth album Off The Grid proves, they’ve not become complacent. Off The Grid, is about overcoming personal struggles and establishing new beginnings, soundtracked by cutting-edge Australian hip-hop.

Says Eso, “I think, with this record, we started heading down a very safe road – not challenging ourselves too much and just kinda staying with stuff that we had done in the past. [But] we realised that going down that safe road doesn’t really allow your life to take any new adventures, or for the music to be risky or dangerous – and we always wanted the music to evolve. We had to really step back and look at ourselves – ’cause we’ve come so far since we put out our first album. I mean, we were very young at the time. We started when we were teenagers. So we’ve grown up through these albums and people have watched us grow. We’ve gotten to a point where it’s very easy for hip-hop to be, ‘Oh, look at us, still on top and everything’s perfect.’ I feel that the fans are very smart these days and they deserve something a little bit more personal and for us to dig deep in ourselves.”

Bliss n Eso last unleashed 2013’s monumental Circus In The Sky which, like Running On Air before it, debuted at #1 on the ARIA Albums Chart and reached Platinum status. They embarked on the blockbuster Circus Under The Stars Tour, which went on to break the record for the biggest local hip-hop tour Australia had seen ever by a local hip-hop act and saw the group perform to over 55,000 fans. Yet, behind the scenes, there was drama. “I had a very big problem with alcohol,” Eso divulges. This had its origins in Bliss n Eso’s ascendance. Flowers In The Pavement came out after Eso’s mother passed – the MC simultaneously experiencing emotional highs and lows. He “masked” his pain with drink – something enabled by a normative culture of celebration surrounding alcohol.

Ironically, in late 2013, Eso confronted his demons in a war zone. “We flew to Afghanistan to play to the troops. It was dry zones over there, so I couldn’t drink which started my body to reject wanting alcohol – and the withdrawal process began.  We flew from Afghanistan straight to Canada to start a tour. That’s when I said, ‘I’m gonna give it all up.’ So no rehab or anything like that. I did it on the road, with my friends, touring – going from the hospital to the stage to the bus. It was crazy.” Post-tour, Eso suggested his girlfriend fly to the US and they married in Las Vegas. He’s now father to a young son.

Bliss n Eso tell such stories on Off The Grid. “It was conversations that we had together, saying, ‘I think it’s time now to be brutally honest – and that’s how we’re going to find the art in this next album.'”

The album’s stunning gothic artwork was designed by prominent UK digital artist Billies. Following on from their previous three record covers (illustrated by Justin Maller and Steve Cross), Off The Grid’s artwork is the next chapter in the narrative focused on Bliss n Eso’s famed mysterious winged character. The artwork illustrates the theme of the album that “beauty can grow from darkness” as represented by a single white rose growing from a skull in the hands of the hooded winged character.

Off The Grid is an album of dark and light, as conveyed through the singles – the raw ‘Dopamine’ (featuring Sydney electro-soulster Thief), a triple j Hottest 100 pick from 2016; the neo-breaks anthem ‘Friend Like You’ (with ’60s soul great Lee Fields); and the nostalgically folk ‘Moments’ (Irish singer/songwriter Gavin James on guest vocals). It explores themes of resolution, resilience and self-empowerment. An impassioned Eso directly addresses his alcohol dependency in the modern blues jam ‘Devil On My Shoulder’, “sweating” over it in his garage. Bliss n Eso might be responding to hip-hop’s heightened self-awareness – artists defying old “macho” codes by sharing their vulnerabilities, doubts and anxieties. For Bliss n Eso, too, music affords therapy.

And so, in Off The Grid, Bliss n Eso have created their most fearless and, ultimately, transformative record – preparing more material than previous albums and digging deeper. The dramatic intro, and title-track, ‘Off The Grid’ – a chopped ‘n’ screwed spaghetti western banger – seemingly alludes to Bliss n Eso’s absence. In fact, the group are challenging listeners – and themselves – to question the way they’re programmed socially. Bliss n Eso have expanded their classic hip-hop palette into trap, soul, reggae, blues, funk and rock. “Bliss and myself, we’re constantly listening to new artists and all these new sounds,” Eso enthuses.

In the past, Bliss n Eso have cut tracks with the iconic RZA and Nas. Off The Grid sees them liaising with other notable identities: US R&B star Mario, slam poet sensation Watsky, and cult Las Vegas rapper Dizzy Wright. Crucially, Bliss n Eso remain primarily concerned with artistic affinity over expedient curation. They contacted Dizzy through his DJ, Hoppa – who’d helmed their early hit ‘Up Jumped The Boogie’ – recognising that he’d be rad alongside Miami’s Rob Curly on the tropical banger ‘Coolin”. Mario serendipitously heard ‘Believe’ in a studio and pleaded to sing the hook. “When he sent it through, it was just like, ‘Oh my God, it sounds like an unreleased Michael Jackson song,'” Eso recollects.

Mr Lee Fields graces two songs – ‘Friend Like You’ and the feel-good, OutKast-inspired “duet” ‘Soul Glo’ with rising star Tabi Gazele. “As soon as his voice comes through, it sounds like the gates of heaven have opened – gold is flowing down from the mountains!” The poignantly soulful ‘Blue’ is a paean to the “friendship” a listener has with music. “It doesn’t judge you,” Eso notes. Bliss turned it into a tribute to a fan battling cancer. By contrast, ‘Whatever Happened To The DJ’ is a funked-up comic critique of those contemporary hip-hop acts whose ‘DJs’ demonstrate more button-pushing than turntablism. “We’re just trying to give that shine back to DJ Izm.”

Off The Grid will have heads noddin’ – and spirits soarin’. “It’s easy to fall into going into a studio and your song has gotta be 3.20 minutes and it’s gotta have the hook here,” Eso concludes. “You just really gotta break from that. I think, with the subject matter of this, it’s got substance. There’s enough to move you. Everyone goes through the same things and everything has been said and thought before – nothing is an original thought – but I wanna hear your personal experience. That’s what I like about hip-hop. I like the fact that you can get that from other artists – and that’s what I have been drawn to all my life. Then I thought, ‘Wow, are we really giving enough of that to people – which is ‘the real’?’ This is for the people. It’s for you, for us, therapeutically to grow.”

Presented by Frontier Touring & Illusive Presents

Fri 26 May | Eatons Hill Hotel | Brisbane, QLD (Lic. All Ages)
Sat 27 May | Night Quarter | Gold Coast, QLD (18+)
Sun 28 May | Brother Leagues Club | Cairns, QLD (18+)
Mon 29 May | Dalrymple Hotel | Townsville, QLD (18+)
Tue 30 May | Magnums | Airlie Beach, QLD (18+)
Fri 2 Jun | Studio 146, Albany, WA (18+)
Sat 3 Jun | Metropolis | Fremantle, WA (18+)
Sun 4 Jun | Metro City | Perth, WA (18+)
Fri 9 Jun | Shadows | Mt Gambier, SA (18+)
Sat 10 Jun | Entertainment Centre Theatre | Adelaide, SA (All Ages)
Thu 15 Jun | ANU Bar | Canberra, ACT (18+)
Fri 16 Jun | SS&A Club Auditorium | Albury, NSW (18+) SOLD OUT!
Fri 23 Jun | Forum Theatre | Melbourne, VIC (18+)
Sun 25 Jun | Pier Bandroom | Frankston, VIC (18+)
Wed 28 Jun | Enmore Theatre | Sydney, NSW (All Ages)
Fri 30 Jun | Cambridge Hotel | Newcastle, NSW (18+) SOLD OUT!
Sat 1 Jul | Waves | Wollongong, NSW (18+)
Thu 6 Jul | Villa Noosa Hotel | Sunshine Coast, QLD (18+)
Fri 7 Jul | Great Northern Hotel | Byron Bay, NSW (18+)
Sat 8 Jul | Hoey Moey | Coffs Harbour, NSW (18+)
 Sun 9 Jul |  Club Forster | Forster, NSW (18+)
Mon 10 Jul | Panthers | Port Macquarie, NSW (18+)
Fri 14 Jul |Gap View Hotel | Alice Springs, NT (18+)
Sat 15 Jul | Discovery | Darwin, NT (18+)
Thu 20 Jul | The Cinema | Burnie, TAS (18+)
Fri 21 Jul | Club 54 | Launceston, TAS (18+)
Sat 22 Jul |  Macquarie Wharf | Hobart, TAS (All Ages)