There is a stink through the offices of Mushroom Music/Frontier Touring, the kind of stench which would sear nostril hairs: part fish market on a bad day and garbage bins two weeks into a summer garbo strike.
Half the staff are searching for the culprit, the other half seem to be searching for exits. Upstairs, just far enough away from the odour to take the immediate danger out of breathing in, Jonathan “Bliss” Notley and Max “Eso” Mackinnon are contemplating another stink.
This one is about Australian characteristics and character. The prime minister has declared plans to redefine what it means to be Australian enough to be granted citizenship and already the usual suspects have bought in on the public “debate”.
The hip hop trio (third member, Tarik “DJ Izm” Ejjamai, is the silent, and for today absent, partner) have cast an eye on this topic throughout their careers and have a quick response for the federal government.
“I think we look at it like human beings,” says Mackinnon, wiry under a flat cap and restless with nervy energy that seems to burn out of intense eyes.
“There are a lot of clichéd things but treat others how you would want to be treated, with common respect and appreciation for everyone around you. Acceptance of diversity.”
Notley, bearing a black cap and solid presence, an American in 1992 when he arrived as a 13-year-old, an Australian in almost every other way now, is perplexed at the continued undermining of the “multicultural” society in which he has flourished.
“I don’t think it’s fair to categorise one group people as ‘Australian’: it’s really basic stuff. Who has the right to decide on that?”
In some ways this topic is being at the core of Bliss N Eso for a long time: if you don’t respect the people you are dealing with, you don’t deserve, or can’t earn, respect yourself.
Can a government which incarcerates refugees, which first rode into power on a wave of misogyny and can’t bring itself to legislate on marriage equality demand higher standards from others?
“We have a lyric: ‘Who are you to tell me how to live my life?,” says Notley. “From Addictive, which is one of our biggest songs, and that is a pretty true comment. Who’s right and who’s wrong? We’re all on this ball of dirt floating through space and we’re making stuff up as we go.”
While we are on the topic of what it means to be Australian, what does it mean to say Bliss N Eso are Australian? What defines the “Australian” in what they do? And is that even a question worth asking?
“Is it just because we’re from Australia?,” says Mackinnon. “We never pigeonholed ourselves into that. We’ve always worked on a very universal way of thinking.”
But he will concede one point of difference. “Some artists in America seem to demand respect and we go up there and invite it.”
And maybe that’s why they might affect change and have something like Mackinnon’s four years of sobriety, as chronicled in parts of the new album, Off The Grid, resonate beyond the energy of the delivery.
“I knew that story was important to my life but I definitely knew how important that would be to young people in Australia who look up to us and might have the same problems,” Mackinnon says.
“They’re not listening to the politicians, they’re not listening to their teachers; they’re listening to us, musicians who get onstage and tell the truth. And if they look up to us then they might be that change.”
None more Australian really.