LabRat is one to watch

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LabRat is one to watch

LabRat is the alter-ego of Dylan James, a multi-instrumentalist from Geelong who cut his teeth with alt-rock releases and live performances before he found his true passion in rap last year.

“It’s quite different isn’t it,” James laughs, on his shift from alt-rock to hip-hop. “All my friends were questioning what I was doing and whether I’d lost the plot completely.”

But he hadn’t lost the plot at all. It was after shacking up in a spare room at Singing Bird Studios in Frankston during a chance jam session with the intern Daniel Baker, that James’ veiled prowess for rap emerged and he found powerful chemistry.

“I’d turned a rehearsal room into my bedroom just so I could record music as much as I could, and through there I met a whole new network of people. I was meeting electronic DJs and producers one week, and r’n’b acts the next week, so I started experiencing a wider variety of sounds,” James reveals.

“I knew there was a label working out of the studio and we [James and Baker, who worked in the studio at the time] were having a jam session and I started rapping in front of them,” he continues, “it went well enough that the next day they called and said they’d put some money behind me and see if we can do something with it.”

From two alt-rock albums to the beginning of a career in hip hop, James joined Melbourne’s boutique indie label Tuco Records as LabRat, where he continues to work alongside 19 year old Baker.

“He’s like one of those child prodigies who can play every instrument better than your favourite idol, which is so annoying because he is so much younger,” he grins, commenting on Baker’s reputable talent. “It’s amazing to be able to work with someone in a studio like that, he’s six years younger than me but he’s kicking my arse. I’m glad he’s on my team because it’s making us look really good.”

With an expansive book full of original penned rhymes and edgy stories, and a repertoire including an eclectic mix of traditional hip hop, grime and bass driven bars, it has all laid the foundation for his unique, gravel tones and self penned lyrics.

“I definitely still play guitar nearly everyday,” he says. “I don’t want to have that view where I can only listen to one genre at a time, I love to be able to listen to Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin, and half of the hip hop songs we come up with now are essentially a musical idea that I’ve come up with over guitar, and then it will get turned into a hip hop song, rather than a real guitar-based track.”

With this approach, combined with influences by the UK hip hop scene with acts such as Fliptrix, Leaf Dog and The Four Owls, James spits his own brand of rapid delivery rap as Lab Rat.

“It’s evolved over time, starting with my idols in alt-rock. David Bowie and Marilyn Manson were the pinnacle of success back then and I just loved the fact that they were different and pushed the boundaries,” he reveals, “so I think when I got into hip hop I noticed a lot of the aussie hip hop scene was just one certain thing, and I appreciate that and I thought it was cool, but I wanted to give it a darker vibe, and just trying to experiment with singing the chorus of a rap and things like that. That was when people started paying attention.”

Preparing to drop his second mixtape ‘Tales from the Laboratory’, LabRat is also gaining attention with his music videos for ‘Ghosts In The Walls’ and most recently ‘Young Aussie Osbourne’, especially with mixing on these tracks by the talented Terrence Rolle (who has worked with Pharrell and DJ Khaled).

“We also have a new track and video coming out in January called ‘Satanic Cheerleader’ and we hired an animator to make an animated music video for it,” James reveals. “It’s basically a massive shout out to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas if you’ve ever seen that movie.”

That will be one to keep an eye out for, but until then check out LabRat’s videos online ahead of his forthcoming mix-tape. LabRat’s first mix-tape ‘Grit City’ is available now via Spotify.

Written by Talia Rinaldo