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Song You Need to Know: Chutney, ‘Toxic Moonlight’

Did someone ask for a daring mashup of Britney Spears and Beethoven?


Max Goodman

When a press release describes a song as being a crossover between Beethoven and Britney Spears, of course you have to listen.

Punk collective Chutney have used elements of that unlikely pairing’s respective sounds in their new single, “Toxic Moonlight”, which releases on Tuesday, June 4th.

The Sydney band joined forces with The Potbelleez vocalist Ilan Kidron for the song, which fuses Britney’s classic 2003 hit “Toxic” with Beethoven’s masterful “Moonlight Sonata” (hence the song title).

“Toxic Moonlight” is layered with Chutney’s signature Eastern European/Middle Eastern flair; or as the band themselves put it, “It’s the illicit love child of Britney and Beethoven in a raucous Balkan bar – it’s bonkers.”

It was actually Kidron who initially sparked the song idea, after the Potbelleez frontman noted the klezmer-esque qualities of “Toxic”. When Chutney violinist Ben Adler then discovered “Moonlight Sonata”, the end result became tangible.

“It was 2021 and we had a gig lined up with Ilan,” Adler explains. “We were in a reprieve between COVID lockdowns so we’d developed a certain nihilism that, in retrospect, was highly conducive to unfettered creativity. I was talking with Ilan about songs he’d like to sing with us, and he observed that the string riff in ‘Toxic’ sounds “really klezmer” – we only discovered years later that it’s actually a Bollywood sample! 

“Anyway, Ilan’s suggestion was all I needed to klezmer-ify Britney’s song. Something about its darkness and (toxic) romance then led me to Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’, especially after I realised that importing Beethoven’s descending bassline might open up a whole new set of possibilities for the otherwise pretty harmonically static ‘Toxic’ verses. I sketched up a chart and we tweaked it in rehearsal, at a gig and in the studio into its present form”.

Kidron was extremely excited to work on such an outrageous mashup with Chutney.
I was always really impressed with Mark Ronson’s version, and although ‘Toxic’ had been covered plenty of times, I knew Chutney would translate it really daringly and originally,” he says. “They have an unashamed ability to bend the rules; but somehow it works. 
“This version plays between a dark oceanic void and a western bar fight. There is emotional drama and a dance between tension and release that I love here.”
Arriving this week alongside the single is an accompanying music video, which you can watch for the first time below. Directed and produced by Adam Dostalek, the clip expands the drama and thrill of “Toxic Moonlight” in a visual way, following two dancers through a shadowy narrative before culminating in a passionate performance from Chutney.
Adler adds that the band couldn’t wait to work with the renowned Dostalek. “Our first phone conversation sparked immediate creative chemistry, so we decided to go for it and create a gripping, dramatic narrative to amplify the toxicity of the music. I had Adam and Ilan over for pancakes one morning and we stomped around my kitchen talking over each other for two hours until we had the basic concept storyboarded.
“In essence, the video tracks our heroine rescuing her love from a toxic environment, and bringing him to a community where he is free to be himself. It’s a metaphoric journey, and we discussed a number of modern-day abstract toxicities, including arrogance, bullying, talking without listening and conformism of thought. As hard as it is to escape toxic environments, it’s often harder to recognise their toxicity – and that applies to relationships too.”

But the key ingredient in all of this is that “Toxic Moonlight” doesn’t feel like a limp YouTuber-made “comic” mashup; instead, Chutney have brought the sampled songs – born hundreds of years apart – together to make something excitingly modern.

“It’s rarely a good idea to take on recording and releasing a cover unless you’re going to spin it really differently. We did ‘Toxic Moonlight’ live a few times and it was just heroic fun. And when the climax goes bananas, it still feels like people are going to start throwing chairs around the venue. The arrangement should sound disjunct, what with the sections contrasting so much, but it rides like a velvet clad rodeo bull, smooth and bucking in chaos,” Kidron says.

As lead singer of The Potbelleez, Kidron has racked up several ARIA Award nominations, while he’s also earned praise for his solo work, including a forthcoming album.

Chutney, meanwhile, have been incorporating wild flourishes of jazz, funk, rock, folk, and everything in between into their traditional klezmer music. Their debut album, Ajar (surely a Chutney-related pun?), is slated for release later this year.

Totalling over an hour of music, it feels like it’s one of the longer independent albums produced in Sydney in recent times,” Adler says of their upcoming new album. “We’ve selected our favourite 13 songs from four years of gigging.”

Chutney’s “Toxic Moonlight” (ft. Ilan Kidron) is out Tuesday, June 4th.