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Meet the Hip Hop Artist Who Foresees a Dystopian Melbourne

On his EPs ‘Notes From the Underground Parts 1 & 2’, Dstnce explores “a Melbourne that’s maybe not too hard to imagine”




‘The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.’

These words, emphatically delivered by Charlie Chaplin in his 1940 film The Great Dictator, continue to reverberate and serve as a constant reminder that, despite our myopia, we do not live in unique times.

Torin Olislagers, the Gold Coast-raised, Melbourne-based lyricist and producer known as Dstnce, knows this well. “What’s the best way to predict the future?” he asks rhetorically. “Look into the past. Everything that’s gonna happen has already happened.”

On his EPs Notes From the Underground Parts 1 & 2, Dstnce explores “a Melbourne that’s maybe not too hard to imagine,” where authoritarian rule has returned and much-loved Melbourne suburbs Fitzroy, South Yarra, and Reservoir morph into a theatre of police brutality, unchecked governmental control, and civil disobedience. 

“They think nothing of us / They’ll just up and off ya / But it’s all fair / When it comes to class warfare,” Dstnce laments, reflecting on the dissolving state of affairs. 

“How much pressure can a democracy take before it crumbles?” Dstnce asks. “I know we all like to think that things are safe and we are sheltered, but I don’t think that’s the case at all.”

Unintentionally, he evokes a sentiment of the late, influential philosopher René Girard who wrote and lectured extensively on desire, violence, and governance: Girard posited that all governance required violence so that the question became not of if but rather how much violence was required to maintain order. 

Dstnce explores the reality wherein the violence that has traditionally been offshored, creating a haven for Australians at the expense of others, has returned to roost. 

In Girard’s The One by Whom Scandal Comes, he proposes that, “The true threat to the world today comes from the mad ambitions of states and capitalists bent on destroying non-modern cultures. It is the so-called ‘developed countries’ that plunder the planet’s resources without showing the least concern for consequences they are incapable of foreseeing.”

The consequences are vivid to Dstnce when he subverts the assumed docility of the public on Part 2‘s closing track, “A Matter of Time”: They say time is money / And money make the man / But the carrot always stay / Out of reach of the hand.”

The promise of more and of better has slowly eroded since the turn of the century as the wealth gap grows and the Australian dream disintegrates. 

This is compounded by the growing collective realisation of how Australia garnered its status as a haven for the individual. It was not through divine proclamation, but rather, as Girard bluntly identifies, through the systemic siphoning of resources, both locally and internationally, with little regard for the sustainability of the practices, socially or otherwise.

In Dstnce’s dystopia, the violence has morphed from latent to blatant, where the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s once clandestine operations are now explicitly run and extreme surveillance and censorship is unavoidable.

“When the van pulls up / It’s already too late,” he ominously whispers, evoking images of chilling, unquestioned kidnappings and ‘reeducation programs.’

The world Dstnce explores is conceptual, but for many Australians it’s reality. 

“What would you do if you were in that situation? What would life be like?” Dstance wonders.

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For fellow rappers ONEFOUR, HP Boyz, and others, the situation of ongoing censorship, surveillance, brutality, and inequality are well-documented as they report the gritty details of their experiences through their music. Rap is one of the few platforms available to young members of disenfranchised communities, and the reporting of their experiences provides a first-hand perspective on the lives of the disadvantaged and misunderstood. 

In increasingly disparate societal circumstances, the ability to share these stories, unencumbered by the tightening noose of censorship, is paramount.

Dstnce places this reality into focus by proposing it as the norm for those whose lives have largely been comfortable, serving the warning call that it is not as unlikely as it may seem.

Dstnce’s Notes From the Underground Part 2 is out now.