Celebrating NAIDOC Week, DNA revisits some of the inspirational Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people we’ve met in DNA.
Electric Fields are Zaachariaha Fielding and Michael Ross.
Proudly Indigenous, boldly queer, fabulously flamboyant, Electric Fields are living by their band motto: “bypass the barriers”. From Eurovision (almost) to Mardi Gras, their unique musical style is earning them global fans.
Zaachariaha Fielding and Michael Ross candidly describe themselves as “two feminine brothers”. As bandmates in Electric Fields, they are one of the most exciting music acts to have emerged in recent years, trailblazing new sounds and a fresh, queer-positive attitude. Their music fuses electronica and dance with the influence of Zaachariaha’s Indigenous heritage, along with pop, jazz and a sprinkling of the spirit of Nina Simone.
Their biggest moment so far has been SBS’s Australia Decides competition for this year’s Eurovision, which saw them parlay critical and popular acclaim into major international attention.
Are Electric Fields the next big thing? They might just be that already.
DNA: Hi guys. Please give us a brief history of how you came to be making beautiful music together.
Michael: We first met about nine years ago when we were lending our music skills to someone else’s songs. That ended, and about three years ago Zaachariaha called me and asked if we could start working again. So we did and when we wrote music together, a deep energy emerged and we found ourselves bursting with euphoria. That’s when we decided to join forces and send our music out as a duo.
You’ve both done reality TV talent shows – do they help you find an audience or are they a hindrance?
Michael: A bit of both probably. We both had a reality TV moment separately before Electric Fields was born. I had a great experience on The X-Factor and got to perform for Kylie and Dannii Minogue in NYC – homo bucket list tick. [Laughs] Zaachariaha had much more exposure because he went all the way to the grand final on The Voice with the duo ZK.
Zaachariaha: I did enjoy performing on The Voice. It was very interesting looking into those camera eyeballs and delivering Where Is The Love on stage with will.i.am. But it was like an alien experience and the public can be pretty brutal at times. I’m grateful for it, though.
When you were growing up who were your musical idols?
Zaachariaha: I used to watch all the bands on [music video show] Rage and the different styles of music. Out of them all, Whitney Houston is my number one favourite. Her vocal is as holy as one of Earth’s angels. She’s probably one of the last diva voices that made you believe what she was singing.
Michael: For me it’s Mariah Carey. I used to sing the full Music Box album so loud that the neighbourhood knew I was clearly a homo. Add in some Cranberries, Tracy Chapman and Lauryn Hill and you’ve got the playlist.
Who were your LGBTIQ+ role models or mentors?
Zaachariaha: Michael Ross, my bandmate and Tjutja (“brother” in Anangu language).
Michael: Thanks, Mala (“younger sibling”). I look up to you, too. I’m going to choose the ’78ers as my role models. They had an incredibly tough job marching in the first ever Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras in 1978.
DEADLY MEANS SOMETHING IS FUCKING AWESOME… THAT POWER TOP JACKHAMMERED ME SO HARD, IT WAS DEADLY!
You describe yourselves as “two feminine brothers”. Explain that concept to us.
Zaachariaha: We’re family now. Michael is my Tjutja (older brother) and I am his Mala (younger sibling) and we embrace our femininity because it’s a part of us and it makes us stronger.
Michael: We wrote that we are “two feminine brothers” in our bio and some people questioned if we should keep it in. Running and throwing “like a girl” was always an insult and that’s total horse shit. Girls and woman are total bosses and we love that part of us.
Are you the next gay male musical duo after Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, etc?
Michael: Ha! Sure, but we’d prefer not to be “the next” version of this or that. We’re creating a queer, First Nations church of sorts. We’re not fooled into thinking we can fix all the world, but we can provide a super fun, fierce, safe space for people to let loose, party and heal.
Do people assume you are a couple?
Michael: Ha ha, that’s such a great question. We absolutely love each other but if we dated, it would be incest.
You also own your overt flamboyance – and we love this!
Zaachariaha: Thank you! When the energy comes I channel whatever spirit is there.
Who came up with the name Electric Fields?
Michael: It was our sister Tes Z and I came up with a few names, but she suggested we take the “Field” from Z’s last name (Fielding) and said that I’m the “Electric” as in the electronic producer. It’s perfect because when you look at the physics diagram of an “electric field” it looks like the energy we have when we create and perform our music.
Your band motto is “bypass the barriers”. Tell us more.
Zaachariaha: There’s room for everybody but the modern world loves building walls and categorizing everything. Am I a man, a woman, are we an Indigenous band, a queer band? All these boxes feel like barriers and we just fly right over the top on them… sorry suckers!
Michael, your song Equal Love became a marriage equality theme. We hear you still play it live with a sample of CeCe Peniston’s Finally and a speech by Barack Obama?
Michael: Yeah! I used to sing it solo before we became Electric Fields. I remember singing it on the steps of Parliament House to an alt-right style church protesting our love. Then, when the marriage equality vote was mounting in Australia, we began singing it again as Electric Fields. It was a special moment just after the vote came back as Yes. Z and I got to perform Equal Love on the steps of the Sydney Opera House.
Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with?
Zaachariaha: I’d love to work with Robyn in Sweden and, while we’re at it, a duet with Beyonce, fuck it.
Sia is also from South Australia, just like you. That’s good company to keep, right?
Michael: Absolutely. There are so many people in Adelaide who either went to school with Sia or played in bands with her or even babysat her! We love Sia’s music; it’s performance art.
When can we expect new material from Electric Fields?
Michael: We’re working on our debut album at the moment and hoping to release a new single very soon. We’re touring so much it’s hard to finish the studio recordings. We’re creating the new album, however, on one main laptop. Because it’s so portable we can actually take the unfinished album wherever we go. We’re currently in Otaki Beach on New Zealand’s North Island and because we’re not performing until tomorrow we can work on a new track tonight from this little beach shack.
Is there a long-term game plan for chart domination?
Michael: We’re making it all up as we go along really. We want to send our music out as far and wide as possible, but if that happens too quickly, it can send you loopy. And we’re both already clinically insane. Not really [laughs hard], but, yes, world chart dom… because we create this music for everyone.
When you’re not making music what do the two of you like to do?
Zaachariaha: I head home to Mimili in the Central Deserts when we have a few weeks off and watch replays of Serena Williams online as she dominates tennis courts around the globe.
Michael: I tend to party, possibly too much, but it’s too fun. Then I just watch the internet in my room and order food from my phone. I should probably diversify my activities really, starting with more sex. Any of your cover models into watersports? [Laughs]
We’ll ask them for you next time we shoot a cover. What’s one thing that might surprise people about you both?
Zaachariaha: I’m actually an introvert. After a big show I just go home, have dinner and go to bed.
Michael: Before Electric Fields I worked with a girl band who all lived with disability. They even screened their debut music video at the UN headquarters in New York.
What issues are closest to your hearts at present?
Michael: There’s so many, but I’m going to say truth in the media. So often we’re fed propaganda; some wealthy person’s ideology, or a commercial advertisement as “news”. Urgh, vomit.
Zaachariaha: All forms of abuse and trauma.
At the beach – speedos, boardshorts or nude?
Zaachariaha: I’m actually allergic to salt water. That’s what happens when you’re raised on the desert sands! But I once walked around an empty football oval at night in the nude.
Michael: I love the beach! I wear fishnet stockings and a cock ring… (laughs)… lies, it’s just boardshorts.
What’s your message to the readers of DNA?
Zaachariaha: Know thyself, own it and have a laugh.
Michael: Whenever I think of a positive message I want to share, it’s usually something I haven’t been able to do for myself yet, like loving myself one-hundred per cent and getting over dumb insecurities. My message is this – we’re all a bit fucked up. There’s no magic moment when life is suddenly perfect, so let’s all just deal with it and be okay with imperfection without hurting anyone else.
Zaachariaha: We’re working on our new album at the moment, so if you like our music keep an ear out for it.
Michael: We’re doing our first Australian headline tour this June/July – Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Darwin and Adelaide. We’re going to be performing some new songs. We’ll put the dates up on our social media.
DNA: Your Eurovision entry, 2000 And Whatever was amazing. How did you get your heads around the possibility of going to Eurovision?
Zaachariaha: Thanks! Putting original music on a platform you have no control over is pretty daunting, but we believe in our art and so we perform it boldly – whether it be for 200 people in Otaki, or 200 million people on television.
What is 2000 And Whatever about?
Zaachariaha: It brings the past, present and future together, like a message stick for the current generation.
Michael: It talks about getting out of your head and living your best because we’ve got more at our fingertips than ever; we can seriously work together to make this Earth experience way better for a lot more people.
How was the Eurovision experience for you?
Zaachariaha: We had a spooky experience. Friends and friends of friends were constantly pointing us towards Eurovision. Curiously, we just found ourselves on the SBS website and the portal to upload a song entry popped up. When we became finalists it was a huge blessing because we hadn’t released any new material since our debut EP Inma in 2016. So, it wasn’t a Eurovision song competition for us; we saw it as our single launch.
Did you mind coming second?
Michael: Coming second was totally fine with us. Especially since the winner, Kate Miller-Heidke has been a dear friend for years and I love celebrating her success. Our song 2000 And Whatever not only got its launch on national TV, but after our performance we trended #7 worldwide on Twitter. It’s pretty tough for an indie band from Adelaide to get that much reach, so we’re thrilled. Eurovision is very much part of gay culture, too.
Ultimately, Kate Miller-Heidke was chosen to represent Australia but the vote was tight. Were you pleased with the response from the voting public?
Michael: Yeah! Kate has heaps of fans and they were out in force to vote. She’s already had four top albums and we’d only released one EP, so to see the public come out and vote for us was amazing.
Zaachariaha: It was too deadly! [Laughs]
You sing in Anangu language – wouldn’t that have been amazing to hear at Eurovision?
Zaachariaha: Yeah, I would have loved to sing my language out to that audience, but a lot of Europeans got to hear the song, and language, anyway and the response has been beautiful.
Who’s your fave Eurovision artist or participant of all time?
Michael: Latvian singer/songwriter Aminata.
Zaachariaha: If you haven’t seen this performance, YouTube it. She is equal parts beauty and power.
LET’S TALK EUROVISION…
February this year was a pivotal moment in the expanding horizons of Electric Fields. They were selected as one of the finalists in Australia Decides, the live show to choose the act representing the country at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in May.
Zaachariaha, singing in English and traditional language, came dressed in full non-gender binary outfit; flitting, flirting and owning the stage with panache, tenacity and enormous shantay-you-stay earrings. The duo finished as runners-up in both the audience and jury vote (to established artist, Kate Miller-Heidke), but generated global excitement with their winning mix of dance beats, Indigenous vocals and a visibly queer sensibility. Not bad for a band that were relatively unknown prior to the show.
Electrifying Z and Michael on Australia Decides
Zaachariaha identifies as Anangu, the people of Central Australia around Uluru and Kata- Tjuta – an amazing part of the world to grow up in.
“Yes, it is so beautiful out there,” he agrees with DNA. “When you look up at night the stars almost make you dizzy. The energy of the land is so strong you can’t help but feel it deeply.”
Despite his heavy work schedule with Electric Fields, Zaachariaha goes back to the desert quite often, “but I’d like to go back more. I get to go back a few times a year to recharge my energies and be with my family. Then after a couple of weeks I’m strong enough to start touring again and spread that energy out around the cities we perform in.”
At home, he says his friends and family are “so proud” of his achievements.
“They play our music at lunchtime at the school,” Zaachariaha chuckles, “and all the kids dance to it on the basketball courts.” Electric Fields also had the honour of having their music played on the First Nations float at the Sydney Mardi Gras, a glorious shining moment celebrating both Zaachariaha’s heritage and sexuality.
“That was a really proud moment for us,” he recalls. “We’ve always just been our authentic selves. We’ve never hidden, or toned down, and people like us to be bold. There’s a big LGBTIQ mob in the black community and the queer community is very progressive with respecting others. There’s been a shady comment here and there, but everyone is going to get that at one time or another.”
What Zaachariaha also brings to the pop table is traditional Aboriginal language. “We sing in Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara language from the Central Deserts of Australia (APY lands),” he explains. “It’s the language of my home and my ancestors. When I hear it sung it gives me goosebumps.”
Asked if being an Aboriginal role model places the weight of expectation on his shoulders, Zaachariaha points out that “there are heaps of Aboriginal role models in my life like Jessica Mauboy, Yothu Yindi and Christine Anu. And of the queer mob Steven Oliver [comedian] and Ben Graetz [drag queen, Miss Ellaneous who runs the Miss First Nations competition], they inspire me, too. If that role lands on me, I’ll accept it to a degree.
“I think our role models can be from any walk of life and from any time period. I’d like to take race out of it. There are lots of people who have a strong vision for our country that aren’t necessarily Aboriginal. We can learn huge lessons even from nature.”
Not surprisingly then, Electric Fields’ broader message also has to do with unity, inclusion and harmony.
“We all have a place and there’s enough room for everybody,” Zaachariaha declares. “Know thyself, be exactly that and let your neighbour do the same.”
The First Nations Mardi Gras group dance to Electric Fields.
To that end, Michael adds, “we are all way more similar than we are different. Who wants to date a cruel fuckwit? Being kind is hot.” We also couldn’t let Zaachariaha go without asking him to fully explain the concept of “deadly” to us.
“Deadly means something is fucking awesome,” he says, before giving us three suitably deadly examples. “Stepping out in my deadly red shoes!” or “Your mum looked after us so well, she’s too deadly!” or “That power top jackhammered me so hard, it was deadly!” [Laughs]
MORE: Find Electric Fields on Facebook and Instagram, plus they promise a band website is on the way soon. Their EP, Inma is available on iTunes and Spotify as is their Euro-loving single, 2000 And Whatever.