CARMINE: The colour of passion, of rage, love, lust, fear, fury. Carmine is the title of the long-awaited debut album by Running Touch — a record about violence and love that establishes the much-adored songwriter, producer and vocalist as a world-class storyteller, a fearless innovator, and a master of atmosphere second to none in Australian electronic music. Brimming with grit and glamour, Carmine represents the beginning of a new chapter for the enigmatic artist: the advent of Running Touch’s second life as a juggernaut of intelligent, heart-rending dance music.
Born and raised in Melbourne, it’s no surprise that Running Touch would one day craft a record like Carmine. This record is a culmination of a life spent absorbing the textures of indie rock, hardcore, tech-house, pop, and electronic music, and working out, slowly, how to make them coalesce into something dazzling and totally unique. From the featherweight indie-pop of opener “Juno” to the lilting reggae of “Stay” to “Always Wanted You”’s sparkling electro beat, Carmine was clearly written by someone who understands the musical lingua franca, who has spent his whole life absorbing and interrogating music in order to understand it better. It’s impossible to divorce Carmine from the innumerable projects he has devoted his time to over the course of his life — most notably Ocean Grove, the iconic, cultishly-adored hardcore band he founded when he was 13, and the avant-garde techno crew Adult Art Club — and the album is all the better for it. “Every show, song, release, life event dictates what’s being written next,” Running Touch says. “It all adds up to create what you think the right body of work is at a point in time — this is the culmination of a lot of thought processes for this particular project.”
You can hear that culmination in the music, which is as deft and intricate as anything he has ever made. From the opening strains of album opener “Juno” — the first entry in a masterful song cycle that unfolds across the course of Carmine — you can hear that Running Touch has ascended to some knottier, more complicated arena. The song’s shuffling beat and his pleading vocals conflict with elements of sharp contrast: skyward-soaring synthwork, a deep house breakdown, funky guitar lines. RT is pushing further than sublime, dancefloor-ready electronic music this time around, although this is still, undeniably, perfect dancefloor music. Elsewhere, jazz chords and abstract loops make themselves known, most notably on the jaw-dropping “You Look Better Alone” — a kind of modernist jazz song animated by a pummelling, 4/4 beat. “‘You Look Better Alone’ is just a product of what I am influenced by on piano,” Running Touch says of the Carmine standout. “Bill Evans, Monk, Bruce Hornsby. Claptone’s ‘Charmer’ was a massive influence on putting that style into dance music.”
Despite being Carmine’s title track, “Juno” is also a centrepiece — of an ambitious song cycle, influenced by the spaghetti westerns that RT loves, that unfolds throughout the course of the album. Beginning with album closer “Carmine” and ending with “Come With Me”, the “Carmine/”Juno”/”Come With Me” triptych is a microcosm of the album’s main themes of violence and love, and one that illuminates the album’s themes more broadly.
“Juno is part of a syndicate/crime family that deals in arms and drugs. The song ‘Carmine’ is the telling of how they meet. For Juno it is a job gone wrong — our main character is shot but the only survivor and is saved by the crew,” he explains. “The main character falls in love with Juno after they save his life and he starts running with them. Our main character’s deceased parents have left him multiple houses/half built estates they end up using as drug houses. ‘Juno’ is the story of discovering his love for Juno and their next year together. ‘Come With Me’ is our main character wanting to leave everything behind with Juno and get away.” It’s a story that comes through powerfully over the course of the three songs, which are tied together by spindly guitars, the rush of new love, and a haunting, sometimes thrilling atmosphere of danger. “Come With Me”, in particular, translates its thrill-ride emotional journey through pure sound, chopped and screwed vocal samples recalling the euphoria of 90s rave and 2000s pop. “Sonically these all tied together, so it made sense to do the same lyrically,” RT says. “More than anything it was just not applying pressure, after I realized they tied together musically it just fell together.”
“Fell together” might be something of an understatement. Carmine is a surreal, masterful work — a suite of electronic music whose deft execution belies the craft roiling beneath. It’s an epochal, multi-faceted debut, whose depth is best expressed in the intimate, epic “It Starts With You”: a piano-led track that captures a world of human emotion in its DNA. Beginning with a racing beat and drifting into heartfelt ambiance, it’s a surprising, grounded piece of music. “‘It Starts With You’ was the last song I finished, and by that point had a bank of stems from all the other songs on the album at my disposal — which just made it feel like the peak and product of everything,” Running Touch says. “This song is meant to be a meditation or an intervention. It’s the process of talking to a friend, wanting to change and them not just comforting you and feeling sorry but forcing you to realize to get out of here ‘It Starts With You’.”
Elsewhere, Running Touch expands his range beyond pure dance music, finding inspiration in classic indie and pop music. Nowhere is this more palpable than on “Always Wanted More”, a dance track that nonetheless recalls the 80s golden age of funky, rhythmic pop music. Throughout, Running Touch’s vocal is revelatory, lithe and ostentatious in a way that it hasn’t been on record before. Similarly expansive is “I Haven’t Loved”, a meditative, ambient-leaning highlight of Carmine that packs a punch. Building to a majestic coda marked by almost math-rock-like intricacies, it’s one of Carmine’s most surprising, and gratifying, moments. “I didn’t want everything to just be rooted in dance music,” RT says, “So choices that feel more pop or indie felt more representative of me as a producer.”
That kind of emotional depth and clarity surges throughout Carmine, the kind of album that an artist can only make when he’s lived a life and understood himself truly. Such can undeniably be said of RT, who, despite his relative youth, has already been streamed 170+ million times, earned multi-platinum certifications, supported fellow electronic pioneers like ODESZA and ZHU, performed at innumerable festivals, and played a first-of-its-kind live show at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Carmine captures that world of achievement, and bests it over the course of one swift, magnetic record — a work of intimacy and chaos that could only come from the mind of Running Touch.