Arguably the biggest band in Australia right now is Sneaky Sound System. Their single "I Love It" had the longest chart run in Oz history, their debut album has gone twice platinum and at one point they had four singles in the Top 40. They played the Antipodean Live Earth concert, supported Robbie Williams, and cleaned up at the Arias, the down-under version of the Brits. Yet Sneaky are not a hard-touring rock band or a manufactured pop act. They're certainly pop and proud of it, but their background lies in their country's exploding dance scene.
Sneaky Sound System are Sydney trio Miss Connie (Connie Mitchell), Black Angus (Angus McDonald), and MC Double D (Daimon Downey), three very different characters bonded by a riotous sense of fun. Their origins lie in the hugely successful club night Sneaky Sundays, thus they make music imbued with frolicking nightlife energy but also flecked with sing-along radio-friendly 1980s electro-pop.
Their story began back in 2000 when Daimon met Angus at a fancy dress party and stole the flute from his mariachi costume. They became friends and decided to start a club on the quietest night of the week. Angus spun tunes and Daimon hyped on the mic. It wasn't some trendy minimal techno joint, but unpretentious hands in the air fun, "no shoe-gazing, no wallflowers," as Angus describes it. Still going strong seven years later, it packs in around 1000 people each Sunday, and guests have included Tiga, LCD's James Murphy, Mylo and Hot Chip.
"I got fired from my job after that first Sneaky night," Daimon recalls, "because we had such a good time I didn't go to work the next day. Angus was in publishing and was made redundant the next week. We thought, "Let's keep doing this and see how far we can go',"
Angus had long had musical aspirations. He spent time in New York as a singer-songwriter followed by four years in London developing his DJ skills on the club scene. Daimon, meanwhile, was born in South Africa and raised in the tiny rural town of Bellingen on Australia's east coast. He came to Sydney to be an artist but ended up a barman. Once Sneaky Sundays was up and running, however, everything changed.
In 2003 Sony asked them to put together a mix CD. The result was Other Peoples Music, a housey affair that ran into edgier territory such as Gonzales and Metro Area, occasionally overlaid with live instrumentation and Daimon's rapping. It was a success and before long the pair tried their hand at their own music. The third piece of the Sneaky jigsaw was about to fall into place.
For five years since leaving school Connie Mitchell had been in reasonably successful industrial rock band Primary but after they split, she was at a loose end. One day, as she sat in a park playing guitar to a friend, Angus and Daimon happened by and asked her to sing for them.
"I thought they were a bit dodgy," recollects Connie, "You know, two guys coming up to you, excited, jumping around a bit, saying 'Come to our studio'."
They did, however, have a recording set up - Whack Studios - and when Connie sang through what was to be their breakthrough single, the contagious dance-pop of 'I Love It', Sneaky Sound System had their vocalist. Within days, they'd laid down vocals to their eponymous debut album which, as Angus says, "has one foot in the clubs and one foot in the pop world." The industry, however, was not convinced.
"We were told by every label we might sell 10,000 copies and it wasn't worth it," says Angus, "so we decided to do it ourselves."
Setting up their own label, Whack Records, they did exactly that with slow-burning but spectacular results. Strangely though, 'UFO', their catchiest song of all, was almost an afterthought. Angus wrote the music and chorus - "I saw a UFO and nobody believes me" - in two minutes after watching a National Geographic programme about flying saucers. The next day Connie attended to the verses; she, after all, could relate to the subject matter, having once been abducted by aliens. One night putting a few pieces of washing out on the line to dry...
"I heard this buzzing sound like a swarm of flies moving from left to right," she remembers, "I looked in the sky and saw three white lights doing super-quick triangular movements. When I came back in everybody said, 'Where have you been?' I looked at my watch and I'd lost 40 minutes about which I have no recollection."
Almost as worrying was suddenly playing in nightclubs. Primary had only ever played pubs and venues. "I'd never been in a club before," she giggles, "It's a completely different world, it's mayhem, isn't it?"
Sneaky Sound System were soon bona-fide pop stars, recognized in the street or, in Connie's case, having to pose for a fan photo when she'd popped out in her pyjamas to buy a pint of milk. The recognition also resulted in her making prestigious guest appearances on albums by Kanye West and Snoop Dogg. A whirlwind of Sneaky tours began with a full band, initially a completely sold out run of dates at home and then all over the world. Appropriately, they even popped into Ibiza. "That is one messed up place, I don't know how they get away with it," says Daimon, "The loneliest, quietest place on earth is the airport departure lounge in Ibiza..."
At home they toured with the aforementioned Robbie Williams, Jamiroquai and, perhaps the group they have most in common with, The Scissor Sisters.
"They knew the words to some of our songs and, on our first date together, stood on the side of the stage cheering us on," laughs Daimon, "Jake Shears had been recording with Kylie Minogue and apparently they were obsessed with our song 'Pictures'."
Like the Scissor Sisters, they're a pop band whose heart lies in the swirling giddy party attitude of club culture. And like all the best pop bands, they're a team of distinct personalities and roles. Black Angus, named after a corrupt copper from Oz TV series 'Blue Murder', is the musical dynamo, MC Double D is the flamboyant showman with a mic -"Better to be looked over than overlooked," he says - and Connie, the quirky front woman whose hobbies include fast cars and robot-building, is quite the opposite of a diva. In a time of predictable R&B dross and Luddite indie bands, it's refreshing to be presented with an ebullient outfit overflowing with such hooky choruses and colourful character.
Sneaky have now finished their second album titled 2, working with Spike Stent of Madonna and Gwen Stefani fame. For world release, it will be compiled with the best of their debut and released in September 2008. It's set for Australian release in August 2008, with the first single "Kansas City" currently taking over the airwaves.