For the last eight years, Driller Jet Armstrong's independent record label, Dessert Island Discs, has captured the sound and legacy of Sugar on wax.
Dessert Island Discs: Adelaide’s electronic-music makers Sugar-coated
Artist, nightclub owner, Fringe-time laneway restaurateur, and recent council candidate, Driller Jet Armstrong, and his Rundle Street sanctuary, Sugar, are both icons of the city’s late-night cultural landscape.
Over email, Driller explains to CityMag that you can distil Sugar’s tenets down to “quality sound, quality music, fun times, family ties, dancing, togetherness and shared experiences.”
It’s impossible to capture the experience of a night at Sugar in physical form, but Driller has been saving snapshots on wax through his independent record label, Dessert Island Discs.
“The Dessert Island Discs records themselves are a part of the tangible evidence of Sugar’s existence across 18 years,” he tells us.
“I imagine one day they will be a part of our legacy.”
Dessert Island Discs (named after the BBC Radio 4 program Desert Island Discs) “is all about disco and the re-edit,” Driller says, and over eight years the label has dropped 11 records and over 20 reworkings of disco bangers, immortalising the sound of Sugar through tracks made by the venue’s regulars, ex-employees and resident deejays.
The records’ sleeves are even clad in the nightclub’s iconic wallpaper, which Driller describes as being “sugary and sunny, and kinda tropical.”
The label has featured some of Adelaide’s most iconic electronic producers like Late Nite Tuff Guy also known at DJ HMC – an integral figure to Australian techno in the 1990s – local Adelaide producers such as Pierre Pressure and Pappi Del Pancake, and German bigwig Em Vee, real name Marcel Vogel.
Dessert Island Discs’ 11th release dropped a couple of days ago and is comprised of two tracks.
One is a rambunctious soul-infused The Real Thing by anonymous musician Herb Flavor, the other belongs to Ted Empleton’s modern house stomper, Dingo Jingo.
Ted Empleton, real name Ben Smith, released another track on Dessert Island Discs in 2015, titled Fly Robbin, but the producer’s history with Driller and Sugar nightclub stretches way back.
“I started working at Sugar when I was 17 or 18 years old as a glassie, till about 24,” says Ben, who is now 32.
“I ended up running the bar for a little while, and worked as a security guard on the door there.
“In that time I fell in love with nightclub culture and started deejaying and collecting records.
“Ever since then I’ve been making music.”
Ben now works at Northern Sound Systems, but says his track, Dingo Jingo – which he describes as like “afro-disco with a focus on the dance floor” – found its legs after he would play it during sets at Udaberri, where he noticed mixed reactions.
Ben admits the track would “disco out” and people would get “disinterested.”
“So I started editing these tracks,” says Ben.
“It was literally just like, ‘Oh, this is a cool track, I’ll make it for people to dance to’.”
The closure of Cuckoo Bar in 2014 was a big hit for the underground electronic music community, but Ben says he feels lucky to have released music under the venue’s label, Cuckoo Music, which was an integral moment in his career as a producer.
“[Phil Rogers, Cuckoo’s owner] released it and I think he sold out and then same with the first release with Drills,” says Ben.
“Without people like Phil and Driller in the scene, people don’t get to hear the music or have the experiences I’ve definitely been lucky enough to have.
“And although there’s more clubs in Melbourne and Sydney and New York – there’s more history in those places too – Adelaide has HMC (Late Nite Tuff Guy), which is one of the first pioneers of techno.
“He came from Adelaide, so, you know, our culture is pretty rich.”
Ben says the electronic music scene in Adelaide at the moment is “great, amazing, thriving,” and that he’s personally excited about the imminent release of his own record, which has been a work in progress for a decade.
“It’s been an absolutely painful process,” he says.
“I’ve finished the album, which is three EPs, but it’s not perfect as far as there’s heaps of things to improve.
“But I’m also like, ‘It’s great, I’m letting it go.’”
There are two additional forthcoming releases for Dessert Island Discs, which will all be made available via Juno Records soon.