Kirin J Callinan: Personally Unpredictable

Clash meets the Australian maverick...

Clash caught the enigmatic Kirin J Callinan live at London’s Old Blue Last recently – which was timely, indeed, as the Australian maverick, whose debut LP ‘Embracism’ is out now (and reviewed here), is featured in the new issue of Clash.

Details on our next magazine – who’s on the cover, who’s inside; who we’ve loved and who we’ve, erm, not – are coming soon to these online pages. Meantime, check out the Clash( shots from Kirin’s OBL show above, and an edit of our magazine feature below.

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Kirin J Callian, 'Victoria M', from 'Embracism'

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Dead centre on the good taste/bad taste paradox lies a no man’s land: a microscopic area of uncertainty just before your lips utter something morally questionable; a nanosecond of time in which a white wave of excitement washes over you, and the windows of right and wrong steam up. This is where 27-year-old Australian musician Kirin J Callinan seems to dwell mostly.

Cast back to January, and reports from Australian website Faster Louder detailed how a conceptual live show in Melbourne had turned nasty. With flashing lights, and a projected demonstration, Kirin had proposed to induce a seizure in a willing audience member. A child, to be exact.

The concept was inspired by his debut music video ‘Way II War’, a nauseating mixture of flashing imagery, paranoid post-rock, Kubrick-ian cinema and the nightmarish surrealism of Jodorowsky, all filmed sublimely in The Blue Mountains of New South Wales. To the relief of shocked onlookers, the seizure never happened. It was never going to. The mere prospect of the plan was a social experiment to see how the audience would react. And aggressively they did.

“Chaos was part of the plan,” Kirin smiles. “It was more about the things we were talking about doing to the audience rather than actually doing anything. It highlighted the power of an idea rather than an action or a reaction.”

As we talk, he commentates on his tour bus view of Palm Springs. His voice has a sleepy and cracked timbre. “I’ve smoked too many cigarettes and drank too much whisky,” he reasons. Tonight is the final show of his US tour, showcasing his debut album ‘Embracism’, before flying back to Australia to begin another. We ask what has been occupying his time away from the shows.

“We’ve been looking for love every day and night,” he sighs. “Apparently being on stage and playing shows means women throw themselves at you. It’s not the case for me. They see me and they don’t want to get implicated.”

‘Implicated’ is a good choice of verb. He’s not your average rock ‘n’ roll heartthrob, but more a brutal mockery of that very stereotype. For the last six months a constant stream of stories from his shows have appeared online. These unhinged and confessional sermons are made of savage riffs, self-deprecation and loop pedals. In them, he becomes a darkly humorous, sexualised and aggressive performer, exuding theatrical machismo and courting controversy as he goes.

“The character on stage, I don’t really know him that well. He’s unpredictable, even for me. It’s warped, it’s deformed and it’s grown organically, but at the same time I think that’s just what I like as well.”

But this isn’t all bravado. To Kirin, this presence is completely necessary to deliver the intention of his music.

“It is a stage under lights. Movements need to be more dramatic. It’s theatre, you know? Performance, extenuated actions and spirit for want of a better word. I don’t think of live shows as an audio experience. That’s one-third. It is a visual thing and a personal experience for every member of the crowd. I’m not interested in trying to recreate the album live. I’m more interested in a performance.”

A longer version of this feature can be found in issue 87 of Clash magazine

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‘Embracism’ is out now on XL/Terrible Records.

Find Kirin J Callinan online: Facebook / Bandcamp

Interview: Joe Zadeh

Photography: Marc Sethi (

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