Poet, rapper, and former satirical news anchor Hugo Farrant has ended a hectic six years as co-writer and presenter of the Juice Media’s Rap News. He’s traded the bustle of Melbourne for the serenity of Trentham, some 90km northwest of Melbourne. It’s an existence made all the quieter by the incidental lack of Internet availability in his new home. A self confessed lover of the surfing the net, Hugo is finding the disconnect refreshingly conducive to furthering his art; He’s even penned a new rap about his breakup with the Internet, Goodbye Internet! Hugo is working feverishly through the year to hone his skills as a rapper, before moving on to new endeavours in the new-year. He raps about everything from science and philosophy to environmentalism and politics. One of his major solo projects has been his rap translation Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, the first part of his 14th century epic poem the Divine Comedy.
Interview With Hugo Farrant
What influence does your upbringing have on your work?
I got sent to a private school when I was a kid; it was a kind of a boarding school environment. And it’s funny because I wasn’t that academic but when you’re in an environment like that you get inculcated into it; into academia and stuff like that, without you even trying necessarily.
I ended up studying really mad stuff like Latin and a whole bunch of languages. Even though I had a difficult time in this kind of environment, the actual knowledge aspect of it was quite phenomenal, almost like a classical education by accident.
So, I ended up unwittingly attaining all this knowledge, a load of arcane stuff and a broad base of education without really necessarily wanting it or knowing why. And it wasn’t until later on when I did get interested in knowledge and it was due to the motivation of music, of wanting to write lyrics for poems and rap. Then it turned out that there was this dormant knowledge that had been shoved into my head at a young age and I really appreciated it at that point.
How is progress on Dante’s Inferno, it’s 34 cantos long, and you’re up to canto 9; With each canto rap running close to ten minutes, are you looking to rap the whole 34?
This is my favourite project I’m undertaking right now and certainly my most challenging. There are 34 cantos in the Inferno and I’m not going to quit rapping before I finish. So I am aiming to do this, regardless of whatever else I move into, be it spoken word or whatever. I’m still aiming to do the Inferno because I really want to get to the end of at least those 34 cantos. So I’m aiming to drop about 6 cantos a year, so there are still a few years in me yet.
How do you go about translating a 14th century Italian epic poem into rap overlaid on a beat?
That was actually my major at university, Italian. That was one of my awakenings getting to study the Divine Comedy. One of the first moments where I actually sat in a classroom and was absolutely blown away by something and just enjoyed it non-stop. So, I studied Italian for a long time, almost 11 years and now I speak fairly good Italian, but certainly not medieval Italian. So I need translations and commentaries. I’ve got lots of translations online and I’ve also got a few in book form. And I cross reference them all, and obviously I’m looking at the original text as well. I also look at Roberto Benigni’s lecture series. He’s got to be one of the foremost autodidact Dantescan intellectuals of all time. It’s crazy; he knows it off by heart, it’s unbelievable. In fact, there are things called the Dantescan encyclopaedias, which run into 24 volumes and just cover all the things and people referenced in the Inferno. So taking that information and taking all the translations that I can get a hold of and sometimes saying “you know what, I’m not really satisfied with any of these translations, I don’t think they get across what’s really going on here”. Out of all those decisions I make my own translations, I make my new translations and I want it to rhyme as well. I want it to have killer rhymes.
Leaving home is always a formative experience, why did you fly the nest and leave England for Australia?
I moved to Australia almost ten years ago and man they’ve been ten super happy years. I love it here. I absolutely love it. My affection for it doesn’t diminish; in fact it only gets greater.
Anybody who talks to me for even a little while will get bored of this theme in my conversation but I really don’t like England. I like aspects of it a lot and I have huge respect for those aspects, but in general as a place, I find it very depressing.
If anyone is really wondering what beef I have with England I think that a really neat symbol has been thrown up recently in the news with this Brexit nonsense. That’s what you have to contend with. That’s the kind of mentality you come up against in England. Quite broadly across demographics there’s this kind of self-aggrandisement on an epically unjustified level.
So long story short the opportunity came up to get a working holiday visa in Australia and jumped at it, with both feet and arms, and I got it. When I got here I didn’t know what I was going to think of the place but I just fell in love with it, especially Melbourne. I think for me it’s the best place on the planet.
Australia does have its problems though and I try to address that in my work and not shy away from it. But the reason I am so keen to do that is because it’s so close. With a few tweaks we could make this place so great. I think it’s phenomenal already but I think we could make heaven on earth and I want to contribute to that.
I am applying for my citizenship now and when I do I really want to explore this notion of patriotism because I’m a patriot for Australia, I really am, in all its respects especially for the original owners of this land. The incredible richness of indigenous culture here deserves nurturing and respecting and I want to do that. I want to help that to happen. I want to be a patriot. I think that is the definition of a patriot, is someone who has a vision for their country and isn’t afraid to make things happen, not someone who just sits there going “if you don’t love it, fuck off”.
Rap News is a collaboration between me and very esteemed colleague of mine, Giordano Nanni. We met not long after I arrived in Australia through a mutual friend. When I met him he was working on these interviews with indigenous people and was really dedicated to this Juice Media Channel which was about giving voice to the voiceless. And it’s amazing work; I was just blown away by it.
To just go back to that education theme from before. One aspect of the education which is really heinous with in the UK is the propagandisation of history. Children really get fed a sanitised and false version of empire, constantly throughout childhood.
So when I got to Australia and found this really interesting relationship with the original cultures of the land and the invader cultures it was just astonishing to me, it was just information and knowledge that I’d never come across. So then I met this guy, Giordano, who is not just knowledgeable about it but is actually an expert, he’s done is PhD and is a published author. And he’s also got a really broad knowledge base. It was clear in conversation that if you just threw him a subject he’s got a theory that is fascinating and dynamic and that you’ve never encountered before. And it was just like wow this guy is bloody astonishing. It needs to be brought to a larger audience.
So we sat down and brainstormed a heap and came up with this idea of rapping the news. Every evening you sit down with your family and watch this thing called the news where it’s supposed to be the truth and quite plainly it’s not, it’s just a series of context-less stories, without any kind of link or understanding or any desire to make people understand. So the idea was to do a news show that was the opposite of that; full of context full of explanation and the historical context that these things fall into, so that’s where it came from.
Rap News was quite popular in the end; with videos reaching a million views and being translated into various languages. Having gained such a following some people were upset by your move to solo work. Do you think it’s fair for people to have such expectations on the direction that artists take?
I totally understand where they’re coming from. As for expectations of artists, well, put it this way. Now that I have been through the departure from a fairly successful project, that people might like me to return to, I have a lot more understanding for those artists that I wish had continued to produce the work I’d got to know and love them for. I’ve personally altered my expectations of artists in that position as a result
Rap News did end up being a bit of a success, but it turned into this all-consuming project, which was wonderful, but after 6 years I personally felt like I needed to go ahead and give my own work a bit of love for a while.
There is still an oeuvre of Rap News out there, there’s something like 35 episodes, they’ve still got the big following and I’m sure whatever Giordano decides to do next with the Juice Media will be successful.
Has Patreon changed the way you work as an artist, not only financially but to have ongoing support from ordinary people who you can reach out to for feedback and ideas?
I think Patreon is a really revolutionary platform. It’s phenomenal. Patreon not only gives you some financial stability, it has helped cover a lot of my costs which is amazing, but it also shows there are people literally putting their money where their mouse is and saying “yes, I dig what you’re doing and I’m going to support you”. It’s great for people like me who just want to produce regularly. I’m not really in it to tour or make albums; I just want to create a channel. I just want these regular pieces to come out.
Do you have a standard 9 to 5 to support yourself otherwise?
No, not a 9 to 5. Right now, some friends and I are starting up a new not for profit called Sound of The Future. It’s in its nascency right now but it’s about taking this art form, my friends do beat-making and production, and I’m on the lyric side of things with a rap and poetry focus, and we take programs to schools. We try to reengage young people with their education and showing them that, if what they’re interested in is creativity, and not so much other subjects, then there are real possibilities for them in the future and real career opportunities. Also we just want to give them fun and positive experiences in the classroom generally.
I have a huge amount of respect of the work educators do but some young people do end up disengaged from the process. So, to do something that might provide motivation within the classroom, that is a really positive thing I think.
Does some of your motivation here come from your own experience in the classroom?
Absolutely, Because if somebody had come along and said to me aged, 14 or so, “you know that thing you can’t stop thinking about, that weird voice in your head that wants to say stuff and wants to express stuff, you can do that, that can be your life, you can chase that. And you know those topics in the classroom that you find really boring at the moment, man that can make for some interesting rap so pay attention. You might not see a value to learning chemical equations or memorising the periodic table and things like that but hell put it into a rap and it’d sound awesome. Take it on board, you’ll be a better rapper.” I really wish that had happened to me, and so there really is that motivation there for me doing Sound of the Future.
I notice a pattern in your work and life around journeys. Is there anything to that or is it mere coincidence?
You’re the first person to notice any theme in my work. But now that you mention it, I guess that is a big genre of storytelling. We talk about the hero’s journey, so many epic works of literature revolve around journeys, and it’s such a simple arch that takes place. So I guess you might be on to something. It’s certainly not a conscious thing but it is crucial, movement and dynamism is fundamental to humans.
We look at the original cultures of the planet prior to agriculture and they were all to some degree nomadic and all moved around. And it is certainly true with the dreamtime stories, and the way that the world was created for aboriginal people, there was always a dreaming that moved across the land singing a song.
But I don’t know, it does go deep and I think that you might be on to something. I do write a lot about journeys, there is often some kind of movement and physical narration in what I’m doing; I’m going to have to think about that.
Feature Image: Luke Kellett