“I wanted to make music that felt like hope.’
In an era defined by futility, isolation, and precarity, it can be difficult to envision a utopia. But on Skeleten’s thrilling, immersive debut album, Under Utopia, the Sydney musician dares to imagine new ways of being that are not characterized by doom or despair. Across eleven tracks of free-flowing, transcendent, and often euphoric electronic music, Skeleten praises the power of comradery and community; while dreaming of a future that is joyously boundless.
Skeleten, real name Russell Fitzgibbon, has always been fascinated by the ideas of utopias. He’s thought a lot about how the concept has shifted and morphed throughout history, and how the goal post for a utopia is always moving further and further away. “We're more familiar with the idea of a dystopia in the modern world - that's more close to our consciousness. I think on this album I wanted to explore the importance of imaging and embodying a new world.”
Written before and during the pandemic, the album was born out of a desire to connect with others and to shake the mantle of introspection that had been placed on his previous works. From the opening notes of the otherworldly album opener “Generator”, it's clear that this record prioritises immediate pleasures without forgoing intimacy. The lyrics are also more explicit, reaching outward with inviting choruses and mantra-like melodies. “I think the album came out of the experience of feeling this great desire to reconnect and dreaming of the power of community,” says the musician.
This is especially present in lead single ‘Sharing The Fire’, a song that crackles with optimism. A sprawling dance track with pulsating synths and Fitzgibbon’s gentle, warm vocals, the song is about futures that are full of brightness and bliss. As the artist repeats in the song’s chorus: “for all that you know, summer could be around the corner.” The song is about an “almost frustrated desire to connect with more people and feel that sense of community through shared goals.” The accompanying video clip, shot on 35mm, is similarly invested in ideas of companionship and gathering. Shot in a clinical, drab office space, friends and revelers fill the space with warmth and energy.
Elsewhere, this invocation of paradise is infused in the stripped-back, singular title track “Under Utopia”. The song was significant to Fitzgibbon, as it allowed him to gather all his thoughts and ideas about his new music under one message. “It’s something I wrote when I had this collection of songs and wanted to give it a single voice, which was about seeing the world entirely new, full of hope and beauty, and all of us underneath pushing it upwards.”
An antidote for gloom presented in Under Utopia is the transformative power of love. There’s “Heart Full Of Tenderness”, a woozy, languorous love song, awash with cloudy vocals and glistening synths; the truncated beats and hypnotic pleading of “Territory Day” and “Right Here It’s Only Love” which explores the icier and ambient side of R’n’B.
Another hallmark that characterizes Under Utopia is Fitzgibbon’s airy and spacious mix, which gives his songs room to sprawl out and simmer; as well as allowing his calming baritone to come to the fore. This is notable in the contemplative, synth-laden “Colour Room”, the funk-tinged “Walking On Your Name,” the previously released “No Drones in the Afterlife,” and the beloved early single “Mirrored,” which speaks of finding yourself through a connection to those around you.
Fitzgibbon has been enmeshed in the Sydney music scene for years. Skeleten emerged out of a need to experiment and make music without worrying about the outcome. “It was just me making music that felt right, and very much focusing on this kind of meditative aspect of exploring without any goal,” says Fitzgibbon. But as the project has evolved, the artist has gained clarity on what he hopes his music will achieve: bringing people together, and creating an atmosphere of elation. Or as Fitzgibbon puts it on Under Utopia’s hallucinatory album closer “We’re gonna get everything we need in the world.”