Callum MacKenzie - woodwind player and trained composer - started having nightmares after moving to Hong Kong in 2011.
“I would have all these crazy nightmares… I was on the roof of a building, looking over the sides… and a bunch of dudes in black hoodies picked me up and threw me off the building,” Callum laughed frantically as he picked from his highlight reel of bad dreams.
Perhaps it was the claustrophobic city of Hong Kong that had fuelled these fever dreams, or maybe Callum watched one too many episodes of Twin Peaks - who knows.
But rest assured, ever drip of horror Callum felt, sipped into his work in music and comic-making.
Callum arrived in the city as the substitute saxophone player of a touring jazz group lead by his long-time friend Nate Wong.
Craving for a “change in scenery,” Callum began working in Hong Kong as a freelance musician after the tour, doing all sorts of work with all sorts of people.
While a chunk of Callum’s work revolves around him being a hired-gun saxophone player – he was seen supporting local art-punk band OWK and folk-rock act Jing Wong and was featured in big bands and small – he has full reign in the projects that didn’t pay (well).
Soon after landing in the city, he was picked up by avant-garde and experimental music veteran Kevin Pan.
Together they performed under the aptly named CUNT - Composers’ Union of New Tunes.
In a recording of the duo performing for Kago Shintaro’s exhibition in Hong Kong in 2013, CUNT phased through cycles of harmony and discordance in front of the painter’s eerie illustrations.
Jazz – noise – improve – poetry – all melted into a half-hour set.
Callum would later join Heta Uma, a post-punk variant of Kevin’s intense, angry battery on guitars and drums, before Pan moves to Beijing.
Last year Callum struck out on his own in the ballpark of noise rock with GoGo Monster.
In a style he calls theatrical punk, that band has all three professional jazz musicians wear masquerade masks and freak out for 45 minutes non-stop, while Callum scream death threats for his landlord, and in the song “Silence and the Smell of Burning Rubber” Callum tells the audience to lie down and image themselves as limbless beings.
Positively a freak show, GoGo Monster had attracted its fair shared of foul behaviour (see insert) in less than a year of its existence and an EP could be on its way.
Even with so many formal and casual projects floating about, Callum complained about being “too professional” in his dealings with music.
His rawer emotions may have ended up on white sheets of A4s – on Fairy Tale Trappings – a horror comics of people turning into tardigrades (also know as water bears) and meeting a mysterious bald man who gives you a bleeding strange scar.
With a heavy influence from Lynch’s brand of horror, Callum turns his bad dreams into abstract comics made of simple lines and very little shading.
The characters are shady people who lives in an industrial area, not unlike many musicians in Hong Kong’s independent scene, and locales have silly names, for instance, The Dive is a dive bar.
Although the drawing can be said amateur, the comic does what it says – trapping the audience with an under-explained mystery and leave enough patterns and breadcrumbs to lure them into reading on.
Fair Tale Trappings was last updated in September last year, but Callum promised to upload more very soon.
In his latest work Practice Time, Callum veered off from the horror themes and focused on the life on an aged jazz musician, which led him back to the very reason he began making comics again.
A doodler since childhood, Callum stopped drawing comics after getting into Berklee College of Music.
But as chances would have it, a 2014 filmed angered him into picking the habit up again.
“[Whiplash] pissed me off so much – it had nothing to do with jazz music! There’s no improvisation… and I felt that I had to do a comic about jazz,” he explained.
Yet Practice Time did not come about until three years later.
In the draft of the first volume of this new comic, jazz musician Max Lackritz just lost his long-time companion in music.
Callum said the story will centre on Max coming to terms with the death and finally moving on, but it doesn’t mean it will end on a bright note.
Instead – Callum assured it will only get more depressing.
Continuing on his signature style of combining music scores into comics, one particular page had Max’s hand touch and go through a floating music chart, turning his hand into skeleton – an emotional depth unseen in Callum’s earlier works.
The first volume will be available in one or two months’ time, meanwhile, we wait.
Facebook - https://facebook.com/callum.mackenzie.58
Instagram - @claminac
GoGo Monster - https://www.facebook.com/gogomonsterband/
The Wong Way Down - https://www.facebook.com/WongWayDown/
Fair Tale Trappings - http://recognizingpatterns.tumblr.com
w/ Gramophonic Vogue @ IFC - June 9th, 10th, 11th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 23th, 24th, 25th.
w/ Not To Be Missed @ Hidden Agenda - June 10th
w/ The Wong Way Down @ Dream Like Bubbles - July 1st + @Peel Fresco on Sundays, 9PM