image of a colourful train floating through a night sky

Sydney Con composer Paul Mac creates a magical musical ride on Sydney trains

6 June 2024
All aboard the Tekno Train
In an Australian first, composer-producer Paul Mac is paying tribute to Sydney's suburban railway system in a project that sees two Sydney train routes turned into a mobile electronic music and light experience: Tekno Train.

Dr Paul McDermott, or Paul Mac to his techno-loving fans, has created two immersive 60-minute, train-riding experiences with passengers enjoying an original techno soundtrack and a synchronised glowing light show inside all the carriages for Vivid Sydney, an annual music, lights and ideas festival in Sydney.

two men sitting inside a train that is flooded with purple lights

Onboard the Tekno Train. Photo: Destination NSW

Produced by Performing Lines as part of this year’s Vivid Sydney programme, Tekno Train welcomes passengers aboard two rail services to experience pulsating club-style music and lights that are driven by the train’s speed and match the changing landscape outside.

The work is a major musical research project that Dr McDermott has been creating for the past four years. “We tried to get it up for World Pride in 2022 but it is extremely difficult to get all of the elements in place when it comes to the railway,” he explains. “This Vivid, the stars have aligned. It feels wild, transforming the daily commuter experience into an awe-inspiring rollercoaster journey.”

Dr McDermott’s early music practice (as Paul Mac) was clearly focused on techno (as one half of Itch-E & Scratch-E), evolving to dance-pop (in his solo work), psychedelic-pop (in The Dissociatives with silverchair’s Daniel Johns) and deep house (as remix production duo Stereogamous). In more recent years, he has begun to experiment with his signature musical language, creating more abstract electronic scores for Bangarra Dance Theatre (miyagan OUR LAND PEOPLE STORIES, 2016) and his electronic choral work The Rise & Fall of St. George (Sydney Festival, 2021).

Tekno Train follows this practice-based research trajectory of investigating innovative ways to create and present EDM-based music in settings that stimulate the listener in novel ways. By fusing the music, lights, and speed of the train, Dr McDermott has created a space that allows the audience to respond and make meaning in their own way.

“The music can be danced to or felt as it is fused wholistically with the train’s own travel trajectory,” he said. “Are we allowed to dance? How will we respond? The commute becomes communal.”

Electronic Dance Music Composer

photo of a man smiling, wearing black shirt

Dr Paul McDermott

Dr Paul McDermott (Paul Mac) is one of the leading figures in Australian electronic music. He is a composer, songwriter, musician and producer. He is a graduate of Sydney Conservatorium of Music and now teaches in the Contemporary Music Practice degree. Students of Dr McDermott can learn electronic dance music composition and pop/dance songwriting.

He is a multi-ARIA Award winner for his work with underground dance pioneers Itch-E & Scratch-E and for his own solo work. The list of artists with whom he’s collaborated over recent years includes Sia, Kylie, Daniel Johns, and Ngaiire. His most recent work,The Rise & Fall of St. George has been performed at Melbourne’s Hamer Hall (2020) and the Sydney Festival (2021).

Onboard the Tekno Train

Every day during Vivid, passengers enter the carriage of what feels like a normal old K Set double-decker train at Central Station. “As it takes off, First Nations drag superstar Nana Miss Koori begins her pre-recorded narration and comments, the synchronised lights kick in, and the carriage turns into a magical musical ride,” Dr McDermott says. “Most fun of all, the speed of the train drives the tempo of the music, making each speed-up a wild accelerando and each stop, a slow ambient breakdown.”

Dr McDermott has created experiences for two trains, both 60 minutes in ride length. The first is the slower, family-friendly Scenic Route taking passengers over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and down a spur line into Lavender Bay. The second is for hardcore techno music fans, the Tek Express route dives underground into the City Circle before rolling out to Turella and back via the Airport Line tunnels.

Dr McDermott hopes to please the techno cognoscenti and EDM newcomers: “The aim of the music was to make it experimental and thrilling for the techno lovers but also accessible enough that any person could get on the train and enjoy the experience. Both routes have different music that align with the gentle harbour views or pump away as the train speeds through the tunnels.”

“I would highly recommend trying out both trips,” he says. “The Scenic Route is slower, with more spectacular views of the Harbour and has a more gentle feel music-wise. This is great for families and rail buffs who want to travel the normally unavailable spur line down to the back of Luna Park at Lavender Bay.

“The Tek Express is faster and a wilder music palette. If you can afford both, please do. If you can’t, I’d suggest that the Tek express is the more extreme techno experience.”

Dr McDermott confesses to being a bit of a train nerd. “Trains have always fascinated me,” he said. “Their mix of rhythmic clicks and clacks, the screech of metal on metal, and the sound and smell of air brakes are all interesting sensory experiences that everyone can relate to.”

For those who missed out on tickets, Dr McDermott plans to release an album of the music in a few weeks.

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