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'When you take off for the first time, the feeling is that anything is possible.'
Gems in this
The Australian musical duo behind Flight Facilities, Hugo Gruzman and Jimmy Lyell, don’t stay grounded for long. It’s this perpetual motion that fuels their creativity and sharpens their musical thinking.
First taking off from Sydney’s booming electronic scene in 2009, Flight Facilities have since toured the globe, playing to packed stadiums, alongside symphony orchestras and for festival crowds at Glastonbury, Lovebox and Splendour in the Grass. After an extended layover, courtesy of Covid, the duo bounced back, taking to Australia, the US, Canada and the UK, touring their album Forever. With travel in their DNA — by way of Hugo’s pilot grandfather — the pair lean into flight mode, donning pilot suits and taking their career, and extracurricular hobbies, to the skies. Rather than landing on a single destination, the keen skydivers, frequent flyers and leading musicians chose ‘In the Air’ as the theme for their Travel Playbook, uncovering the best airports and lounges globally, top tips when taking off by plane — or jumping out of one — and their favorite Travel Gems once they hit the tarmac.
On how you met
JL: Our meeting was a very serendipitous turn of events. We met via the Sydney scene at the time. All scenes are social, but the Sydney scene at that time was on another level. You could go out on any given night, and there'd be 17 things on.
HG: We met at Trademark on a Wednesday night. A week earlier, I had given a mixtape to Daimon Downey after he'd been to our place and heard the track. So I'd burnt him a copy, but he then didn't go home for three days, so Daimon put it in Jimmy's record bag to keep it safe. Jimmy found it, then a week later at Trademark, he came up to me and said, 'I think I've been playing your bits today’. I was super into French house, and Jim was the only other person making French house. It was life-changing for me to hear.
On how Sydney influenced your sound
JL: Without a doubt, Sydney influenced our music. While you can't sonically pinpoint it, it's the vibe. Sydney is synonymous with a mash-up style and it has an eclectic feel. Back in the day, if you were just playing one style of music for a DJ set, it was boring as fuck. You had to put in a Michael Jackson mixed with Dolly Parton, and it'd blow people's minds.
HG: The rest of the world was dispensing all the meat, and we were the butchers. Almost all DJs would play diverse types of music every set and would champion their ironic hit, whether they'd bust out Britney Spears or the Gummi Bears' theme song. You'd do something completely sideways, and it was a big part of the culture in Sydney to have this appreciation for the cheesy, wacky stuff, while also being conscious of the tastemaking in your music and how you put stuff together.
On creating your identity as DJs
HG: The culture of only being a DJ, as it were, has somewhat disappeared. Now you can't get away with just being a DJ. You need to have production or remixes under your belt for people to take you seriously. People fall into the trap of playing the same kind of stuff throughout sets — which does sound more cohesive and it's more legit to what the art form is — but I don't think it necessarily displays the identity of what a DJ likes. It's about creating your own identity with the music and what has informed your experience over your lifetime, as opposed to what's informed the dance floor for the last two months.
On travel in your DNA
HG: Flight Facilities was my grandfather's company back in the 70s and 80s. My dad also ran it, so I'm the third generation of Flight Facilities. It started with Gus' [producer Gus Gruzman] grandfather and my grandfather. It was convenient to have the identity of the name and its aesthetic because we could be like, 'Let's dress up as pilots' — which sounded fucking ridiculous and probably still is — but it gave us this additional element. We both liked what Daft Punk and The Bloody Beetroots were doing, and dressing up in a certain way allowed mystery around their identity, as we had initially. We could see it had appeal, so we leaned into it. The name itself is the luck of having a family with a good logo and fame — I wish I could say I did more of the thinking in that part, but it's just my love for Halloween and that name.
On the role of travel in sharpening your musical thinking
JL: Our skills and references have been sharpened. Music has changed over the years. The response you get from any crowd and every single place works differently. In New York, you have to work through when you start, and if you have a great show, they're yours by the end. Japan is so polite, they still clap after every song — but we don't really stop playing songs. Each crowd makes you come home with a different idea about how to write music. Once you start playing in front of crowds, you never stop writing music for them.
‘Each crowd makes you come home with a different idea about how to write music. Once you start playing in front of crowds, you never stop writing music for them.’
On creatives you’re inspired by
HG: There are always things you take from people in sessions and how they write music. One of the things I found most impressive was how Julian Hamilton from The Presets writes — we wrote 'Heart Attack' with him. When you're in a studio, you'll have the melody and the timing of what words are up, but you don't necessarily have the lyrics. Julian deconstructed the whole thing by syllable — he broke it down in a spreadsheet format where he was looking for words and syllables and you could match the sentence. I've done that since because I enjoyed how much easier it is.
On returning to travel
JL: We've missed a lot of things about travel. A couple of the interesting things that jolt the system are being in front of no one and doing no gigs for three years, to then having 20,000 people in front of us. Energetically, I forgot about the intense barriers between each energy point. You're in your hotel, then go to sound check in an empty stadium, then to your dead silent dressing room and chill. Then the stadium starts to fill, and it's loud and crazy. Then, when you finish the gig, you go back to the hotel, it’s dead silent again. I'll never get used to that properly. I'd forgotten about that element. After the first gig, my ears were ringing because it was too much of a jolt.
HG: The other thing that's missed is the purpose of writing. It makes you consider music in a totally different light, because there was no such thing as live shows. It's one thing to miss the touring itself, but it's another thing to miss its concept because of how it shapes the sound you make.
On 'In the Air' as your Travel Playbook
JL: We've chosen ‘In the Air ‘as our theme because we are constantly in the air. It's the theme of our band, and Hugo's affinity to the air…
HG: Breathing it.
JL: Being alive.
JL: I had a stint skydiving and was obsessed with it for a while too. The song 'Altitude' on our latest album is a love song and a metaphor for that feeling when you first take off, the feeling that anything is possible — all your emotions are heightened when you're at altitude. Especially now I've got a son who's almost two, and taking off on tour was like, 'Oh my god, I'm leaving him for the first time'. It was hard. Instead of picking one place on Earth, we thought 'In the Air' was a good idea.
On favorite places for skydiving
JL: I've only done it in three or four places, but Byron Bay was amazing. I learned out of Picton, on the outskirts of Sydney. There's another place called Moruya, which is on the south coast. The coastline's so beautiful and is an amazing place to jump out of a plane.
‘The song 'Altitude' on our latest album is a love song and a metaphor for that feeling when you first take off, the feeling that anything is possible — all your emotions are heightened when you're at altitude.’
On spectacular regional travel in Australia
HG: Places that have nothing are something to see in themselves. It's so vast that you can see the horizon everywhere. I can't recommend enough going to Uluru and seeing the rock. I'd seen it in travel advertisements and textbooks, and I took for granted how amazing and big it is. I was blown away, it's unlike anything, so if you can do any regional travel, that would be the first place I'd go.
On top flight gems
JL: I've always wanted to master things when I first learn about them. Sophisticated flying was one of them. Going to the lounge — even though they don't offer much more than what’s outside. I've always idolized the smart-looking, sleek traveler. I don't know why I love that. So I think from the start of my touring career, or even traveling interstate before Hugo and I started our career together, I always wanted to travel in a sophisticated way. Comfy clothes are a must, but still looking respectable.
HG: There is a tip where people say dress nicely at the airport because you're more likely to get upgraded. But the chances of getting an upgrade are far lower than the chances of being uncomfortable. I'd say the thing to do is pick a pair of shoes you can slip on and off quickly, so you can put them on when you go to the bathroom on the flight and through security — people who go to the bathroom on the plane in their socks are wrong on every level. Take a big comfy jumper because if it's too hot, you've got a good pillow. I like to be as close to the exit as you can, so that you don't get stuck at the back of the customs line when you get off.
On what to eat on a flight
JL: My biggest tip, above all of my other ones — and I just retested it recently — is do not eat on the plane. If you have a little fast on the plane for a long haul, you will get over jet lag, and you feel 100 percent on the other side for some reason. It just gives you heaps of energy.
HG: I agree with this, but only for the last meal. I'll eat the first one, but I'll never have the hot breakfast. Also, use the toothbrush. If you can do your bedtime ritual before you have a nap on the plane, it feels way better. Go to the bathroom, brush your teeth and pee. It gets your brain in the zone.
On a favorite lounge
HG: The Japan Qantas in Narita is epic.
JL: The LA Business Lounge is pretty good, too. We spent many delays there.
‘I can't recommend enough going to Uluru and seeing the rock. It's unlike anything, so if you can do any regional travel, that would be the first place I'd go.’
On favorite places to shop in an airport
JL: Something like MUJI would harbor the best airport gems. The slip-on shoes and the amazing kind of contraptions that they come up with. Recently my partner bought me a pair of almost kimono wraparound pajamas — they're sick for the plane.
On favorite airports
HG: For its proximity, the New York City Airport. There's LaGuardia, JFK and Newark. For LaGuardia you fly over the city and land really close. It's an amazing thing to land into the city. Also London City Airport, it’s so close to the city. Toronto City Airport is really nice too. That’s on the harbor-ish, so you're coming in and there's all the buildings around you, then when you land you jump on a ferry. Any of the city airports are interesting to land in.
On a song that best represents your take on being in the air
HG: Our song 'Merimbula' has something about flying to it — the first half of the song being underneath the clouds and the second half being above it. There's also one song that reminds me of flying because I was listening to it constantly on one tour. It's 'Lady D’Arbanville’ by Cat Stevens.
JL: Mine would be Tom Petty's song 'Learning to Fly'. I've always loved it. That's been the type of song we've been trying to make: progressive, almost rock, with a strumming guitar constantly. We just made it for the first time on this album. It's called 'Stay' — that kind of vibe.
On a window or an aisle seat
JL: Between Hugo and I, it's classic. He's in a window, and I'm in an aisle seat.
HG: It has to be. I can hold my pee in for a day — as soon as I get into that corner, I'm done.
JL: I like to sniff around, see what's happening and stretch my legs.
On describing flight in one word
I’d say freedom because it's the ability to go somewhere you haven’t been before. The irony is that you're trapped inside this thing for a certain amount of time, but it's the vehicle towards it.
Especially now, my response is high because there are so many ways to take that word, and they all work.