Rick Bull

Rick Bull

Bachelor of Arts in Communication (1998)

International electronic music DJ 'Deepchild'

Electrifying audiences with a sonic storm

Rick Bull, known to music aficionados as Deepchild, is a global electronic music phenomenon and a champion for the inclusion of diverse musical stories and sounds. Between stops in Berlin and London, he’s in Sydney working with local students to cut through the white noise with their own voices, while releasing his latest new album to the hungry aural joy of his legion of fans.

Since graduating from UTS with a Bachelor of Communications in 1998, multi-award winning musician Rick Bull, also known as Deepchild, has crafted a career in electronic music that has taken him all over the world. His live DJ performances are described as ‘electrifying’ and he has a global reputation for ground-breaking innovation, experimentation and inclusion as a composer, music producer and mentor.

Rick's highly respected profile belies his natural humility about his achievements. 

"I reckon my most tangible skill is SHOUTING", he jokes. "Fortified by deafness and total lack of conventional skills."

After living in Berlin for more than a decade, Rick is in Sydney before his next long-term move, this time to London.

While in Sydney, Rick is working with music students at the Redfern Community Centre and Australian Institute of Music, where his mission is to teach them how to find their own music ‘voice’ – to learn the rules and then break them, and to disrupt and reinvent the form in any way they can.

He has also just released his newest album under the name ‘Acharne’ while performing around Sydney.

Despite living what appears to be the rockstar dream, Rick does not think of himself as ‘cool’.

“Cool? More like tinnitus-ridden and slightly unhinged!” he says, characteristically wry.

“It’s a tragedy of epic post-rave proportions, I tell you. I’m a casualty of too many years in the club and I'm subjecting poor students to my ‘DEAF YELLY’ teacher rants about John Cage (famous for the silent music composition ‘4.33’) and the critical work of Mark Fisher, ripping apart neoliberal aesthetics. I blame my Communications degree largely for this. Taught me perhaps too much about political history. Ye GADS!”

Performing and embracing sonic chaos

Rick has played at the most hallowed electronic music institutions across the globe including the Detroit Movement Festival, EXIT in Serbia, and venues across the US and Europe including Berlin’s revered Berghain and Tresor clubs. Internationally he was nominated for a Canadian JUNO award in 2016 for Electronic Album of the Year for "Concubine", produced in collaboration with Noah Pred. He is critically acclaimed and beloved by his worldwide techno and house fan base for his individual and fluid sound and passion to explore and mine the form.

For Rick, his best DJ moments are not necessarily the loudest and most outrageous, nor the ones where he is worshipped as a guru of the decks.

“A great ‘performance’ is ultimately a collaborative dance between audience, listener, chance and space, rather than a sort of didactic exercise for me. Often the most meaningful performances tend to reveal themselves after the fact, when the dust of time and fatigue and sobriety has settled. I’m frequently surprised by how often ‘unassuming’ shows can come to feel like the most meaningful ones.”

The cultural exchange that DJ-ing brings is also vital and precious.

“My first bookings at Watergate and Berghain in Berlin in 2006 and 2007 were pretty special to me. They signified to me that I was literate enough to speak the kind of musical language which might have garnered curious looks in Sydney, in a way which I found culturally rewarding. It was incredible to have fractured ‘conversations’ with local Berliners during the gig, and realise that we shared common spiritual ground – that the ‘music’ was a convenient conduit for deeper exchange.”

There is also the wonderful community that comes from the DJ experience.

“Playing The Endup in San Francisco or New Forms Festival in Canada and waking up in host accommodation, and realising ‘wow, I have made a lifelong friendship…and I have no idea how this is happening’. This is a powerful mystery of arts-practice to me – the ability to forge unlikely trust which endures over decades, seeded from a single sonic moment.” Along the way live performance has provided brilliant and terrifying opportunities for experimenting with form.

“I’ve always tried, in my live shows, to build in an element of chaos, of unpredictability, experimentation, randomisation. Or, as one reviewer once put it, risking elements, “going off the rails”, and seeing what can be dragged back from the brink of chaos.

“My first Berghain show most certainly felt somewhat chaotic, in this sense. I was palpably terrified. Over two hours of live performance, extrapolated from limited material, and whatever drum-machines and synths I could cobble together.”

Diving into the unknown and potentially fraught spaces in sound is often where the sonic gold lies.

“There were frequent moments (and still are) where I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, and I’m more than happy for this to be the case. Malfunction and chaos can offer opportunities for surrender and catharsis in performance; collective exorcism and investment in a process, and I like this notion.

“Much of western art is predicated on notions of narrative ‘delivery’ by virtuoso performers, and I find this a very limited way to experience community. For better or worse, I’ve continued to find myself in both privileged and less-than-adequate performance situations, and found that often the most meaningful gigs are ones which require some creative, collaborative ‘problem solving’!”

Education opening doors to diverse sounds and stories

Back when Rick was a young communications undergraduate, he flourished in the absence of restrictions placed around the creative learning experience, and loved the absence of a typical grading structure.

“The degree had an entry mark of 95 or something and was non-graded! After school all I wanted to do was to escape the astringent perils of bull@#&% mark-based work and my degree was something of a salvation.

“I recently had my testamur reissued for a visa application, and the poor girl at Student Services was aghast when I started chatting about how it was non-graded. She broke into a cold sweat and said something like ‘but.... I'd go crazy not knowing what mark I got’.

“It’s honestly come full circle here now. I teach composition students who are technically so smart, but also terrified of taking creative risks for fear of rankings and getting ‘likes’. I don't want to beat down on millennials, because I was totally spoilt as a 19-year old at uni. I had my (butt) kicked by some older students, but it really made me appreciate so much about the world, the creative process.”

During his communications lectures at UTS, Rick was urged to notice the white, western, male interpretations of the world and to challenge traditional forms. In 2001, several years after graduating, Rick won a $15k government grant to take a group of musicians and video artists to regional Australia and play and conduct teaching workshops. Also partially sponsored by and promoted by radio station Triple J, it became known as The Yak Secret Technology Tour, a name drawn from Black Secret Technology and various other liberation and afro-futurist movements.

For Rick, the Yak Tour was a key part of developing his awareness of other deep and diverse musical lineages.

“It got me really asking about music of all different origins. And seeking it out and inviting it in. Music should be boundless and inclusive. The hardware and software of technological music mutes lots of voices, sounds, tempos and stories. Traditional musical infrastructure doesn't address different gendered, cultural and class approaches and understandings.”

In the years since, Rick has worked with countless marginalised artists and students through various organisations such as Heaps Decent, to help them to be the boldest and best artists in their own voices.

As a teacher and music philanthropist, he urges his students to take chances, encouraging them push out their own sounds and stories, ignore the traditional barriers between 'sound' and 'music' and notice the cultural, class-based and gender biases that underpin them.

“With my female students, and female peers, I see the alpha-male themes that recur in hip-hop, and the predominantly masculine use and dominance of technology creating an exclusionary zone for women. I rant about the exclusionary barriers inherent in the form and work with the kids who are outside of these barriers to be the force who will expand music.”

Rick’s also got plenty to talk about when it comes to the ‘liberation of sound’.

“Look at the form in its practice, methodology, thesis and pedagogy. Get past the concept of class in music! A Stradivarius is not necessarily 'better' than music made with pots and pans. Get over the arbitrary distinction of what is 'music' and what is 'sound', and the idea that music has virtuosity and is therefore superior. What’s the 'right' music?!! Every sound has music and you just need to learn how to hear it.”

Even in the hardware, Rick points out, there is endless potential for subversion.

“A piece of tech such as an electric guitar or mixing desk can be subverted to do something else entirely, and it shows that the assumptions of what the specific piece of tech 'IS FOR' or 'CAN DO' is false. In dub Reggae, at the mixing desks, Jamaican DJs are stripping out or adding sounds and music and samples to the multi-track, in a curated process that results in an original and personal and groundbreaking experiential story.”

Rick and the UTS legacy

As an artist and communicator, Rick’s learning experience at UTS informed his work and his life in a vital way.

“My time at UTS as a communications student was an extremely positive one. It showed me that arts practice does not exist in a void, and neither do issues of economic or cultural policy. It behooves us as citizens of the world to remain expansive and engaged in our ‘vocation’, rather than reductive and careerist-driven.

“I feel like my time at UTS pushed me to move beyond being merely ‘academically adequate’ or ‘technically competent’. I had some incredible lecturers who simply refused to allow me to acquiesce into indifference about my ‘practice’.”

Rick believes in the crucial contribution of face to face collaboration and debate in the classroom.

“To new students at UTS, and to my own students, I would suggest that there are more than enough free resources online to gain technical expertise in any chosen field – but the deepest ‘value’ of the educational experience is often found in debate, dissent and active peer review - these kind of things still best encountered in a class context.”

Rick also married the classroom theory with the practical experience of hosting UTS’s 2SER radio program Electroplastique from 1997 to 2005, to showcase local music, national independent artists, gigs and events, with a focus on discovering new talent, and has remained a lifelong radio/podcasting presence.

Rick urges all UTS students to think as innovators and future-builders.

“The reality of the emerging world of work seems to indicate that ‘content’ driven work is less financially viable than ever, and that automation is rapidly rendering many traditional vocations redundant. Where does this leave us, then? How do we value work? What makes our lives rich and liveable? How can we best act as custodians of this global mess we’ve inherited?

“I think new value-systems demand forging and these are really products of collective, creative imagination. I feel like this is the most hopeful vision of the tertiary education paradigm. Students as active cultural contributors to education ecosystems, rather than passive consumers. To graduates and students alike, I’m a strong advocate of walking gently, confidently, and boldly into the unknown.”

“With plenty of sleep along the way.”

Story by Jacqueline Robson

For your listening pleasure

Check out Rick’s latest album - Acharne: Innocence and Suburbia

Listen to Rick’s recent 2SER interview, which is a return to Rick’s radio roots from his undergrad years when he hosted 2SER’s Electroplastique. (He also hosted Sydney’s FBi Radio drive-time program Sunsets which was awarded Best Radio Show at the 2006 Australian Dance Music Awards, and later produced his own podcast called Deepchild Diversions “a musical exploration to the outer realms of electronic music, and beyond” from his flat in Berlin.)

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Alumni

Are you a graduate from the UTS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences?

Click here to keep in contact with the UTS Arts and Social Sciences alumni community.