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Melbourne five-piece Kosmetika Deliver Shoegaze-Synth on Third Album ‘Luxury’

Photo Credit: James Morris
Words by: Cat Woods

Melbourne has long been a breeding ground for charismatic, fiery indie bands, spanning from AC/DC and Amyl and the Sniffers to The Birthday Party and Tropical Fuck Storm. The five-piece Melbourne band Kosmetika continue to uphold the legacy of idiosyncratic, adventurous DIY-style music makers in the city. Their third album, Luxury, slated to drop July 12, marks six years of the band’s evolving approach to songwriting and production. 

Kosmetika’s layered harmonies, synthwave, shoegazer sound defy a clear genre definition, reflecting the diverse geographic and cultural heritages uniting within Kosmetika’s collective members. Veeka Nazarova, born in Khabarovsk in southeastern Russia, shares songwriting duties with Mike Ellis, a native of Auckland, New Zealand. Ellis and Nazarova are both a creative and a romantic partnership, which drew them from New Zealand to Melbourne to pursue music.

“The band came first. We were living in New Zealand and I’d been playing in a few other bands but that fizzled out. Veeka and I had met each other at parties and gigs, then she posted this invitation on Facebook,” Ellis tells CONE. Nazarova adds, “I’d never been in a band before, but I just wrote ‘who wants to start a band?’ When Mikey replied, I knew he was serious.” The duo bonded over bands like Blur, My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins, Pavement, Nirvana, The Pixies and Nazarova’s particular passion for 80s synth and punk music.

That eclectic mix of shoegaze, 90s grunge guitar bands and industrial, disco-tinged synth landscapes finds an organic journey on the band’s album, Luxury.

It’s a chilly, dark evening in Melbourne when Nazarova and Ellis join CONE to discuss the process of creating Luxury. “The process for Luxury was completely different to the previous two albums, which were just me and Veeka,” Ellis explains. “The first album was mostly recorded in New Zealand, then finished in Melbourne. The second [album], we had intended to record with the whole band – we’ve had the same lineup for 5 or 6 years now – but after Covid, we ended up writing it in our bedroom. This is the first album where everyone is involved, and everyone has written something.”

In late 2017, Ellis and Nazarova formed the five-piece with James Lynch on drums and guitar, Dom Moore on bass and guitar, and Jake Suriano on synth and guitar. Two years later, in November 2019, their debut album Pop Soap met the anticipation of Melbourne gig-goers who had faithfully followed the band’s energetic, unrelenting live schedule. Pop Soap exemplified the band’s agenda on cohesive, well-executed live shows over studio perfection. Layers are built organically, with one improvisational melody giving rise to percussive rhythms, basslines, and vocal hooks in both Russian and English.  

Another two years passed before the band followed up their debut album with Illustration, proving that Kosmetika were not a passing trend. For a band reliant on gigs for its livelihood, they faced the challenge of Melbourne’s stringent pandemic lockdowns, which could have stifled their creative output. Instead of succumbing to limitations, however, the band delved deeper into gothic, Russian baroque pop, bouncing atop a pulsating drum machine and enveloped by swirling, seductive synths. 

Listening to Illustration, a former goth club kid might hear hints of Front 242, Kraftwerk, Television and Blondie at CBGBs circa 1979. Ellis assumed the responsibility of home recording before enlisting Sam Harding for mixing and the prolific producer/multi-instrumentalist Mikey Young for mastering. 

Luxury brought the band back into the studio. While emboldened by their DIY recording for Illustration, they were eager to explore the multi-layered, live improvisation and genre-bending collaborations that a professional setup promised. With Ellis relieved of recording responsibilities, he could fully throw himself in music-making, emerging as a dominant force on Luxury, particularly on the moodily melodic, guitar-centred singles “Fish” and “Make It Good”. Meanwhile, Nazarova’s gorgeous voice, akin to a siren song, finds its natural tempo and timbre on the distorted, dreamy fuzzpop of Luxury, as seen on tracks like “Automobile” and “Halp”. If Pop Soap demanded attention and Illustration was an experimental success, then Luxury is the most cohesive, confident milestone in Kosmetika’s discography to date. Whether hauntingly cinematic and reverberant , grinding and industrial, or indulging in dreamy, reverb-soaked guitar pop, Luxury showcases the band’s versatility and maturity.       

The album is a collection of songs that reflect the songwriting talents of all five members, which is cohesive thanks to the synchronicity between the band members. “We’ve been playing with those guys for 5 years now, so we’re all good friends, and I feel like we can make suggestions and not offend each other. Recording it was a lot of fun,” Ellis says. “The band like us to take the lead, bringing in an idea and then working on it together,” adds Nazarova.  

This album bristles with live energy, in part due to the practice of improvising certain parts rather than endlessly deliberating on ways to polish and layer tracks. “On previous albums, we recorded and re-recorded. There was a lot of fine tuning, so those albums felt a bit clinical. With ‘Illustration’, we spent a lot of time tweaking it,” explains Ellis. Nazarova chimes in, “We had a lot of time. With this one, we had one week in the studio and we had to get it done. ‘Luxury’ is a mix of older and new ideas.”

Curating the track listing involved a full negotiation of all its band members. “We spent a lot of time figuring out the track order, it’s really important to us,” says Ellis. “I love listening to albums all the way through. One song out of context doesn’t make as much sense as the whole album in order. All of my favorite albums are a journey where one song puts you in a certain mood before the vibe shifts and that influences how you perceive the next song.”

Nazarova clarifies, “It was hard, because people had different opinions. We agreed on the first and last tracks, but everyone had different opinions.” Ellis says, ‘Kosmetika Strikes Back’ was always gonna be the first, because it hits with a bit of a bang. Our drummer, James, wrote that song.”

As excited as the duo are about Luxury landing on listeners, music is not a full-time career for any of the members. It isn’t financially viable in a city where rents are skyrocketing and the arts are selectively funded. “It’s still hard to make money from music,” confirms Ellis. “Veeka and I work full time jobs, and it makes you appreciate the times when you can make music, and [full-time music as a career] is always the goal.

Nazarova adds, “We’ve never played a show or done a tour outside of Melbourne and we still have a lot of support. People from Melbourne and internationally, in the US and Europe, buy our merch and records.” 

Ellis says the band’s goal is to tour Europe in 2025. Here’s hoping they can do it in luxury.

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