Pillowtalk: Pete Keen January 18 2016

Melbourne's SUGAR MOUNTAIN Festival is an upcoming event I always look forward to (happening this Saturday 23 Jan!). Unlike other arts/music festivals, Sugar Mountain is an all-encompassing experience of visual art, music, food and total good vibes. We catch up with my pal Pete Keen - Artist, Founder, and Creative Director of Sugar Mountain - to chat about what drives his creativity and how he mellows out before sleep.   

I vaguely remember you telling me how the name Sugar Mountain came about during a trip with Shannon (a mutual friend). What was it about the trip that affected you or sparked the idea?
The idea for the festival came a little while earlier than my trip to Japan. At that point in time it was the name that had us stumped. I won't even tell you what it was, or even could have been for that matter.. It was hilarious. I cringe whenever I think of it (haha).

Since meeting randomly in London some eons ago, Shannon is, and has been, like blood to me. My little sister. Family till the end. That adventure came at a pivotal cross-roads for the two of us. I was well and truly tired of working alone and was in the midst of creating a new future for myself; a  future that revolved around working with like-minded creatives, fusing all of the things I liked and knew a thing or two about. Also ensuring that whatever this 'thing' was, it had to be a positive offering of some kind, a gift of sorts to others. I recall, I was searching for a name that captured ~ "a search for sweeter heights"

Shannon and I made the excuse to meet each other in Japan and take our journey off the typical tourist path. We lightly touched Tokyo, though we mostly traveled to hidden beaches, forests, and country-side. We stumbled upon abandoned towns, overrun by nature, and became lost in small agricultural villages with only poor sign language and mouthing weird sounds to assist us in finding our way.

One evening after riding 40KM in 35 degree heat (and now resembling a pair of lobsters), we decided it was a good idea to scale Mt Fuji. We did the trek overnight, in order to welcome the morning sun at the summit.

The journey was bigger than either of us had imagined, and brought us even closer together as family. Scaling the mountain all night, we were ice cold and delirious. Mumbling, stumbling, giggling and calling each other silly pet names in the very little Japanese we knew.  Needless to say reaching the top was beyond....just ..'beyond'! Lets just say we were in some flippin' next level AWE!

Flash forward to sleeping in a car on the day we needed to sign-off on a name. I was awoken by a phone call from Shannon.. and the first words to sputter out of my mouth were one of those silly pet names - "...uh ..hey sugar yama" !! (yama meaning mountain). The name was everything I was looking for, and held so much greater meaning. Not to mention being the pet name of my numero uno, home-slice for life.

What has been the best thing about pulling together a festival and collaborating with so many creative talents?
Witnessing young creatives I believe in cop oodles of love for the work they've produced.. is so nice! I've also made a lot really amazing friends, who all continue to inspire me daily.

You work on a lot of different creative projects - Sugar Mountain Festival, Cultural exchange program Sugaryama, you've also been directing & producing short films of late, and I also hear whispers of a new multicultural-collaborative project, entitled VIA ?? What has motivated your creativity in these directions?
Since a very early age I've been an artist. Luckily enough, Mum probably helped by introducing me to a bunch of different art classes along the way, and my Dad taught me how to build things using my hands, whilst other kids were indoors playing video games. I guess I was invited to learn and discover new mediums all the time as I grew. That interest and mindset has remained with me throughout life, and it's the one thing that I can credit for any such success or achievement. The more I learn, and try my hand at new things, the more I am able to achieve.

Commonly we're directed down a single paved path that leads to perhaps one role for the rest of our lives... and that freaks me out! I only have one life, and I'm going to chase down every last dream or goal until I go kaput. In this stage of my life with many of the larger projects taking up a lot of my time, it is tough to fit it all in as ensuring a great delivery is integral and takes time in itself. It seems to be working out..

I've been working on a lot of film projects of late. Directing and Producing. ...I'm currently also thinking A LOT about science. So, who knows what's next.. Each new medium that I dabble in, or new artist I collaborate with, excites me, and triggers even greater ideas, concepts, and directions. The current direction I've found myself in ..or have been on for a little while now, revolves around ideas for multicultural collaboration. Although the internet has brought us closer to the world, I think people have forgotten how exotic we are as a country. ...hmm yep. More on that one soon!

Can you share with us your latest project?

I've been working with film a lot of late. Directing, and Producing..There are a few films that I've been working heavily on, which will be released in the coming few months.

There is one epic that I produced in Mexico during my last visit. My pals Johann Rashid and Ismail Shallis shot and directed the work.. It's astounding! Possibly the greatest work either have created to date.. The lengths that we all went to for this film were not just bordering on dangerous, but down right stupid. There were instances were we could have been shot, detained, anything could have happened.. it was an intense journey, that birthed an amazing piece of work! We're all itching to get it out. ....It PAINS ME to not be able to share it with you!

I've also been working on the scripts for a web-series, which I have written and directed with my close friend, and constant collaborator Rhys Mitchell. Our creative minds (when writing) are quite peculiar. Loving and sensitive, yet utterly warped at the same time haha ..we compliment each other really well. The series will be based in NYC, and we're not far from heading into production. Really stoked for that :)

Here's a taste of our recent commercial work (for Sugar Mountain 2016). Starring Rhys' father, and acclaimed Australian actor Mark Mitchell (Comedy Company, Round The Twist, etc)

You're so busy and surrounded by a lot of creative and visual stimuli, what do you do at night to clear your mind and decompress before bed?
Haha.. Honestly, I take no pride in saying this but, I don't often slow down, or decompress. I work until I drop. It's awful, I know! ..I'm working on changing that, I promise! When forcing myself to chill before napping, I often get spatial - Listening to science & space travel related podcasts ...letting knowledge rain upon me as I drift off.

A song that really describes your life at the moment? 

Photos courtesy of Shannon May Powell and Christine Lafian
Sunni's SUKU pick, Ohayou Pyjama set