Elefant Traks was started in 1998 by Kenny Sabir (Traksewt); Under Sabir's management, the label's first official compilation album, Cursive Writing, was released, and Sabir briefly explained the process in 2011: "For the first compilation, some of the people on there I had never actually even met at the time of release. It was sliding a CD under the door type of stuff. I think that was Richie (Tamplenizza), I didn't meet him." Sabir eventually enlisted the help of Tim Levinson (Urthboy) to run the administration arm of the label, as the nature of the work was not compatible with his aspirations. The Food to Eat Music By album was the label's second compilation.
Sabir, Tamplenizza and Levinson became founding members of the Australian hip hop group The Herd, which is also signed to Elefant Traks. Over the first decade of the label's existence, The Herd released four studio albums on the label: The Herd (2001), An Elefant Never Forgets (2002), The Sun Never Sets (2006) and Summerland (2008). Singer Jane Tyrrell joined the band during the recording of the band's third album. Also during this period, Levinson, under the solo moniker "Urthboy", released three albums with the label: Distant Sense of Random Menace (2004), The Signal (2007) and Spitshine (2009).
Sydney, Australia, MC The Tongue released his debut Elefant Traks album, Shock & Awe, in 2007.
Elefant Traks released its first DVD in August 2009. The DVD is a showcase of live performances from the Elefant Traks "10th Anniversary Party" that occurred in November 2008. The event was held at the Forum venue in Moore Park, Sydney, and featured performances from The Herd, Hermitude, Urthboy, Horrorshow, The Tongue (Xannon Shirley), Astronomy Class and Unkle Ho, as well as support from DJ Luke Presto.
The second Tongue studio album, Alternative Energy, was released in 2010.
The Herd released its fifth studio album, Future Shade, on 26 August 2011. According to Herd member, Shannon Kennedy (Ozi Batla), the album was written over a two-year period while all of the band members were involved with concurrent matters, including work and personal commitments. A considerable amount of the writing process was conducted through online communication. After Kaho Cheung (Unkle Ho) returned from a tour through Indonesia, the band engaged in an intensive recording process "from January to about May or June" in 2011. Sabir reflected upon the response to Future Shade in a May 2014 interview:
We had a certain sound that cut through (to the mainstream) earlier on but there wasn't one track that cut through to the mainstream off this last album. And we accept that; not that we would have changed anything or cut out songs—what we have we were happy with ... Social issues, you have to be either completely engrossed in the music straight away and can understand it or are accepting of people who want to say things out of the ordinary or challenge people's views. So it's definitely going to make it a smaller market and yeah, they're the choices we make.
Joelistics, MC with Australian hip hop band TZU, joined the label roster in early 2011, prior to the release of his first solo album, Voyager, released on 20 May 2011. After the announcement, Ozi Batla stated: “We’ve been mates for ages—we’ve shared a lot of creative, outrageous and funny times—it feels like Joelistics is already part of the fam[ily], he’s a natural fit for Elefant Traks and the album is sick.” Voyager was self-produced and written by Joelistics in France, Mongolia, China and Australia, with the lyrical content exploring themes such as "modern world paranoia and growing older."
Levinson's fourth album as Urthboy, Smokey's Haunt, was released on 12 October 2012, and was produced by fellow Australian hip hop colleagues and label-mates, Count Bounce (TZU) and Hermitude. The album was selected as a "Feature Album" by national Australian radio station Triple J. Musical artists Jimbla and Alex Burnett (Sparkadia) feature as guests on the album.
As of 2012, the label had signed six musical acts and released over 50 albums since its inception. Also in 2012, Herd member Tamplenizza (Sulo) was selected to compose the soundtrack for a short film entitled Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon 10th Anniversary Film. The film documents the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon that is described on the event's website as "the ultimate triathlon on the planet, and the race that any hard core triathlete should do at least once."—the Norwegian race starts in Hardangerfjord, traverses the Hardangervidda mountain plateau and then finishes at the Gaustatoppen peak. Sulo's soundtrack, eleven-and-a-half minutes in length, features the vocals of fellow Herd member Jane Tyrell and was uploaded onto Sulo's SoundCloud profile.
On 5 September 2012, the label announced a new signing on its Facebook page, its electronic mailing list and YouTube channel. Jimblah, an Aboriginal Australian producer, MC and singer, who is also a past recipient of the Hilltop Hoods' Initiative grant, was revealed as the new Elefant Traks artist. Levinson explained being introduced to Jimblah's music in an October 2013 blog post:
I heard about Jimblah through a good mate BVA from Mnemonic Ascent years ago. For those who don’t know, BVA is a dope producer, rapper and lyricist who had a little studio in his house in Adelaide, while he cared for his grandmother in the attached granny flat ... The moment Jimblah stopped me in my tracks was with his debut album Face the Fire ... I clearly remember ... tears welling up in my eyes as I played the title track—and its heartbreaking outro ... That moment set off a chain of events that included Jimblah enthusiastically agreeing to join up with Elefant Traks.
On 11 November 2012, the label performed a tribute to children's author Dr. Seuss. Featuring over 25 musical performers, the event occurred at the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia and featured a recital of "Gerald Mc Boing Boing" by The Tongue.
Subscribers to the Elefant Traks email newsletter received a "Year of the Elefant" infographic on 12 December 2012 that documents significant aspects of the label's activity during 2012. Monthly highlights include the signing of Sky'High in January (together with the dissemination of a free EP); the launch of "The Herd vs Thundamentals" web series in February; the release of the all-acoustic The Dark Passenger EP by Sietta in March; the sold-out "A Thousand Lives" tour in April that featured The Thundamentals and Sky'High supporting The Herd; The Herd performed a cover version of the Sam Cooke song, "A Change is Gonna Come" for Australian radio station, Triple J, as part of Reconciliation Week in May (the song was performed with other artists, Radical Son, Nooky and Sky'High); the re-release of the Last Kinection's Nutches for NAIDOC (the National Aboriginal Islander Day Observance Committee) Week in June; Hermitude and Horrorshow toured Europe in July; Urthboy embarked on the "Naive Bravado" tour with The Last Kinection in August; The Last Kinection won the "Best Band" award at the annual Deadly Awards event in September; Urthboy's album, Smokey's Haunt, debuted at #14 on the ARIA (Australian Record Industry Association) Charts (#8 on the digital charts) in October; "Elefant Traks Meets Dr Seuss" is performed at the Sydney Opera House in November as part of the Graphic Festival in November; and the announcement of Urthboy as a performer at the Sydney leg of the 2013 Big Day Out music festival.
Surrender to Victory, the Tongue's third album, was released in 2013. Surrender to Victory was released in March 2013 and a music video was published for the lead song "Drums" in mid-February 2013.
The label celebrates its 15-year anniversary in 2013 and in May released a commemorative T-shirt design by Australian artist Jack Tierney. During late May, Levinson (Urthboy) and Horrorshow's Solo (Nick Bryant-Smith) are participants in the 2013 Sydney Writers' Festival—Levinson appears in the "5x15" event, alongside poet, novelist and writer Jackie Kay and cosmologist Laurence M. Krauss, among others, while Solo is one of the poetry reciters for the "Unlocked: Poets, Police and Prisoners" poetry event, and performs alongside Jeff Lang and Melodie Nelson at the "SWF Up Late" special event.
A June 2013 media report revealed that Astronomy Class recorded with Cambodian singer Kak Channthy. On 12 July 2013, Kennedy announced on his Ozi Batla Facebook fan page that he is scheduled to conduct workshops in the Tiwi Islands area of the Northern Territory, Australia over a three-week period.
The "15: A Celebration Of 15 Years Of Elefant Traks" anniversary event was announced in early September 2013 and a two-night format is scheduled for only two Australian capital cities—Sydney and Melbourne. The event features the label's 2013 roster, in addition to the solo debut of singer Jane Tyrrell. In relation to the survival of the label after fifteen years, Kennedy stated that the event is like "a castle in the sky", as it should not have occurred. Label artist Shirley explained Kennedy's metaphor in an article for the Vine online publication:
Nothing about the creation or survival of Elefant Traks makes much sense because it’s all been against the odds. It was started by people who had no music industry experience, who wanted to make hip hop in a time when Australia had an extremely limited interest in it. The Herd itself is a group that defies logic- rappers and accordions? 8 members? Songs about scallops and racism? Surely, a skeptic could be forgiven for thinking, this will be a flash in the pan, a rag-tag group who will play a few parties and then fade away like most bands that formed as a result of shared uni classes. Surely the music industry would reject these hippies. As if they would ever write a hit.
Phoenix, Jimblah's first album for the label, was released on 11 October 2013 and was preceded by the song "March" in mid-2013. Following the release of "March", Nick Findlay, assistant music director at Triple J, stated: “Jimblah is one of the most promising emcees in the country at the moment". The music video for the Jimblah song "Fireproof" was released on 2 December 2013 and was directed by Melvin J. Montalban.
In early December 2013, Levinson was announced as the support artist for the late December 2013 Australian tour by the Roots, while Kennedy was announced as an artist on the line-up of the mid-December 2013 Sydney show of Swedish hip hop band Looptroop and American MC Sage Francis.
Joelistics released the first song from his second album for the label, Blue Volume, in March 2014. Entitled "In The Morning", the song was released with a music video and promoted with an Australian tour during May and June 2014—Dialectrix and N'fa Jones were the support acts. In April 2013, Joelistics explained in an interview that he had spent the previous two years traveling between Berlin, Germany and other parts of Europe, and Melbourne, Australia, and stated that traveling was a "big part of" him in terms of his music. At the time of the April 2013 interview, he was working on Blue Volume and, while he encountered comparatively cheaper recording rates in places such as Berlin and Thailand, he predominantly worked on the album in Australia, a decision that was partially due to the Australian base of Elefant Traks.
The Astronomy Class album Mekong Delta Sunrise was released in late April 2014 and Kennedy completed an interview with the Phnom Penh Post in early May. Kennedy revealed that the initial inspiration for the recording occurred during a six-hour taxi ride in Cambodia in 2012, as old mix tapes played music from the 1960s and 1970s Cambodian music scene in the car stereo. The journalist described Mekong Delta Sunrise as "an album that combines laconic Australian-accented rapping with snippets of Cambodian “golden age” rock ‘n’ roll." When asked about what the group wanted to achieve with the album, Kennedy replied:
What we wanted to cover was our experiences of modern Cambodia and the history of the music that we were referencing. We wanted to try and tell some of the story of the Cambodia of the ’60s and ’70s. We had been excited by the songs that we were hearing and it didn’t feel right to rap just anything over it. We wanted for new listeners to understand something about Cambodia and the music.
Kennedy further explained that samples that appear on the album were taken from a range of sources, such as the Internet, and that a percentage of the proceeds from the album's sales will be given to the families of the musicians whose compositions are sampled, an intention that existed from the outset of the album's creation. Kennedy said that the band will return to Cambodia in 2015 and Astronomy Class "will be making every effort to give back to the families of the people that we’ve sampled".
The second studio album from Joelistics, Blue Volume, was released on 18 June 2014 and features a collaboration with Wil Wagner from The Smith Street Band. In her review for the Sydney Morning Herald, Erika Bacon described Ma as an "exceptional storyteller" who has created "a personal, lyrically intelligent album with an intense emotional rawness and vulnerability." Ma collaborated with Sietta's James Mangohig on the "In Between Sounds" show for the 2014 Darwin Festival, which will be held on 16 August. The performance is described as a combination of "culture, identity and music", in which the artists relay "stories of mixed-race families, the songs of modern Australia and the politics of belonging".
The Sydney, Australia, "One Day" hip hop collective—consisting of Horrorshow, Jackie Onassis, Spit Syndicate and Joyride—released its debut album Mainline through the Elefant Tracks label on 1 August 2014. The first single from the album, "Love Me Less", was released in early June and a national Australian tour is scheduled for September 2014. Following the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA)'s charts update on 9 August, Mainline ranked in second place on the national albums chart during the first week of its release.
Tyrrell's debut solo album, Echoes in the Aviary, was released on Elefant Traks on 17 October 2014. Recorded over a six-month period, the album was co-produced by Tyrrell and features collaborations with Australian band PVT, Dustin McLean (Axolotl, Diafrix), Paul Kelly and Count Bounce. Tyrrell explained after the album was released:
I also like singing in different ways. I get really annoyed when people are like, “So what kind of singer are you?” That just seems so limiting to you as an artist—I like to sing operatic, in jazz, soul, blues, I’m up for everything. I wanted to try and showcase that across the album and be a different character for each song and have different instruments ... I just wanted to show that dynamic approach.
The songwriting for Echoes in the Aviary began in 2012 following the death of Tyrrell's paternal grandfather, includes a cover version of the Kelly song "Stolen Apples", and was inspired by subjects such as life, the television series Game Of Thrones and Poirot, and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai. Australian national radio station Double J selected the album as its "Feature Album" on 20 October 2014, concluding: "The intricate construction of these songs and the power and beauty of Tyrrell's voice combine to make Echoes in the Aviary one of the most accomplished and beautiful local releases you'll hear in a long time."
A new Elefant Traks signing, L-Fresh The LION, was announced in January 2015. In the promotional video, images of the Sydney suburb of Liverpool are shown, while Levinson recalls his first meeting with the artist, at which he detected a "wisdom" that reminded him of Sabir.
In response to the proposed dumping of around 3 million cubic metres of dredged seabed onto the Great Barrier Reef, a legal fighting team was formed by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) in late 2013/early 2014. The legal team received further support in April 2014, following the release of the "Sounds For The Reef" musical fundraising project. Produced by Straightup, the digital album features Elefant Traks artists The Herd and Sietta, in addition to artists such as John Butler, Missy Higgins, The Cat Empire, Fat Freddys Drop, The Bamboos (featuring Kylie Auldist) and Resin Dogs. Released on 7 April, the album's 21 songs were sold on the Bandcamp website.
The label was nominated for 'Best Independent Label' at the 2006 Australian Dance Music Awards.
Urthboy's album, The Signal, was nominated for the 2007 Australian Independent Record (AIR) Awards and the 2007 J Award. The Urthboy album, Spitshine, received the 2010 AIR Award for 'Best Independent Hip Hop/Urban Album'.
The Herd won both the Best Independent Artist and Best Urban/Hip Hop Album for 2008 AIR Awards.
The Last Kinection won the "Band of the Year" category at the 2012 Deadly awards.
Both Hermitude ("Best Dance/Electronic" and "Best Video") and The Herd ("Best Urban") were nominated in the 2012 ARIA Awards.
The "Dr Seuss meets Elefant Traks" musical performance was nominated in the "Best Music Event" category of the 2012 SMACS (Sydney Music, Arts and Culture Awards), run by Sydney community radio station FBi.
In 2012, Urthboy and Hermitude were nominated for the 8th Australian Music Prize (AMP) for their respective Smokey's Haunt and HyperParadise albums — it represented the first time that two Elefant Traks nominees were nominated as part of the awards event, while it was the third occasion that Urthboy has been nominated for the AMP. In response to the AMP nomination, Hermitude stated, “We're totally stoked as a predominantly instrumental duo to be short listed for The Amp!” Hyperparadise was the eventual winner of the 8th AMP.
Two Elefant Traks releases appeared in the Full Shortlist for the 9th AMP, which was unveiled at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne, Australia on 26 January 2014. Selected from a Longlist of 43 artists, Horrorshow was nominated for King Amongst Many and Jimblah was nominated for Phoenix. Other artists in the Full Shortlist included Beaches and Big Scary and the judges were presented with an original list of 300 albums.Astronomy Class
L-Fresh The Lion
The Last Kinection
Cursive Writing (1998)
Food to Eat Music By (1999)
Elefant Collection Vol. 1 (2004)
Trampled - The Elefant Traks Remix Album (2006)