The Casios and creativity of Turnstyle

Article | Updated 7 months ago

Three men sit in a recording studio holding casio keyboards over their heads.

Paul Fanning, Adem K and Todd Griffiths with three of their casio keyboards.
Image copyright WA Museum 

Adem Kerimofski owns ten Casiotone keyboards. That’s around ten more than most people. Most people though, aren’t a member of the Perth indie-rock act Turnstyle – legendary in the local music scene for their Casio sound. 

If you are a fan of music, and specifically Casio-powered indie rock, you are a probably aware of local Perth band, Turnstyle.   

The four-piece, made up of Adem Kerimofski, Paul Fanning, Todd Griffiths and Dean Davies (currently residing in Brisbane), have been involved in the Perth music scene since the mid 1990s.

Turnstyle’s creative process is the subject of a story being considered for the New Museum.  

One of the galleries will celebrate the creative and innovative people of Western Australia. Featuring groups like Turnstyle, the gallery will explore the creative process and how musicians, artists, scientists and entrepreneurs, to name a few, develop and create their works.

Karen Sainsbury, Project Support Officer with the New Museum Project  caught up with Turnstyle band members to find out about their creative process, how their collection of Casiotones is coming along, and what is next for the band.

Band photo shows Adem, Todd, and Paul,with Paul holding a photo of Dean

Image courtesy of Turnstyle 

At a time when grunge was all over the airways, Turnstyle were amongst a small group of bands bucking the trend and creating music using the distinctive, synth sounds of Casio keyboards.

The Casiotone was the backbone of their debut album Turnstyle Country (1999) which featured Spray Water on the Stereo, a song that made it to number seven on the ARIA independent charts,  number 93 in triple j’s Hottest 100 (1999) and spent two months at the top of triple j’s request show. 

They were local Perth favourites– they even had their own dance where punters would join in at their gigs (I’m A Bus, 2000).  They appeared on ABC’s Recovery program, released multiple CDs and regularly appeared on Perth stages, as well as touring the eastern states. They appeared on music line ups with the likes of The Foo Fighters, Guided by Voices , Regurgitator and many more.

But how their signature sound and collection of Casiotones came about is a bit of a funny story...

In the early days of the band forming, Adem K had seen other bands using “white keyboards” on stage, and thought a keyboard could augment their recordings and make them sound more interesting.

He went into Cash City in Morley (if you’re familiar with Morley you may now know it as the licensing centre)  and explained this to the salesperson, who happened to be a professional session drummer.  The guy laughed.

The “white keyboards” Adem saw other bands playing weren’t Casios, they were MIDI controller keyboards.

A MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a piano-style computer that allows a musician to manipulate multiple sources at once (the musician can use the keyboard to play drum machines at the same time as a synthesiser and a computer).  The release of MIDIs onto the market was a pivotal point in music – a time when computers started playing a significant role in how music was made.

The Casiotone on the other hand, was originally designed in the 1980s as a home keyboard.

Adem explains; “In my naïvety I assumed they [MIDIs and Casiotones] were the same thing. That’s why the drummer guy laughed at me (I think).  Anyhow, because none of us could play keyboards properly we used the automatic chords on the Casio a lot. We loved the sound because it sounded a bit like Stereolab’s Farfisa organ. Blended with our big guitar crunch definitely gave us a unique modus operandi.”

In an act of naïvety, Turnstyle had created their signature sound. 

Since that first purchase, a $40 Casio MT45, the band has now collectively acquired around 20 keyboards.  Their use of the keyboard earned them notoriety and got them listed in the Casiotone Wikipedia entry, alongside bands like Hot Chip and Tame Impala.

Band photo of Turnstyle from the 1990s

Image courtesy of Turnstyle. Photograph by Natalie Brunovs

Twenty two years on and Turnstyle are still making music together and are working on a new album.

Adem says the band is taking a similar approach to their creative process from the late 90s.

“I think the way we wrote our songs isn’t how a lot of other bands at the time were writing songs. There was always an encouraging environment in our band”.

While a lot of bands have a leader with the vision who is directing from the front, Turnstyle have always bounced ideas off each other, working together.

Todd said, “It wasn’t until we were all in the room that things started bouncing around like a pinball machine”.

Paul said, “Anyone [in the band] could suggest anything, it was always open for anyone to input in to.”

Turnstyle’s creative approach seems less concerned with what people expect of them and more about what they are inspired to create.

Looking back on how their sound came about Todd says, “It was quite brave to use those keyboards. I noticed that when we toured then, and when I go over to different places now, you get a lot of very similar bands playing the same line up, whereas Perth audiences were just happy to watch all these different, diverse bands.  It took the pressure off having to sound like anything in particular.”

Polaroid photograph from 1995 showing four young band members playing casiotone

Image courtesy of Turnstyle. Photograph by Laurie Sinagra

That unique sound obviously worked for Turnstyle and the listeners and industry responded. A review by Juice magazine in 1999 said; “Who has the cutest moves in rock? …. Turnstyle have the winsome spirit so down… it’s impossible to listen to this album without grinning.”

So what advice does the band have for aspiring musicians and creatives?

“Create like no one’s ever going to hear it. Create like it doesn’t matter what people think but eventually if you value it, you want whoever’s going to enjoy it to come across it. Your job is not to force everyone to like [your work], it’s just to let those people come across what you’re doing,” says Todd Griffiths.

Creating a place for yourself, and maybe a few of your friends, to be unaware of ‘mistakes’ – or where there are no mistakes – maybe this is where innovation and creativity can happen! Like discovering the great sounds of a Casio!