Wednesday, July 07, 2010
Pitchfork July: SA infiltrates the LDN bass matrix
My Pitchfork column for July covers how a South African influence is infiltrating the LDN bass matrix. Below, read my full interview with Gerv from LV. Dont forget you can still download the "OKZharp" mix here.
Interview: Gerv from LV on SA influences in LDN
Blackdown: Do you think it’s fair to say that within London based sounds, especially dubstep, UK funky & house, that influences from South Africa have begun to be more prominent this year?
Gerv LV: Yeah seems like it, and it's fun listening out for those crossover moments. It seems like London music is just a hectic mess at the moment and the SA influence is in there somewhere. Hectic mess haha, I like that. In SA slang ‘hectic’ can mean ‘bad’ and ‘bad-meaning-good...’
The World Cup has obviously had a big impact so perhaps people are more aware of SA culture in general, which makes it easier for them to accept an SA twist in their party music. and then if someone is really feeling that sound or vibe they can go looking for the source...
B: What current examples, musically, would you point to of South African music in a London context? Are there South African artists getting some attention here or SA influences being adopted into London sounds?
G: I guess an obvious example is Kode9 playing that Mujava Mugwanti tune and putting it in his DJ Kicks mix. and I've heard Mosca and the Night Slugs people play DJ Cleo tunes and other SA stuff. I recently got sent an amazing track by Bakongo with a complete brainmelter of a b-line, all slidey and bubbly and... kwaito-ish. It'll be interesting to see if DJ Cleo's new Es'Khaleni CD gets any love over here.
B: There are obviously so many styles of music within South Africa, you point to kwaito, shangaan (old afro pop records being played at 45 rpm) and this term township tech, can you explain alittle more about what these are?
G: I guess that's inevitable in a country with 11 official languages! It does seem like weird things are happening with Kwaito at the minute, in the stuff I've heard there's been a pretty blatant move away from the traditional sounds and people are just going fully for the trance leads and 808s formula from US pop, but always with the classic Kwaito vocal stylings. And it seems to be speeding up too so it fits in with the house thing.
The Shangaan thing is really exciting to me, I heard some amazing stuff from Smiso when I was out in SA. He was telling me that it basically started on this late night radio show on this one local radio station in Joburg where the DJ realised that if he played all their parents' generation's township pop tunes at 45 instead of 33 peeps were going crazy for it. I guess it's also a cool way for these kids to reclaim that generation's music that, for the outside world at least, was totally lost. But then obviously the new producers are vibing off those hyper sounds and making their own versions.
I think Township Tech was a term coined by Spoek Mathambo for some of his stuff but it seems quite a good fit for quite a lot of the stuff I've been hearing. Spoek is very proud of where he's from but he's also a total sponge, devouring sounds and scenes and spitting it all out in this great mishmash that is just him. When I was planning my trip out there various people including Marcus from Hyperdub suggested I give him a call. It was pretty mad when we met how much we had in common musically, we pretty much bonded over Newham Genz, Big Nuz, Scratcha's breakfast show, DJ Rashad and PM Dawn haha and we had magic late-night recording sessions at Red Bull studios in Cape Town with Zaki Ibrahim. A couple of the tunes we did have ended up on his forthcoming album for BBE and I think it could surprise a few people. It surprised me when I heard it!
B: Does Kwaito connect with UK funky? How?
G: There's an obvious rhythmic similarity there with Kwaito and SA house, those broken up snare triplets over the 4/4. And I think you can also hear a similarity in those emotive bendy chords and brash percussive synth lines. But it seems accepted now that the Funky thing mainly came out of UKG and US house. The interesting thing about the US house influence on Funky is that DJ Fresh and various other slightly-older SA house DJs have long-standing connections with Masters At Work and people like that, so perhaps there's an indirect second-hand connection there too...
B: Is there any evidence of a SA influence in grime? I’m not sure there is but I’d open to persuasion…
B: I haven't heard much of an SA influence in grime yet but it excites me to hear people like Skepta and JME showing pride in their Nigerian heritage and not being afraid to use that in their music. I wouldn't be surprised if soon some UK kid started chatting his parents' dutty Cape slang to get past Westwood's radio censors haha.
[NB: I sanity-checked this point with Logan, ie is there any SA influence in or on grime, and the answer is a resounding ‘no’ as expected – Blackdown]
G: I do think it's already going the other way though, with UK grime influencing SA artists. I know Spoek, for example, is a total grime geek. And I noticed a few people in SA referring semi-seriously to their music as SA Grime. Rattex is a hiphop artist from Khayelitsha near Cape Town on the Pioneer Unit label and though the main inspiration is still clearly US hiphop you can hear a definite common ground with a London artist like Giggs in the tone, delivery and subject matter. I remember playing Rattex and his crew a couple of Wiley tunes and that Riko/Scratchy tune 'Don't Get Caught'...to say they went mad is a bit of an understatement!
B: Can you explain a bit about your own background, your current location but connections to SA?
G: I was born in Cape Town but moved to London when I was about 6. All my family are still out there and I do feel a definite connection with the place but my musical life and education was definitely London. Then at Christmas time my mum would get all misty-eyed and put on Soweto String Quartet or Miriam Makeba or something...
B: In our first interview you mentioned the connection between taxi drivers and music in SA, what kind of music do they mostly play?
G: I heard a few people refer to it as 'taxi music' but I suppose the easiest word to use for that stuff is 'house' cos it always has that 4/4 pulse. South Africa pretty much runs on that pulse. I guess the thing people often don't realise about SA music is, as Spoek said to me, house music is pop music. Or pop music is house music. It's everywhere.
B: I think “Boomslang” could be a very big record for you guys, could you tell me how it came about?
G: Safe! wicked that you like it! It came together in quite a pretty skitzoid roundabout way. It started in January when I went up to Joburg from Cape Town to play a couple of DJ gigs there and Spoek suggested I give his mate Smiso a call. So the day after the first gig I went round to Smiso's place to chill and we hit it off, I had a mic with me so we set up in his kitchen and he chatted Swazied madness over a few LV beats. When I got back to the UK we messed around lifting cool bits out of his freestyles and one of the resulting tunes was “Boomslang...”. Hope to have some news on it soon...
B: Can you tell me about 'experimental' end of SA bass music, the breakbeat scientific perspective, I guess....affinity with wobble?
G: The wobble thing is the same there as it is anywhere. But then I did get to hear some of the guys from African Dope and they seem to be doing things that are inspired by those sounds but not totally enthralled by it. To me Smiso's group Dirty Paraffin are pretty experimental as well as totally great. Their Volume 1 mixtape has probably been one of my most listened things since he gave it to me. Obviously there's nothing particularly new or clever about looping up Kraftwerk or the intro of a French house tune or some old kwaito beat but in their hands it all sounds really different somehow and Smiso's does these kinda crazy lazy nihilistic stream of consciousness party raps mixing up all kinds of slang. It's great.