Bass in the Backgroundby Themba Kriger / 31.01.2012
It was late afternoon, but the sun still hovered high in the sky, avoiding the horizon like a child wanting to stay up for the late night movie. Francois was leaning against the bar, drinking his double brandy and coke in large gulps in an effort to keep cool. He brushed his fingers through his straight, black hair, combing it to the left, partially covering the undercut on that side, while examining the people strewn out across the rooftop. Sitting in small groups, taking photos on their iPhones and updating their statuses on the BlackBerries, the sunglassed crowd reminded him of the rich Jozi kids he went to school with, except in more colourful, “art school” clothes. He sighed and ordered another.
Feeling slightly inadequate in his stoner themed T-Shirt and denim shorts, he shifted his attention to the DJ who was playing mid tempo drum ‘n bass which thanks to the heat and the crowds general ambivalence, was nothing more than background music for all but a few dedicated souls sweating it out on the dance floor. He was well into his third drink when a lanky guy with short brown hair started playing instrumental hip hop with a touch of glitch. According to the sticker on his MacBook, behind which he hid for half his set, he was called Oxblood, so it was surprising when he shouted something along the line of “This shit is mine!” indicating he was a producer and not just a DJ.
“Why doesn’t he add a performance element instead of just queuing up his tracks?” Francois wondered. “I suppose if nobody is paying attention, why bother? At least his music is good.” He turned around to face the bar and ordered yet another.
Slightly tipsy and day dreaming, he was snapped back to reality by a loud continuous hum that screamed at him from the loudspeakers. The DJ, a slender girl with short black hair, was looking panicked, holding her laptop in one hand and inspecting the cable which went from her audio jack directly into the DJ mixer. “Well there’s your problem” he thought. He wasn’t an expert, but knew that laptop DJs use soundcards designed for the purpose. The mass of people huddling around imagined fires seemed unfazed by this turn of events, quietly accepting the return of the drum ‘n bass DJ and continuing their conversations, mostly about a girl that shat herself on the dance floor two weeks earlier. Bored and hungry, he made his way to the exit and headed up the road towards the golden arches at the top of Long.
Narch, whom he recognised as the producer from P.H. Fat, was finishing off his set of glitch hop by the time Francois returned to the rooftop. The dance floor had filled up nicely, but he was in no mood for dancing. It had taken him much longer to get his meal, thanks to a friendly Nigerian car guard from whom he had scored some average Thai. Hitting two lines in the bathroom while he waits for his Big Mac and he goes numb, feeling nothing but guilt. “I moved to Cape Town to get away from this shit!” He had to force the burger and chips down in a painful hour and half session, the junk making him impervious to the open stares of patrons observing the immense difficulty he was having chewing even the smallest of bits of his burger. And he felt nauseous after finishing. He headed back to the bar, grabbing a stool and ordering a drink. He propped himself up against the wall and sipped at what tasted like a triple.
The sun had set and he was struggling to keep his eyes open. What he needed was sleep, not party. A shaven headed DJ with a gold chain draped around his neck was keeping the feet on the dance floor with a selection of local house music, the kwaito rhythms being the most obvious influence. Bored at the bar, he tried speaking to a tall blonde. She looked at him with little interest or emotion, dismissing him much like he would a beggar at the traffic lights. Were it not for the need to get shit-faced, he would have left. Instead, trying to hide the shame, he turned back to the barman.
By now the music had changed to dub, with its large reverb and tape delays. The rhythms sucked him in and he finally managed to find his way to the dance floor. His movements, more rhythmic neck bopping than dancing, echoed the minimal structure of the music. He could feel people watching him dance, so he tried focusing on the antics of the tall, bald source of the riddims, who was having a great time behind the decks but he could still feel the gazes of the other kids piercing his back. Retreating to the bar, he slurred another order, in the hope of forgetting the evening while still living it. Although he had been enjoying the music, the general ambivalence of the crowd towards the music and their self-centred pre-occupations irritated him. “We Like Bass? They
should have called it we like sitting around. Time to leave.” He told himself.
*All images © Themba Kriger.