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Culture, Music

Friday Funk

by Rob Cockcroft / 08.11.2013

It’s Friday again and we’re bringing you some tunes curtesy of DJ Kimon. From the days he grooved to Burning Spear in his nappies, to the first time he heard funk in Bath, we get to grips with this groovy young DJ mixing up the Cape Town scene. We ask him  how he finds the music he plays and why he’d rather be dancing up against the furniture. Listen, enjoy, have a fucking amazing weekend.

Obs Houseparty: A Natural Selection Mixtape by Kimon on Mixcloud

What’s better, house parties or club gigs?

House parties, no doubt! There’s more freedom to explore different genres and people tend to be more relaxed and adventurous on the dancefloor. It’s easier to have fun in a dimly lit lounge with the furniture pushed into the corners than in a nightclub, as a rule of thumb. The only constraints on a good house party are that there must be 1) good speakers and 2) mellow neighbours to put up with the noise until late (it helps a lot if they’ve been warned beforehand). Then magic can happen. There’s nothing worse than the police pulling in before midnight.

Can you tell us a bit about your musical background and how you came to be where you are at musically now? Where did your love for music from all around the African continent come from?

My parents listened to a lot of West African music and reggae when I was growing up. Packed away in a box somewhere there’s a video of me dancing to Burning Spear as a toddler: I guess those sounds made a deep impression early on. I went through a regretable teenage phase of collecting commercial trance and hard house, then somehow got switched on to African Dope Records and hip hop by groups like Dilated Peoples, The Roots and The Fugees, which was quite a pivotal step. I started listening to dub and British reggae like Misty In Roots and Linton Kwesi Johnson around the same time, and then picked up a funk compilation disc travelling in England with my family aged 17, which blew open another whole horizon. My dad and godfather had taken me out to a club in Bath one night and there was a DJ spinning soul records, and I remember standing at the edge of the dancefloor watching people swinging their arms and having the best time. I was too young and green to join in but something hit home that night. I still play a bunch of songs from that first funk CD I purchased.

When did you gravitate toward DJing?

I wanted to be a DJ in junior school already, probably from age 12 or so. Paul van Dyk and Paul Oakenfold were my idols and I probably dreamed of playing at Ministry Of Sound. I started on my current path about five years ago, though.

Friday Funk

Do you only play vinyl?

I don’t play any vinyl, actually. I’m a strictly digital DJ. For those who need to know, I use Traktor, a two-channel external soundcard and a very basic MIDI controller. I’d love to start a vinyl collection someday but the cost is prohibitive and I’m not sure I could get used to going to gigs without all my music! I love connecting up with vinyl selectors though, and usually seem to have more in common with them than laptop DJs. It’s probably because we tend to play similar music.

Do you tend to focus on more on rare and old school stuff rather than on new music?

Definitely. I’m quite bad when it comes to new music. There’s such an abundance of outstanding old stuff to discover—recently I got into Diana Ross and Otis Redding for the first time, for example—that it’s easy to get stuck in the past. But I don’t mind. There’s something special about a piece of music that’s lasted, and which sounds just as good today as when it was first recorded. And not just rare grooves! Some of the best music out there was, or still is, commercially successful.
I mostly keep tabs on new music via Soundcloud. There’s a whole universe of edits, mashups and bootlegs that pay homage to original sounds in inventive new ways—I particularly enjoy finding those.

How did you go about discovering more African music after you first got into it?

I wish I had a better answer than this but I really don’t know. The way I usually find music is to wander around with my ears open and follow up on things that sound good. There isn’t much of a coherent search strategy. I keep going back to artists my parents listened to—Manu Dibango, Salif Keita, Baaba Maal—for inspiration and occasionally something new comes up that leads me off somewhere else. There are some excellent labels putting out compilations these days, like Soundway Records, and there’s a thriving afrobeat revival scene in Europe and the US that’s turned me on to some amazing new AND old sounds recently. People send me stuff sometimes. African (and African-inspired) music is definitely one of the slower growing sections of my library though.

It’s weird. I can name a shitload of sub-genres in the European electronic music scene, but am hardly able to name or differentiate between sounds coming out of different parts of Africa. Is that necessarily a bad thing? What’s your take on the average South African’s ignorance to other music on the African continent?

I think it’s sad. There is such rich musical heritage that gets lumped together with catch-all phrases like ‘world music’ or ‘afrobeat’, which then cease to mean anything. I’d love to see South Africans engaging with music from the continent more (particularly white South Africans, a large proportion of whom still live and act as if they live in a distant colony of Europe).

You host a monthly party called Natural Selection at The Waiting Room. What’s the basic concept behind it?

Natural Selection is like a house party with exceptional music in the middle of town with a really great bunch of people. We play funk, soul, dub, reggae, afrobeat (and a range of other genres from the continent—see below), breaks, hip hop, cumbia, salsa and a whole lot more. The only rules are that it’s got to be good, it’s got to be fresh and it’s got to make your body move.

You’re kicking off your all-new Natural Selection show on Assembly Radio today (Friday). Tell us more about it, what have you got planned for it and when we can catch it.

Radio is an exciting medium because it allows you to discuss music as well as play it. I love talking about music—where songs come from, who wrote them, who or what they were inspired by, and so on—and I’m really excited by this opportunity to engage with listeners in a different way. I’ll be interviewing musicians and music collectors, playing great sounds from across the board, delving into some genre history and hopefully interacting with a switched-on audience. I’m particularly looking forward to meeting fellow music nuts and learning from them. One of the best things this year has been linking up with guys like Jonathan from Mix n Blend, DJ Jumbo and Boeta Gee and tapping into their incredible knowledge. The show is on from 12-2pm, you can listen to it here.

What was the impetus behind starting up the Africa Special parties? Could you tell us a bit more about them and how they differ from the Natural Selection parties?

Africa Special is the most recent iteration of something that started back in 2010. I wanted to play sounds from the continent (which are bizarrely still considered a novelty in large parts of Cape Town) and didn’t see any option other than to start my own party. I couldn’t have done it without Toby2shoes, who barely knew me but offered to help get things off the ground. The first gigs were at a bar on Greenmarket Square called Mumbo Jumbo and attracted less than 100 people. We moved to Frieda’s on Bree Street next, which was an amazing venue, and two months ago shifted again to accommodate a larger crowd. Africa Special is less open-ended than Natural Selection as it’s dedicated to African (and Afro-centric) sounds only, but there’s no shortage of music to play. The parties are too much fun and are basically the reason I still DJ.

Do you find that you’re educating new peeps about African music through Africa Special or do you get the fundis who seek out your party because it’s their vibe anyway?

I hope it’s both.

Put us onto the game here. Which African musicians should we be looking out for?

I’m all about the old school and I’m back on Manu Dibango, the Cameroonian saxophonist, after finding a cassette of his in my dad’s old collection last week. Go blast that loud.

Friday Funk

What’s your take on popular international artists like Diplo and M.I.A blending African influences into their tunes? Cool? Uncool? Is it cultural appropriation?

This is a topic that I’m very sensitive to, being a white guy playing out predominantly black music. As long as ‘blending influences’ is done respectfully, and out of love for the music, then my feeling is that it’s mostly okay. But when ‘Africa’ becomes ‘cool’ and people start copying and pasting some narrowly understood aesthetic to their artwork—whether consciously or unconsciously—I start feeling uncomfortable. I think it’s important to be sensitive to context, too: colonial societies have had so much taken from them already, and transplanting cultural capital without understanding and adequately referencing its roots can be seen as a certain kind of theft. That said, nobody can ever fully own a sound or a flavour, and one of the most exciting and beautiful things about music today is the way it can combine and recombine across borders, like mutant DNA. It’s a tricky balance. I can’t comment directly on Diplo or M.I.A. as I’m not that literate in modern bass music.

You’ve been gigging a fair amount this year. Which shows stood out for you and at which upcoming events can we catch you?

Getting my own regular gig up and running has been a dream come true, and I’ve had a series of fantastic nights at The Waiting Room playing alongside some of my DJ idols. Africa Special was berserk in May, and again in September: I played some really heavy afrobeat (the genre, not the catch-all phrase) that I used to think was much too risky and far out, and people grooved hard. Best by far was a party in our lounge here in Obs, though. Furniture broke, the walls cracked and I got to play music all night. It was completely nuts.

Calender-wise, I’m playing a fundraiser for a cool outreach programme called The Mothertongue Project at The Waiting Room next Wednesday; a summer funk Natural Selection special at the end of November; some gigs with a touring band from Joburg who are my favourite in the whole country; and a New Years Eve party in the CBD. With a few tasty things in between.

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