The New Beatsby Ts'eliso Monaheng / 24.07.2013
While beat-centric electronic music may be drawing capacity crowds at festivals, it’s hard to say whether this translates into album sales. Card On Spokes’ Shane Cooper gives out his debut EP In You Go for free at shows nowadays because “electronic CDs don’t really sell in stores anymore, it’s all gone online.”
Indeed, there are plenty of beatmakers across South Africa, but Cape Town is unique in that some of them have managed to build something resembling ‘a scene’. Their output compares with any in the world; the kicks thump at subsonic frequencies and the snares knock hard! The beat scene is comprised of these pockets of producers who are going out on a limb, working inside a mostly hip hop-inspired framework to bang out electronic music which draws influences from techno right through to straight-ahead jazz. But the most important aspect is that they play their beats live.
Sean Magner offers this proposition: “It seems like we [Capetonians] are very culturally aware, in terms of everything! We’re so hyper-aware of what’s going on in the UK, what’s going on in the States… to some extent what’s going on in Europe.” He continues that Cape Town producers are in a prime position to spectate on the rest of the world while also reflecting their environment, searching for elements within it to fuse into their productions, whether implicitly or explicitly. “We’ve got so many influences to draw from here, so it’s a fairly unique product,” he concludes.
When he’s not busy producing beats as Richard III, Richard Rumney manages the Red Bull Studios located on Jamieson Street in town. Red Bull has been instrumental in helping mould the scene, grooming talents such as Das Kapital, RVWR and Damascus, as well as curating the electronic music stages during the aforementioned festivals, and others. I wanted to know the selection criteria for which artists get to work with the studio.
He explains that the Red Bull Studios operate on a multi-tiered system which includes mainstream players such as Black Coffee, Khuli Chana and Professor alongside emerging artists – think Manqoba, Damascus, Jumping Back Slash, Christian Tiger School – adding that they need to ensure that “a certain amount of projects” are covered monthly.
Rumney has a firm grasp of the current progression of multiple forms of electronic music. I ask him what he thinks has inspired the current wave, and he traces it back to the late 90s, or, “when African Dope Records started.”
“The old-school of beatmakers probably paved the way.” He says, adding the afore-mentioned line-up has “shown many up and coming guys that they can be as game-changing as they wanna be.”
I love instrumental music, mostly of the hip hop-tinged variety; Pete Rock’s Petestrumentals remains a firm favourite. I try keep tabs on the global bass music scene, and however suspect that word may sound, it arguably remains the most apt descriptor of the sonic exploits birthed in people’s bedrooms, then disseminated on internet blogs until a label deems their creations worthy of a festival slot. I think the LA beat scene, with captain Fly Lo at the helm, is a brilliant example of how consistently good product will get you noticed regardless.
But there are other admirable movements too; France’s Evil Needle and Denmark’s Robin Hannibal are geniuses in my world. I recently discovered a group of musicians from Canada who use their music to raise awareness about the plight of indigenous people in North America.
However, it’s strange that almost all of the music coming out of the Cape Town beat scene is being made by white, mostly middle-to-upper-class kids either fresh out of university or just finding their footing in the world. If parallels are to be drawn, while the LA beat scene maintains a healthy cross-collaborative spirit between rappers and producers (Flying Lotus’ work with Earl Sweatshirt comes to mind), the practise is almost universally lacking in Cape Town – arguably the tabernacle where some of the rarest rap talents in South Africa rear their heads. Card On Spokes attributed this to his lack of awareness of any rappers in Cape Town, while Sideshow posited that the current crop needs to mature first before thinking about expanding. She made an example of Christian Tiger School, two beatminers whose profile rose after Questlove of The Roots crew tweeted a link to their song ‘Carlton Banks’, reasoning that they’re in a transitory phase where tightening up the live show and developing other aspects are more important.
Her theory seems to hold somewhat, but I remain unconvinced. Markus Wormstorm began his career with the rap outfit Constructus Corporation. The crew, a pre-precursor to Die Antwoord, also featured Sibot’s turntable wizardry. The two went on to work with Spoek Mathambo on futuristic rap projects – Sweat.X (with Wormstorm) and Playdoe (with Sibot). African Dope compilations were always littered with guest appearances from rap and reggae artists, from Godessa to Zoro. But then again, look at Mr Sakitumi. His next project is slated to feature collaborations with a list of rappers and Sakitumi’s a fairly established musician with an almost-flawless live show to boot, Sideshow’s theory could well be plausible. Yet again, I digress.
Either way, it is an exciting time to be living in Cape Town, to be immersed in this city of slime and grit on one hand, and a manicured, lilly-white image on the other; to navigate the Assembly/Fiction/Waiting Room scene alongside the parkjams in Gugs and Paarl. The beat scene could, unlike the city, attempt to be more inclusive. To have, for instance, more people like The Banktella – a bass music producer whom Fletcher discovered while running errands at the bank – active on the scene. Perhaps it’s shaping up; in the past six months, we’ve had a sizeable number of visits from internationally-renowned producers, from Hudson Mohawke, to The Clonius, to Chief, who trekked down with another producer, Deheb.
Then there’s Sibot’s songs getting released on Mad Decent subsidiary Jeffree’s compilation, and his forthcoming effort on French label Jarring FX; there’s Christian Tiger School’s Adidas endorsement and their trip to New York; there’s scene-stealers naasThings getting profiled on other portals and contributing to the quality music getting released.
The final word goes to Richard Rumney. In response to a question about what propelled Christian Tiger School’s meteoric rise, he said the following: “They’re really good producers first off, they play their shit live (as opposed to just DJing), they made an instantly catchy underground hit with ‘Carlton Banks’, they have a great manager and they were in the right place at the right time. Success is a combination of talent, focus, hard-work and a healthy dollop of luck. Whether that actually constitutes “making it” in the music industry I don’t know. It certainly doesn’t necessarily translate to big bucks.”
*Images © from the CTEMF / Sydelle Willow Smith.