The New Beatsby Ts'eliso Monaheng / 22.07.2013
It’s mid-morning in late January when I meet with Shane Cooper, bassist and winner of the 2012 Standard Bank’s Young Artist Award 2012 in the jazz category, at a restaurant in Upper Woodstock, Cape Town. The nod, unexpected by his own admission, places him on the path of a legacy kick-started, posthumously, by Moses Molelekwa, and peppered with luminaries such as Andile Yenana, Mark Fransman and Kesivan Naidoo. He orders a cup of coffee while we grapple with where to sit, finally settling for a spot outside where the late-summer’s sun casts sharp rays on the four-person table. As he lights up his cigarette, I set the frame for the interview; equal parts jazz and electronic music conversation. The latter a genre he’s been dabbling in since obtaining audio sequencing software (from his brother) over a decade ago. Prior to that, he fiddled with music instruments. “I started playing guitar when I was thirteen and then got into bass in high school/”.
Cooper, or Card On Spokes as he’s known around the beatmaking (or beat) scene in Cape Town, teamed up with Music Without Borders to conceptualise Live Evil, a series of events premised on catering to electronic music producers who perform their beats live. The idea was birthed by his growing frustration from not getting booked at gigs “because my stuff doesn’t fall in line with one tempo all the time.” In between drags from his ciggie, he explains to me the science behind his eclectic set, stating that “it goes through different genres and things like that.”
The first Live Evil took place in April 2012. Each event features the headliner (Dank in one instance), supporting acts (Mr Sakitumi, Christian Tiger School have featured) and Card On Spokes as resident knob-tweaker. While name-checking his influences – Kid Koala, Four Tet, Prefuse 73 – he let it slip that him and Dank were in the process of mixing their “Strawberries” EP. Initially slated for release around March, the project was only unleashed in June on the US-based independent imprint 710 Records.
They aren’t the only ones. As far as quality releases go, Cape Town is bathing in swathes of sonic brilliance, admiring its own production wizardry at every juncture. Over the course of one month, beat heads have been spoiled for choice, from the uber-slick collective dialects of Gravy (a crew of kindred spirits featuring, among others, Sibot, Ol’tak, Mr Sakitumi, as well as Dank and Card On Spokes), to the shrieking, hazy lo-fi pleasantries of Funtoy, right down to the experimental shindigs of relative newcomer Thor Rixon.
But surely this has happened before?
The year 2000 ushered in an era of producers influenced by the creations of Aphex Twin, DJ Shadow, Anti-Pop Consortium and the better part of Ninja Tune’s artist roster – from Blockhead to Mr Scruff to Kid Koala. Names such as Felix Laband, Markus Wormstorm, Sibot, and a handful of others crafted sonic textures which effectively altered how people approached music consumption. African Dope records synergised that entire formation – two dudes and a chick holed up in a nondescript room on Buitenkant, banging away at ideas daily to advance what, albeit rewarding, ultimately proved an unsustainable exercise. “African Dope [was] pressing up 2000-3000 CDs; it’s not a business model!” says Fletcher. He’s one third of the original trio that ran African Dope; the other two being Honey B and Roach.
As Krushed and Sorted, Fletcher and Roach’s 2000 release “Acid made me to it” arguably set the tone for the sound of magic yet to be conceived. Felix Laband followed soon afterwards with Thin shoes in June, a minimalist fan’s wet dream that is still as ghoulish and haunting today as it was in 2001, infallible in every aspect. Roger Young described it as “an intrepid indie-tronic mashup of hybrid high and low cultures” in his excellent Rolling Stone profile of the troubled wunderkind.
Angela Weickl hosts The Mashup on Assembly radio, a show aimed at giving a platform for artists and deejays to showcase their music. She’s also a regular at venues like the Assembly and Mercury Live where she spins genre-defying sets under the alias DJ Sideshow. The first wave of the Cape Town beat scene tanked during the mid-2000s, and I was interested to find out the reasons. She attributes the dip to the rise in live bands, referencing early stuff from Fokofpolisiekar and later on the Plastics and others.
In 2009, African Dope records re-tuned their creative compass with African Dope Vol. 2, a compilation whose progenitor had been birthed some eight years prior, admittedly a long time in-between albums in music terms. A lot had changed. Instead of Waddy Jones (credited on the song “Crypticism” as ‘The Man Who Never Came Back’), we got Disco Izrael from P.H.Fat, a scruffy-haired stoned-looking wordsmith who wrapped creative circles around producer Narch’s beats, concurrently rapping his way into alternative imaginaries with his partner-in-words, Mike Zietsman. We got a glimpse into the collision of beats and words; Narch’s extra-thick squelches and super-grumpy basslines created a comfort zone for the rappers to yank out their best dinosaur metaphors.
UCT Radio is one of two terrestrial stations with shows whose focus is on uplifting the local beat scene. Sean Magner, host of The New Music Show every Sunday evening, realised the dearth of support media were giving to producers in the city and decided to try remedy the situation. “I knew there was so much to see and get involved with that this is was sort of my only way in”, says Magner. His co-host Dylan Heneck quickly points out the resemblance between locally-produced beats and what is being churned out elsewhere on the bass music globe. Says Heneck: “It’s cool seeing how they align with each other, and how different they are as well. The stuff I’ve heard from here is a lot more obscure.” And they’ve heard a lot. Their show has become somewhat of a stopover whenever beatmakers active on the scene are about to release new music. All the usual suspects, from Ol’tak, Card On Spokes, Mr Sakitumi, and more have paid them a visit. Even the elusive Slabofmisuse was due for a guest slot but decided against it.
Heneck, who moonlights as a club deejay going by the moniker Daddy Warbucks, laments the lack of marketing smarts within the scene, identifying the defect as the missing link in connecting the music to a larger audience. “All these guys should be big!” He declares. Or at least bigger.
In a way, there are relatively ‘big’ names on the beat scene. During the festival season, a selection of beatsmiths pack blistering sonic shockwaves into their goodie bags to feed bass-hungry revellers (normally at the Red Bull stages). Sibot’s impressive show left a 3000 person-strong crowd at Rocking the Daisies dumbstruck; P.H.Fat fractured ligaments at Synergy with their psychedelic bass-funk; and Mr. Sakitumi had kids eating out of his palm at RAMfest.
*Tune in for part 2 and a satisfying conclusion on Wednesday.
** Lead image © Sydelle Willow Smith