The Turntable is a Percussive Instrumentby Ts'eliso Monaheng / 21.02.2012
Sibot, aka Simon Ringrose has become one of the cornerstones of the electronic music scene in South Africa. Alongside the likes of Felix Laband and Markus Wormstorm, he introduced a dynamic sound which continues to cause ripples through numerous acts who all allude to being directly influenced by his music. Relentless in his pursuit of the next thing, Sibot has proven time and again that innovation is first and foremost in his creation process. We visited his studio to discuss mixes inspired by pizza, kwaito music, and dredge up the inevitable questions about Max Normal’s demise.
Mahala: Where did it all start for you?
Sibot: I think I started out in school. A friend of mine started buying records; the only records we had access to were like, drum-n-bass records. I was kind of intrigued why there was so much hype around these anthem DJs. We used to just mess around with these records, and kinda learn how to beat-mix with that. That was a huge step for me, and I was like ‘oh, that’s not so hard, it’s pretty easy’. Then I kinda got into DJ Krush. DJ Krush was a big original inspiration for me. He seemed to be doing these mixes of his own music. So my plan was like that; fuck being a DJ; make music, put it on record, and then play your own stuff. I took it further years later, started working with rappers. Samplers were the next step, and I’m still on that step now. I actually gave up DJing to focus on just playing live and producing.
When we first got to hear of you, it was during the Silvertab Levi’s sessions as a DJ. How did the DJ aspect contribute to where you are at now?
I think from a young age I was always into things that had accessories and gadgets. So, even in soccer, I would play goalie because I could have gloves and I would be different to everybody else. In cricket I wanted to be the wicket keeper because I would have another outfit. I always wanted the stuff. And I think that plays a huge role in that it was something weird and removed when I first saw scratching, which is way before I started DJing. Scratching became my whole life at one point, then I started realising that it became really technical; and I was more into doing something different with it. Even then, my style was not straight-up battle. Scratching became too technical, and it became more samples. And I stopped liking the culture of scratching. But I think it taught me a lot about rhythm, it set me up, because the turntable is a percussive instrument.
Is it then fair to say that from the on-set you always had an innovative mindset, like, ‘I just want to carve my own path’?
Yeah, I think so. I always thought I would be able to ‘break out’ scratching, and in South Africa it wasn’t difficult, there wasn’t too much competition. But I never reached the technical level that could ever make any difference, and maybe that’s a bit of a cop-out. But for me it was all about training, it’s not about being innovative. So moving away from that was the best thing I ever did.
Through the years you’ve been involved with a lot of musical projects, and perhaps the one most people are familiar with is Max Normal. What was your part in that project?
I was in Cape Town, and I moved back to Joburg. I met Waddy downstairs, underneath Cool Runnings, there was a party somebody asked me to play at. He loved the music I was playing, and I was scratching a bit, and then he wanted to come around to my house, so I was like ‘okay’. I had a really shitty set-up, such shitty turntables. I just scratched a bit for him, and he loved the fact that I could scratch words, and then let the word go. He was like ‘you’ve got to come to my band practice’. He had just done a gig at Oppikoppi with some other band, he had a feature, and the owner of Club 206 saw him and encouraged him to put a band together. So I joined the session, and I became friends with Sean (Ou Tim) and Mark (Buchanan). It was so easy! The band needed another sound, another layer. I struggled at first like ‘what am I actually gonna do in this band’? So I spent my days going through old records, finding samples, classical things that I could see in a loop, and I would mark those off so I’d have them on cue. And then I would take those off to rehearsal. Sean and Mark would then figure out the key, and they would play on top of that. I wasn’t like a ‘let-me-scratch-in-the-middle-of-the-track’ kind of DJ, I was actually in the middle of the samples.
Of course Max Normal split up and everyone went their own way. And the Real Estate Agents came through…
That was after Constructus (Corporation)…
Is that where you met Markus Wormstorm, during the Constructus era?
I think we were doing a Max Normal tour in Cape Town during December. I met Markus first, and I wanted to work… I think I actually started doing something with him and then he lied to me and told me he’d lost the project file. And I was so into the song we had made, but I don’t think he was! So he told me ‘oh my machine crashed and I lost the project file. Waddy was like ‘oh, I’ve met this kid’… he actually changed Waddy’s life right there and then. He met this kid Markus and suddenly he was not into that Max Normal sound. And the shit Markus was making back then… I swear to god that was the edgiest shit, it’s just crazy! Bits of the song sounded like somebody was unplugging his cables, and they would just fuck out for a while and come back in and… like, no structure. The structure was… with him, it was not obvious, really unexpected! And then Waddy was like ‘I’m killing the band’.
Just there and then?
Pretty much. We went back to Joburg and we listened to Markus’ stuff quite a bit, and then we came back. My girlfriend was in Cape Town at the time, I think his was as well, I’m not sure. So we just moved, moved together. Met up with Markus, killed the band; lots of shit went down with that! I wasn’t completely supportive of the idea because I thought what we had was such a good thing, but I was supportive of Waddy. And obviously I really liked Markus.
What was the thinking behind The Real Estate Agents?
It was a really cool way that that came about, really fresh. We would do these Constructus gigs, and after the gig Markus would play some of his new tracks that he hadn’t written for the group. I was mostly DJing in the group, but I also had some tracks. I would drop a track, and he would drop a track… usually, we did performance-based shows where after Constructus there would be no party. It wasn’t like in a club. It really made sense when we did a Constructus launch party and I invited my parents, knowing this shit is fuckin’ weird! When that ended, Markus and I started playing and suddenly the party felt like it kinda came alive. It wasn’t so serious, there was no focus on the performance, and it just became fun. After an hour, we finish up, and my parents are still there. I ask why they’re still there and my dad’s like ‘this is cool, I really like this’. There was no serious mission, it was Markus and I just fucking around. And it just grew from there and became so fun. We actually then ended Constructus and carried on doing the Real Estate Agents.
Touch a bit on the tour which followed during that period, along with the Pizzas mix you did.
We released a mix called ‘Pizzas’, and we did a tour where we played Sonar, went to Paris… in France, like, Markus and I weren’t exactly the most sophisticated people, we were kind of just simpletons, and we were vegeterian at the time. So we went to this one club, and this lady had made us her specialty which was tomato stuffed with pork, so we were like ‘we don’t eat this’. She was the club owner, and we were going to play at her place downstairs. We asked for pizza, and she just ripped, it offended her! Like ‘go and enjoy Italy’, and whatever! So we thought we’d call the mix ‘Pizzas’ based on that.
During that very same era (’05-07), you also released your solo project In with the Old, which was incredible. What was that about?
I suppose that was me trying to become a solo artist, you know?! Music was changing so much at the time, and everybody was jumping on this electro bandwagon. That’s why I called the album In with the Old, because I wanted to stay with things that influenced me, but not make something old-fashioned. It was an against-the-grain kinda thing. It was a cool project to work on, really like… alone, diving into shit, spending days just listening to records. Spending a week just going through vocal records. I mean, at the time I would say maybe it was a bit dated because the whole sampling thing had been done to death by Ninja Tune, but I’d never done it and I was just keen to try it.
The digging and turntablist elements come through a lot on that album. Was it an intentional thing?
I used to buy a shit-load of records…
Do you still dig?
No, when I kinda stopped scratching I stopped all of that, I wanted to change the sound. I still like sampling, which is something I kind of feel like I’ve neglected. Sampling’s been re-invented now, and it needed to change; the old funk drumbeats, the licks, it’s just a bit dated you know?!
Why did the Real Estate Agents not release a follow-up project?
We always intended to. We were actually in studio finishing another… we liked the idea of doing live mixes, it comes from the fact that we never made full songs, we made little loops that we played live, and we’d build it from from that. That was kind of the thing, I was like ‘I’ll see you on stage, I’ve got this [makes sound], I’ve got that [makes another sound]. And we’d squish it in there, it was very loose. And I would play that loop around and glitch it out, and he would do some stuff over it, and that would be the song. So we re-created a mix that was supposed to get finished and we never finished it. But even during that period, I had a project with Waddy which was the Fantastic Kill project, which actually was called Fucknrad originally (DJ Fuck and emcee Totally Rad). Off the back of that, Waddy and I had a huge fall-out! And then a French label released it again with my In with the Old, ‘Fucknrad’, and a compilation of Cape Town music. I think that project was the beginning of 2007.
The Fantastic Kill project was the first time we heard of Spoek. Did you meet him around that period?
No, we went to school together. He was really serious at school, like this hip hop head who was lank conscious and serious. I used to be like that too in the beginning. But meeting someone like Waddy and Markus, hanging out with them… kinda taught me how to laugh at myself and not take it so seriously. It changed both of our careers, I think at different points, where we realised that there’s so much more going on. After doing In with the Old French label Jarring Fx wanted to do a tour, and I was at a point where I didn’t really have a show, so I needed to make something that was club-viable. So I asked this VJ if he would come with me, and we’d have to build a new set, and he was keen. And I told Spoek about it, and that I was gonna be playing with M. Sayyid from Anti-Pop Consortium, and he was like ‘you’ve got to take me!’ It was just after Sweat.X had been touring, doing their own thing. So we started something else; we didn’t wanna do the Sweat.X house music/electro music thing. We wanted to make a rap crossover kind of thing. So, based on that tour we started Playdoe. That’s actually the project that’s been recognised the most.
You guys were virtually unknown here, but the first time we heard of Playdoe, your Myspace had over 90, 000 views already…
I can’t say it was completely intentional. Because it started on the back of a tour, and then we started getting interest. Instead of us knocking out of South Africa, we wanted to do it the other way round. But we had a team in the UK pushing us, and things kind of grew pretty quickly… but it also fell apart pretty quickly.
Are you still keen to work on Playdoe material?
I think we’ll probably do stuff again in the future. I probably won’t do it under Playdoe. Spoek Mathambo is his own person, and I’m my own person, so we’ll do songs together. After the Playdoe thing, I felt a bit bitter about it, like any band break-up, you always have a bit of weirdness. But we’re cool, we’ve buried the hatchet.
You’ve been involved in a lot of projects that have resulted in dead-ends. How do you deal with that?
You can’t really. Being in a band with someone is like making them your girlfriend, it’s always gonna be tough. With two people it’s much easier. But if you have a band with four or five people, I’d imagine what would probably happen is that you’d become friendly with one or two people in the band, and you’d get these splits to make it work. But you’re always gonna fight. What I want to do musically on stage I can’t explain to somebody, they need to get me. That’s a really difficult thing to do.
What do you want to do musically on stage?
Well, I guess at a point in a song, I know what I want to do with it. But if I’m performing with somebody, it’s so much harder. They either don’t see that vision, or they have a completely different vision. The rad thing about collaboration is that you explore each other’s sides and make a middle ground. But you really need to get each other and be behind each other, otherwise you end up schooling and pissing each other off.
Are you still willing to collaborate with rappers?
Yeah, I’m more cautious now, if I collaborate with somebody, it won’t be for a project. I don’t think I’ll start another project with somebody. I kind of started a project last year with M.Sayyid, he asked me to produce his solo stuff. We already did one song, and we’re about to drop another in the next couple of days. But instead of it being a project, it’s just him and I doing tracks together. Then Cerebral Vortex was out here in December, he’s a friend from New York whom we did some Playdoe collaborations with, Spoek always works with him. I did a track with him which is crazy! I love rap music, so I would always… if the rapper’s right, I would collaborate.
There’s a snippet on your soundcloud, and the note under that states that it was from a project you and Felix Laband were supposed to drop at some point.
It was years ago. Him and I are huge fans of the kwaito scene, we love the kwaito artists a lot! So we were like ‘why the fuck don’t we work with them’? He was like ‘we’re gonna make an EP of crazy shit, send it to this overseas label, and get the overseas label to contact them because then they’re gonna listen if they come from overseas’. So that was the battle plan, but Felix went through a lot of shit at that time; kinda disappeared, went overseas, moved back to Joburg. I had these songs that I’d made for that project, and that kind of just stagnated. But we’ve now made a New Year’s resolution that this year we’re doing a six-track EP based on that original idea.
We saw visuals of a Playdoe set at the Paleo festival, and some of the tracks were really kwaito-type songs. Are you also into the current kwaito scene?
Yeah I love that shit. But I’m into the dirtier stuff.
The nineties? Like, Thebe’s stuff?
Yeah, the album that fucked me quite a lot in the nineties was (Arthur Mafokate’s) Die Poppe Sal Dans, that album was crazy. And times have changed now, there’s a merge that I see. I think Cleo at the moment is a really great producer; he might be a bit of a dick, but he’s a great producer. And I think his sound represents a lot of what I love about the kwaito scene. He’s sped his shit up a lot, and he’s merging the local house scene and the kwaito sound pretty well.
What do you think of the Durban scene?
It’s crazy! Some of my friends from Durban keep telling me that I’ve got to put a kwaito set together of my own beats and go do a live show over there.
You disappeared around the time that Playdoe fizzled out, and then last year you emerged again. What was that gestation period about, what were you doing then?
Well, the studio that we run here (Say Thank You productions), we do a lot of sound design work, and that’s kind of what keeps me not relying on my performance stuff to make money. I dived heavily into that and just focused on the business. The gestation period of that was figuring out how I was gonna get songs off my computer and onto the stage. I’m not just gonna play songs, I need to break shit up, I need make stuff live. So there was a lot of trial-and-error. I learnt maybe the biggest lesson on playing live through Playdoe, we just drilled show after show in Europe. And I was away from my studio so long that I would take my sampler into my hotel room, plug it up, no computer… I mean I had my laptop but I wasn’t working on Mac at the time and I didn’t have my work files. I was just a bit like fish out of water. So on the sampler, I started breaking up the chorus loop onto the other pads and then work out like… okay, let’s take the kick with the bass in it, and I would work out little sequences. Then the finger-drumming thing kind of came to life because the stuff I was doing was really simple but it was being created with the idea of ‘oh, the song needs something, so now let me figure it out’. So I brought that whole thing that I did on that tour back to my own stuff.
Your performances have always had a strong visual leaning to them. Is it something that you take from your childhood, or was it just from watching other people?
I think if you’re gonna perform, you always need to put on a show. The outfits and all of that have always been there. The first deejay battle that I won was at Le Club in Joburg. (The event) was somehow related to a Wu Tang release they’d sponsored… I can’t remember the details, but it’s just after I’d met Waddy. He gave me this outfit, I wanted to do my routine in Le Club without people knowing that I was a white dude. So he gave me this military mesh thing, and a military hoodie. So I did the routine with this mask on, and killed all the other DJs. I think that was also what solidified Waddy and I, he was so fuckin’ proud of me. But the outfit thing, from way back then, Max Normal was about suits, Real Estate Agents were always changing up. That’s part of the theatrics of it. It’s not imperative, but it shows people that you’re making an effort to do something. And also, if you put something on and get on stage, people are like ‘oh you better fuckin do something now’! You can’t just look like that and do nothing. So you’re setting yourself up, throwing yourself in the deep-end, which is cool. And then the visual thing now is like… because I was doing so much live shit, a lot of producers said that the stuff goes over everybody’s head, they don’t understand it. So I got these cameras, put those onto my gear, and I’ve incorporated visuals as well. The cameras are mixed with visuals, and we synch the visual stuff to the tracks.
You are planning to put out an EP of your material this year. How will you handle the dissemination of that, especially in this era where people are not really willing to pay for music?
My thing has always been, well for quite long now, that I don’t really want people to pay for music. If I do a launch party and I make CDs, then I want them to buy, but then it’s kind of old school. Uhm, I’m kind of getting discouraged by people who think that I should be selling it. But for me, I wanted to call the album ‘Disposable music’, but there’s a record label with that name. When I found that out, I just thought fuck it, I’ll do it anyway, but then thought I’m gonna have a hard time on the Internet. So Ross helped me come up with a name called Throw Away. The idea of music nowadays is that everyone’s making shit so quickly; it’s remixed, it’s re-hashed, it’s put on the internet, it’s downloaded, it’s listened to once, and it’s gone! So that was the idea; off me performing, I’m making a lot of stuff that sonically is big. And I wanted to put something out that represents that, and hopefully if that goes well, if my idea comes across, then I’m gonna try and do those consecutively amongst albums.
Let’s talk about your production process. How does that work?
Um, this is a bit influence for me [goes to his wurlitzer keyboard]. I’ll often write something on here, and then once it’s on there, I’ll start to produce it.
It’s interesting because you actually write the music. Is that important in your creative process, the musical element?
Absolutely! I think after scratching, I always felt like I was in these bands of musicians and I couldn’t communicate with them. Felt like such a noob most of the time; I just kind of wanted to learn more. From that scratching stage, I just started learning drums, piano… I play like a child, but I’m a lot more musical than I was.
When did the concept for Say Thank You come about?
Well, it kind of started by mistake when I was making really shit music, and some of it got to an agency and they asked me if I would produce it. I think at that time, there were young people my age coming up, and there were a lot of stagnant old producers who had been running this shit from the nineties. It was really difficult because I wasn’t musical at all at the time. When I completed my first job, it was like ‘whoa, I can get paid to do that’! And Markus was starting to do it in the same time, during Constructus. And Duncan, my brother, was our manager, so the three of us got together and made Say Thank You. And we did that for quite a lot of years in Bree Street. But we went through some changes, split up, and now it’s just me and my brother, and Dank works for us. Markus is still doing it, he’s doing more composition stuff, films and games.
You’re from a hip hop background, and you’ve been able to surpass traditional expectations about that type of audience. Do you ever look back and think ‘it’s been rough along the way, but at least I’ve got this on the side’?
I think you can choose any path if you have an interest in it. The most important thing is not to stop learning about it. The reason why hip-hop became so boring and stagnant to me is that it had to be traditional, it wasn’t about learning new shit. From the original hip-hop stuff, it was always about ‘this is fresh and new’…now new is not cool so it must be traditional. So I was like ‘fuck that, I’m outta here. What do you mean you can’t use electronic shit on a song’?!! I would say that I’m so far away from that scene that I don’t even know what’s going on, but I’m still a part of it. It’s weird.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I like the new Modeselektor album. Chris Clark’s one of my favourites; for me, he comes from a hip-hop background. I like Flying Lotus, I listen to a lot of that. I like Dorian Concepts, that whole scene is crazy. I listen to Dank’s music, and I listen to my own music funny enough; like, if I’m working on my own music, I listen to it quite a lot.
So what’s coming up musically from you for the year?
Just to try evolve, motivate, and innovate my show and change. And try put music out, because it’s pointless having a show if you don’t have any music. That’s one thing I’ve realised, but I just can’t get my head around it. I need to get overseas and do this show, doing this type of show in one place becomes stagnant quite quickly. Just write a lot of music and put it out, not be so precious about it. I’m doing some interesting stuff with Jack Parow this year hopefully, him and I get along pretty well. The M.Sayyid stuff we’ll be putting out will be pretty cool, and maybe work again with Ninja sometime.
So you guys resolved you issues?
Yeah, not very long ago either. In the same week, I resolved my issue with Spoek and Markus as well. Just unrelated, it just happened. So I got a ‘no more beef’ tattoo on that week.
We appreciate your time, thank you.