Enhancing Soundby Ts'eliso Monaheng / 13.12.2013
Earlier this year, I worked on an article about the beat scene in Cape Town. In it, I sought to interact, on some level, with the vibrant producer culture of the city I’d called home for the past five years. One of the first people I reached out to was Shane Cooper, alias Card On Spokes. He’d just been awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Jazz in 2013 (frequent collaborator Kyle Shepherd has won the 2014 prize). Cooper went on to release two brilliant projects: Seafood, his collaborative effort with producer Dank; and Oscillations, a masterpiece in the same league as the best in South African jazz music and beyond. While in Joburg for Redbull’s Basscamp, he spoke a bit about an EP he’d been working on. The project, titled Lead Me To The Water, was released on Monday as a free download. I thought it’d be fun to compile moments from our chat where he spoke about his production process and the toys he enjoys using.
MAHALA: How did you start out in music?
SHANE COOPER: I started playing guitar when I was thirteen and got into bass in high school. Around the same time, my brother hooked up some old school software called Audio Mulch. It’s quite limited, but it was a nice entry to working with software. We started messing around for fun, just making weird stuff. We later got an early version of Fruity Loops [now FL Studio]. I don’t remember it having much functionality besides the prescribed loops that came with it. We would mix a hip-hop drumloop with a Country & Western guitar riff, just a weird mish-mash of stuff for jokes. Then I started getting really serious about bass and spending a lot of time on that. But all the time I was also making beats. I was listening to a lot of old Ninja Tune stuff, that was my main influence. It was all jazz-influence hip-hop and trip-hop, and also a lot of the early Warp artists – artists like Squarepusher and Aphex Twin – really out-there electronic music.
When did the character Card On Spokes come about?
It came about in 2009. For quite a few years I hadn’t been spending as much time on beats. I realised that time is marching on; I still wanted to make the beats thing a big part of my life as well because I’m into that kind of music. I didn’t want to completely neglect it and let it fall by the wayside. I’d actually just had a hard drive crash and lost a whole bunch of old beats. I wasn’t very good with backing stuff up, so I filled my hard drive up. I lost all these old beats and decided to start afresh. I bought myself a mac laptop, I got Ableton, and I started jumping around with names. At the time I was trying to make very nostalgic-sounding beats; I was listening to a lot of Fourtet and Prefuse73 and stuff like that. I went for the name Card On Spokes because it refers to that thing we used to do as kids where you’d put a card on the bicycle spokes; it’d make it sound like a motorbike. It was all to do with enhancing an experience with sound; you take an already-existing feeling, you add some sound or soundtrack to it that makes it a little bit better. And it tied in with the nostalgia thing. Then I really started trying to make an album, just trying to make tracks that I can play live.
Was “In you go” the culmination of the music you were writing up ‘til that point?
That’s it. It’d written a lot of songs from 2009 to 2011, way more than was on that EP. I selected a whole bunch that reflected the things that I was exploring with beats. There are a couple of tracks on there that are very analogue-sounding, because they were recorded with an analogue keyboard; played-in, not using a lot of midi sequencing but played loose. Then there’s the conspiracy theorist which is another side; it’s very digital and very edgy and dark. It was for me a way of going ‘okay, that’s some reflection of what I’ve been doing for the two years.’ I was getting to this point where I was developing what I felt was my sound. I had this bag of songs that I wanted to get out. I wanted to release something so that I could start afresh in a way and continue on. I’d learnt a whole bunch about production and I wanted to taper what I thought was my direction and start anew with it. Putting that album out enabled me to do that.
How do you build a beat? Do you start from a sample, or do you play everything live from the get-go?
It starts in different places. I’ll often start with a beat, and then I’ll jam on the keyboard for about an hour, and I’ll loop stuff and find what I like. Sometimes I’ll sample something. I don’t really sample vinyl that much, it’s more like I’ll play an instrument in and then treat it like a sample; I’ll jam but then cut it up as if I was cutting up a sample of a double bass thing, or a keyboard thing. It starts in different places; sometimes I’ll actually work for ages and nothing will happen, and then the next day it just happens in ten minutes.
Who do you look up to in Cape Town in terms of beatmaking?
What Dank’s doing is great, Sibot, Mr. Sakitumi…the [entire] Gravy collective. I’m not being biased, but I really like all those guys’ beats. And all these other guys doing some really interesting stuff, like Ox++, Funtoy – they’re doing really interesting things.
What is the *Gravy* collective?
It’s basically a bunch of us who teamed up and [decided to] help each other out; by grouping our collective networks, we can be stronger together. It’s not a [record] label, it’s gonna lead to further collaborations and remixes within the group. I think it’ll just help us bring more attention to Cape Town – the beat scene here – and also bring more attention to each other through our own networks. So it’s just a way of empowering ourselves. The whole scene is on its head now, it’s hard to know how it’s gonna change. The way the industry changed with mp3s, I think South Africa is still figuring itself out. The label doesn’t have as much power as it used to have when CDs were selling. Doing things like this is a good way to go.
* Images © Ts’eliso Monaheng