Kill the Universeby Ts’eliso Monaheng / 27.02.2012
Any band that can, in a span of three years, manage to release two albums, organise well-attended album launches (exactly a year apart from each other), amass a following that consumes their brand of rap for rap’s sake continuously and tirelessly with no second-guessing, and manage to let people know “you are going to die” without drawing dead-pan expressions from onlookers, deserves my respect. In the past year, Mike and Disco have done side projects (Brainwarmth and Sedge Warbler respectively), while Narch’s deejaying gigs have become more prolific. Yet tonight, with support from The Bone Collectors, Beach Party, and Christian Tiger School, the P.H.Fat trio make it known that their conviction to nonsensical rap trivia remains the modus operandii.
I arrive to find an ensemble of underwear-clad teenage mutant-looking beings on stage and begin to think that somewhere between making my way through the queue outside and walking up The Assembly’s staircase, an alternate being entered my psyche and re-configured my wellbeing. The less said about Beach Party, along with the majority of this evening’s crowd, the better. Perched firmly against the sound desk, VJ to my immediate left, I begin to bow before an imagined shrine and thank some imagined archaic gods that I caught the dying moments of their soft-porn exposé.
After a brief intermission, the Christian Tiger School gets on stage. I discovered their music only a few days earlier and still cannot shake my first impression when I heard the name: “are they a Handsome Boy Modelling School tribute band?” The description on their soundcloud page describes them as a ‘psychedelic/dream hip-hop duo from Cape Town, South Africa’. What that means is that they have taken the best parts from the creations of Afta-1, Flying Lotus, and of late, Samiyam, Tensei, etc. and applied them all to their process. The results are projected onto the audience tonight. Their head-knocking beats get more than a few heads nodding, with snares and kicks that hit home and stretch yonder from whence forth their space-age, synth pad-laden production influences came.
Their set turns me into an instant expert. I begin to see ‘clauses’ in their sound that could do with ‘more enhancing’; instead of them sampling phrases from ODB (“I get psycho, killaaa, Norman Bates”), or J-Dilla going “turn it up”, why not utilise the geographical proximity of some bergie going “jou ma se poes”, or even a gaartjie hollering “Mowbray-Kaap”?! But fortunately, I snap out of my hyper-critical producer zone in time to appreciate the ingenuity of their creation. Yes, they have appropriated large chunks from the current output churned out by bass music giants, but at least they construct their sound tastefully. Theirs is the tale of two boys with A.D.D, head-nodding in musical enjoyment to a reality imagined by no one else but themselves. Perhaps with time, practice, and precise attention to detail, they will twist enough knobs, juggle enough beats and listen to as varied a selection of music as possible to help their sound morph and develop its own identity.
I look around, and the sight of the awkward social camaraderie of a high school playground abounds; there is the jock dancing out of synch with his cherry (and having a jolly good time); then the kid who nearly knocks over another guy’s drink (and apologizes profusely afterwards). Even I get invited in on the fun as one bespectacled nerd decides to show motherland love to an Afrikan, going the whole ‘shake-hand-and-do-other-complex-finger-thing’ route. It is a gesture that transforms me into an instant fan, as I vow engage more with those I am in close proximity with. This is territory-smashing shit, what Eddie Levert and the rest of the O’Jays termed ‘the love train’.
Christian Tiger’s set has built up incredibly well, reaching crescendos that get even more heads bopping. They demonstrate a familiarity with the rudiments of DJing, and I can hear what sounds like production from the Glitch Mob and Samiyam in their impeccable set. My prediction? With the right amount of focus, they will do either of the following: get snapped up by an international label like Brainfeeder or Plug Research, or utilise whatever resources they have at their disposal to cultivate a niche that will, with time, dominate global bass culture.
It is fast approaching midnight, and we’re waiting on P.H.Fat. I immerse myself in my surroundings. I imagine jumping up and down with the crowd, getting battered and bruised, and running for the exit gasping for air, only to come back for more. But all I get is the occasional spurt of water from hydrators, air conditioning and no cigarette smoke. This shit is weak. Blame it on global warming; the fucking rage that is new-ageism; whatever! ‘You are still going to die’, I think to myself amidst the pop song that serves as the prelude to P.H.Fat’s set, sounding carelessly out of place amidst a crowd that sings along equally out of tune.
After a few pleasantries, P.H.Fat jumps into “Kill the universe”. The audience transforms into zombie-fied mercenaries, eyes transfixed on the trio standing before them, ready to carry out any instructions dished out to them. “Dinosaur blood” visits familiar territory, and the legion in front aggressively shout the words back: ‘I’m talking bout dinosaur love, and hugs, and flowers/ and pictures on the wall, and thugs, and super powers’. By the time “Radio” is performed, Disco has asked whether the motley of dinosaur-loving, death-defying, and possibly bear-hugging accomplices have downloaded the album? P.H.Fat have decided to go with a pay-what-you-like model, with the option of making a donation via sms. While the donation option gives one access to bonus material. “Yes!” is the resounding response, and it seems that I am one of the few who does not have the album in my possession.
P.H.Fat’s show, frenetic in parts and confusing in others, represents a resolutely monotone incarnation. There are no light-and-shade moments, no periods of respite, and no reflective stances. Just bass and noise – a lot of it! There are no surprise twists and turns, and neither are there intermissions nor ethereal passages and forays into the unknown. The theme of death, the stiffness of it all, is both ambiguous and distinct in P.H.Fat’s sound. To someone who appreciates colour, this music is dull – almost beautifully so.
The performance is energetic, raw, and unfortunately too vulgar for vulgar’s sake for me to be challenged by it. But the audience appreciates every second of it, which overrules any argument I may have regarding the show. The irony of Mike asking ‘do you respect yourselves?’ After yet another song that talks of bitches and fucking seems entirely lost on the audience who, yet again, respond with a resounding ‘yes!’
Crowd participation is a pastime for P.H.Fat. The relationship with their audience deserves a write-up on its own. Fuzzy Slippers is summoned onto the stage by the crowd chanting ‘Fuzzy, Fuzzy, Fuzzy’. It is truly a thing of beauty, a sight to behold in the thick midst of heavy bass and modulators. There are now five people on stage (Beach Party’s drummer joined them on the third song, adding another dynamic to Narch’s intensely-sporadic production). They kick into a re-fix of “We love animals”, and everyone goes ape-shit.
The obligatory faux-pas moments are also present. Disco suggests that the horns are the sign for hip hop and from the corner of my eye I immediately see Dio squelching uncomfortably on his seat somewhere in metal heaven. Someone comments on how they’ve ‘never seen The Assembly so full’ and I resign myself to the thought that that person has probably not lived long enough.
On my way home, I realise that I do not have to listen to P.H.Fat’s music, nor do I have to like it. But it is my prerogative as both an observer and consumer of culture to acknowledge the amount of time and hard work they have invested in cultivating a niche for themselves, a niche that not only follows them around (a twitter follower recently tweeted “travelling 740 ks to watch @phfat at Ramfest in CT. Fucking amped!”), but eats every word out of their hand regardless of whether it has import or not. I might not like Mike’s nonsensical brand of suburban white boy rap, nor Disco’s mindless banter (I do not, however, dispute his great flow and lyricism).But what P.H.Fat has done, what they have achieved, deserves the utmost respect from those who throw rocks at them while secretly whispering ‘kill the universe’.