King of the Swingersby Ts’eliso Monaheng / 07.03.2013
For the uninitiated, Fletcher Beadon is one of the most influential ‘deejays/producers/former-label owners’ on the South African electronic music scene. If he were to read his CV out loud you’d think he’s dropping names. But it’s all true. He co-founded the legendary African Dope record label with Roach Roth back in the late 90s and was instrumental in nurturing and exposing the talents of modern day heavyweights like Sibot, Markus Wormstorm, Spoek Mathambo, Waddy Jones and Yolandi Visser to name but a few. We thought it was high time we caught up with Mzansi’s dubmaster, king of the swingers, a man simply called Fletcher.
As a preamble, I’d heard that he was working on a specialist kind of release: a free project of twenty-five dubs, all his own production. Being a dub fiend myself, this was the perfect opportunity to not only get a first-hand advance listen of his bass-heavy compositions, but to also engage with this largely under-appreciated musical shaman.
We zoned out in his living room while he prepared some salads, coining the phrase “if you can make a good salad, you can make beats” in the process.
We hung out in his studio as his nerdy project of self-indulgent dubs ripped through the subwoofer at alarmingly-sobering frequencies. I also got to hear first-hand accounts of the reggae scene in Cape Town; of how Zorro is the godfather, having mentored the likes of Teba and Crosby from early on. Fletcher proved to be a fascinating interview subject, eager to share insight and opinion and never shying away from engaging with our questions. Here are some snippets of how this afternoon conversation went down.
Mahala: So how did you start out in production?
Fletcher: I’d been deejaying for years. I bought a computer, and a sampler, and a keyboard off a smack head who owed his dealer a lot of money and was about to get his knees broken the next day if he didn’t come up with fucking twelve-and-a-half Gs. I happened to have the cash on me. I got the equipment, and that’s how I started. It was a good deal! I learnt to use a sampler, I learnt to use a keyboard, MIDI, taught myself Acid [the program not the drug numbnuts]; I think I used Acid all the way until 2004, and then I got into Ableton. And it’s just been Ableton since then.
Are you musically trained?
I played the flute in school band, and I got shat on all the time for improvising and playing shit that wasn’t on the page, so I was a particularly bad classical musician. I just thought the score was a bit boring, and I had my own interpretation of it. But I mean I did that the whole way through school, and I did music theory too… I was very bad at all of that shit.
You were living in Bristol at the time when Massive Attack and Portishead were coming out…
Dude, in Bristol at the time, Massive Attack, Portishead, Roni Size, DJ Krust… it’s kind of like what should be happening in Cape Town now. The same thing! There’s so much talent in Cape Town, but what was amazing then is that London media latched on to Bristol music in a big way. So it’s the same shit, but it just got blown up by the media in such a way that the number 1 and number 2 albums were Massive Attack and Portishead! You know what I mean? It was a media thing. The music was there, the music was good, but it’s as a result of – that’s what I clearly saw – the music journalism in the UK driving this whole thing.
Do you think it was strategic? Was it planned by someone?
Of course! It was someone’s mission to put Bristol on the map, and they did it through the media. And I think the same thing could happen with Cape Town if someone decided to do it because there’s exactly the same talent; there’s exactly the same number of interesting characters in the scene.
Hasn’t that already happened in the early 2000s with the African Dope label?
I suppose… I mean that’s what we had in mind back then, but it never really… it’s never economically viable. And shit that’s not economically viable is not sustainable. African Dope is anti-business; it makes sense perfectly if everyone’s doing it as a project that they love. Unfortunately making good music and making money out of good music are two very different things. You can make good music, but how do you make money out of it? Then it’s exactly the same as selling any other music, you know what I mean?! Trying to sell good shit is exactly the same as trying to sell bad shit.
But then the media did latch onto African Dope at that time. Why didn’t it have the same ripple effect as it did in the UK?
I think just a much bigger market of people that buy music. I mean African Dope is pressing up 2000-3000 CDs; it’s not a business model! You need to be selling a lot more music than that. I’m still very interested in the concept of… let’s put it this way, I learnt a lot of valuable shit from doing African Dope Records. What I learnt from it is that shit has to be sustainable financially, or you pay for it yourself, you know what I mean? Essentially African Dope was funded by five years of me doing films and commercials. I took the money that I’d made composing for commercials and put it into music. And I’m not gonna do that again!
How did you find your partners?
Roach and I had been deejaying together as Krushed and Sorted. He had a record shop just off Long Street called Solid Records. And when his record shop went bang, because no one was buying vinyl, we put all that vinyl to use by playing it to all the early drum ‘n bass parties, that’s what we did. When I got the computer equipment, I learnt how to produce with Roach. Roach and I worked together. He’d had some experience working in another studio with some mad English dude. I’d known Roach since ’95/’96, since I’d very first come to Cape Town. Honey B was Moodphase 5ive’s first manager and she ditched Moodphase 5ive and came and worked with us. And that’s how it all began.
So what is the Krushed and Sorted collective up to at this moment?
Krushed and Sorted studios still produces music for commercials, audio-visual stuff. Krushed and Sorted live does shows of remixes and video mash-ups, video scratching, that kind of shit. What this year, 2013, is gonna be all about is now Krushed and Sorted music videos, actually shooting interesting concept music videos for ourselves and for other people around us.
What do you mean by ‘interesting’?
Basically, a normal director is focused on shots. I’m not coming from that side at all! I want audio-visual interaction; I want to see things, and when I hear something, I want to see it. I want interactive audio-visual concepts – things that you can play with, that I can chop up in Ableton and stretch and have fun with.
So you’re more interested in the remixing aspect.
Ja, it’s essentially video culture chopped up and remixed, the same as you do with sound! The same as you do with sound all the time; you fucking chop it up into a million pieces, you tweak all those million pieces, you make everything…it’s not about the shot. The equivalent would be getting a good jazz recording, where it’s all about the musicianship and getting a perfect recording! A jazz engineer would freak out if he saw that I chopped that sax solo into 300 parts and put it onto the drum pad and replayed it entirely. That’s the kind of audio-visual shit that I’m interested in doing, dealing with sound and video – putting video onto drum pads and playing it.
You seem to have a good eye for original talent, taking into consideration all the names you’ve worked with.
I’m a creative person, I like other creative people, it’s that simple.
But how do you separate the bullshit from the real?
It either works or it doesn’t, people have got it or they don’t. It’s not to say if you don’t have it now that you won’t have it in a couple of years’ time. But also I like to work with artists who are professional, even if they’re hobbyists, even if they do it strictly as a hobby, they work professionally, which means that you’re working towards a goal. And a lot of cats are in it for the pussy basically. There’s not creative goal at the end of the day. Well, not just the pussy, but the bling, the fame. None of that interests me at all!
Have you seen that happening a lot in Cape Town?
Well, it’s just everyone’s different response to public attention. How do you respond when suddenly thousands of people are focused on you? Do you go ‘hey baby’, or do you go ‘more of that, more of that’, or do you run away from that shit?
So it’s the trappings of ‘fame’.
Horrible shit! You know who my hero is, DJ Hi-Tek. Why? You don’t know who that motherfucker is, I know who he is! I know who that cat is, because I’m in the music industry and I know who that dude is. There’s a real producer making those beats, but who you see on stage is a stage prop. That’s why he’s my fucking hero, because he’s making a full cut off all Die Antwoord’s music… every single song of theirs.
Tell us about what you’re working on at the moment.
I’ve just produced a full album of twenty dubs that is finally ready to go! Please feel free to download a copy and share this with your friends. Go on, dont be shy. It was made with and is given with love. The first part is 74 minutes of deep space dub music, subsonic rumblings, glitched out melodies and frequencies from other dimensions.
The second part of the album is something quite unusual. With this recording you can learn the ancient meditation technique of feeling the touch of your breath, called anapana sati. You can put the mp3s onto your phone or laptop and listen with headphones. Once you are comfortable with the technique you can use the meditation timer on track 2 to practice whenever the opportunity arises. mediation is a very practical exercise that help you to move from a mode of thinking to a mode of feeling. The benefits of this in your daily life are unbelievable.