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Beatenberg_pic-by-Tseliso-Monaheng

A NIGHT WITH BEATENBERG

by Tseliso Monaheng / 29.08.2014

I was in Cape Town for the International Jazz Festival and decided, on a whim, to check up on friends and old acquaintances. One evening, I invited myself over to Wildebeats’ flat located in the CBD. He’s an innovative electronic music producer and computer scientist whose area of research focuses on mobile interaction design.

Part of the charm, a double-whammy by any standard, was getting to peek through his and his housemates’ vast vinyl collection – really a labyrinth of exceptional taste ranging from Bra Hugh’s Techno Bush to a respectable selection of Stockhausen. I’d also get to experience Wildebeats’ 808-friendly compositions in progress, and hear what the housemates Ross Dorkin and Robin Brink – two-thirds of the pop trio Beatenberg (completed by guitarist/vocalist and chief composer Matthew Field) – were working on.

It’s around 8pm, lockdown time for everyone in the house to focus on their creative projects, I’m later told. I buzz the intercom.

Wildebeats heads down to fetch me and leads me up to the apartment, which happens to have been an office space once upon its life. At the extreme end of the spacious dwelling, in a room overlooking Church Square, Ross (bass), Robin (drums) and Matthew (guitar/vocal), are laying finishing touches to the album they’ll be handing over to Universal Music, the record label which signed them in 2012.

It’s been a gruelling year for Beatenberg, I imagine. Since signing with ‘the man’ in 2012, they’ve essentially become a breakthrough crossover band. It’s also possible that an entire album could be created out of cover versions of ‘Pluto’, their collaboration with DJ Clock. The song still gets played daily in bars and at taxi ranks almost eight months after it started wreaking havoc on just about every mainstream radio station in the country.

I ask Rob about the experience.

“It’s changed our lives,” he says, adding “we’re probably tighter than before because the success has proved to us that we’re on the right track. It’s a kind of validation. We’re always recounting jokes that Kholile (DJ Clock) has told and joking with each other about all the crazy stuff that’s happened in the song’s wake.”

Crazy stuff, like playing for a gazillion people as opening act for Bastille during the Jozi leg of their South African tour, and getting flown to Mauritius to perform at what Rob describes as “a heavenly beach resort.” Getting to meet Oskido, Professor, and Black Coffee among other musical heroes has been a highlight for Rob in particular, himself an electronic music producer going by the name Ox++.

“And what’s it like working with a major label?” I ask.

“We’ve been with Universal for a long time, it’s been trying. We’re quite stubborn about our aesthetics, so we often have troubled dialogues with the label. But everything seems to work out really well in the end. We like to joke that ‘it takes a lot of uphill to get to the top’. At the risk of sounding like an idiot: I’d say there’s a sort of dialectical process between ‘artist’ and ‘label’ which results in the end work.”

***

Ross is manning the control boards and leading the mixing session for ‘Rafael’, the third single since ‘Chelsea Blakemore’ and the aforementioned ‘Pluto’. It’s commercial house-flavoured, in the same vein as its predecessors. It’s also peppered with guitars which float somewhere between Mbaqanga and Zouk, and a bass line so deep it can rattle windows and awaken spirits.

Matthew, guitar in hand, alternates between strumming a few chords and resting his head on the guitar’s body. Rob, half-reclining on the bed nearby, suggests that a drum break in the song be slightly altered. Wildebeats is in the room; Geoffery Brink and Tom Parker from John Wizards are present too.

It’s when Ross plays ‘Ithaca’, though, that I know that Beatenberg are onto something as incalculable and unprecedented as the sudden shift from outright commercial house to some strange morphology of jazz. Matthew’s a compositional genius, I decide right there and then. And Beatenberg are probably my favourite band.

Then I retract all my admissions because, well, ‘cos the album was yet to be completed.

Still, ‘Ithaca’! What a song… It sounded like the music that should play as you cycle against a warm breeze on a Saturday afternoon; like the perfect joint to spark on a Sunday morning; like the song someone would fall in love to and decide that it’ll get played at their wedding one day, and every day after that.

***

Months later, when I saw on iTunes that their album The Hanging Gardens of Beatenberg had been released, I didn’t hurry to buy it.

Instead, I recalled an evening in Cape Town about five years ago… My university had a virtual network which facilitated file-sharing between various residences. I downloaded a ten-track album called Farm Photos by a band called Beatenberg, which promptly became favourites in my earphones. It was only after a while of playing these songs and falling in love with the music over and over that I learnt that they were three homies from Cape Town, and that Rob, their drummer, was the same cat who beatboxed during rap cyphers on campus every Wednesday.

I eventually did buy the the new album, and am currently listening to it. Will it match Farm Photos with its intensity? Since music is, beyond an emotive experience, a feeling we tend to associate with space and time, concepts which aren’t necessarily easy to replicate, probably not.

The album therefore presents a challenge to experience Beatenberg in a new light, more so because their collective experiences, musical and otherwise, have shaped the ‘newness’ they’re presenting – a newness different from when they were university freshmen.

However, I do feel that I’ll be re-playing these songs – from the heart-tingling ‘Ithaca’ (home to Cornell University, which is referenced in the song), to the tongue-in-cheek ‘Facebook Apologia’ – for a long time to come.

*Beatenberg will be embarking on a tour to support their album’s release. For dates and to buy their album, visit their website.

**Image © Tseliso Monaheng

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RESPONSES (1)
  1. iamradiogirl says:

    I totally feel you on farm photos. Love that the guys are doing so well though!

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