Sunday, February 14, 2010
Photo: fly on the wall by Gerv LV
I was standing outside Plastic People after the Hyperdub 5 CD listening party last year when someone came up to me and introduced himself. His name was Gerv and what he said made me laugh: turns out he knows the Keysound photographer's sister, who used to be my old flatmate and he's in a band called LV, did I know them? Know them, we'd been playing their dubs on Rinse! We began chatting and after a few Budvars, I confessed my love for a lost dub, "Early Mob" which will - to cut a long story short - be coming out as part of a LV EP on Keysound in April.
While sorting out the EP, he IMed me this infectious South African house track. It set off my "wtf" alarm...
Then he mentioned that not only was he heading to South Africa for Christmas, but he'd clocked some mad music being made, often being circulated by taxi drivers affiliated to local soundsystems. I was fascinated, so when he got back I sent him some questions and sent the boys round to give all of LV Chinese burns until they made a mix to share. Here's what happened...
Blackdown:What brought you to South Africa for this trip?
Gerv LV:I was born in Cape Town and came to London when I was about 6 so I’m kindof English in South Africa and South African in England. I’ve got a lot of extended family over there so the first reason for this trip was to connect with them.
B:Can you outline loosely what you were up to and where you went?
G:I decided to extend my trip and use it as an opportunity to explore a bit. I got put in touch with a couple of people who put me in touch with a couple of people and I wanted to soak up as much as possible so I just went wherever the music took me. I was based in Cape Town for just over a month but I also got to visit Johannesburg, Stellenbosch, Grabouw, bits of the Eastern Cape. Some random collaborations came together while I was out there which was really exciting, it was great bringing it back to LDN and playing it to my LV guys.
B:We talked before about you having heard of a culture of taxi drivers affilliated with soundsystems, did you encounter any of that while you were there?
G:The taxis are pretty fascinating to me. The way they seem to operate outside the law, the way they zoom past you on the hard shoulder at a million miles an hour. Each taxi is a soundsystem. Normally you hear them before you see them. Always with the DOOF DOOF DOOF DOOF. Some have brightly-coloured designs and names like ‘Thunderclap’ or ‘Masterblaster’. I heard that every year there is a taxi soundclash convention somewhere up in the eastern Cape where they all get together for raves and drag races on the beach roads. Music is clearly vital to the taxi culture. You often hear people referring to “taxi music”. To be honest, it amazes me that noone has found a way of using the taxis as a way of getting music into people’s ears in a more organized kindof way. I suppose this is just a sign of how embryonic the local music industry is out there, it seems like those channels are all still being formed.
South Africa is a big place so people have to travel huge distances all the time. Last time I was in South Africa years ago I took a bus from Durban to Cape Town and the driver only had 3 CDs. By the time we reached Cape Town 14 hours later I knew every tune backwards! In fact, one of the tracks I remember from that busride was that Mzo Bullet track which has pricked a few ears over here.
I did hear of a couple of people that have benefited from having their music played by the taxis. An early mixtape by DJ Cleo got picked up by one of the Cape Town taxi firms and that really helped him. He’d come down from Gauteng (an area in the North of South Africa) to play parties in Cape Town and people were already familiar with his stuff. I also heard that DJ Mujava used to drive a taxi in Pretoria and he would play his own music in his taxi, selling cds for a couple of bucks out the back. Pretty soon word got out that his taxi was playing good tunes so other taxi drivers and people with bars or shebeens would ask him for cds.
B:What new-to-you musical sounds and styles did you discover while you were out there?
G:So. Much. Music. Everywhere I went. Inevitably lots of the music you hear is that suffocating piped-in mall music you get anywhere in the world but most of the radio stations have SA quotas so you do get to hear the odd ‘local’ thing.
When I was in Joburg I got taken to a great late night place and the dj was sat behind the bar playing all this wicked stuff. I got chatting to him and he was telling me about all this kwaito/house hybrid music coming out of Durban. Zulupower! He played a tune by some people called Big Nuz that I had to try and find (You can hear it in the mix). Most of the music that really excited me over there was this sped-up kwaito stuff. Really imaginative party beats with loads of inappropriate noises and bits of vocal and synth chatter
The first totally-new-to-me thing I came across was this dance called ‘Pantsula’. There is a whole music that’s grown around it. I’m not really sure how it differs from Kwaito but people seem to talk about it as a separate thing. Lots of the South African rappers make pantsula versions of their tunes. Mostly it sounds quite sluggish to me but I heard a few things I liked.
The other cool thing I heard was people mixing Jamaican sounds with the local sounds in whatever way they can. There’s always been quite a vibrant reggae scene in South Africa, my uncle played the bass in a group called ‘Sons of Selassie’ that were quite popular anti-establishment party-starters from the Observatory area of Cape Town. I met a Xhosa reggae singer called Teba Shumba who remembers performing with him back in the day. Michael Jones RIP.
B:Any particular tracks or artists really grab your attention?
G:First thing was Big Nuz. I love the way the 3 of them call and respond and bounce off each other, sometimes overlapping. My mate Spoek told me that their bars are killa but I haven’t got a clue what they’re on about most of the time, though occasionally you get an English phrase like “til the break of daaawn”. And the beats are wicked, lots of odd tuned percussion and percussive synth lines. It’s just straight coolness. Soundtrack to many a hot car journey.
My cousin put me onto a guy called Mzekeke that made me laugh a lot. He calls his music Kasie rap (toilet rap) – it’s very dirgy trancey afrolectro with lots of offensive shouting and weird characters and skits. He’s a huge star in the ghetto and does mobile phone promotions. But he always wears a mask so there’s all this speculation about who he is and what he has done and why he has to protect his true identity.
A few of the best things I picked up out there are totally unknown to me, they’re just called ‘track 4’ or ‘track 6’ or ‘track 13’. I was in a cab on Main Road stuck in really bad rush hour traffic and the driver had one of those car stereos that plays off a USB stick. He was playing a wicked tune and we got talking. Turns out he was a law student from Zimbabwe who was living in exile. He urged me to rip his entire USB drive onto my laptop as long as I have him a few things in return. I never got to thank him properly, there was some unbelievable stuff on there.
B:What were your DJ sets like? I hear you had one eventful one...
G:There was one gig under a railway in the centre of Joburg, the club was literally covered in a thick layer of red dust due to the roadworks happening outside. The whole place had a reddish glow, which was cool, but it got ridiculously hot. From 8pm they were playing that megadistorto aggy halfstep and I got the feeling it was quite a drum and bass crowd. So I went for it with the harder stuff I had with me, they weren’t ready for Stageshow Version). Towards the end I played Sweet Mother by Skepta, a tune I love and which I had been looking forward to playing, and some people at the front were shouting pretty obscene racial insults at me… I remember one voice cutting through the noise saying "Why you playing this African shit?” I so wanted to tell them this tune was straight outta North London!
I also played at a huge outdoor trance festival over New Year which was a madness. They had 3 powercuts during the entire 3 day festival and all 3 were during the first hour of my 2 hour set. I played on the African Dope stage on New Year’s Day, went on just as the sun was going down. ‘Fostercare’ sounded different on that system, heartbreaking. Not sure people were ready for that one either.
My favourite gig was in Cape Town at a place called Co.Lab studios. The music and vibe was amazing all night. Spoek Mathambo came down and touched mic during my set, the highlight was him spitting fire over a Zomby tune called Balloon People into the Doc Daneeka edit of Pathwayz by Digital Mystikz. That was a beautiful moment. I even got to play some Pink Dollaaaaz which made me wish my LV crew were out there with me. Maybe next time…
B:How about a quick mix of those MP3s you gathered? Go on!!!!!!
G:This is a selection of favorites from the trip, plus a couple of things I got sent around the time. Will, Si and I put it together immediately after i got back. It’s got a rub of Dream Cargo in there that’s actually closer to the original tempo of the demo that Kode 9 heard. Seemed a nice fit. The mix starts with an outtake of Smiso saying ‘OK ZHARP’ which became like a catchphrase for my time out there and it ends on a personal note, our dub version of a new collab track. The track was started in 35 degree heat in Fletcher African Dope’s beachside studio in Muizenberg, Cape Town…and finished in a cold room in South London.
LV "OKZHARP mix" for Blackdown Feb 2010
DOWNLOAD it here.
Okmalumkoolkat - OK Zharp intro
? - Ketokole
Big Nuz - Le Ngoma
DJ Killer & Nyekx aka Blackboyz - Killer in the Jungle
French Fries feat Bambounou - Coconut
LV - Dream Cargo slomo rub
Tshwara feat DJ Menace - ?
? - Bring Me Love
DJ Clock - Track 13
? - The Offering
Dikota- Track 6
DJ Cndo - Terminator
Big Nuz with Tira, Bonz Twitty - Superman
? - Nkosana
? - ?
? - Arise and Shine
Scratcha DVA - Dump
Spin - Track 3
? - ?
Zomby – Balloon People
DJ Fork and Knife vs Cabbage - Track 4
Mujava feat Tamara and K - Alostro
Brothers of Peace feat Zulu & Costa - Bop Killers
? - Wild Percussions
LV & Fletcher - Michael Jones (LV dub)
LV release the 5 track "38" EP ft Josh Idehen on Keysound in April, more about it, in due course...