South Africa has a young but rapidly growing House/Dance scene. A lot of reference is still made to guys like Vinny Da Vinci (Deep House) etc. How important, do you think a sense of history is for any professional DJ or aspiring to be one?
It’s very important. I think these days we get a lot of young people aspiring to be a DJ’s because they think it’s cool or for other reasons. It’s also very important I think to have knowledge of the music in the genre that you play – so you understand the root elements of what you’re doing and why you are doing it.
I was very lucky to have saved enough money to buy Technics turntables when I was 18 years old and I still have them now. I also love and enjoy every chance I get to dig up my old vinyl stash.
I love CDJ’s too but for me these are just the next step in “Playing Songs” to people as you know they can allow a DJ to be more technical. Then of course there’s the dreaded”Computer” which again lets people have unlimited access to every song out there.
I think if some of these guys (that DJ on computers and CDJ’s) have to go back to playing on 2 decks (turntables) with a mixer they’ll have a nasty shock.
The DJ’s, who however understand the simplicity of dropping good songs, can do it seamlessly and with great demure.
I’ve hear numerous people saying an Atjazz sound is very recognisable. Has it evolved say in the last five years?
My sound always evolves. I have a certain way of doing my thing and as I understand more about the theory of music, I grow. I didn’t have any training in music so everything I do I learnt by myself.
I feel very proud that a sound that came from me and only me has touched people. I guess it’s just me and my attitude within the sound.
A lot of people say that it’s a signature but I guess it is really a softer approach to harmonics and hip shaking sexy beats that I try my hardest to get. If I get Goosebumps then I know I’m on the right track.
Not really, I still always listen to Jazz & Soul at home. I think I’m stuck in a time warp when it comes to influences. I do however keep an eye on the new guys that pop up. It’s a must to keep sharp in such a strange industry.
If they (you influences) would change to which music direction do you think they would change to?
It seems that when Jazz was Jazz back in the days it was about the instruments and arrangements of those instruments. It was about an ensemble of sound that worked so well you never questioned it.
Only when technology came along; people tended to change their approach to the sound they put out. If we look at Herbie Hancock for example he embraced technology and used it to his advantage where others only tried and failed.
I think there are stitches in time that all music feed from and I’m kinda stuck in the early seventies through to early eighties. My influences would have more than not got stuck there too if my ‘influencers’ didn’t change.
Do you think Deep House is any different now to what it was ten years ago?
I think not, it’s still there and getting better and better – but Minimal Tech House is not Deep house. That’s where things get very distorted and watered down.
Deep House has a way of making everyone feel everything at once and unless that (the confusion between Deep House and Minimal Tech House) disappears I can only see things progressing.
Honestly, I think it’s a breath of fresh air. Musically it’s much more harmonic & subtle than a lot of European stuff out there. I welcome it with open arms.
The history of music in Africa ‘full stop’ has so much depth that it’s only right that South Africa should be kicking out great artists such as Black Coffee, Culoe, Mzee, G Family to name drop just a few. The more we have the better things will be.
Quite a number of people I’ve met have referred to Deep House/House in general as stale saying it has become too self-referential, formulaic and inward looking i.e. not enough people are breaking the rules. Would you agree? What is your take on this?
Yes, and it’s true but only a certain style of House. It’s the softer Minimal Tech House what people are referring to. They are not songs, just ideas & loops.
It’s annoying and flat if you ask me and Deep House gets the (bad) rap. Deep House is not minimal. It’s not an idea. It’s like Hip Hop – a phenomenal kind of music that really does move a person and if it doesn’t then it’s the other kind of ‘imposter house!’ There I’ve created yet another genre for you.
Apart from the stalwarts of House/ Deep House i.e. Osunlade etc. In your own opinion has there been any real invention in making the sound more authentic?
Well, there are a few people who are overlooked worldwide. We have DJ Spinna, Jazztronik and Louie Vega’s Elements of Life. These are class acts. They write great songs. They produce high quality mix downs. They perform to the highest standard.
I think it’s a very difficult question to answer as nothing should be matched to the next thing. Acts and bands should be allowed to grow and be what they are.
I think the authenticity is within the individual or band. It’s only when people get to a point of creativity where they find themselves doing what they do honestly and working hard – that to me is authentic.
It’s an industry first and foremost. It has to generate money or people won’t be able to make music in the first place. Keeping things alive is very important to get people out of the house to buy music, DVD’s, eating out etc. It is a luxurious thing but now very inexpensive.
The art is completely there. It’s in the writing of the songs. If there are great songs being written and you can generate enough money. Then in turn take time to write another great song – this is definitely then the art and keeping its head comfortably above the water.
Have you evolved as an artist over the years? Are you as keen as you ever were? Are you still on your toes?
Nowadays I’m keener to get on it than I ever was. I love being in the studio and I love performing DJ sets.
I’ve always been driven by my hunger for making music and now I have a large fan base. I just have to keep on going so I can bring them more and more music of different styles for their differing tastes. My only problem is I kinda need 34 hour day. That would help a lot!
What keeps you enthused – what keeps you doing this week in, week out?
I honestly have no idea! I guess all I can say is that when I’m playing in a club or behind my synths in the studio I meditate. This is my Zen time.
I always feel refreshed like another good job done. It’s a cleansing time for me and it gives me space to think clearly and maybe it’s this subconscious mood that draws me back for more.
It’s was great, very easy and a real pleasure! Robert is a good friend and a wonderful studio partner. He’s full of ideas and he gives off a wonderful energy.
We just snapped together like we should have been writing for years before. For me, it was meant to happen and I’m very humbled by the whole situation and experience.
Will you be planning your DJ sets in South Africa?
I don’t plan my sets as every party demands a different energy. I will make sure I pack every killer song I have and hope that I can please everyone on the nights I’ll be playing.
What should the South African audience expect?
A Very, very, sexy, Subby, Deep, Afro HOUSE MUSIC, and with a few live elements!
INTERVIEW: Nduduzo Smalz Ngobese