Imagine being given a demo on a TDK tape. I imagine some of you reading this may not even know what a TDK D90 tape is! The year was somewhere around 2000/2001 I think. The name scrawled across the tape was Damage. Two young lads from Paarl had sent the demo to Alien Safari and whilst the music was a little on the rough side, it was one of the most promising bits of psytrance to emerge from South Africa back then.
Not long after that the duo were rocking dancefloors and in less than a year thereafter one half of Damage – James Copeland – gave birth to his solo project; Broken Toy. The rest, as the cliché goes is history. As Broken Toy, James has gone on to release two stellar albums and tons of singles since. Today he is one of the most booked psytrance acts on SA dancefloors and if he can motivate himself to bang out another Broken Toy album he will no doubt become a regular fixture on the global circuit once again.
A gifted producer with a penchant for the less than obvious, our man Jimmy has recently also given birth to a new project simply called James Copeland. Essentially a minimal tech[house] project with a penchant for vintage sounds, swinging horns and even a touch of blues and rockabilly, Jimmy now swings effortlessly between the high-octane futuristic sounds of Broken Toy and his slinky, throbbing minimal tech project.
We caught up for a little chat across the interweb (he was on tour in Europe somewhere) and as usual James was honest, forthcoming and quite chatty…
So, top psytrance producer turns to electro-swing-tech… Now you wouldn’t be the first psy producer to explore new genres but you’re beyond just exploring. You’ve created a whole new persona haven’t you?
Yes, although I don’t think it’s something I can rigidly adhere to. These days people’s appetite for music is so insatiable it’s become difficult to stand out even if you are damn good at what you do. You only have to look at the success of Jack Parow or Die Antwoord to see that creating a character to express your music through lends a whole new perspective that listeners latch onto. Some might consider it a piss-take, but in essence it’s making your music 3D – adding a new dimension to it that pushes songs into the realm of entertainment rather than just music. I don’t want to put on an act, but I do want to create the headspace in which I want the music experienced.
But with your talents you could have opted for something more mainstream or radio friendly…
Well I do enjoy a bit of a challenge – even to the point of self-sabotage – but the bottom line is this; when I sit down in the studio and I’m working on something that I’m not into, I start to get nauseous and I have to bail. My stylistic choices are always instinctive and inescapable. The brief on the James Copeland stuff was simply that I’d do something focused on vintage sounds as opposed to the hi tech science fiction noises that dance music is normally associated with, and at the moment that includes everything from Balkan beats, rockabilly, swing and beyond.
Surely you’d like to write a hit song or massive club anthem one day? Something that would get extensive radio play. Not all hit songs are bad after all….
Not so concerned with radio, but a club anthem… Wow! Let’s try and quantify the power of that. Small clubs being rocked by a simple melody creating absolute unity and euphoria – that magic moment clubbers yearn for. Now multiply that by the amount of clubs in the world and repeat the formula adding and including bigger clubs and festivals with millions more people etc and etc. Extrapolate the formula over time and it would be mindboggling to be the person who brought that amount of euphoria into the world! It’s a serious achievement and it is something that gives me a bit of a tingle to think about. I`d love to achieve something like that, but I’m not actively striving for it – I don’t think that’s the point anyway.
It didn’t take you very long to get the James Copeland music released…
I`ve gotten some fairly random connections through Soundcloud with Nesono [another of James’ projects], which people generally thought was curious, but not something they could play. As soon as I made the JC stuff which was more to their tastes, it spread like wildfire and ended up in the right hands within the first month of starting the project. It was a very satisfying experience considering how long I’ve waited on certain projects to bear fruit.
I love your new EP, Jade Garden [Sleepwalker Records]… some great remixes too.
Yep! I`m a good mate with Jimmy Chronic and he liked this slightly deeper and mysterious track. I got some mates in to remix it and I think it’s a great and varied little package. I really like the different spin that both Danalog and Emile gave it on their remixes.
It’s no secret that selling music is tough. Have you resigned yourself to this fact?
I have completely resigned myself to the fact that there is no money in it at all and it’s a catch 22 because if you give your music away for free, people don’t think it’s worth anything, so it still has to be released through the normal channels so people [at least] think it’s worth stealing!
How’s the overseas tour going? Are the punters as crazy as us Capetonians?
The gurning punters of the UK are flying the flag very high. Clubbing here is a way of life for these people, whereas Cape Town clubs always seem to be a bit over policed with militant bouncers, dress codes and elitist attitudes. I definitely saw tons of stuff here that made Capetonian dancefloors look more than a little bit conservative.
First some swing parties, then Glade! Be honest now. Did you appreciate the familiarity of psytrance again?
I`m in love all over again every time I play a Broken Toy gig. I`m truly blessed – I can’t remember the last gig I had where I didn’t receive serious dancefloor love. The added bonus to Glade is that I haven’t played a UK festival in ages so it wasn’t like it was in the bag to begin with. There was a bit of winning over to do, but pretty much business as usual. Awesome party.
You’ve clearly spent much of the past year re-inventing yourself with James Copeland Music, how does this impact on Broken Toy? Are we still going to hear another album from you?
People would naturally assume that if you`ve got a few projects running that some of them are suffering or not as loved as the other, but in my case this is untrue. Anything you do for an extended period of time will get boring and create unrealistic creative pressure, so I’m constantly changing and keeping my projects feeling fresh to me. As for another Broken Toy album, I`ve been keen for the last 2 years but labels aren’t interested in anything other than digital EPs these days and I`m thinking of ways to get around this. BT really needs a whole story rather than a collection of tracks to get people into it, so its very possible that the next album will be released on a label I start myself. Stay tuned.
Now, as you look back on your month away from home, probably feeling just a teensy bit homesick, which memories are going to give you the biggest giggle?
UK festivals are well known for their rain, and Glade did not disappoint on the last day. I had a moment on the dancefloor in my wellies and raincoat with torrential rain and punishing wind ripping at me where I suddenly felt totally impervious to it all. Calm inside a bubble, I opened my eyes and saw a raging dancefloor with a bunch of friends of mine giving it everything in the mud, shading and decor flying away and a fence blowing over with people in the background running for cover. The chaos of the moment was ultimate, but we were still there grooving – untouchable. It’s hard to describe the joy I found in this and other similar moments I’ve had in the UK to people who haven’t experienced this sort of thing, but it’s really what I consider earning your right to party, no matter the cost or how wrong it seems.
These trips are always great to re-establish contact with people in the biz, which is hugely important. There`s a community out there that you need to be in touch with and online chatting doesn’t cut it. You need to get down and party with the peeps! On a personal note, it’s also shown me how I need to take even more control of what I’m doing. It’s a tough game, and there are few people in your corner pushing to make things work for you. Take charge. Rock it.
Written By : Dave Mac
Photography By : Ian Engelbrecht