It’s no secret that South African electronica and dance is on top of the world right now. Many South African house DJs and producers are being signed and released on acclaimed international record labels and they are not only creating and developing a unique sound but also influencing producers overseas with their own brand of rhythmically driven kwaito influenced dancefloor workouts. If it weren’t for the likes of Culoe De Song and DJ Mujava, the track Boomslang which sounds like it comes straight from eKasi in Jozi, by UK dubstep producers LV would probably never exist.
One of the most important things about being signed to international labels and developing a career outside of South Africa is to actually tour abroad to promote the music. Although the power of music blogs and similar media is incredibly powerful in the modern age, the best way to win over fans and industry honchos alike, is to blow them away with music performed and deejayed from a powerful sound system. An artist who understands this more than most is the enigmatic Spoek Mathambo, whose solo album this year released on BBE, Mshini Wam has seen him go on tour in both the USA and Europe.
Spoek is no stranger to touring abroad having already made a name for himself in Europe alongside fellow electronica geniuses, Markus Wormstorm and Sibot, with the projects Sweat X and Playdoe respectively. His new live project is probably his most ambitious to date as it involves an entire band. Consisting of Spoek on vocals, Nicolaas Van Reenen on guitar, Richard the Third on the sampler and Jakob Snake on the drums, Spoek Mathambo and Mshini Wam combines some of the tracks from the album, such as gun-fingers-in-the-air title track, Mshini Wam and dark, brooding kwaito house, Don’t Be Scared, alongside a slew of new punk rock bass ballads that, aside from the dubstep inspired basslines, couldn’t really be called electronica or dance at all.
The show is therefore a flaming melting-pot on stage that fires off an artillery of genres. The recent tour around the USA has been a perfect testing ground for the live show. Kicking off at the One Step Beyond party in New York presented by Fader, then onto the Elbo Room in San Francisco, Bardot in LA and two shows in Denver and Salt Lake City, the tour has been a bi-polar journey of highs and lows. The best show according to the band was in LA. Says Jakob Snake of the show, “We really didn’t know what to expect. New York and San Fransisco were really cool, but when we got to Bardot we were really unsure because the room we were playing in was really small and kind of intimate and our show is pretty intense. It turned out to be the best experience. The sound was amazing and the crowd was totally receptive, taking in everything we threw at them”. The lowest point was in Denver where the band found themselves playing at a rinsing Dubstep party with a crowd that were just not into hearing anything other than smashing, chainsaw, migraine-step.
The band is onto Europe next with shows lined-up in Berlin and Paris. A veteran of the European scene, Spoek is looking to expand the show to accommodate the wild party-to-the-early morning club sound. “I know that scene and I’m worried our show is gonna bring the vibe of the clubs down if we’re playing peak hour. So we’re gonna work on expanding the whole sound to accommodate the dancefloor more”. As ever it sounds like Mshini Wam are spreading themselves out crossing the boundaries of genres like they cross the borders of countries.
Another South African artist who has been making noise, and I mean serious noize, is the industrial-electro monger, Haezer, who has meteorically risen to the status of a rock-star over the past two years in South Africa and who is releasing music and remixes on several overseas labels such as Onion Records and Freakz Me Out Records. He has also recently completed a tour around Europe, performing in all-night clubs to capacity crowds of between 1000 and 2000 people.
From the sounds of his tour diary his thundering, merciless electro sound leads to rapturous abandon almost every time he steps up on stage and fires up Ableton Live. Tales of mosh-pits, crowd-surfing and drunken debauchery seem to accompany every show he plays and listening to his music, which has the hyper energy of punk-rock and the drugged-out exhilaration of techno, it’s not hard to understand why he’s a jet-setter.
One particularly crazy incident, when his shirt was literally ripped off his back, seems to sum up the madness “For some reason the kids in Italy looooove the ‘Oh My God It’s Techno Music’ shirts. They literally pulled me into the crowd and, like little gremlins, tried to steal it off me… I had to reach for Tommie’s (Italian tour manager) hand in what seemed like a maze of hands trying to get my shirt…” Pictures of a shirtless Haezer on the net seem to indicate that the kids were successful.
It’s inspiring to see local electronica and dance music received so well overseas. And aside from Spoek Mathambo and Haezer there are many other artists whose skills on stage find themselves traveling to all corners of the globe. Psytrance fans will be aware of producers such as Protoculture, Headroom, Shift and Broken Toy who spend half of their time abroad playing to maximum capacity crowds while drum n bass DJs Niskerone and SFR play gigs in Europe every year.
From hip-hop to dancehall to the aforementioned house, psytrance and drum n bass masters, South Africans have found a solid place on the global dancefloor.
Not only is it easier to travel and promote oneself overseas with the advent of modern technology opening doors, the world is interested and fascinated in what a plethora of artists are up to at the bottom of Africa and they want to hear and see it for themselves.
Written By : Richard Rumney