Ryan Murgatroyd is the craziest white boy in South Africa’s dance music landscape. Outspoken, brash and someone who does not suffer fools easily, he is one of our country’s most accomplished music producers. But he is more than that. He is an individual who has a thirst for knowledge that goes way beyond the borders of music. Ryan is also the man behind setting up the Soul Candi Institute of Music Production Courses having written the actual curriculum. His credentials as music producer are unquestionable and he hopes that his new E.P. – iKalimba – out on 1st September on Get Physical Records will be the one that makes the world take notice.
In this interview we go deep into the mind of Ryan Murgatroyd as he touches on his obsession with a cure for cancer, San Pedro excursions and the state of SA dance music.
Thanks to your outspoken stance on social media we get to know a lot about your opinions on so many different subjects. Does your public vocal stance ever create serious conflict with your peers, family or just the general public or fans?
Ryan Murgatroyd: Ha-ha, you know, my opinion on this is quite simple: It’s very rare that I add people onto social networks (unless you have great boobs, that is, and I am happily involved now so those days are over), most of the people I have on there are either personal friends, or people that have added me, and are therefore subjecting themselves to my opinions. Also, we live in the age of South Park, so I have to question whether my views are really that radical…
Anyone who has met me knows that although I take a lot of things very seriously, I also do so with quite a lot of humour… You kind of have to laugh at the madness of the world in 2014, or you would lose your mind completely. At the end of the day, music is just something I do. I feel like I’m defined to a much greater degree through the other work I do… I’m not trying to be a pop star, and I have no investment in being likeable either. My only option is to be authentically myself, and prey that people ‘get it.’
I’ve always detested that people will edit their most fundamental beliefs in the interest of political correctness. And I think that although I might be offensive to some people, they can sense the authenticity of my convictions, and they know it’s coming from a place of love. But yes, I’ve had a bit of hate mail and the like. The world is a big place and you can’t please everyone. But if I can change one person’s mind a day, get them to read an article or consider a perspective they haven’t had before, I’m doing good work…
Tell us about your ‘Deep in the Mong’ podcasts. They seem like a shitload of work on top of all the other stuff you’re involved in and it’s certainly not your usual clichéd stuff…
Ryan Murgatroyd:Well, Deep in the Mong is about sharing some of the incredible knowledge I’ve come across in a whole lifetime of travelling, reading, researching and generally being insatiably curious as to how things work. The podcast movement is HUGE in the States at the moment, and I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that this is far from an original idea. I’m heavily influenced by other people who have paved the way for this… Joe Rogan, Duncan Trussel, Chris Ryan and others are doing fantastic work in this regard, and it’s a whole new experience for people because it’s really very intimate… You get to spend 2 hours with someone, getting to know them on a very personal, very real level. You can’t bullshit in a podcast like you can in a 5 minute radio interview. So I’m banking on people relating to the authenticity and my passion about all these topics. You never know where you set off a chain reaction, you know; some 16 year old kid likes one of my tunes, checks out the podcast, next thing he is reading, researching, teaching other people, winning a Nobel prize 20 years down the line, who knows. More than that, people might hear me talk about how utterly insane I am, how difficult I think the human experience can be at times, how confusing it is to know which way to go, which path to take, when to listen and when to ignore, and they might say ‘wow, I don’t feel so bad anymore.’
Michelle Breeze – she of the band Fetish fame – posted this status last month and I thought it was really insightful and pertinent… what are your thoughts?
“Over the past year for my course I have read hundreds of research papers on various subjects, from different researches and scientists all over the world. I have come to the conclusion that there is very little consensus or conclusion about anything in this world. For every piece of evidence that proves something there is usually another piece of evidence that disproves it. Everything has a context and that context can change the truth. Leave out a word and count the numbers in a different way and they tell a different story. No matter how much you think you are an individual you are not. We are all just a reflection of all this mindless information floating around and logging into our brains, informing our opinions and choices.”
Ryan Murgatroyd: She raises a fantastic point – the scientific method is limited because it is always looking at things in isolation. You could take any ‘fact’ about medicine, for example. Like ‘aspirin reduces cancer risk…’ But then, you have to consider all the other variables – What is the person eating? How are they sleeping? What is their family/social environment like, what other nutrients or toxins are they taking in, what is their genetic profile, what other risk factors. We are ultimately governed by the fact that any complex system cannot be reduced to any one of its parts. This type of thinking is called ‘systems view’ – and the people who apply it, like Fritjof Capra, or Stephen Buhner, are the TRUE geniuses of our time. If you want to change your life, read their books man! Ha-ha-ha.. The problem with that type of research is that its reductionist at its core. This is why I’m such a fan of obtaining knowledge in unusual ways.
Which, I guess, is why you’re off to South America to participate in a San Pedro ritual – to acquire knowledge in unusual ways, what are your expectations?
Ryan Murgatroyd: I am excited, nervous, terrified, all at the same time. How about this, I’ll devote a podcast to talking about my experience afterwards, and you can listen and laugh as I describe all the challenges that I will probably go through.
Sounds good. Okay onto music. What’s with all the African vocals in your tunes? Do cynics ever accuse you of jumping onto the ‘old tribal African bandwagon.’
Ryan Murgatroyd: I am jumping on the bandwagon, man, I’m on my way to buy a new Beemer [BMW] as we speak , from all these years of exploiting the oppressed people of the world. [Laughs].
No, seriously, I just love the idea of using vocals as an instrument without using LYRICS that people can identify with. The English language, for all its perks, doesn’t lend itself to writing emotive dance music. I’d rather hear a vocal that is loaded with meaning and emotion, but which I can still interpret in my own way – so I use all kinds of techniques to achieve that; I’ill reverse vocals, play with their pitch and intonation, and of course , record vocals in strange languages, some of which aren’t even real at all (ZOMA, for example, was just something we made up, but it had a FEEL to it, which was tangible, and that, for me, over-rides the need for literal linguistic meaning.)
Do you or have you ever got stick from black house producers implying that you’re ‘stealing their sound or mining from their roots?’
Ryan Murgatroyd: Not that I’m aware of.. I mean, am I? Most of the way I use those kinds of vocals are very far removed from how any other producer would use them. In a way, I’m re-packaging them for sale in Europe, [laughs]. You know, there is always some grumpy fucker out there who is gonna tell you that you are a racist, or a dickhead, but I challenge you to stand on a dance-floor while I play ‘Bantwanas Piano’ and tell me that my intention is anything but spreading love through the universe. Or even better, stand on a dance floor while I play iKalimba, which is my favourite self-produced track. Moreover, for Europeans, who haven’t grown up exposed to all these incredible expressions of humanity, hearing an ‘African’ vocal on a well produced (I hope) electronic track could be a seriously emotive experience. If that means I’m guilty of stealing something which belongs to someone else, arrest me motherfuckers!
Your new E.P. iKalimba drops 1 September on Get Physical – a label I really think suits your style. From what I’ve heard on your Soundcloud page it’s a cracker. Deeper, slower, chunkier grooves are definitely where it’s at nowadays. There seems to be a lot of buzz about the SA house sound and how it is infiltrating the global scene. a) Would you call yours a ‘SA house sound’, b) when you wear your artist cap, is it all smoke and mirrors or are we potentially on the verge of seeing a lot more SA producers cracking the global market?
Ryan Murgatroyd: I have never been so excited in my whole life!!! I think this is the EP that could change things for me personally and musically. I don’t consider myself a strict ‘Afro House’ producer at all. I mean, even with Crazy White Boy, there is a very big European influence in our stuff – we can’t help it man, we are as white as they come!!! In terms of my own stuff, its African influenced at some level, but there are tracks of mine that have zero of that sound in them..
And yes, the flood gates are open now, and we ARE going to see a huge increase in the numbers of SA producers signing to major labels overseas, as soon as SA producers start paying attention to the laws of post production, and taking a bit more time. I work closely with Blanka Mazimela, who is the first person that I think is going to have a major European label signing, but who knows, there are probably kids in the township doing things on Reason or Cubase [erm… try FL Studio, Ed] that I can’t even dream of, it’s just a matter of time.
You manage to play your share of fairly mainstream gigs – the kind of gigs I’d expect Goldfish to be headlining, yet your music is, in my opinion, not obviously commercial. Is my analogy right or am I misinformed?
Ryan Murgatroyd: Do I? Heh, heh, look, Crazy White Boy, for some reason, seems to appeal to a much wider range of people than we suspected it would, and I’m really grateful for that, because it means I don’t have to give hand jobs behind a dumpster for money any more, (although the memories are still fresh, [laughs]). My own project will never be that versatile, I could never play at K-Day or a Holi Festival of Colours, because the normal folk would be confused, and probably angry, as I assaulted their ears with underground shamanic afro-techno… [laughs].
In that way, CWB is a generally more accessible project in a number of ways, and that is why it makes some money. Kosta, my partner in CWB, is much more reluctant to be politically insensitive in the public domain, and that is probably why we are still eating and not living on the street. He does a fantastic job of keeping me off the CWB FB page, because he knows I will offend everyone and then we will starve to death..
At the end of the day, CWB is a project that is based on collaboration. [Vocalist] Nonku Phiri is a permanent member now, and she is more of the show than we are a lot of the time. That is the reason we can go into a commercial environment and do well there, which is something I would be reluctant to do myself.
Standing at the bar after a gig, do you talk politics, shamanism and cures for cancer to fans or do you keep it vanilla?
Ryan Murgatroyd: You clearly haven’t been the subject of one of my epic ear-fuckings; which have been known to occur at parties, and in other grossly inappropriate venues all over the world.
[Laughs].Finally; you’re pretty deep in the SA scene from producing, performing, creating complete syllabuses for teaching music production; what does the SA scene need more of and what could it do with less of?
- More: Music theory education at local sound colleges (harmonics are a huge barrier for most people to release good music)
- More: Humility
- More: Initiatives like Bridges for Music which are giving local kids the chance to get started on making their own music
- More: Education that lets people tell the difference between hype and someone with skills. I can’t believe people are still defending the deafening, atrocious ulti-mixes that certain morons have been putting out for years; these exercises in out-of-tune-ness are an insult to the art form, and it makes me SO sad when people start telling me I’m a hater because I can hear that Euphonik is tone-deaf!
- More: Donations to Ryan Murgatroyd because he is awesome, or at least buy my EP out on 1st September on Get Physical!
- Less: Schmucks who can’t be bothered to learn the basic skills of their craft – it’s NOT hard to download a tutorial on mixed-in-key or take a piano lesson just to get an idea of what harmonics are about.
- Less: Handing out credit where none is due
- Less: Crappy sound systems at clubs, this absolutely RUINS the experience for DJs, and punters.
And that folks, is Ryan Murgatroyd. One of my favourite people in SA music. He who speaks the truth need fear no one and nobody I know says it like it is, quite like Ryan.
Don’t forget to buy his E.P. – it’s a cracker.