“We just tend to do things the way we do them, the way we see them, vibe them, you know what I mean? That’s how we enjoy it…”
Spoek Mathambo, like his mysterious moniker, is very much out there, and at the same time very grounded, of the earth. Grooving to the tunes on his latest album Father Creeper (for it’s difficult material to merely listen to – as cerebrally engaging as it is, the cranium can’t help bopping, and as Master [George] Clinton decreed, “.. your ass will follow,”) it takes some time to realize that much of the sense and scenes you’re getting down to are in fact decidedly ominous.
Mathambo renders the sputtering ghosts and ashen hues behind the façade of the Rainbow Notion, but renders it – the blood and decay – into helplessly swinging hips. In fact, he cleverly inverts George Clinton’s famous line into something like ‘Free your ID, and your mind will follow.’
His musicality is just as trixy. Very much a Hip-Hop head (he started rapping at ten, and in high school edited and distributed his own underground Hip-Hop magazine), Mathambo is most associated with cutting edge, Hip-Hop fronted dance music.
His first blip on the radar was his positively sunny contributions to Watkin Tudor Jones’ The Fantastic Kill project and album, his raps lending bright relief to Waddy’s more sinister deliveries, via tracks like Bang On The Drum. His next two projects were all-out Electro, with his raps fronting beat & glitch maestros Markus Wormstorm in Sweat.X, and Sibot in Playdoe. Today Spoek’s still mostly filed in the promiscuous Dance realm of sonics, while his band reads more like a Punk-Funk outfit – Drums, Electric guitar, and horns.
It helps that said instrumentation is inflected by, nay, infected with sophisticatedly crunchy bass & beats, and deliciously pixilated ambience.
So here we have a live groove band of the most dangerous kind. One that lingers in the mind long after the dance floor reverie has ended… long after the body comes to rest.
With lyrics that seep into one’s sleep.
The Creeping Father
There is a watershed separating Mathambo’s increasingly successful work as side-, wing- and frontman, and his new realm as self-governing musical artist.
Following Sweat.X and Playdoe’s minor ripples in greater ponds, Mathambo has been featured as rapper/vocalist on several successful dance/remix tracks spanning continents. But with debut solo album Mshini Wam, Mathambo tasted authorial identity.
The stylistic shift is significant.
Spoek Mathambo, the band, comprises many elements. From gifted childhood and high school friends, to seethingly talented musicians he got to know locally and from “making inroads internationally”, the Mathambo fold is essentially a Family of contributors.
A collaborator at heart – true to his approach of the music sounding “how we feel it, in the moment” – Spoek is now in the delicious position of surrounding himself with a variety of talented and complementary artists, as opposed to playing a vital role in someone else’s board game.
“My big thing is just to celebrate people who I admire and others who have also supported me. I think of it as resources: Having these people who don’t just pull their weight you know? Who end up being a big part of the personality of the given project.”
What be the ghost of Bones
IDM: You seem to prefer a sort of a scruffiness, a bit of asymmetry to your sound, especially on Father Creeper, compared to the sort of clean-cut precision many bands go for?
“We just tend to do things the way we do them, the way we see them, vibe them, you know what I mean? That’s how we enjoy it. That’s one side. The other side is we do a lot of D.I.Y – a lot of rough sounds so that’s the way it comes out. I think with time things will change – grow and develop. But this is where it’s at now.”
IDM: In your tracks, I get a feeling like there’s a crush of ghosts, wandering the pavements and clubs and alleys. As if your songs prefer a menagerie of passing characters rather than the usual singular hero or protagonist?
“I guess in a sense. That’s the one side of it, the other side is just sort of storytelling from a lot of different characters’ perspectives, but, at the same time I would say that [Father Creeper] is a lot more personal than any other project I’ve been involved in, and for the most part [the songs] are first person narratives.”
IDM: You seem to be not as judgmental as a lot of other artists are. You celebrate the power of love and growth, on the one hand, but also the power of disruption and decay. As if you celebrate life in all its shades and angles?
“Yeah. But I think that’s just about honesty, y’know? It’s not just my perspective but also the inner working of a sort, from beginning to end. Not ‘This is the negative’ and ‘That’s the positive’. On [Father Creeper’s] We Can Work it’s all the different things I’ve gone through in my life. From being a little kid up to now. And not just representing one side of it, which I think is a dishonest, self-righteous approach.
I talk about my uncle, and about doing various [arbitrary] jobs.. and just what it’s like to be young and having that.. Dream [chuckles] – Y’know? You’re young and irresponsible, making decisions that don’t involve bills that have to be paid. There’s a lot of stuff that.. my 16-year old self wouldn’t like to do, that I have to do to pay the bills now.”
On emancipation and anchor
IDM: ‘Spoek Mathambo’ translates as ‘Ghost of bones’, and I’ve heard it’s a kinda derogatory phrase, where’s it come from? What is Spoek Mathambo?
“Kind of a couple of different routes. I wrote a story when I was just finishing high school and the character’s name was Spoek Mathambo. I got that name from this local sit-com which was just my favourite sit-com at the time, someone in there said it. I’ve really had a lot of rap names, like, Scientific rap names – I’ve been rapping since I was ten, and I’d be going through dictionaries, reading through the pages looking for names [chuckles]. With Spoek I just wanted something irreverent, something funny. As my sound has become a lot darker – If you said Spoek Mathambo five years ago it wouldn’t have the same meaning it has now – its meaning and connotations have shifted. Like it’s become Self-Actualizing y’know?”
IDM: Who is Father Creeper dedicated to?
“It’s dedicated to everyone who worked on it, yeah. It’s dedicated to a lot of my family, who’ve been very supportive… It’s a big, big milestone in my professional career. Not necessarily career-wise but in the sense of all the skills I’ve picked up. Yeah it’s dedicated to ME [laughs].”
Outside of being a mind-fudging work that mysteriously gets you down and boogying, Father Creeper is most significant as a celebration of intellectual freedom.. and the emancipation of hips. Dig in.