meet the vanguard of the south african beat scene who are revolutionizing electronica
By Sound Check
January 23, 2018
By Edward Kgosidintsi, AFROPUNK Contributor
Hip Hop music has different sociological connotations for South Africa than those it bears in America. For the latter, hip-hop is representative of the disenfranchised urban black masses. Its braggadocio aesthetic acts as a much needed shield against the plight of being broke and black in America. When you came from nothing, flaunting designer clothes, watches and sports cars can be a mode of gospel: A vocalized inventory of the trappings of white success garnered by a people the system deemed worthless. It features black pariahs who brazenly rejected the formula yet won against all odds and are now defiantly adorned by the trophies of a game that was designed to exclude them.
In South Africa however, hip-hop is a genre associated with privilege. Like most imported subcultures, it was first appropriated by the middle classes before it trickled down to the proletariat.
This classist imbalance is evidenced by the contemporary icons of the commercial South African rap scene. Popular acts like AKA, Nasty C and Ricky Rick for instance, are all alumni of some of South Africa’s most exclusive private schools; artists whose privilege served as a springboard for their lucrative careers.
This dynamic explains why there’s a discernible absence of authenticity in the South African mainstream rap aesthetic. False allusions to hustle and feigned street credibility seep through the imitations of its packaging. These rappers all seem to be missing the point that in America even the most commercial forms of rap harvest their themes of materialism from real narratives of socio-economic struggle; as opposed to rich kids grandstanding with inherited luxury.
Historically, being a hip-hop head in South Africa always got you ostracized because it was largely seen as symptomatic of a wannabe American identity crisis that mostly afflicted suburban black kids; whereas the township was mostly dominated by dance-based genres like house music and kwaaito.
When your life is as chaotic as township life can often be, it makes sense that you’d gravitate towards music with a soothing predictability to it. Music neatly made with melodies willing to be loved without questions and progressions which enter as gently and politely as an invited guest into prosaically repetitive arrangements that never aim to disturb, only entertain. Art is escapism that seduces us into seeing our most difficult truths and taste is just a craving caused by our spiritual vitamin deficiencies.
In the same vein, when you’re a kid growing up in verdant suburbia, tranquillity is the beast you need to escape from. So you seek music that gives you the harrowing experience of cataclysm absent in your own surroundings. You’re intuitively drawn to more repellent forms of beauty, things that meddle with chemistry of the soul and taunt its sensibilities in order be enjoyed, or better yet, aren’t meant for enjoyment at all. The deliberate avoidance of symmetry that exemplifies the avant-garde in all genres and disciplines has a tendency to attract audiences from the upper-middle class. Audiences whose lives have tepidly reliable structures and who therefore yearn to see structure destroyed in all art forms.
When jazz was first exported to Europe and Japan during its dullest phase in America in the fifties’, it was warped by the privileged minds it influenced into something far less consumer-friendly, something daringly experimental. And jazz players like Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and Cecil Taylor, who began to dabble in strange imaginings, discovered the safe haven they couldn’t find in the bop and cool-infatuated jazz audiences at home when they played venues in Western Europe and South East Asia.
Hip-hop went through similar transmutations when in landed in South Africa. Suburban black kids flocked by their thousands towards the underground as listeners and as musicians. American rap acts like Abstract Rude, Anti-Pop Consortium, Kool Keith, Company Flow, MF DOOM and Aesop Rock planted the seed of cerebro-heavy hip hop in South African heads whilst local acts like Hymphatic Thabz, Gini Grinnith, Audio-Visual, Writer’s Block, Cashless Society and others indigenously tended to it.
There’s something to be said about how the process of cultural importation allows art forms to be stripped down to their most outlandish features; scribbling them into caricatures arguably grander and more elegant than their references; a sort of spatial evolution as opposed to a temporal one (though we now know that time and space are one and the same).
Eventually in the same way that the pioneers of the LA beat scene by were exiled by the limitations of abstraction available in the palate of conventional hip-hop, much of the vast progeny that was suckled on the South African abstract rap movement of the previous two decades outgrew its form and instead found refuge in the experimental beat scene stealthily exploding there in places like Cape Town, Jo’burg and Pretoria. Finally since jazz, South Africa has a sonic canvas as mood-rich as its landscape and history. An agnostic form of music fashioned from a galactic pastiche of native and alien influences. We needed an audible mirror warped enough to reflect the multi-layered complexities and often schizophrenic narratives that characterize the South African experience.
Like the genre itself, the South African is a mutant organism, using its scars therapeutically as a tool to sketch out cryptically original futures, futures tangled in space age aspirations and anchored in Iron Age anxieties.
This is similar to the beatmaker who manipulates samples through machinery to create organic nihilist tapestries of futurist music. Electronica/The Beat Scen, like South Africa/Azania, is in many ways a conceptual art experiment founded on its phobias of repetition, an amorphous creature redesigning itself as it grows. It makes sense that some of the most noteworthy additions to the genre are emanating from this culturally kaleidoscopic country. And all of them are hidden gems spangled across the internet. Here’s a curated list of young black South African electronic composers to pay attention to this year.
Sounds Like: Mono/Poly, Floating Points, Hermutt Lobby
Jo’burg born and based producer Micr⁰Pluto’s music is a riotous phantasm of interlocked pads and saws carried by the Jurassic growl of his basslines. He uses the scaffolding of traditional hip-hop loops to construct something ominous but hopeful in its architecture- a cauldron of broken machines laced with heavy dosages of mysticism. Jazz inspired chordal progressions keep the rocket ship grounded with botany, producing a technological earthiness unheard. His new EP drops in the early part of this year and it sounds phenomenal.
Sounds Like: B. Lewis, MNDSGN, Devonwho
Hailing from the subdued eastern suburbs of Jo’burg Daev Martian deftly creates feel-good groove driven music for the lactose intolerant listener. Gold flaked melodies sculpted with synths and keys that drip with uplifting energies, battered in crisp leads and basses harmonizing gutturally. The combination culminates in glorious Afro-Californian sound: A sort of, custom fitted soul for the bored and cynical offspring of the soul generation. His new record just dropped last month and it’s a must have for any black music lover’s collection. You don’t necessarily have to be a beat head to enjoy this.
Sounds Like: Kaytranada, Sango, Yann Kesz
The crowned prince of Pretoria’s beat scene Jon Casey makes dancefloor compatible electronica with an evil twist. Massive drops and drum patterns that’ll leave you delirious; Synthesizers that stab stereophonically at his animated soundscapes: And beats that bounce and land in a splat of manga-like colour. This young producer is soon to be the most sought after new commodity on the scene. And this year promises to be his for the taking.
Sounds Like: Lapalux, Scientific, Stratasoul
Marley Bloo is a reclusive Pretoia based musician shrouded in the mystique of most geniuses. She composes beats which glow with emotional intensity thatched with muddled swathes of samples and pianos drenched in melancholia. Melodies condensed with the spirit of longing, an otherworldly nostalgia. Each song is a montage of memories and premonitions gathered from past and future lives like a déjà vu from a parallel universe. If you’re attracted to the kind of beauty that makes you cry Marley Bloo’s music need to be in your library.
Sounds Like: AFTA-1, Lord RAJA, Sun Glitters
IIndman (pronounced second man) is a Jo’burg based producer of lo-fi downtempo hip-hop drowned in black magic and jazzed syncopations. His arrangements are loose fitting unions of mutated instruments: Drums that thump with the sinister drowsiness of a giant’s footfall; samples gnarled by tape hiss, the vagueness of memories revisited, like zoomed in images pixelating. His beats evoke nebulous feelings of desolation like being stranded on some strange planet, caught in a sandstorm of truncated horns and half ghostly voices. His music is ideal to brood and zone out to.
Sounds Like: Knxwledge, APO, Monophobe
Cape Town beat composer Skinniez creates time-stretched filter decayed space-hop. Layered with pads and warped vocal cuts and soul samples, his beats grow from the Dilla school of thought but amalgamate it with brain damaged arrangements and murky loops that sound like they were submerged under water. His music is fine-tuned for purist the neck snapping beat head.
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