Spoek Mathambo is flag-bearer for a new generation of party-loving South African youth. A child of the Internet, Mathambo burst onto the global scene with his knock out rework of Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control, setting the bar for an aesthetic founded in his wickedly motley genre mash-ups. Think UK grime and dub step blurred with South African house music, Spoek’s own spoken word rhetoric and traditional SA instrumentations. He chews it up and spits it out as what’s become known as Township Tech.
Mathambo debuted in 2010 with Mshini Wam, and progressed in 2012’s explosive Father Creeper. Fast forward to now and you’ll find his latest collaborative project, Fantasma, taking Township Tech to new heights. The group effort brings together Bacardi House pacesetter DJ Spoko, André Geldenhuys, Michael Buchanan and Bhekisenzo Cele to push their own boundaries and in the process make totally original music.
Each of the five-piece contribute and apply their specialty to create a sound that mixes elements of electronica, hip hop, psych-rock and punk with traditional Zulu maskandi music and shangaan electro. Fresh from the success of their debut EP Eye of The Sun comes their first full length album, Free Love, channeling the radical spirit that makes their output so exciting. Get involved.
Clementine Zawadzki: The meaning of the word ‘ghost’ is repetitious in your work. Why does it resonate with you and your sound?
Spoek Mathambo: I like the idea that things die but can exist in different forms… So much music is born of movements that are dead, but keep trucking in ‘ghost’ form.
CZ: The cultural element of your music is really strong. Where does it come from?
SM: I was born in 85 and was kind of growing up on the Internet. A lot of cultures came together when I was a little kid. Hip hop was very popular, and I absorbed a lot of that early on, and then later on a friend put me onto a bunch of rock music in various styles from indie to rockabilly to country to experimental Tom Waits stuff. I like music from all areas of the world, so it’s very hard to talk about it in specific terms, and I think that shows in our music.
CZ: Your influences come from so many places, inside and way outside of music. Can you take us through the heaviest ones?
SM: In fine art, contemporary South African artists like Athi Patra Ruga and Michael MacGarry are a big influence to me personally. It’s great to see young artists that are my contemporaries making such aesthetically rich and conceptually relevant work. Film is a big influence always… Classic films like Pantsula from South Africa, and different films from all over the world, lately I’ve been watching stuff like the Malian film Touki Bouki, that German one Downfall about Hitler’s last days of the reich and the Swedish horror film, Let The Right One In. I guess films always give me different senses and perspectives on storytelling that is integral to making music. But it’s always a jumble of influences like Dumile Feni, Animal Collective, The Big Lebowski, Credo Mutwa, Brett Easton Ellis, Seinfeld…
CZ: So what was the recording process like for Free Love? I imagine you would have had a lot of fun all together.
SM: We rented a house in the Eastern Cape, which was really fun for us to hang out and work our own studio mansion. It was a trippy couple of weeks by the beach. A lot of funny stories… Andre sleep walks, Spoko almost burnt the house down, an old alcoholic surfer came to stay with us and was a terror… We had two dogs.
CZ: You recently released a documentary about South African electronic music, Future Sounds of Mzansi. Where did the name come from?
SM: More than just a Xhosa word, it’s a part of the SA slang lexicon for a lot of people. I wanted a word to describe SA that was more localised than the English term. The documentary is essentially about us as South Africans telling our own stories. Using that word is an extension of that.
CZ: How important is it to you with your music to acknowledge and respect your culture?
SM: In Future Sounds of Mzansi we explore some of the many electronic music scenes in SA… All of the scenes are special for lots of different reasons. But I think in general SA has a lot to celebrate, in being a newly democratic country, a country where in past decades people were not allowed to move freely around their cities, towns and regions. So after freedom a huge party culture developed. That intersected with ancient African dance and music cultures as well as the time when Chicago house was growing and developing… All those factors meant SA needed a soundtrack for our freedom, I believe to a large extent house and kwaito have been that soundtrack for many people.