A few months ago, Cape Town was shaken up by something rarely encountered (although not unheard of) on its fair shores: an entirely homegrown, utterly world-class piece of electronica.
Thin Shoes in June, is the product of the multifarious mind of one Felix Laband: DJ, cool cat, and electro-kid extraordinaire. He’s signed to the now two-year old African Dope Records, a Cape Town independent established by local legends, the underground DJ/production outfit, Krushed & Sorted.
Otherwise known as Roach and Fletcher, these self-proclaimed hairy slackers have been challenging Cape Town’s musical minds for years, with their breaks and beats, dubs and jazz and soul. As African Dope, they’ve hardly been prolific, but they’ve produced a few top class CDs, including their own “Acid Made Me Do It”, a splendid piece of breakbeat-infused dub, ragga and South African hip-hop.
Although it has its advantages, Cape Town is in many ways not the best place for musicians with a sound as uncommercial as that of the African Dope artists. There’s a strong electronic music following here, of course, but it’s largely orientated around harder, ravier beats, and most of its membership automatically prefer stuff from the UK or America.
The market for local music is small, and for local music that’s leftfield as well, it’s tiny. Where the larger record companies do promote local music, their marketing might is concentrated almost exclusively on the bigger sellers—kwaito, and Afrikaans pop.
The global market is also hard to crack, given Cape Town’s isolated position, and the rapidly degenerative nature of our currency, the Rand. Nevertheless, African Dope managed to get it together and released Thin Shoes in June in Europe this October.
It’s a lovely piece of music, to be filed somewhere between lounge, acid jazz and experimental electronica. Although it has hints of Aphex Twin, Air, Kruder & Dorfmeister and Two Lone Swordsmen—among others—it’s unlike anything I’ve heard before.
It’s an album to lose yourself in; an ambient (but not too ambient), meandering (but focused) trip through a lush, evocative place. One of the most remarkable things about it is its use of space between the beats, giving it a clean, uncluttered sound, and a feeling that you’re somehow in the music, in a wonderland space the music creates.
It conveys complex and contradictory feelings—as in the Aphex Twin-like “Under the Carpet”, reminiscent of a sad clown, or someone smiling through tears. The album’s soundscape is saturated with both darkness and light, happiness and a sense of melancholy.
Felix uses a huge variety of sounds, and all kinds of samples: loops from old waltzes, noises from nature—the weird, broken “Bats in My Hair” features samples of fruit bats slowed down and put into a loop; the whole track filtered, sounding slightly muted, like it was recorded through cotton wool, or under water.
And “Hopeful” is a really beautiful, melodic track, starting off with words spoken by some apartheid leader—perhaps PW Botha—before giving way to classical strings, and a fluid, steady beat.
My only complaint is petty: some of the song titles are annoyingly Two Lone Swordsmen-like (like “Brake Take Make” and “Run, Alive, Run”), but then perhaps they have some significance for Felix.
With its jazzy, moody, loungey beats, Thin Shoes in June is a really stylish, sophisticated album that you’d be doing yourself a favor to take notice of. I don’t think it’ll be released in the US, but it’s available online at www.afribeat.com where you can also download a free mp3 of the first track, “Single Light”.