Music

The Hard Workers - "Ayoba Yo" (audio) (premiere)

In this exclusive interview with DJ Okapi, he takes us through the development of the unique variety of South African EDM from the late 1980s.

Rush Hour Music is releasing a new compilation celebrating the unique electronic music scene in the late '80s in South Africa. Pantsula! - The Rise of Electronic Dance Music in South Africa, 1988-90 has been compiled by DJ Okapi and Antal and highlights the point at which South African disco artists began drawing more from local sources for their inspiration, as opposed to blindly following American trends. The music blends bubblegum pop with African rhythms and the sounds and dance of black townships.


In this exclusive interview DJ Okapi takes us through the development of the genre highlighting the key artists in this vital music scene. Pantsula! is available now via Bandcamp.

The press release talks about different genres that aren't that familiar to us - can you give us a quick run through - what is Bubblegum and how long did it last?

We thought Kwaito was something to do with jazz - can you tell us about that? And isn't Pantsula a dance style too? Help us unlock this please

"Bubblegum' is the name often given to South African disco during the '80s. The term was initially used by the media to imply that the music was disposable and mass-produced, that a song's sweetness would quickly run out and people would rush to buy another. Many musicians from that era didn't use the term at all (preferring simply disco), but in general the term stuck. The bubblegum era is largely accepted to have started in 1983 with the release of "Weekend Special" by Brenda & The Big Dudes (a hit that later charted in the USA, remixed by Van Gibbs and release on Capitol in 1986). Initially the sound was very American-influenced and typically with English lyrics. Very quickly however it evolved to incorporate more local influences and languages, also becoming more electronic - for example the Pantsula sound featured on the comp, which might be a considered a subgenre of bubblegum. While the bubblegum sound evolved, the term remained in use to describe local pop music until the early '90s, when kwaito took over.

While bubblegum was the pop sound of the '80s in South Africa, kwaito was the sound of the '90s. Kwaito drew on a range of influences from the time, not only local disco/bubblegum but also international house, hip-hop. Eurobeat, Italo, etc. - typically slowed down, a defining feature of a lot of South African dance music. The '90s in South Africa was an era of drastic social change and newfound optimism, so kwaito was typically about celebrating freedom after the fall of apartheid, whereas bubblegum songs from the '80s were often infused with more politics. Kwaito's heyday was in the '90s and early 2000s. Today it too has largely disappeared, as with bubblegum, and been replaced by house and hip-hop.

There's no major connection between kwaito and jazz - except in cases where particular musicians experimented with a fusion of the two, such as Don Laka's 'kwai-jazz'.

Pantsula is more commonly associated with a particular tradition of dance and fashion in South Africa that has evolved from as far back as the '50s and '60s, initially attached to township gangsters known as mapantsula. The dance and style still lives on today, but this specific sound known as pantsula music was relatively short-lived and confined to the late '80s and early '90s.

Was this music influenced by Western disco music? What makes it more than just a pastiche of that to you and other DJs who are championing this music now?

South Africans have always been very into American music, going back many decades. The bubblegum era of the '80s was arguably the first time that local South African artists started to outsell American artists in South Africa, but even then, acts like Kool & The Gang, Donna Summer and others were enormous in South Africa. Bubblegum/disco was initially quite obviously influenced by American funk - for example the landmark track 'Weekend Special' by Brenda & The Big Dudes lifted directly from songs by Sharon Redd and the BB&Q; Band. And of course the instruments used were similar to what other artists and producers all over the world were using at that time, such as the Yamaha DX7. But very quickly South African musicians and producers were able to hone this sound into one that increasingly incorporated local elements. One sub-genre was by Shangaan-speaking artists and producers - what became known as Shangaan Disco. This was particularly influential on the 'Pantsula' sound featured on the Rush Hour compilation, for example the emphasis on off-beats and the use of indigenous languages.

How much more of this music is there left to uncover? We notice a lot of labels are starting to be interested in it. Do you plan more releases for the future?

There is endless music from South Africa still left to discover. I'm still finding new stuff all the time. A huge amount of music was recorded in South Africa during the '80s and pressed on vinyl and cassette. This was partly due to the fact that the apartheid government had set up a network of radio stations, each aimed at one of South Africa's various language and ethnic groups, so each station required new music to be recorded in their respective languages. Songs in English had the power to be played on various stations, and could therefore reach a broader audience.

Yes, there are certainly more releases in the works. I've recently launched my own label Afrosynth Records with Rush Hour's help. The first release came out recently, a disco 12" from 1979 called Burnin Beat. I've got several more releases lined up for early 2018, focussing on bubblegum and kwaito - South African pop from the '80s and '90s. Among these is an album by my favourite singer Ntombi Ndaba, who I'm also trying to get back on stage again.

Can you tell us about other recent reissues we should check out?

Definitely Burnin Beat on Afrosynth Records - it's hot! For people looking for more South African disco, check out the Boogie Breakdown compilation on the Boston-based label Cultures of Soul, which I helped put together and was released in late 2016. Other labels putting out South African music include Awesome Tapes From Africa in the US; Invisible City Editions in Canada; Crown Ruler in Australia; Soundway, Be With and Matsuli in the UK; and Sharp-Flat in South Africa, who recently reissued a classic album by Kabasa.

Could you tell us about the Hard Workers and their track 'Ayoba Yo'?

The Hard Workers were one of the most popular 'pantsula' acts on the late '80s. Their songs were often instrumental or with minimal vocals. Pantsula was the birth of electronic dance music in South Africa and it was the producers who were key to the sound. In this case the man behind the Hard Workers was producer Tom Mkhize, whose background was in traditional Zulu music but during the late '80s became a pioneer of electronic sounds in SA pop music. At the time this kind of music would've been played not so much in nightclubs as in shebeens - informal taverns all over South Africa's townships (usually in people's homes), so it's still occasionally referred to as tavern or shebeen music.

"Ayoba-yo" is the title track to one of the Hard Workers' albums from 1988 (that year they also released the album Kae Kapa Kae). 'Ayoba' is local slang for 'cool' and is still widely used today. I've uncovered the original master tapes for several Hard Workers' albums, so look out for more on Afrosynth Records in 2018.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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