A good place to start when looking to understand the values behind South African electronic music…
A good place to start when looking to understand the values behind South African electronic music collective, *gravy, would be their slogan. It asserts themselves as “A Platform to showcase artists pioneering electronic music in South Africa.” Fronted by the likes of seasoned veterans, Richard Rumney (Richard the Third/Maramza), Simon Ringrose (Sibot), and Alex Wright (Liver), while additionally promoting some upcoming local producers, their apparent passion and integrity is almost palpable to even the most inexperienced eye. As follows, a listener would hope, if not expect, to find innovation and a keenness for progression in the tracks featured on their second compilation album, *gravy 002. But on this new album, there is a marked sense of below-standardness, both in terms of cohesion and progress. The future sounds and the flow of *gravy001 have now been replaced by a complacence and regression, producing middle-of-the-road ‘electro bangers’, with hints of novelty throughout. Accordingly, this album is not an accurate representation of who the gravycrew are and what they are about. It should almost be overlooked when taking into account the immense talent of the individual producers involved.
As mentioned above, the production prowess of the featured producers is undeniable, yet in *gravy002, it has taken precedence over the intention for the collective “to grow and change, exposing new and different sounds with each release.” Instead, we are presented with a mismatched array of well-produced heavy electronic music, suitable for the gnarly late hours at (for instance) Assembly that often cause you to stop and take a moment to reflect a little on where and who you are, and why you are there. While many instances of combining elements of electronic music together can be unique and refreshing, there is a feeling here that the originality has run dry, and instead overcompensation has been resorted to, by way of blending an overpowering array of genres together, ranging from trap to future-afro bass and hip-hop grooves, even adding in a bit of downtempo beatwork (The Watermark High) for good measure. Consequently, the *gravy vision is lost, and so are we.
It would be unfair for the listener to wish for an artist to maintain the same style of work and not try their hand at furthering their capabilities. In *gravy002, it is evident that the producers have ventured into unchartered territory and this exploration of other styles is praiseworthy. However, what the listener does wish is for the artist to maintain their ability to judge critically and release music that is true to their ethos, so that the listener can be challenged, but also have a chance at really engaging with and understanding their music, even if it is unfamiliar. Thus, despite the commendable move towards progression among the producers, it’s disappointing to acknowledge that the attempts made are half-hearted, and the territory they do end up exploring and the songs they ultimately release are mundane, sound dated, or are just visions that have not yet been fully realized. This can be said of majority of the tracks on the album, namely: ‘Barbed Wire’ (Sibot), ‘Off Beat Battery’ (liver), ‘Tumble Ride’ (RVWR), ‘Blow Your Speakers Up’ (Grimehouse), ‘Pappa Rd’ (Richard the Third), ‘Plenty Plenty’ (Maramza), ‘Poo Bear’ (Slabofmisuse), and ‘Drunken Cow’ (Mr. Sakitumi). All of these tracks – although highly capable of getting various dance floors pumping – are deprived of imagination and show little to no stylistic variance. Prevalent sounds throughout are thick stabs of synth and dirty bass passages, all rounded out by heavy drums, while a mishmash of genres pounds at your ears. Delicacy and restraint were certainly not considered in the making of these songs, but perhaps they could have done with a bit of variation in sonic temperament.
This leaves two of the newer showcased artists under the gravycrew collective, Thor Rixon and The Watermark High, along with old-timer Card on Spokes whose respective tracks, ‘God’s Fortress’ ft. Disco Izrael, ‘Muddle’ and ‘The Young Ones’ are definite highlights on the album. Rixon’s multi-instrumental and genre-bending music is weird but wonderful at the same time: the opening guitars break into rap, while a Balkan sax adds a really intriguing element; the tubular bass sounds and pitched synth give the track the track a real thumping edge. The Watermark High, on the other hand, has presented us with a lush down-tempo array of beats, inundated by dashes of experimentalism, groovy piano lines, and pinched vocal samples, showing him to be one of the top upcoming artists in South Africa right now. It is, however, the Card on Spokes track that takes the win, with a focus on complex synth chords and melodies, which simultaneously showcase control and state-of-the-art production.
The game is changing at the rate of knots and the core of electronic music in Cape Town is expanding faster than ever before. With an abundance of skilled producers popping up, it’s important to maintain an ethos of growth and to stick to it. *gravy002 is, of course, well-intentioned, yet it falls short in its ability to maintain its spirit of progression, with only three of the artists really achieving something worth remembering.