Having grown up in Port Elizabeth, Shane Cooper moved to Cape Town to study jazz. However, blurring the lines has always been a preference for him. Beat making in his spare time has now evolved into Card On Spokes – one of the country’s most treasured electronic producer. He has already achieved so much in his occupation as a jazz musician – being announced the Standard Bank Young Jazz Artist of 2013 and winning the SAMA for Best Jazz Album of 2014 for his debut, Oscillations – and is very much headed in the same direction as an electronic producer. Matt Rightford caught up with him to find out more about his musical journey and what everyone can expect from his set at Rocking The Daisies.
Matt Rightford: Where were you in your life, musically, when you made the decision to start producing electronic music over and above your jazz commitments?
Card On Spokes: Well, I had been making beats most of the time while I was studying jazz; in my spare time with mates. It was always something that I wanted to pursue more seriously, but I guess studying jazz was such an intense thing to have to absorb with daily practising that I really had to focus on that and I made beats whenever I had time outside of that to just sit in my room and go for it. Then when I finished studying, all of a sudden I had all this time on my hands and I realised that it was something I could actually take on seriously and make as big a thing out of it as my bass playing was. So I got to work on putting a bunch of tracks together for an EP, but then my PC crashed so I lost a lot of work. But it was kind of a blessing in disguise, because I decided to get a Mac and switch software – I jumped on to Abelton, hung out with Fletcher, checked out the ABC40 and got all these ideas for how I wanted to do things. I also changed a lot of things about how I was writing electronic music, which is also when Card On Spokes and the whole vision for what I wanted my music to represent came about. Although, it’s actually changed quite a bit from what I originally intended. I was pretty intent on going for a Four Tet-influenced sound and a lot of the beats in my tracks were sampled live drums, but full loops as opposed to individual beat live drum samples, which I still use a lot of. But ja, at that point it was just like, “I’ve got a lot more time on my hands, let’s really focus on this and making it a thing”, because I really wanted to be able to be a bass player and a producer going forward.
MR: As a student, what experiences did you have with electronic music – in terms of active listening and going out?
COS: I suppose it actually goes back further to when I was at school, because I had already started dabbling in making beats then. I grew up in Port Elizabeth, but my oldest brother had moved to Cape Town and was a drum ‘n bass DJ. He was playing with all the Homegrown guys, so he would come back to PE with all these amazing records and I would just tape everything. I had access to a lot of great music which I probably would have had a much harder time finding as well as getting into if it weren’t for having an older sibling.
So I was listening to Apehix Twin, Square Pusher, really great drum ‘n bass music, a lot of hip hop and a lot of sample based music. And then I really got into all the early African Dope stuff while I was still in PE and admired what guys like Sibot, Felix Laband, Markus Wormstorm, Real Estate Agents and Fletcher were doing, so when I moved here I tried to go out and see those guys play as much as possible. It was such an interesting time for electronic music then, because it was really difficult for guys to do stuff live, because there was so much less gear available to translate your recorded production into a live show. You had to invest so much time and cash into it that these guys were completely dedicated to their music. So I really admired them for their dedication and for pioneering the sound and the fact that basically all of what guys like Sibot and Markus were doing back then, especially together as Real Estate Agents, is still as futuristic now as it was back then. It’s such a pity that the timing wasn’t right, because it blows my mind that their stuff didn’t blow up internationally then. They really were trailblazers in so many ways – and that was just the scene I was into, you know? There was a lot of other stuff happening like kwaito, which I wasn’t really into yet, but it’s such an incredible scene that’s so unique to this country and has given so much, and increasingly so. We just have such a rich history of inventive and creative electronic music pioneers.
But to get back to the question, like I said, I would go to as many gigs as possible. In the space that I occupied as a bassist, I would try and bring a lot of ideas influenced by the electronic music I was listening to into jams that I would have with the guys that I played with. A lot of them were very into more traditional hip hop and we’d always hang out and they would play all their stuff and I would play them all this left-field stuff and it was a cool time, just being able to share all of that music.
MR: Even though the situation seems to have gotten progressively better in the space of the last two to five years, when studying jazz I’m sure there’s a lurking purist mindset that can tend to look down or turn its nose up at the idea of producing electronic music. Did you ever catch any flack from fellow jazz musicians for making the move to electronica?
COS: Not really, but it is still a situation of not as many of them being into it as there could be, you know? But ja, there really are so many ideas and styles that you can take from electronic music and I’ve always been of the mindset that blurring the lines is best. I always admired musicians who did that – who took musical risks and aren’t afraid of being a little bit crazy with stuff. That’s what I think music is all about. It’s about evolution and representing something that reflects where we’re at now.
I’m not a purist, I’m not into purist approaches to anything, but I didn’t get any flack. Most guys have actually been really supportive from both sides. But ja, in the last couple years I have noticed a lot more guys get into electronic stuff from the jazz world, which is really cool. And I think it’s just a result of a newer generation having grown up with a much wider variety of music informing their musical decisions, which is really exciting to me.
MR: What can people look forward to at your Rocking The Daisies performance?
COS: A live interpretation of some old tracks as well as the premiere of a few new tracks. I’m going to have an extended ensemble which includes Lee Thomson on trumpet – an old friend of mine – Bokani Dyer on synthesizer – who I’ve been playing with for nine years now in different capacities – and Bonj Mpanza who is an incredible singer that I discovered through some friends of mine. She has written three new tracks with me which we’ll be performing as well as her own interpretations of ‘Rain’ and ‘Ladders’ from Lead Me To The Water. So there will be five vocal tracks and then the rest instrumental with me playing my usual keys and synthesizers.
But I’m gonna try and open the tracks up a bit and leave some extended sections for solos so we can bring a really crazy, fun, explore-the-music, live element for the festival setting. I think it’ll go down really well, especially with Lee and Bokani who are both such great improvisers. But ja, I just wanna have fun with it, it’s a great stage – the Nu World Beat Club. I think it’s the most interesting stage there and I like the fact that it’s smaller and people can be right up in your face and can see what you’re doing. The people who enjoy the stage are always great as well, just really open-minded. So ja, I’m really excited man.