“Cape Town’s not a part of SA,” I’m told as I enter Kitcheners in Braamfontein. Before that, I was sarcastically welcomed ‘back into the country’ by the same friend. It’s an old sentiment and an even older joke. The Mother City often stands opposed to the rest of the country culturally – especially in terms of music (for reasons more often joked about than investigated.) It was also the first to embrace the UK-born super genre, ‘bass music’. That type of early adoption is often used as the other half of the joke. The Cape’s big retort, “Is Joburg only NOW listening to [insert obscure new sub-genre]?”
The reason I was at Kitcheners that Saturday night was to see another of the Cape’s outwards looking, UK-inspired producers, Dunn Kidda. It turns out he had other plans for us.
Dunn Kidda is one of the Cape’s finest purveyors of progressive bass music. He’s etched out a sound specifically his own in a context where trends fade faster than ever. Despite any swings in sensibility, the foundation of his sound remains fundamentally – in an almost traditionalist sense – rooted in the sounds of the UK.
“My mom and I moved to the States when I was ten, then the UK a year later,” he tells me a day after the gig. “In music class we used [the production application] Reason. I later started DJing, at 15, on a station called AXE FM. I was making beats for a grime crew at the time we got the show.”
That time proved formative, laying a grime-based foundation, defining his aesthetic; less influenced by the sound of grime than by growing up in it. Going to high school in Tottenham when grime was seeing a new wave of popularity, buoyed by the likes of Dizzee Rascal, meant it surrounded him.
“Everyone either had hip-hop and R&B or grime on their phones. Girls would have R&B and we had grime instrumentals.” That environment was unique, and he found it difficult to emulate when returning to the Cape. Bass, and grime in particular, just hadn’t taken off in the same way.
Listen to Dunn Kidda’s ‘RnG’ rework of 112‘s 1999 cut ‘Anywhere’
Only when like-minded DJs and friends formed the now-defunct and heavily-missed fortnightly party, Cold Turkey did bass music, and Dunn Kidda himself, find a home in the Cape. “I used to remix Lil Wayne tracks, take them to school. Guys would say “no way you made that”. But at Cold Turkey, if you told someone you’re a producer they’d say “oh, okay, send me your shit”. That’s when I started Dunn Kidda.”
It became the epicentre of a scene, and its hosts became powerhouses. Cold Turkey sets became referrals for new DJs. Promoters looking for new names had 80% of the work done for them by Blotchy, Rebel Clef, Anthea Duce (aka Duce Duce) and the Cold Turks crew. “Whoever had a foot in the bass scene knew Josiah [Blotchy], so I met a lot them through him before they knew I made music.”
Dunn Kidda became a staple of both that party and others – many he’d throw himself in collaboration with a range of his peers. The atmosphere was relentlessly forward-looking, with crowds not expecting to know the songs being played. It was this feeling, of an unknown, yet pulsating and modern sound that we expected from him at Kitcheners.
With a full Joburg crowd anticipating his first song’s first note, to break the silence between sets, something strangely familiar greeted them. The tempo slow, swaggering. The bass as monstrous as expected, but the form alien to anything from the UK. It wasn’t an intro or diversion, as Dunn Kidda laid into track after track of kwaito-inspired instrumentals – the Joburg crowd inhaling all of it.
The reaction was retrospectively not surprising, considering the inspiration for Dun’s new turn came straight from the city of gold. “Basically, it’s all ‘Amantobazane‘ ” he responds frankly when asked, speaking of Jhb-based rapper Riky Rick’s breakout 2014 single.
‘Amantombazane’ was also rooted in a classic kwaito aesthetic, fitted in a new, modern suit. “That song was dark as f*ck… so it got me thinking ‘what if we can just take this and do it in a different way?’”
This difference manifests in his music as merger between the sonic aesthetic of his grime and bass upbringing with the tempo and bounce of kwaito. While some may see this as a collision of disparate worlds, Dunn Kidda sees the link.
“Kwaito, if you look at Doc Shebeleza and those guys, was crazy UK baseline shit – and the BPMs are in the 90s. There was heavy chorus on the baseline, and it sounded like slowed down UK garage.”
He’s right. Kwaito shares a monogenetic relationship with UK Garage – they both formed from early US house. Kwaito, of course, also had South African genres, like bubblegum music, to draw from.
Dunn Kidda’s style emphasizes the similarities between the two. ‘Laanie Level’, off his latest Red Bull Studios-released EP, The Space, was the first hint of his new style. It’s reception in the Cape led to him playing the downtempo production in Jozi – an unexpected turn to say the least. A forward thinking bass producer from a city with a traditionally forward thinking bass scene first trying something new in Joburg.
“The Cape Town scene is very unsure of itself right now. We’ve reached a level where everyone is fully frustrated” he says, the fatigue evident in his voice. At the core of this problem is a Cold Turkey-shaped hole at the heart of the scene (and likely also the fractured social fabric that dominates Cape Town’s music industry right now).
Cold Turkey, more than giving producers like Dunnkidda space, pushed audiences and built tolerance. Fans of new forms of music were moulded by repeated exposure to multiple genre-bending acts, which fertilised the entire scene with open minds.
“I spoke to Jakobsnake about this, he said that the problem with the bass scene is that there’s nothing’s consistent like Cold Turkey to grow from or grow into.”
This shifting in the scene’s core has, besides dispersing a crowd, forced introspection. When an institution like Cold Turkey dissolves, former proponents are left to evolve alone – players moving on self-determined paths, occasionally surfacing as something else entirely – like Dunnkidda.
“It’s exciting, because everyone’s doing their own sh*t. Everyone’s so frustrated of trends… Look at the best sets from CTEMF this year. DJ Lag, Sibot, Adam de Smidt all played what they liked and the crowd automatically latched onto it because it was a pure vibe. That’s why I think Cape Town is gonna boost over the next two years.”
With Dunnkidda himself being an active participant in that very scene and its growth, one can easily see why there’s hope for its future.
Dunn Kidda will be playing this Sunday at The Assembly in Cape Town, alongside UK’s Darkstar and the magical Maramza and DJ Fosta.