Artist Stories, Stories

Profile: Oh Dark Arrow

Authenticity will be a recurring theme here at Platform, as it should, and will be a territory of uncertainty and debate for the foreseeable future, globally and in the South African context. Last week, Radius reviewed the eponymous DOOKOOM EP. That music offers an aggressively authentic outlook. The style and its construction might not be hyper-original, but its delivery aids attitude provided by the rapping and gives a sense of ‘this is the real deal’.

What sits well with me when listening to Oh! Dark Arrow is how subtly unique the sound actually is. It isn’t flaunting a conscious attempt to be different, but instead comes into its own on a more personal level. Having taken the brave/risky/interesting (depending on how you want to look at it) decision to step away from PHFat, Marc Potgieter (Disco Izrael) is now all about this, his latest project. With Oh! Dark Arrow he’s found a playground of ‘churchjams’ and ‘churchraps’ in which he has collaborated with a number of artists. Together, they have developed this sonic world and formed a sound so delicately distinct; it’s only a few tracks in that you begin to think, “man, I’ve never really heard anything like this before”.

This is quite an achievement, especially in a genre as widely enjoyed and vastly interpreted as hip hop. When listening to an EP like DOOKOOM, it would be very difficult to claim that it is not authentic, or more significantly, sincere. This is because his “I don’t give a fuck about anything” rapper attitude, which in his case was brewed in the severely unique environment of Mitchell’s Plain, is unlikely to be replicated by anyone not from Mitchell’s Plain – unless you’re Waddy Jones. This attitude is a natural recycling of gangster rap, bestowed upon the world by the US, through the lens of the environment experienced by those growing up in Mitchell’s Plain. This environment would have provided less direct access to the Internet and mainstream media and thus less influence from an increasingly globalised popular culture than that experienced by middle class kids from the suburbs. Therefore, authenticity for those from Mitchell’s Plain exists within all that they’re exposed to and authenticity for middle class kids exists within what they’re exposed to – the latter consisting of much higher volumes of globalised popular culture. This often results in hyper-referential music or else in attempts at authenticity that are glaringly conscious, inaccessible and insincere. This is where I feel Oh! Dark Arrow has taken the right path. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hip hop and is still referential. There’s no conscious attempt to be something completely different. As a self-proclaimed rap-head, it is difficult to imagine Potgieter producing something unrelated to hip hop, and that’s the beauty of it – it’s sincere.

His absolute freedom seems to have manifested itself in a sound very different to that of PHFat, who unfortunately have grown a bit tired lately; the inevitable result of building a formula around a trend that has come and gone. This may not necessarily apply in terms of their mainstream following, but certainly for those who have moved on from their straight-up glitch-loving days. The production here is not as rap friendly as PHFat or Sedge Warbler (Potgieter’s other long term project with producer Ross Finck aka Dank), but is satisfyingly more minimal in nature. It creates understated but powerful moods, giving the verses more room to breathe and be heard, while still providing them with a solid support. There are sublte nods to Ryan Hemsworth and Shlohmo here. With his rapping being rich in vivid imagery and delivered with a frighteningly infectious flow, Oh! Dark Arrow sees Potgieter considerably more honest, both lyrically and stylistically. It is also both surprising and refreshing to see him choosing not to rap on many tracks, instead allowing for the honing of the elusive beat-maker identity, Abacus The Wolf.

The reverse-chronology mechanics of SoundCloud presents most recent work first, which in the case of Oh! Dark Arrow consists predominantly of six well executed and catchy collaborative tracks. These collaborations are made with a number of artists working with second- or third-tier pseudonyms like Comfy Hammocks! (JakobSnake (Jake Lipman)) and Danny Video (David Gabriel Corpse (David Thorpe)). The stand-out track is the perfectly titled ‘Cave Swoon’, a spacey, smoky and misty concoction featuring a most impressively fluid and rich debut verse and beautifully sung hook from Push Push (Bitches Must Know first lady, Nicci St Bruce) and a distinctly genuine, killer verse from Comfy Hammocks!

Other strong tracks include ‘Casibro’ featuring Danny Video on guitar, ‘freethehoes’ featuring an unforgettable falsetto vocal hook from Danny Video and production collaboration from Das Kapital, and ‘The Dreamkeeper’, a collaboration with Danish producer, I Kicked A Cloud Once.

The remaining eleven tracks are a combination of rapless, yet ghoulish productions, often accompanied by eerie recordings from unidentifiable films as well as other more experimental collaborations. The 17-track-long trip through the Oh! Dark Arrow SoundCloud is uninterrupted by any attempts to categorise tracks into sections or playlists. Whether this particular use of SoundCloud was planned and conscious or not, it introduces a potential development in the way SoundCloud is utilised, especially amongst South African artists. It’s usually just used to showcase an artist or a band’s work as individual singles/EPs/albums, but it isn’t often that a SoundCloud account can intentionally or unintentionally present a body of work as a single entity.

The uninterrupted Oh! Dark Arrow experience is like a sleep in which you dream constantly, so when you wake up you’re left with that sensation of having been on an unimaginably long journey. This sensation is always mysterious because you are fully aware that you dreamt throughout the sleep, but somehow you are never able to pinpoint which dreams were in which order and where one dream ended and the other began. And like with any good sleep, Oh! Dark Arrow makes you want to go back, time and time again.

What Do You Think?

Also:  Newtown After Dark: The Testing Ground For Joburg's Future

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