With a steady torrent of critical acclaim flowing his way from all corners of the country – be it recognition in the Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans, or winning trips to play at the Roundhouse in London – Mohato Lekena, otherwise known as Wildebeats is shaping up to be one of Cape Town’s most prolific talents. But don’t let these accolades fool you, Mohato remains well grounded, with his head firmly screwed on his shoulders.
The arrival of Spring has been kind to the Cape. On its first warm evening, Sean Magner went to chat to him at his apartment in the middle of Cape Town. What followed was a conversation covering everything from the English Premier league, gardening and what it might take to start your own record label. What follows is a large part of the conversation the two had that night.
Sean Magner: By way of introduction, if you had to describe yourself in two tweets (we all know 140 characters isn’t enough), what would it be?
Wildebeats: I guess I’m first and foremost a computer scientist who works on making music software; it’s what I’ve been doing for the last while. I also use music software to produce stuff and DJ.
It’s mad – all this stuff has happened through necessity though. I came up with the name because Robin [Brink (Beatenberg/Ox++)] was throwing a party and a week before they needed a name for the flyer. Wildebeats was the result – I like bad jokes.
S: Had you always been tinkering around with software and how to make music or did that only come later once you started gigging?
W: Not really, I’ve always rapped. I’ve been rapping for a long long time. I had been rapping at UCT at the Wednesday afternoon cyphers. So I guess I got proficient at that but I guess it never really excited me.
I had looked at some music software before that but I never had my own PC back in high school. It was annoying; I would have to install Fruity Loops on my dad’s computer and then use it and uninstall it when I was done at the end of the night. This meant I couldn’t really save my progress so it never really took off. So I guess it only really took off recently when I started taking it seriously.
S: You’ve had a pretty good scene around you to nurture the talent that was there to begin with…
W: Yeah I met Robin at the UCT cypher. We then got together and started Lightworks and wanted to throw parties and stuff. Through those parties I met a bunch of people: It’s like working and wanting to meet ill people, means you’ll meet ill people because you work with them, you know what I mean?
S: Was the music that you started making influenced by the music you were exposed to through meeting those people or were you into some pretty left–field stuff to begin with?
W: That’s a good question, I don’t even know what I was listening to at the time I started Wildebeats, but it’s probably something that I wouldn’t consider to be very good now. I remember my first set (back in 2011) – it was okay – it was electronic stuff: a bunch of Hudson Mohawke, Lunice, and Jacques Green. I don’t even know, it’s crazy how naïve I was at the time. It was my very first DJ set and at its peak I thought I should play a banger, something heavy, so I played a Death Grips track… [laughs]
S: You must have scared the shit out of people!
W: Yeah, exactly! [Laughs] Afterwards I was like “never mind that”.
I don’t know what I was aiming for when I started making beats. I had always liked the idea of making them and listening to them, but it was only later on when I caught on to the idea of instrumental beat music.
I was probably influenced most by Wonky and Purple – the stuff coming out of Glasgow like the precursor to what I guess we call trap rave today. Guys like Hudson Mohawke, Rustie and some Joker stuff. Ah it’s crazy to think back to then, I had no idea what I was doing. I guess it’s all down to experimental chemistry.
S: Would you say that the moment you heard Wonky and Purple was a moment that completely altered your perspective on music?
W: When I heard ‘Fuse’ it blew my mind. I had never thought of making music in that way and it was the first step in thinking about my production and how I could go about making my music in that way if I wanted. But I did go through a lot of different phases.
S: So once you started getting into different stuff, what then? Did you start producing because you were listening to more and more dance music?
W: I guess people around me were just making dance music. I wish people would approach music making like an end in itself.
I would usually just make some beats and email them to a few people and that would be that and it slowly progressed from there. If anything it was a fun project to make up bad puns to name my tracks. I guess I’ve got to stop that now, the more seriously you take yourself, the more seriously people take you. Who knows my next track might be named “Aqueous Descent Through Mystic Thyme” [laughs].
S: But now there is an element of seriousness behind it. You’re gaining popularity and you won the #FutureMusicRising competition alongside The Brother Moves On (TBMO) to go play at the Roundhouse in London. It must have been mind-blowing.
W: It was real emotional for me. The set was a bit of a blur though – I was just so focussed on nothing going wrong. The real moment though was later on when I was at Fabric at a Hessle Audio party. I was on the dance floor, listing to Andy Stott play a live set, and it all hit me – I hadn’t paid a cent and there I was watching one of my favourite producers having an out of body experience.
S: Had you worked with TBMO prior to the trip and the remix you did of one of their tracks while over there?
W: No I hadn’t worked with them. They’re almost on the opposite end of the spectrum for me. What they do is so serious and it has all this art behind it – it’s really cerebral – and here I am making food jokes and puns. [laughs] I’m Wildebeats, you know what I mean? That in itself should tell you something about me.
S: But there is still some seriousness to what you do and the broader electronic music scene in general. Just look at the growth in SA over the past 4 years alone. Today we’ve got multiple avenues to access a vast array of different types of dance music. Where do you see yourself within that scene, as both a DJ and producer?
W: I have no idea, I almost see myself outside of it.
S: Do you feel there’s enough space in the scene to accommodate everything?
W: Yeah, I think so. Look at what the Internet has done to music: no matter the niche, it’s catered for. To some extent this has been catered for in a city of around 2 million people. But I guess the bigger problem there is reaching those people that are interested in whatever small niche they may be interested in. We need to figure out a way to reach the entire city.
S: Do you feel festivals are a good way to do that?
W: No, I think some festivals still ignore a large part of the population that’s not traditionally within their focus group, but if you look at line-ups at big festivals today, they’re really trying to push things forward. I wanna see Okmalumkoolkat, I wanna see Transmicsoul. I wanna see the big house names and the big rap names, that’s what should be happening, or else you’re ignoring a big part of the country. I feel when that starts happening we open it up to more people, increasing the chance of people being exposed to both different types of music and people.
Within the scene at the moment though, I feel like I have a place, but the onus is on me to be more malleable. I have the right to be a little righteous about the music I make because I control that, but when you DJ you’re there to make people dance and that’s goal number one. But hey, play your ten new tracks you’ve just made yesterday but make sure you pull it off.