Broadening A New Sound with Riaan Botha.
It’s 10:30 on a Saturday morning and I’m generously breaking the speed limit on the M1 towards Johannesburg. I send a message to my 10:00 asking for forgiveness as I was running late. I’m usually more professional than this. Two blue ticks later, “Coolio”. Coolio? I’m stressing trying to figure out whether his one-word reply is an honest expression of how he feels about my lateness. After all, I was the one who requested that we schedule the interview at that time and Riaan Botha is a busy man.
Relief. In person, I’m privy to human stimuli—absent when texting—which allow me to confirm that Ri is honestly chilled about my being late. Today is one of the rare days on the weekend that Ri is not busy. Weekends are usually peak days for DJ’s, event designers, and music promoters alike. Riaan through various projects and aliases juggles all three of these roles.
The first thing I notice as we enter his home is the fire orange of his modern 80’s lounge suite with white detailing on the boxed-edges of the cushions and leather arm-rests. Contrasting the cheeky vintage aesthetic is an understated pastel-coloured geometric minimalist artwork displayed on the wall above. Perhaps the tell-tale of an actively explorative and eclectic palate?
Alongside this minimalist artwork; Radiohead Kid A artwork, title covers for Empire Records, High Fidelity, Almost Famous, and event artworks from various events Ri hosted.
Ri wasn’t always well acquainted with music. “My parents were listening to shit music all my childhood. I was always fucking stuck on holiday with the best of BZN, Air Supply, and Chicago”. He goes on to suggest that the only salvation offered by his dad’s music collection was Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night. “It was a bit different to anything else that I was hearing from my family”.
In high school, he shaped the foundations of his relationship with sound, listening to, “Counting Crows, the Dave Matthews Band, and after that, Modest Mouse was the big leap.” Modest Mouse was that band—the one most teenagers have—which makes one question all their previous musical selections and interests. “What the fuck [had]I been listening to?”
Upon completing Matric at [high school]in Durban, Ri worked at a Musica for the summer holidays. In the new year he participated in a basic music studio training programme. Following that course, he got a job as a casual at Rhythmic Beat.
“I got sucked into commercial retail for the following five years.” describing his time at Rythmic Beats. This would be the time that he would expand and refine his exploration of sound. Having been tasked with the position of a buyer, he gave the second hand section a new lease on life. In fact, he did too well and the section was closed down.
“The major record companies didn’t like the fact that they had second hand versions of their products on the shelves—even if it was something out of print or not being imported by them anymore”.
A few promotions later, Riaan found himself tasked with the opening of the Johannesburg branch of Rythmic Beat. He eventually quit this job having become “very discouraged by how much people had to pay for imported music”.
Damn The Man. Ri used all the money he had saved from overtime hours to put down the deposit on a space in Melville which was to be his independent record store, Canned Applause. The space was a garage converted into an office space converted into a record store. “I couldn’t get a space on the main road yet so I really became—in the truest sense of the word—a destination store. People really had to really look for me but the word of mouth was strong”. The word of mouth worked so well that he would eventually relocate the store to a space on Seventh Street, which was and still is the economic and creative hub of Melville.
During his last days at Rythmic Beat, pre-Canned Applause, Ri met Paul Holden who introduced him to the club scene and DJing. “[Paul] gave me my first DJ residency at the old Tokyo Star in Melville”. Plaat Japie was actually his first DJ alias but after his friends advised him against putting that on a flyer he had to come up with an alternative. His fascination of Japan resulted in him combining the names of the token Asian dudes from The Goonies and Revenge of The Nerds—two of his favourite childhood cult films—to come up with Data Takashi.
His talent in curating music eventually translated into the hosting of his own events. “I just got it into my head that I could promote the music I was selling with my own parties. All the music I’d play out and all the acts that I’d host were just a good way in which to promote what I was selling and the vibe that I was pushing.”
The artists he would host during this period read like what one would imagine a South African Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list to look like in the year 2057: Us Kids Know, Desmond and The Tutus, Greenisforturbo, Eat This Horse, kidofdoom, Love On Roller Skates (pre-The Frown), Fire Through The Window, Japan & I, Deluxe, Gary Thomas, and FiveMenThreeMissing. Riaan recalls the first of these events, Damn The Man, where he hosted BLK JKS.
“I’ve always had that mindset of fuck the majors. Don’t like the way they work. Don’t like the way they treat their artists. Rather just do everything independent.”
The Soulseek person-to-person file-sharing network was the primary way in which to obtain music and Myspace was the central social network. It was during this period that Ri would meet Ben Rausch. “We just hit it off. We were inseparable for a couple of years”. The two would lead the charge for an isolated dance-punk revolution taking place at the time. “It started clicking that we could be playing rock & roll, while also having a dance party at the same time”.
Two months ago Ri and Ben combined their faculties once again for a reunion event which eulogized what was arguably the best weekly party in the past decade. Riaan recalls what it was that made those Thursday night parties so significant. “Everyone was just so keen, people were so keen on knowing what you were playing out. More often than people asking for some shitty song, it would be people asking, ‘what is that?’.
As advantageous as it was, the digital age and internet also had its negative effect on the music landscape. One of these was a rapid decline in the global sales of physical copies of music as computers became the primary means to record, distribute, store, and play music. Canned Applause was not immune to this change. However there was a greater factor which contributed to the closing of Riaan’s independent record store. “When the store went under there was a hectic crime wave in Melville that I’m convinced is what made everyone close their doors. A lot of businesses closed down over that time. During December, which was supposed to be our biggest time to trade, I literally had kids who were shopping at my store getting held up by gun point at the ATMs and shit like that.”
Melville would experience a lull—which it is yet to recover from fully—while Riaan committed more of his time to DJing and the hosting of events under the Broaden A New Sound banner. It was around this time that Ri also started exploring more experimental bass sounds. This resulted in the creation of his Danger Ingozi alias as the music did not fit in with the primarily disco aesthetic of Data Takashi. “It was great cause I went way more experimental with Danger Ingozi exploring techno and dubstep and other sounds. We threw a party before dubstep was even a thing in Cape Town. People were like ‘What the fuck? How do you dance to this?’ and I was like ‘Dude, Do you know how to dance to Rage Against The Machine? That’s how you dance to dubstep.” Ri goes on to make it clear that the music that went on to gain commercial popularity worldwide, due to the likes of Skrillex, was actually electrostep and not dubstep.
Riaan became closely associated with Kitcheners and he would spend most of his time juggling events between Kitcheners and the Lister rooftop parties.”The Lister parties were my favourite in the past. Those were my most successful parties in concept and execution”. He was also hosting several events in partnership with Andrew Clements—who owns Kitcheners—until he eventually got the permanent role of curating the promoters and events at Kitcheners. “We hosted a few progressive acts like Mala and Kode 9 before anyone even caught on”. A personal highlight was Style vs Sound early last year when Kitcheners hosted CID RIM and The Clonious alongside Dirty Parrafin. What’s interesting is that Okmalumkoolkat’s recently released debut solo EP, Holy Oxygen I, was produced by Cid Rim and The Clonious.
2014 has been a great year for Riaan as he continues his advocacy of niche sounds. A highlight includes hosting Marcus Marr at Disco De Moda which holds great significance for Ri as, “it was the first time [he]could put the DFA logo on one of [his]flyers”. The biggest highlight would be the second Below The Bassline where he hosted Spoek Mathambo, Aero Manyelo, DJ Spoko, DJ Zharp Zharp, and his own alias, DJ Danger Ingozi at Kitcheners.
“That was for me one of the best parties I’ve done. Based on the energy and the vibes and the line-up progressing so fucking beautifully. I could have done another party for Below The Bassline [after that], but I don’t wanna do something just for the sake of doing it. I want the next to be better than that”.
Broaden A New Sound has seen Riaan hosting many local artists who are sadly overlooked by local commercial radio. This year alone has seen Ri hosting Bye Beneco, Fantasma, Motel Mari, The Brother Moves On, John Wizards, Felix Laband, The Watermark High, Card On Spokes, Aero Manyelo, Vox Portent, and DJ Spoko. Ranging from bacardi house to post-folk, the only shared characteristic amongst these artists is that they are pushing the envelope and doing something differently—in spite of commercial radios lack of support for the unconventional.
Commercial support from radio and brands has never been a necessity for Riaan. He hosted all his events independently with no support from the usual alcoholic and fashion brands that have come to characterize such gatherings. “I think I’m always just too ahead for the brands or potential sponsors. I’m not trying to toot my own horn but that’s what it always feels like. Suddenly something blows up and I’m just like, ‘I did that a year or two ago. What the Fuck?’ On the other side, Damn The Man is still strong in my core.”
Broaden A New Sound is a passion project.
“There is nothing more exciting than discovering new music. That always fuels me in everything that I do.”
“Sourcing music is my full time job. If it ever translates into massive sales or a fan base, I don’t really care. To the people who get it and dig it, fuck yeah. It would be awesome if I could have some weird influence. I mean The Brother Moves On bought Animal Collective and shit like that from me before they even had a band. You know, if I can just somehow introduce people to new sounds that influence them to create even bigger things.”
As we conclude our conversation Ri would lead me into his study-come-studio. A homemade Disco De Moda moog synth, various vinyl records, tons of CDs, and other musical memorabilia and apparatus are strewn throughout the small room. He insists that I sit in his chair as it is positioned in just the right location for the sound to travel to my ears without any obstruction. I’ve never heard music sounding so good. The lows were pronounced and the highs never lost any of their vitality.
I cancelled all my scheduled appointments; spending what remained of the Saturday delightfully consuming all the intriguing sounds Ri so generously provided. The entire experience made me regret never having known about his record store—never mind visit it. My what-the-fuck-had-I-been-listening-to moment had not fully transpired during the time of Canned Applause. However, I find myself now in a highly inquisitive phase and honoured to have Ri as one of the pathfinders in my exploration of sound.
I was overcome with excitement when I discovered that I would get my own chance to visit Ri’s record store.“There is a record store somewhere down the line. When the record store was open, it was so much easier to promote stuff and introduce people to new music. Especially the physical space, even though I’ll have an online store, I’ll also have some kind of physical premise at Kitcheners.”