Earlier in the year at Nando’s Music Exchange, Stormzy had a chance to bond with South African producer Muzi, who extended an invite to the WickedSkengMan to visit Durban, South Africa and explore the vibrant local music scene. In this short documentary, From South London to South Africa, we get to hear some Qqom music and witness how taxi drivers have become tastemakers and see that you’re more likely to have a good night out in a car park than a nightclub.
Recently Nando’s partnered up with the iconic Roundhouse in Camden, North London to deliver its first Music Exchange programme supporting emerging artists. The two-year partnership which kicked off on the 9th September 2015 offered a unique masterclass session which brought together established musicians and the next generation of young music artists for a day of creativity, recording and creating. The workshops saw 20 young aspiring producers and songwriters combine the sounds and styles of South Africa and the UK whilst being supported and directed by established stars Example, StormzySouth African DJ Muzi and Reeps One.
RWD were present at The Roundhouse for this fascinating day that saw one of the most iconic musical performances areas in the country transformed into a hive of musical production and inspiration. Whilst moving around the intricate and awesome structure of The Roundhouse, going in and out of studios and catching a taste of the impressive creativity being made by the lucky artists chosen to take part in the fantastic event, i caught up with Example, Stormzy, Reeps One and Muzi to discuss the importance of studio time and the impact an event such as the Nando’s Music Exchange would have had on their careers.
How much do you feel an event such as this would have benefited you at a young age?
It definitely would have helped. The hardest thing for me coming up was getting studio time. I didn’t really know anyone with a studio and there wasn’t anywhere near the amount of studio set-up’s as there are in London and even across the country now. I think the good thing about now is the technology has gotten better and smaller and more mobile whereas before you actually needed to go to a proper studio to record. It wasn’t so easy to record in a bedroom or a basement. Now it’s a lot easier to set-up and you see here at the Roundhouse, all the rooms they have here have literally everything you need. You can produce a whole album in there. So yeah it would have been and is to these guys a huge benefit, these guys are very lucky.
Speaking on your time coming up and looking at your live performances in particular now. It’s something you’ve become known for, the live show, has that hampered that love you would have once had for the studio?
I think over the last few years I didn’t really enjoy the studio. The first couple times I went to the studio, back in the day, it was just excitement to be going into the studio. I was like ‘oh damn I’m in the studio’. But then as time went on and I got to travel the world and record in studios in Sydney, New York, L.A, Toronto or Vegas, and the studio’s are getting bigger and more lavish and different things are exciting you like ‘Oh man they got a fridge’ or ‘Oh man they got a pool table’ and these things that you get constantly impressed by soon you become kind of spoilt by them and you get to a point where you feel like you’ve seen it all. I remember working out of the Beats By Dre studio about four years ago and Dr Dre was actually in there, mixing down records and checking stuff out. That was probably the pinnacle of my studio life. Since then I focused more on live shows.
Is there any advice you would give any of the young artists here, or any artists who doesn’t have that same passion for the studio and recording?
Well I dunno. I speak to Sheeran a lot and he loves the studio. At any minute on any day he just wants to get in the studio and I know he loves being up on stage but I know he doesn’t love touring as much as say, me. I love being on stage, a lot of artists don’t like the touring life but I do. But my advice to anybody who is getting perhaps cynical about the studio is, don’t forget how important that time is. I had a tendancy of getting to the studio at about 12 with an aim to leaving at about 4pm, that’s not the way it works. Really you shouldn’t be leaving until you’ve got something finished. And if the ideas just aren’t coming, a lot of people have the tendance to just leave, and that’s fine, that’s how some people work but I’m one of these people who will stay in the studio until I’ve got something. I wanna leave the studio knowing I’ve got a really special song. It’s all well and good if you’re one of these artists who doesn’t write his own songs, you can just turn up and follow a guide vocal because the hit is already written for you. But when you write your own songs and produce your own songs, there’s an amount of time and care you put in.
(ICYMI: Example – Whisky Story)
Considering the variation in musical style and cultural influence that there is amongst those lucky enough to be here today, is there a specific genre of music you’ve always wanted to try your hand at?
Yeah I’ve always wanted to do an acoustic album. When people have heard me do like Live Lounges, I did Katy Perry last year with a string quartet and a piano, I get really good responses and what’s weird is that some people are like ‘oh I hate it’ and other people are like ‘oh my god you can really sing’, because I have quite a unique voice, it’s like Marmite. But I just think that if your voice is lain bare over just one or two instruments, you get so much more emotion, so much more inflection in the person’s voice. Over the years there’s been very few occasions when I’ve done an acoustic version of a song, like a bonus track on the album but people have really related to them. The problem is ‘tho, when I’m on stage in-front of 60,000 people and they’re all moshing or you’re in a club in Ibiza at 2am, you can’t pull out an acoustic guitar. People come to me for a particular thing, they want an anthem or a club banger, I can’t just turn around and say my next album is for Radio 2. Although that is the only thing I’ve wanted to do. Maybe one day I’ll just make a whole album like that, even if it’s just for myself.
(ICYMI: Example covers ‘Katy Perry – Dark Horse’ in the BBC Radio1 Live Lounge)
Do you feel a pressure, considering your success, to everytime you step into the studio, make a banger?
Yeah because live gigs are probably 90% of my income, There’s PRS and you know a bit of money from record sales, but not many people sell records these days. Live is my bread and butter so why would I make music that didn’t work?
Considering the longevity of your career, with you coming in the door as a rapper and gaining a strong cult following and then stepping into the pop world and just killing it. Was there a time when you considered giving it up?
No because one thing I have always stood by is, never release a song you’re not 100% happy with, or never put out music that you’ll look back on like ‘why did I do that?’ There is of course certain songs that I’ve put out where it’s just that was the mood I was in that day but I’ve got no regrets because everything I’ve done I’ve learned from and even when I was starting out and was making hip-hop, it was because I only knew a hip-hop producer and I was looking up to Roots Manuva and I liked Dizzee and The Streets you know what I mean? But I always had bigger influences outside of that. I was always a Grunge and Metal fan, I always liked the prodigy, I always liked Basement Jaxx and I always liked Faithless but if I only knew a hip-hop producer and I didn’t even know how to write a song, I could only write verses, there was no way I knew what I would go on to do. It was just about going out there, experimenting and working with new producers. I’ve never been ashamed of what I’ve done. When I set out 7-8 years ago I was going to make pop music and then it was dub-step and then I’ll do house and then I’ll come back to this. Once you step on stage to 80,000 people who are all singing your lyrics back and you go from 4th on the bill at the main stage to third on the bill, why would you go and make something that isn’t working. I’ve had those moments of experimentation but for me I just do what ever I feel like.
Stormzy & Reeps One –
Check out Stormzy & Reeps One free styling for all at the Nando’s Music Exchange
Reapz – You have an interesting manner in which you make your music. Things like the Nandos Music Exchange are very rare in music. How much do you think you would have benefitted from an opportunity such as the one given to these young artists today?
I think it would have been massive because it would have given me a focus and an output. When you’re younger you just make, you make things and you try things out but once you’re given the tools you can use the tools to make something that’s finished and if you want to persue it as a job, that’s a really powerful thing. So yeah, I think if I was introduced to that at the age I started then it would have moved along my technical progression as a musician. I would have loved to have something like this.
(ICYMI: Reeps One – Hyper Beast)
Reapz – Do you think that the technical side of music, things like engineering and mastering, are underrated in music?
Yeah, I call it the ‘Dark Arts’ because it’s everything that happens after you’ve done what you have to as a musician but it’s so important man. Like when I’m on stage, no matter what I do, there’ a guy in control of absolutely everything. He’s responsible for me and once I figured that out I made sure that no matter what I’m doing, I have my own sound guy and my own engineer, they are as important as the musician.
Stormzy – Obviously as a spitter, you spend most of your time in the studio and you were recently out in Ghana recording. What’s that like? Does it matter where you are or who you’re with? Or is it a case of once you step in the studio you’re in the zone?
I feel like it’s different every time and I feel like that’s the beauty of music. Me going in the studio with my brederin who spits is going to be so different to me going in the studio with Adele or even me going in the studio with Reapz is going to be a totally different session so I feel like that’s the foundation of music. It’s so spontaneous and you don’t know what you’re going to get out of a session. I’ve heard stories where I’m speaking to other artists where people think it’s as simple as; that plus that equals this. They think like JME plus Skepta equates to a Grime record that goes a certain way but, it don’t go that way some times. Anything can come from that. I feel like throwing things into the equation and even down to the mood like, Stormzy plus Reapz equals this kind of song but an angry Stormzy who has just had a fight with his brederin plus a Reapz who is tired but wants to whack out a session equals a whole different thing.
Stormzy, looking at your catalogue in particular, at tracks like WSM or #Merky or Shut Up, there songs that seem quite simple to trace in origin. Like oh that’s him and his people reeling off of a line, were those studio sessions that birthed that way of writing?
Nah that’s just me on the endz. All of that. And that’s why I like to always portray them with the endz in my videos. But when I’m in the studio I like to take that and polish it. When I’m actually doing it I love what it is and I don’t want to polish it but when I’m in the studio I have to bring in other aspects to make a polished new sound. But when I’m doing the Shut Up’s and the Skeng’s, it’s like forget the technical and all that, let’s just do it, let’s just leng it out.
(ICYMI: Stormzy – WICKEDSKENGMAN [PART 4])
You’re both still very young and very new to the game. When you first started going to the studio I can imagine it was quite daunting, especially when you find yourself in the studio with proffessionals. Are you now in the position to walk in on another persons session with the confidence to have an input and capture what somebody else’s sound is?
Stormzy – I’m still a bit weary you know and the reason why I’m weary is, I understand just how much you don’t know. You may feel like you know enough but I KNOW that I could walk into any of the studio sessions we have going on here today and I could learn something from these guys. I’m always more observant and when I feel like I get it enough I can be like ‘Yo, why don’t you try this?’ you know what I mean? That’s the only way. Apart from that I hold my own because you never know, these could be some unsung geniuses, you never know.
Reapz – Yeah I agree with that. This year has been really important for me because I started producing myself for the first time because if I walked into a studio space I wouldn’t want to question and engineer’s position or something because I didn’t know. I made the music but I didn’t know what they’re opinion of it was. Now that I’m producing for myself a little bit, things are starting to light up and make sense. I now know I can force an idea.
How important is it to you to be comfortable in the studio? Obviously Stormz you have your team and it’s strong, not all making music but putting in and pushing the movement but if you get the call to come down to the studio on your ones, is that something that will effect your work?
It all depend you know because I used to like being with all the mandem in the studio, now that I’ve grown a bit, I feel like I need to focus. I’m the opposite of a typical rapper ‘ca I know a lot of rappers go with all the man-dem, smoke and drink, I can do all that. I go studio like I’m going school. Ready to record and ready to learn and I’ll have these ideas and I’ll go and I’m calm and very observant and now I’ve adopted this fearlessness where ill go studio and be like ‘Let’s make this’ and sometimes it comes out terrible but sometimes you make magic but I feel like that’s how you strike gold, by following yourself. I feel like music is one of those games where, you can go Uni and study music and go to a session and know all the technical and scientific elements but a man can come in like ‘yo run that’ and his record is gonna be better than yours because it’s just about the soul and about the feeling.
Considering the eclectic mix of cultures and artists at the Roundhouse today. Is there a specific genre of music you have always wanted to try?
Stormzy -I feel like afrobeats is a genre that I, well I used to hate afrobeats. I didn’t get it and as an African I didn’t understand why I don’t get this but over the years I’ve been hearing records from the afrobeats genre and I’m like ‘bruv, how did I miss this?’ but now it feels like such an amazing genre and as an African it would be so sick to merge my London sound with my African heritage and put that on a record. I’ve never wanted to get a random afrobeats track and do a rappy verse on it. I’ve wanted to make it from the ground up. Whatever would come of that record, it would be a true and honest track.
Reapz – Well for me it’s like, do you know JUKE – Footwork? For me that’s just something that gets me set-off wherever I am.
For those who may not be familiar with you. You are Muzi…
Yes my name Is Muzi, I’m from South Africa. I started making music when I was 13 on this little computer I had back at home. I started doing it because I wasn’t talented at anything else and my mum got a computer and left it there and I would just play around on it. So yeah, from then until now, I’m 24 now, I’ve been trying to take all of my influences, such as my influences from back home and forge my own sound out of it. I think that will be my life journey forever. Now, well three weeks ago I moved to Germany, Berlin and I’m based there now.
There has in recent years been a huge influx of creative from South Africa, post-apartheid (1994) through comedy and music and all other aspects. Is it something that is liberating for yourself and a South African creative?
For my family yes because for me, even know it’s post-1994 that energy is still there. A lot of people don’t understand. The freedom thing is on paper ‘oh you guys are free now’ but the energy of it is still there, my mum still remembers all of that. I was born in 1991 so when it was happening I was pretty young, all I remember is stories of hiding and all that stuff. So it’s important for me know because I’m just realising that all this is possible, for a kid from a pretty bad background to be in London doing things, so I think that would inspire me if I was back home. But more importantly I think it’s liberating for my mum, I’m sure she was of the idea that none of this could happen for a black kid from South Africa and I get messages from her telling me how proud she is of me.
Who is your biggest influence musically?
My biggest influence? Future Muzi… my future self. Because I always feel like and I’ve always been told by my manager ‘never look behind the curtain of celebrity’ . It’s cool to look up to people and it’s cool to have heroes but I can’t really relate to them, even ‘tho they might be making dope music and stuff but I can’ relate to them on a human level. So I made my future self, what I see myself as. My real idol. There are of course people who are really good and although you may not look up to them you still adopt their traits and stuff. I like Skrillex, I like Diplo, I like Deadmaus, I like Coldplay, I like Timberland, I like Tyler the Creator, I like all of these people, not from a music stand-point for some of them but as a person. Like the type of person Tyler is, I can relate to that. I don’t know him but he looks like he is living his truth and I can relate to that.
So what are you listening to at the moment?
What am I listening to? My new EP, that’s what I’m listening to. I don’t listen to much music, I’m aware of what’s going on and if I hear an artists has made a sick track I’ll check it out but I don’t really pay much attention to it because I feel like the way music comes to me is different, it’s not conscious. Some people will go into the studio and be like ‘oh I like that chord man, let’s use that’ my process is not like that, my process is, I’ll be chilling and a whole song will pop into my head and if I’m not in-front of a computer, I’ll record it on my managers phone or my phone but it has to get out, it’s an urge. I feel like I listen to much of other peoples music it will have an influence that means what I make isn’t honest.
So if you were to sum up your sound, what would you say?
That is the hardest question. It’s bass heavy with Zulu vocals and a lot of percussion and stuff… Say if Skrillex, Diplo, a guy called Chico Twala and M.I.A had a baby. There’s all those elements and those guys can make an African beat obviously because they’re so talented but there’s not the soul that I have.
After a product day locked in their studios, the lucky 20 artist’s, separated into their groups, were given the chance to play their finished products to the special guests for feedback. A very impressive and eclectic mix of sounds left all involved stunned and in awe. A fantastic event, providing brilliant resource to immensely talented youth, the Nando’s Music Exchange is certainly something worth keeping an eye out for.