Slowly but surely, South Africa, and more specifically Cape Town, is carving itself out a reputable position on the international electronic circuit. DJ and promoter Bruno Morphet has been at the forefront of the new-wave house and techno movement for some time, taking inspiration from the burgeoning scenes in London and Berlin alongside his performance and promotion partner Ivan Turanjanin. Together the duo make up Killer Robot and can today claim to be one of the country’s most successful dance music pairings, regularly playing in clubs and festivals across the nation. Ahead of Seth Troxler’s imminent arrival in Cape Town as part of the RA Horizons tour, MEOKO caught up with Bruno to get to grips with the ins and outs of South African club culture.
Hi Bruno, thanks for your time. For those that aren’t yet familiar with who you are and what you do, could you start off by introducing yourself?
Certainly. I am a dj from Cape Town, South Africa. I form one half of the Killer Robot dj collective along with Ivan Turanjanin. I am also a graphic designer by trade.
How did you first encounter electronic music in SA?
My very first experience of a club was the Saturday matinee sessions at The Base in Cape Town. The music policy was 80% hip hop, long before the genre became fatally compromised. It was an era of incredibly futuristic production in hip hop. Public Enemy, EPMD, Tuff Crew and the like. DJs like Ready D, then barely out of his teens, would play there, but before he would come on, a guy would play early Chicago stuff, Trax, DJ International, stuff like that. I used to blag my way into the DJ booth and watch them work. A year or two later, the first raves started in and around warehouses in Woodstock and Paarden Eiland and we would try to get to them all. The music would be a mix of hip hop and early house, along with more instrumental stuff like 808 State. The first time I heard Pacific State was a fairly pivotal moment in my life, as you can imagine.
What was the thought process behind setting up Killer Robot? Did it feel like a giant leap in the dark?
No it was quite a natural process actually. Adam Klein, along with his partner Jonathan Cline had opened a new club on Long street called Fiction, at the end of a very long, dark spell for electronic music in Cape Town. The few clubs that had supported underground music had either closed or been taken over by nefarious ‘booking agencies’. I myself had been kicked out of a 2 year residency by the dealings of one of these in particular. Most clubbing activity was centred around one club that played the absolute bottom feeder selection imaginable, so change was not only imminent, it was entirely necessary. Ivan and I had played alongside each other at various of circuit parties and although we had fought battles in the past, we quickly realised we had a common interest in techno and particularly in the new movement that was happening in Berlin and London at the time. Adam contacted Ivan to play on Friday nights at Fiction, as they wanted an electro-based sound to predominate. Ivan then called me and we played several weeks there for free, while people got used to the space. Word travelled and within a short space in time, the night became packed. Although it was a comparatively tiny dancefloor, the quality sound system was integral to the uptake of the music and we found ourselves with a residency. I suggested the name Killer Robot to co-incide with the movie-title like themes that Fiction had given their other nights, and we started like that. Ivan, Adam and myself were resident djs every Friday.
Your Killer Robot party set a strong precedent in SA for underground club promotion. What was the house and techno scene like before 2006? What options were available before you guys started?
As you can glean from the answer to the previous question it was fairly dire. Having said that Cape Town had a strong deep house tradition through two seminal clubs, the Funktion and More, so the culture was there, it had just gone to ground a bit. Ivan was throwing his Prototype techno nights and I was playing at maybe one or two small events a month that had decent music policies. The outdoor scene was dominated by trance and the club scene was the domain of model parties, red carpets and shitty commercial house. We definitely benefitted simply from how bad the scene was. I should actually thank a few people for fucking it up so badly, but I’ll restrain myself. They know who they are.
How has the wider scene changed as a result of Killer Robot? Can you see the effects nationwide or was your impact limited to Cape Town?
We were able to expose people to a new sound by being in the right place at the right time, but we had contemporaries in Johannesburg like Digital Rockit who were also starting to throw parties featuring interesting international acts. Our most critical decision was using the money we made from the busy weekly night to fund visits by DJs that we loved, but no-one else would consider bringing out. Whereas some may have taken the money and run, we knew we had to build up a solid foundation if we were to be taken seriously. Nowadays I’m blown away by how many promoters are embracing this spirit and bringing out so many incredible artists, often at little or no profit. 2012 in particular has been a fantastic year for visiting talent.
What is the response like from the authorities towards the parties and festivals you are a part of? Is co-operation a constant battle or are they respectful and supportive of what you’re doing?
Cape Town is a beautiful city to throw parties in, but you need to be conscious of a very reactionary attitude from the city council to most organised party activity. There are many religious fundamentalists that sit on various sub-committees and they do make their presence felt in many heavy handed ways, from denying licences to burying promoters and club owners in bureaucracy. You have to be one step ahead, but it does force some lateral thinking, which in many ways has been beneficial to the party/festival environment.
Musically, Killer Robot has always pursued a darker, more tech-influenced sound. Today, are there the options to consume all the various different strands of house and techno or is still quite limited?
Well our name may give that impression, but we’ve also hosted quite a few artists that don’t play that style at all. Johnjon and Till Von Sein from SUOL have played several times for us. Julius Steinhoff from Smallville has shared our decks as well as Bodycode and Brendon Moeller. There are many different strains currently being nurtured by promoters here in SA, from tough techno to deep house niches. The scene has grown sufficiently to the point where people can specialise and still pull crowds.
In terms of musical trends, does South Africa take its cues from Europe or does it create its own? As one of the country’s top promoters do you feel as if you an influence over what people listen to?
We know what we like, and we support what we like, even though we take a knock sometimes because we have an artist that not many people know. We’ve never cow-towed to whats popular, and we’ve nurtured a support base on those terms.
From what I can gather the scene appears to be growing all the time. What does the future hold for South African electronic music? And what do you envisage yours and Killer Robot’s role to be?
The arena grows every day here. There is exponentially more going on now than when we started, and with that, attention from international markets. We see ourselves as helping that along, and we use the points of contact we’ve made to continue to push quality in this country.
Do you view homegrown producers as vital to pushing the scene forward? Do you yourself play a lot of South African house and techno?
With the massive impact Black Coffee has made overseas as well as Brendon Moeller and Bodycode/Portable, not to mention breakthrough guys like Terrence Pearce and now Alex Blaxx, local producers are becoming more numerous which in turn activates a stricter quality control mechanism. Artists are comparing music, they’re giving it to other DJs to play out and this stuff is becoming recognised for the first time as equal or if not superior to some international product. I have seen with my own eyes tracks by people like Floyd Lavine become underground favourites. Personally I’m still not finding a lot of local content that fits my personal sound DJ wise, but that’s not to say it isn’t being made, its just not finding its way to me (hint!).
Finally, Seth Troxler is coming to town as part of Resident Advisor’s Horizons tour. Tell us about the event and how it came about.
Yes he is. It’s an RA Horizons event and we are facilitating and are booked to play alongside him. The party is the brainchild of Nick Sabine, who has been semi-resident here in Cape Town for the last year or so. We brought Seth out to South Africa in 2008 when he had released only two records and we had to explain to everyone who he was. We loved his approach and his record Love Beserker had become something of an anthem at our weekly night, so we got in touch with him and brought him out for a gig in CT and Durban. Now of course he’s a megastar, and the job of promoting him is much easier.