The 10 Best South African Electronic Artists, according to Toya Delazy
Love and Respect feat. Killer Mike
Silas Moldenhawer: When Saints Go Machine: This track was a small, maybe thirty-second sketch that Nikolaj [WSGM vocalist] did, which was meant for another project. We all really liked it, these throwback drums and this guitar loop over it. We thought if it was going to be a whole song we needed an old school rap voice on it, and that’s why we reached out to Killer Mike. Reaching out to Killer Mike was pretty straightforward, he was actually playing in Copenhagen, where we’re from and Nikolaj went down and they had a conversation after the show – he really liked the track so it seemed very natural. He was not forced on something just because his manager told him it was a good idea, it felt like he really liked the song.
Silas: After Love and Respect it was important to have a track that tells something about the whole record, because Love and Respect is very different from the rest of the album and very different from anything we’ve done before. Infinity Killer splits up the middle, the end part is very heavy and compressed and intense, and the first part of the song is very mellow and melodic. I think throughout the album we have a lot of those two sides and this track tells something of those two sides.
“We used a vocal processor on the H2000, and Eventide on [Nikolaj’s] voice…So we were turning the wheel on the H2000, in the same way Jodie Foster is turning it in the movie ‘Contact’, when she’s listening out for aliens.” – Silas Moldenhawer
Silas: Iodine was one of the first songs we did, but we had so many different versions of it. Nikolaj changed the verses and the choruses maybe 20 times, we actually threw the song away, and then as we were finishing the album we thought we’d give it another try. Nikolaj was in the studio and he was improvising over these drums I’d done, and he actually changed the melody completely. It felt like we always had a good song but we didn’t have the production, and then we had the production but we didn’t have the song, and when he improvised over those drums it felt like the two sides connected. People would say it’s like a “classic” WSGM song, but it’s very different from the earlier stuff, so that’s why we chose to have it on. It’s like a downtempo, kinda sad pop song. We wanted classic hip hop beats or rave beats, and we wanted these kind of drum beats on every track, so you can recognise the drum beat or the groove instantly.
Silas: This was about trying to have a song that had a pulse, without drums on it. It was more a song where everything worked around Nikolaj’s voice and we’re trying to hold back on the production as much as possible. We used a vocal processor on the H2000, Eventide on his voice, and also on the handclaps. So we were turning the wheel on the H2000, in the same way Jodie Foster is turning it in the movie ‘Contact’, when she’s listening out for aliens. We like that she’s using that in the movie, so we tried to do the same when we were recording Nikolaj. So we did it on Nikolaj’s voice and on the handclaps and turned the volume up and down on each of the recordings, so there’s always something going on in the background – suddenly there’s a lot of low-end frequencies coming out of the handclaps. We liked that, that if you’re not really paying attention it just sounds like a handclap but if you have it on a good system or in headphones there are all these tiny details that makes it much more interesting to listen to.
System Of Unlimited Love
Silas: System Of Unlimited Love, or SOUL if you shorten it. That was like our futuristic psych rock track – we wanted it be chaotic, it needed to be heavy and chaotic – with no guitars or bass – and have that intense feeling.
Mental Shopping Spree
Silas: Again, we were going for these real contrasts from the verses to the choruses, and the verses needn’t to come off very mellow and intimate, and then when the choruses drop in you’re in a kind of Timbaland, very compressed, very low-end bass chorus. This was one of the songs we used a Casio MT65 keyboard on (which you can hear the Game of Thrones theme tune being played on here). It’s a very intense song, it fits well with SOUL because there’s just a lot going on. I think the title, “Mental Shopping Spree” works well with the production, it’s that sense of going from one place to another and you’re having all these thoughts colliding. Usually with these titles, Nikolaj will come up with them and we’ll say, “you need to change that title”, and he’ll say “no I don’t”, and just when he’s very stressed just as we’re finishing an album we’re at the point where we can basically get him to do anything, and we’ll tell him “fix that title!” and he’ll have no choice.
“In the end, it should actually sound like an old school sample, but an old school sample that sounds a bit futuristic. If it’s only nostalgic that’s all it will be, but it should be something more than that.” – Silas Moldenhawer
Silas: On some tracks I think there are enough ideas to fit into a whole album, but on Degeneration we managed to keep it to just one simple bassline. It’s this mix of a classic old 90s rave bass hook or something, and then Nikolaj’s vocals are similar to something you might hear on a country record. So it’s something you wouldn’t normally think would work together but it felt very natural. After Mental Shopping Spree it’s a nice break to go into something simple and stripped down, and then on the vinyl it’s actually where the vinyl splits, so when you start the vinyl you just have that bassline, like another introduction…
Silas: That was the first track we finished, and we weren’t sure if we’d have it on or if we’d have it as a bonus, but it says something about the rest of the album as a whole I think. I guess the orchestral outro sounds very “big” but we actually only used only violin on it and layered a lot of takes. Again we have that verse which is very stripped down, and then the chorus kicks in and there are these old skool trip hop/hip hop drums. You hear these elements throughout the whole album, we were listening to a lot of old 90s stuff and we felt like that approach to drums and beats has been forgotten almost… now it could be whatever, the clap, or snare drum, or kick drum, they can sound the same in every song. Sometimes we’d be looping the drums and then playing sampled drums, but we’re using the same methods a 90s producer would use, sampling drums and sampling from old records. But we rarely move through the beats quickly, we return to the beats and think maybe we can take some of the frequencies and put them through this machine, and maybe we can overdub this sample with some live drums and process them altogether. But in the end, it should actually sound like an old school sample, but an old school sample that sounds a bit futuristic. If it’s only nostalgic that’s all it will be, but it should be something more than that.
When Saints Go Machine – Mannequin
Silas: This was just something that we actually struggled quite a bit with – the song could go so many ways. We were always trying to get that energy out but still have a mellow song, very approachable in some way. We liked the idea of Nikolaj yelling the sample going “with order”, we thought that was clever and very effective. I like how it runs with the same chords throughout and then we have 8 bars and a chord change, and then you go back to the same chords again. So it’s having something looped, but then having just small parts where you go to some whole other place, but then return to the loop that you recognise. It was difficult getting the balance right between the parts with or without drums, and getting the energy out without doing something that would sound maybe too modern or too electronic, or too heavy or something. Because it was still meant as a mellow song.
“We sampled Nikolaj’s voice and used it like a chord sequence, and we wanted the song to have a Disney feel – like when the strings come in it almost sounds like the end of a Disney movie or something.” – Silas Moldenhawer
Silas: I’m speaking about the drums a lot, but we were actually all producing the drums, and I’m actually not playing the drums on the record, everyone else is, because I was preferring to be in the studio. The groove and the drums are so important to how we interpret our songs, all the melodies and arrangements we did struggle with, but if the feel of the drums and the groove weren’t there it didn’t matter how good the arrangement was in some way. We sampled Nikolaj’s voice and used it like a chord sequence, and we wanted the song to have a Disney feel – like when the strings come in it almost sounds like the end of a Disney movie or something. But then the contrast from this Portishead-like vibe in the verses and then these powerful lyrics and melodies over something very simple and stripped down.
Silas: Nikolaj put down most of this on his own, and the three of us just actually added noise to it. We did that in a really high-end studio – with an SSL mixing board, and a Neve mixing console. We’d tried so many different ways of producing this album, we’d tried some of the same methods as on ‘Konkylie’ but it felt like we were repeating ourselves, or the vibe wasn’t right. And then we had the opportunity to go to this big old fancy studio with all this equipment we love and couldn’t afford. With Dead Boy, while Nikolaj’s basic track was running, the four of us were playing these different effects at the same time, and all this noise took the song, for me, to a whole new level. With some of the weird synth melodies it was just something that happened in that moment, we weren’t really doing anything, maybe some levelling afterwards, but otherwise it was all done live. We did two takes and used one of them… and that never really happens for us.
We had so much equipment running through the mixing board, and we were just trying to turn it all on, taking five machines each or something, we built our own area where we were sitting on the floor with our own samplers, synths, echo effects or whatever and then we just ran the track and the whole challenge was not interfering with the songs or each other and just trying to think what was missing.
“We thought it would be nice to end with a ballad… but a space ballad” – Silas Moldenhawer
Slave To The Take In Your Heaven
Silas: We thought it would be nice to end with a ballad… but a space ballad. The end part was meant to sound like Underworld or something, and Nikolaj sings completely differently to how he does on the rest of the album, you could almost think it was someone else. He repeats these couple of lines towards the end over a breakbeat, which I think is a really strong way of finishing things off. Again it has the reference to the 90s but just in different ways, and that was the era where we discovered music, and fell in love with making music. So we wanted to get across these emotions when we discovered rave, or hip hop or other things we were discovering at that time like psych rock. So it felt good starting out with Love and Respect and then ending up with this old school rave feel on Slave To The Take In Your Heaven. Like a whole palette of 90s emotions or something.