In Conversation with june as

Interviews
Image courtesy of Nada Zanhour

Frequent Defect is a club night, collective and social movement based in Beirut that has been running events and providing artistic platforms for local and international artists to convey and experiment with their work. Launched in late 2016, it has emerged as a centerpiece for the Lebanese underground scene in recent years.

Born out of ‘lines of flight, subversion schemas and detriments’, creating a safe space for artistic freedom and breaking censorship and tabooed subject matter is at the heart of what Frequent Defect stand for. Their club nights range from 80s post punk and new wave, grime and experimental music from Lebanon and across the Middle East.

june as is one of a number of DJs and producers involved with Frequent Defect. According to june as, the collective “uses media, be it physical or virtual, as the main channel for outreach with the emphasis on the socio-political Lebanese situation exhibited by a particular art direction.” Recently he was featured on Boiler Room which made it to our “Top 5 Streams from Isolation” piece.

june spoke to Katie Hughes over Skype from his home in Beirut to discuss the group which has shaped and grow the underground scene in the city. The interview took place in May whilst Lebanon like the rest of the world was still experiencing lockdowns due to COVID-19.

In your music, you incorporate a lot of traditional elements with experimental music. Were there any traditional Lebanese artists who inspired you?

Growing up, there was a bigger focus on foreign music but we soon realised there was so many great talents over here. There were a lot of interesting acts, particularly Osman Arabi who was the first to really know his music. You can also date back to some [Lebanese] metal bands from back in the day.

There’s also an experimental acoustic scene. There is a lot interesting stuff coming out of here and it’s forever changing. I’m really looking forward to Try Harder’s EP which should be coming out soon. He has been one of the most boundary-breaking musicians.

Yeah, I know I asked you about the edit [of Strike’s You Sure Do] he did that you played as part of your boiler room.

That one will be part of the new EP.

june as playing as part of Ma3azef takeover

Would you say there is a big experimental scene over in Beirut?

Depends what you mean by experimental, but there has always been a group of people on the other side of experimentation. There’s the Irtijal Festival that has been running every year with experimental music from across the region. It’s more one-off events or yearly festivals. 

There’s a lot of artists who are heavily experimenting and creating really interesting works, but I feel there isn’t that many outlets for experimental music. The big clubs focus on house and techno but you can find other music here and there.

I saw you run a particular club night with Frequent Defect called Grime and Punishment. Did Grime make it as big in Lebanon as it did in the UK?

It was more of an underground thing, as with so many other genres. We do another night for example called Ten Hymns for Corrosion which focuses on more new wave, post-punk, new beat kind of things. It’s the same perspective for our grime night, we feel a lot of these genres don’t get the right justice here because of many factors.

During the civil war, we didn’t have a lot of records coming here except for stuff like Pink Floyd. We missed out on post punk and new wave. Now you have collectors and selectors over here and putting on a party with that music, which is really fun. It’s become niche as people weren’t exposed the first time to the music. Maybe we are trying to catch up on lost time. 

It’s nice to have a space where people can be exposed to those genres of music.

It’s also great for people who listen to the ‘not as popular’ genres of music to play it to a crowd. It’s not always professional DJs playing at the nights.We try to push some new artists that have really good taste to get more into mixing. It breeds this environment of new people bringing ideas and exchanging them.

I’ve seen you have an event that you encourage people to bring their synthesizers to exchange ideas. Have you been doing that for a while and have a lot of collaborations come out of that?  

It started outside the venue. It was a spin off of Modular on the Spot which happens in LA normally. We did it in a bar in Beirut but as we felt there was a need for this type of thing, we moved it to our main venue for a monthly series. Now people exchange ideas and there is a synth marketplace because it’s hard in Lebanon to get equipment.

Frequent Defect Logo

You usually hold your frequent defect events in a venue called  Mkalles Warehouse. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of information about the venue online, which makes it all the more mysterious. Can you tell us about it?

It’s an old storage facility for pharmaceuticals and other things. We first started with Frequent Defect at a small club but we moved to Mkalles because it was bigger and offered us a lot more freedom. It was pretty rough and dusty at first and we were full on DIY at first as we had to build the bar. It took a bit of time to get it running.

We started on the first floor, but we have taken over the second floor for work spaces. We were meeting up every day to work on our projects, until lockdown happened.

Are there a lot of spaces like that over there or is the venue an anomaly?

It was a bit weird for people to get there because it’s pretty much in an industrial area on the outskirts of Beirut, so it was a challenge to get there at first. However, that contributed to the community organically growing, as whoever really wanted to be there went there and everyone got to know each other more and more. You feel there is a strong sense of community with this core group of people who set the tone for the place. 

I saw you participated in an event last year called Day of Action: Right to Play on the Rooftops in Qasqas.

Yeah, that was a series of event throughout the day. Yo-Yo Ma came to Lebanon to play a big festival and there was a whole day where we would play three different places, including Qasqas. At the end of the day there was the main event at Mkalles, where there was a bunch of live performances which included Yo-Yo Ma, Kinan Azmeh, Oumaima al-Khalil, and Ziad al-Ahmadieh.

It was a pretty magical night. The venue was super packed. It was a one-off experience, especially getting to see people who want to listen to classical music being in a venue in the middle of an industrial area.

Do you have any exciting projects coming up?

Mainly I’m finishing up my EP which will probably be out in the next couple of months. We’ve been working on a number of projects through Defect. Since the lockdown, we’ve had time to finish all the hanging stuff we haven’t time to finish. We’ve been planning a jump into the virtual world for a year and that has taken up a lot of my time.

Listen back to our conversation with june as on Maracuya Soundsystem:

In Conversation with Kiki Hitomi

Interviews

Just like everyone else, I’m pretty bored of COVID talk, so let’s bring you back in time to a wonderful world where words like ‘social distancing’ and ‘R rates’ meant nothing to us. Where we could roam the pubs and streets at our own free will and pace. That magical time was Feburary 2020.

Kiki Hitomi has had an incredible career since bursting onto the scene in the early 2010’s. Most of her output has centered around dub, whether crazy hybrid Japanese dub in Dokkebi Q, lending her voice for dark heavy dub in King Midas Sound or animated 8-bit inspired dub through her solo work.

However, her latest project ‘Waq Waq Kingdom’, teaming up with the unapologetically eccentric pancake flipper Shige Ishihara a.k.a. DJ Scotch Egg, is arguably her best one yet.

Essaka Hoi, released last November on Phantom Limb, is a melting pot of both traditional Japanese minyo sounds and modern day dance music. The label may be ‘Minyo Footwork’ but the music goes much deeper than that.

The whole mantra around Waq Waq Kingdom is positivity. The front cover depicts both Kiki and Shigeru as kago carriers, used in feudal Japan as a means of human transportation. In the picture, the pair are carrying their life experiences and sadness but still going through life. In the album description Kiki writes “No matter what, I am carrying on my life. I won’t give up and I keep on going, keep on making, keep on learning and hollering the word Essaka Hoisa”. In a post COVID world, such optimism is more needed than ever.

Kiki Hitomi joined me on Skype from her home in Leipzig (back in the days where we didn’t have to communicate with everyone on Skype and Zoom) and she spoke about Waq Waq Kingdom.

When did you and Shigeru first meet and how did Waq Waq Kingdom form?

Kiki: I met Shigeru about 12 years ago when I was still living in London doing my first Japanese punk, dubstep/breakcore project with my friend Gorgonn called Dokkebi Q. Shigeru listened to our tune and really liked it and booked us on his friend’s festival in Brighton. I met him there and we’ve been friends since.

I’ve seen many DJ Scotch Egg’s sets which are incredible and I got so inspired but never knew we would be working together.

Shige moved to Berlin 7 years ago and I moved to Leipzig 2 years later. He had a business selling Okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancake) and joked “I’m now making family music”. At the time I was in King Midas Sound and told him to send me some music. I thought his music was amazing and I did a voice track in 5 minutes which developed into the first track ‘I Would Like to Let You Go’.

Andrea Belfi, who contributed the drums and Shigeru really liked my vocals and asked me to contribute more, which is how it started in 2014. We didn’t know what Waq Waq Kingdom were about, the three of us just had chemistry. After 6 years I finally feel what Waq Waq Kingdom is about and since Andrea has left to concentrate on his solo project, it’s just me and Shigeru working hard on it.

What I like most from the project is that it’s really hard to pin down exactly what genre your music is which makes it really exciting. One of the genre titles your label Phantom Limb puts on your music is ‘Minyo Footwork’, so what does that term mean?

Minyo is traditional Japanese music that we’ve grown up together with. We have a traditional Japanese dance festival called Bon Odori where they play minyo all the time. It’s always around that, it’s in our blood and I wanted to bring that minyo sound and vibe into our second album ‘Essaka Hoisa’. I wanted to sing a lot in Japanese and bring that minyo vibe in it.

I don’t know why our label called it minyo footwork as we didn’t use footwork all the time, footwork was just one element like trap or gamelan. The footwork vibe is probably more linked to how we dance. Maybe we will call the next album minyo gabber because that’s what we are into at the moment!

I feel design is very strong to the image of Waq Waq Kingdom, as you studied design at Goldsmiths in London. The cover on the latest album is really striking, where did this come from?

It was based on Kuniyoshi, a quite famous artist who has artwork with a giant skull in it. I took that element and wanted to apply the concept that me and Shigeru are stealing the third eye from the skull, which I thought was the universal justice. It’s important that I wanted to do an old Japanese artwork because the music has well had the minyo sound as well as old Japanese philosophy in the lyrics.

Cover of Essaka Hoi

Going back to Footwork, it feels like an exciting new genre that you are exploring. What makes footwork so exciting for you and how did that match up with the traditional Japanese sounds you were going for?

As we are getting older, we’ve been trying to catch up on the new world too. It could be anything, doesn’t have to be footwork. I like hardcore and industrial sounds.

Shigeru wants to bring in the happier, positive vibes but I was like ‘Let’s do some dark shit (Laughs)!’. We never plan, we always make, make, make. I then have to rationalize or trace what I’ve been thinking at that time. Essaka Hoisa was exactly like that, we just made a lot of songs and they we had to trace where were our heads were at, what space were we on, what planet were we on. We then trace my subconscious and thinking and then it was put together as a concept.

Shigeru was in Uganda for two months doing a residency and I think that experience, life in Uganda made him a different person a little bit. It was really hard.

Do you get influenced by other Japanese artists doing similar things to you?

Yes, apparently there is a minyo group coming back. Japan Blues an amazing EP from Kufuki called Dodome, that was really nice. I asked my friend in Japan what was going on and she said minyo was making a comeback in Japan.

What do fans in Japan make of your music and your interpretation of minyo music?

We played in January and we went to China and Tokyo and played shows. I didn’t think they were going to like it, as we project a lot of footage from these Japanese festivals behind us. I thought for them it would be too Japanese. When we play in Europe, the audience are like ‘Wow what is that’ by Japanese people already know it. But some people really like it.

There have been some Japanese record shops featuring us and saying how they’ve been looking forward to seeing us.

Some people said to us we are a hippy band (Laughter).  To be honest I was shocked. Maybe it was due to the lyrics about not wasting food, I don’t know.

Some of the context and themes within your music will be lost on a western audience that doesn’t know Japanese. What do you think about language barriers? When you go into a project, do you begin by thinking what language am I going to write in?

I still sometimes wonder shall I say this in English or shall I say it in Japanese. I’ve still got a very heavy Japanese accent when I speak in English and I still struggle when I sing in English. I have to do a lot of takes.

For people to understand my accent speaking English is hard probably but it will also be hard for them to understand me speaking Japanese without a subtitle music video.

But I’m not making fast food music, I’m not making music to get famous, I am making music for people appreciating my music. If they are bothered about what I am trying to say, they will search for that.

I do that too, for example I love M.I.A. I don’t always catch what she is saying, but I will search up her lyrics and realise she’s saying some really deep and political stuff, on a really banger beat.

In your solo work and in Japanese music more broadly, artists would sing most of the song in English and then throw in a line in English. Is that due to it being easier to insert a line in English or does it just sound cool?

I guess it’s both. A lot of Japanese people use English words already, like we say ‘happy’. I also really like people to be able to sing along with a catchy line like ‘Doggy Bag’. It’s nice to share the passion and to sing a-long.

Image source : Baba Yaga Hut’s

You and Shigeru have both moved out of the UK after quite a long time and you said in an interview that was due to gentrification in London. How did it feel as an artist being on the financial edge?

I felt like I was just surviving in London. Then I visited my friend in Berlin and they had a huge flat. For German’s they think it’s normal but for me it was like wow, this is massive!

It’s good feeling survival in one way because you are on the edge and you really feel that stress and you have a lot of output. I used to make hardcore, punk, breakcore just loads of hard music.

But I got older and got really tired of that. I visited Berlin and the weather has been super nice. I was thinking now it’s time to move somewhere that I can have a decent life as a musician. That wasn’t possible in London.

Do you think then Waq Waq Kingdom wouldn’t have existed had you stayed in London?

No, I don’t think so (Laughing). We would have never named our group Waq Waq as that means passion. I would probably make something darker or heavier.

Finally, I could think about other people’s happiness. I was so busy for myself in London but I thought about my daughter’s life when she grows up bigger. I was thinking about political, environmental issues. I also have fear of later life and losing parents as well. All those issues were in my mind. Even though there is still suffering, I have to live lighter.

I think Waq Waq Kingdom is about making people happier. Of course, the core of the life is hard but how can we encourage each other and make them happier.

There was an announcement that Brexit was going to mean artists from Europe are now required to have a visa to tour the UK (with some really outrageous and destructive policies attached to it). How will that effect the amount of time touring the UK?

UK is still central to music. There is still a lot of good music and really influential music blogs and magazines. It would be amazing to tour and I still love the UK, as I lived there for such a long time. I eat Sunday roast and Jamaican food every time I go back and my blood is made of Yorkshire tea or Tetley’s. I will still go even if we still need a visa.

The audiences are also great, especially if you go North. There’s a lot of music places in one country, so it’s very easy to put a tour together.  

 What’s going to be next for you and Waq Waq Kingdom?

I like working with Shigeru. He is a very honest guy. I want to keep the Waq Waq energy and passion until I die. I probably won’t retire, there’s not word for retirement for me. Waq Waq can be anything, making art or making vegetables. I just keep going.

Words by Sean Redmond. Listen to our interview with Kiki Hitomi on our Mixcloud.

In Conversation with Don Zilla

Interviews

With no other interviews available of him online, little information beyond his bios and Instagram and an incredible musical background, I didn’t know what to expect from my Skype call with Don Zilla.


Don Zilla, like the name alludes to, is the de-facto ‘Don’ of Ugandan label and festival Nyege Nyege and its more experimental offshoot Hakuna Kulala. He has become an in-house producer at Boutiq Studios in Kampala and has had a hand in the music that has made Kampala the incredible hub of forward thinking and genre defining music.

Don’s output has included a blistering two track EP ‘From the Cave to the World’ , a remix of SVBKVLT’s 33EMYBW, had a futuristic set at Nyege Nyege festival and has had a role in Villaelvin, involving Welsh artist Elvin Brandhi, Hakim and Swordman Kitala, in one of 2020’s best releases so far.

Don Zilla’s EP “From The Cave to the World”
Image source: Bandcamp


With a dense imagination, he smashes together traditional African sounds with bass and experimental music to make his signature raw, relentless and often frightening sound, that feels like something the world isn’t ready for.


The prospect of my meeting with ‘The Don’ was an exciting opportunity to get to know the man behind the music, but that didn’t stop me from being slightly nervous.

However, once I began the Skype call and Don’s smooth, calming voice mixed with the serenity of his environment I could hear behind him, my whole perception of him had changed.


This conversation took place in early April, when Uganda was under one of the strictest lockdowns across Africa which is only now being eased. Travel was restricted to food shopping only and a strict curfew meant you had to be inside your house before 7pm.


Don was living in Kampala, near the Boutiq Studios, Don’s place of work and a go to place for much of Nyege Nyege and Hakuna Kulala’s talent such as Slikback, Nihiloxica and Ecko Bazz. Sadly the studio has been temporarily closed during the coronavirus, leading to delays for some future projects such as the highly anticipated Fulu Muzuki album.


But he was in good spirits given the circumstances and I could hear in the background a calm and natural environment full of birds and other sounds, indicating he was living in a peaceful environment during these far from peaceful times.


Since he was a child, Don had always dreamed of being a music producer, like a divine gift instilled to him as a child. It would be apt then that Don’s musical began in a church setting. His father was a priest and he first began playing drums in the church band before being invited Don to observe the church bands, which helped develop Don’s keen eye for music and the ability to absorb information, essential skills for a young, aspiring music producer.


With all of this knowledge, Don entered the outside world (or what his church called ‘The secular world’) and met other musicians first by observing their work and then participating himself as a band technician.

“I helped technicians, carrying equipment, organizing the stage. For me it was a new thing but I felt like now I am entering the field I want to be in”.


Years of working in the background, still driving towards that ultimate goal of being a music producer followed. Other music producers and musicians that Don had contacted were mostly willing to share and open up their knowledge for a young, enthusiastic producer but other times Don was met with hostility.


“Some people were greedy; they would not share their knowledge. Even those who had studios, I had to bribe them and pay money just to sit there and watch what they were doing”.


A stint in a band as a keyboardist followed but it wasn’t until 2014 that Don first encountered Nyege Nyege. At the time the label had yet to put out any releases and Nyege Nyege Festival had not yet started, but they were throwing parties in downtown Kampala under the name Boutiq Electronics.


“Whoever wanted to dance to a different kind of music would come and dance at these parties,” Don explains, affirming the party’s status as a hub for outsider musicians, looking for a place to discover new music.


The music played at these parties, leaning towards the more underground African dance music that didn’t get much airplay, but would later define the label such as kuduro and tarraxinha. This inspired Don or as he puts it “I got into the groove”.


“I’m not a person who is used to dancing. I would come, watch, listen and then learn,” continuing Don’s lifelong ability to absorb his surroundings and then store that knowledge for later use.


Things progressed over the years, leading to the inaugural festival in 2015 but it would still be a few years before Don would become fully involved with the label.


The fire within Don to produce music was burning even fiercer at this point but limited resources proved to be a hurdle. Undeterred, Don would continue with his dream and desire to produce music.


Don turned to FL Studio (widely used by African musicians and other musicians who lack big studio resources, highlighted in this recent brilliant history piece in DJ Mag), but without his own personal computer, Don relied on local internet cafes.


“I would pay for a certain time, download demos of FL studio and tried to work out something. At the end of the day, you had no way to save it as it was a demo. You would do a sketch but the next time you would come you find that the software has been deleted because they are not your computers. You have to push on”.


At this point, the Don Zilla of today really began to take shape, with him saving to buy musical equipment for his eventual dream of a music studio.


“I bought a soundcard, headphones and a microphone as my first equipment. Truthfully, I had no idea how those things worked or didn’t know where to start but I had the belief in me that I could do it.”


That soundcard would in-avertedly shape the rest of Don’s career and life, when Boutiq Studios needed a soundcard.


Boutiq Studios, opened by Nyege Nyege tapes in 2015, is more than just a recording studio. It’s a community space and a unique place in East Africa for talent to grow. Don describes the studios as “a united nations of artists”.

Image Source: Resident Advisor


Don had lent the studio his soundcard for a few days and when he went to pick it up from the studio, he bumped into Derek Debru, co-director of Nyege Nyege. The two hadn’t met in a while and a conversation sparked up between the two, where Don shared his ideas and dreams about producing music. After the conversation Don sent a beat, which excited Derek very much. This led to an offer.


“Derek said ‘We have a studio here and there is not much going on. We have some issues with the producer. If you have time, you can always come around and do your thing’”. Soon after that, Don joined the studio and had finally got his space to develop himself as a producer.


He worked day and night, learning musical production software. Using these tools, he was able to lay down his own productions. “I couldn’t believe that I could be able to produce something like that”.


Don had cemented himself as a member of the Nyege Nyege family at this point, getting numerous gigs as a DJ around Kampala and working full time at the Boutiq Studio.


“It has been a very good experience for me as a person to see this journey coming from scratch to where I am today. I’m thankful for the people around me and I’m also thankful for life for allowing me to live and touch what my heart has always desired”.


But the journey for Don is far from over. His latest project Villaelvin features a collaboration with Welsh sound artist Elvin Brandhi. Elvin is a producer and sound artist from Bridgend who began as one half of father-daughter noise duo Yeah You.


Her signature sounds mostly involve found sound and field recordings, un-nerving vocals and a powerful, glitched out sound palette. Had she been born in East Africa as opposed to Wales; she would have immediately gravitated towards the Nyege Nyege label.


The project first began thousands of miles away from Don’s home in Uganda, at a nightclub in Berlin. One of the Nyege Nyege directors was playing a DJ set, with Elvin in attendance, when he dropped Don’s track ‘From the Cave’.


“He played that sound and people went mad. He told me he has never seen anything like that in his entire life of being a DJ,” Don proudly tells me. “It was like a possession.”


Elvin in the crowd and was amazed that the sound was being produced in Africa. Her interest led her on a journey to find the source of the sound and the master behind it. A trip to Kampala in April last year was soon arranged.


“By the time she came to Kampala, she already knew who I was, but I didn’t know who she was. That was funny and weird to me,” Don chuckles.


Despite their different backgrounds, the pair immediately got along like kindred spirits. Don described it as “being on the same frequencies”. They bonded over their love of this new and exciting sound coming from Uganda.
The pair began collaborating, taking found sounds recorded at Don’s church as their main source of inspiration and combining it with Elvin’s ghostly vocals and Don’s signature warped, futuristic sounding percussions. The result was new album ‘Headroof’ released earlier this year on Hakuna Kulala, the first full LP released on the label.

Villaelvin – Headroof LP
Image source: News Break


“I didn’t actually think it was going to be released,” Don recalls. “It was very serious but at the same time we were playing around. It was like playing a game”.


This album will hopefully be seen as a start of a great deluge of creative output from Don Zilla, as a full-length LP under his own name is set to be released in the near future. The album has been in the works since 2018’s ‘From the Cave to the World’.


“An EP is like an introduction. So for people to fully get to know you, you have to do something bigger than you have done before”.


The album is in the final stages of production, “with only one project on the album giving me a headache” as Don puts it. You can see why delays could inevitably happen with the very careful nature that Don puts into his work. “Most of my music I think so much. I think to an extent that people get irritated!”.


Tapping into the ‘spiritual’ and ‘dimensional’ nature of his music is something he is devoted to, leading to the thoroughness in his work. “I take a long time because you need to tap into those dimensions to bring out the message you want to bring out”.


The topic of conversation inevitably turns to the COVID-19 pandemic. Don gave his own thought-provoking assessment on the pandemic.


“All of this came to us as a test to humanity. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’ve come from, it has come to test us. It has happened because at one-point people were very careless with mother nature”.


The lockdowns across the world have blighted the music industry, arguably the most blighted of sectors around the world. Nyege Nyege is no different, with gig cancellations for much of the artists and the much adored Nyege Nyege festival looking more and more in jeopardy the longer we go on without any real solutions.

Nyege Nyege Festival promotional artwork
Image source: AllAfrica


Unlike in the UK where the Arts Council has provided emergency support for music artists in the UK, such financial support doesn’t exist within Uganda or many other parts of Africa.


“[In some cases] we are not cared for as much as artists in some parts of the world. If you are an artist [in Africa] and you don’t work hard to have something that you can depend on, life will become hard on you,” Don tells me. “We just have to be prepared with life and try to work hard in different ways not only in music, but to give you income to at least shield you in times like these”.


Don knows all too well about tests in life, spending years building towards his dream and finally achieving his goals. There is a lot to learn from Don’s journey, that we ourselves can apply in times when all seems hopeless within the world.


“There is nothing to do but stay focused and think bigger than we have been thinking and go on with life. Life still goes on and life is still good”.

Listen to our interview with Don Zilla on Reform Radio’s Mixcloud:

Nihiloxica Interview @ The White Hotel

Interviews, Uncategorized

For the launch of our new Maracuya Soundsystem website, we will be bringing you write ups of interviews we have conducted during the past year as Maracuya Soundsystem. First up is the time we met Nihiloxica at White Hotel last October. They played an intense, blistering set to a packed-out room.

Nihiloxica’s album may be delayed, White Hotel may be closed for now, but enjoy our catch up with the guys after the show.

With the blindingly dense smoke, flashing lights and flailing bodies; you would be mistaken for thinking this is one of the usual White Hotel infamous rave nights such as Helena Hauff or Objekt.

But tonight is different. Instead of the usual singular DJ, behind the prison like frame of the White Hotel dance floor, is Nihiloxica. They’re a group of African drummers from Kampala in Uganda, that are so close and intimate to the audience, you almost feel like a part of their large ensemble.

Nihiloxica a group of African drummers from the Nilotika Cultural Ensemble backed by two British born musicians, drummer Spooky J (Jacob Maskell-Key) and pq (Peter Jones) on synths. Their wild Bugandan rhythms somehow marry perfectly with the brooding, intense techno noise that you wonder how it’s taken so long to combine the two.

Spyda MC acts as a front man/ hype man for the ensemble. Gesturing to the crowd, getting involved in the audience and at one point screaming so hard, he wouldn’t be amiss in a DC Hardcore band. The rest of the drumming ensemble are made up of Prince (Kasooma Henry), Isa (Isabirye Henry) & Jally (Mwanje Jamiru), who captivate the audience with their hypnotic, memerizing rythmns. There are few, if any, live bands in the world like them.  

Nihiloxica, along with their label and festival organisers Nyege Nyege Tapes, are at the heart of an African electronic music renaissance which is changing the perception of African music and the region as a whole. One Quietus reviewer even described them as ‘The best band on Earth right now’.

We were lucky enough to catch up with the band following the show.

White Hotel event poster

Explain Nihiloxica for people who are unaware of the group.

Prince (Kasooma Henry): I can’t say we have a title or name for our music, because it’s more of a mixture of cultures. What Nihiloxica is trying to do is to show people from different cultures and countries, you can come together and do something really amazing that people will appreciate in all corners of the world.

How did it come about?

S J (Jacob Maskell-Key): I went out [to Uganda] a few years ago with my friends. We got in touch with Nyege Nyege Tapes and they invited us out there and invited us to play the festival and do a collaboration. Part of the collaboration was with Nilotika Cultural Ensemble and I met these guys. We did a session together and it was really fun. I ended up working in the UK for a year and then coming back. I got funding to start a project and this is the project.

Spyda MC (Aineomugisha Alimansi Wanzu):  I’m a Hip Hop MC but I mainly do it in my own language. I joined the Nilotika Cultural Ensemble as a rapper and I used to spit on their beats and then afterwards I learned how to drum and that’s how I joined the band.

S J: The idea of our live show was to make a live interpretation of everything we had been making and producing. We combined our love of electronic music, techno and metal combined with our love of African music and percussion.

What’s it been like moving to Kampala?

pq (Peter Jones): It’s been really nice. The scene there is awesome and the general attitude is very laid back and it feels free. Everyone is a bit of an entrepreneur. Everyone has an idea and it feels like a place where things can happen.  

S J: I felt more at home when I went to Uganda then I did when I came back to the UK. The lifestyle, culture and the way people treat each other is much better. When you come to Europe, it’s a lot more closed. People feel insular.

P: People in the UK are really lonely. [In Uganda] everyone is a friend to their neighbor but here, you can spend a week without seeing your neighbor or you don’t even want to know who your neighbour is.

We’ve heard that you do work for young people within Kampala in Uganda through the Nilotika Cultural Ensemble. Can you describe what this involves?

P: Nilotika Cultural Ensemble is a group of elders and youths who are into spiritual entertainment. We bring people back to their roots and customs.

We help the youth in a way of giving them jobs. We try to teach them how to make their own jobs through fashion by teaching them tailoring and craftwork using their hands and brain. We show them you don’t have to go to school if you don’t have the capacity to go and there is another future ahead if aren’t able to go to school.

We don’t have a number, it’s always growing and growing because we welcome each and everybody, especially the youth and elders who are left out. We show them the world is still going, you still have a life no matter what the hardships in the country are. You still have to be happy because you can make your own living out of scratch. 

How does drumming play into that?                       

P: Way back in our culture, people used to drum for fun. If you felt sad, you would just get your drum and get happy. We have that element of the traditional drumming to make people happy, because when they have been taught how to play, it makes you forget your hardship or your sorrows.

Drums are so spiritual, when you are playing you become one with the drum. The more you become connected to the instrument, the more it helps you release all that sorrow hidden into yourself and you get free.

Everyone in the Ensemble plays every day. When we wake up, after lunch. It’s our daily routine.

Your first UK show was in Printworks supporting Aphex Twin. How was that?  

P: I didn’t know who Aphex Twin was before being invited, but I’m grateful to him for inviting us. He personally picked us out to play in his show.

If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have been able to come to the UK. It was really huge for us.

Now you’re at the White Hotel. How was it playing the venue?

P: The White Hotel defines who we are. When we arrived into the venue, we thought ‘This is really us’. You get to see the real us, the real music that we do and the energy we put into it. These shows are back and forth, it’s so close and you get a lot of intimacy. It’s been one of my best shows so far.

S J: The intention is to play these kinds of places, not like a world music festival. Our music is supposed to be for a club.

S MC: It’s good to control a crowd that actually responds to you.

Sometimes you go to a show and wonder if anyone is going to show up. In Uganda, people show up 2 hours beforehand. Here, they show up exactly at the time of the show or 5 minutes before. You’re backstage thinking ‘Are people actually going to show up?’.

Nyege Nyege Tapes and alongside that Nyege Nyege Festival have become renowned all over the world, but within such a short amount of time. What does it mean to have a festival like that in Uganda?

P: Nyege Nyege Tapes has done a lot for Nihiloxica by bringing us together. It’s given us a platform to rise and present ourselves worldwide. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here today. In terms of the festival, it’s given a big platform for artists and has given them a chance to be recognized.

S J: What’s nice about Nyege Nyege Festival, it’s in Uganda but it’s a combination of everything that is happening in all these different places. There’s SVBKVLT in Shanghai, there’s Baile funk happening in South America along with all the different electronic movements in Africa. Nothing is Euro-centric.

Obviously, we are touring Europe all the time and there’s amazing stuff here but there’s amazing stuff happening everywhere else. I feel Nyege has been this platform and place where everyone has come together. It’s a totally random place if you think about it, but it’s a beautiful thing that’s it’s all culminated in this one place. When I last there, Gabber Modus Operandi were doing a residency, there were guys from Brazil, there was a footwork DJ from Chicago. Just a whole mix of everything.

Do you have good stories from Nyege Nyege festival?

P: Man I have all the best stories! (Laughs).

One of my best stories, I got to watch Fulu Muzik from The Congo. They have these instruments from like pipes and rubbish.

S J: It’s called Trash music.

P: I never expected to see these guys and I was like, this s**t is real. They are even better than us realistically in the way they made their instruments, the way they sounded and performed on stage. It’s my greatest moment of Nyege Nyege this year.

S J : It’s KOKOKO!’s original band from Kinshasa that has been going for around ten years. They came to Nyege Nyege and me and Pete recorded them a week before the festival so they will hopefully release an album on Nyege Nyege Tapes.

P: They’re the future of music. They show you what music is. You can make music out of trash!

Visa’s have become an growing issue in the UK, particularly over the last few years with a lot of musicians being denied visas. Is this something that you have experienced?  

Pq: Not personally but I’ve heard stories from other Nyege Nyege artists. Visas are tough and the crux of it is corrupt and kind of racist. A lot of the times, you’re trying to prove that you aren’t going to stay in the place you are applying for the visa to. They want to know you have a return flight, you have family ties and a job in your home country so they can be assured you don’t want to stay.

It’s just fundamentally wrong. They have this assumption that you want to stay there. None of the guys in our band want to stay in England. They couldn’t think of anything worse. They want to stay in Uganda where they’re from. It’s based on this principle of ‘We are better than you and you obviously want to stay in our country, so we are going to make it really difficult for you to come here’.

Luckily, we have loads of gigs booked and have hotels and flights booked, so we can prove we aren’t staying. But that’s not the same for other members of the Nyege family. Jay Mita (Singeli Producer on Nyege Nyege Tapes) has been refused so many times. There was a big thing with MC Zo & DJ Duke (Singeli DJs and performers). It seems the Tanzanians get particularly hard.

[MC Zo & DJ Duke] were going to play in New York as part of a Nyege showcase. They’re probably quite young and had just got their passports, which is a big cost. They applied, got the show and flights booked costing thousands of pounds and were just denied a visa because there was no proof they had a reason to go back.

What do you think the cultural impact would be if guys like you can’t play the UK anymore?

Pq: Culture should flow freely and that’s what develops a country. You have economic means of measuring how good a society is but there’s also cultural means as well. Everyone just focuses on the economic side of things but not how many new ideas are you having. It’s detrimental to culture.

Listen back to our interview on Reform Radio Mixcloud:

https://www.mixcloud.com/reformradio/maracuya-soundsystem-17th-october-2019/