I met DJ Nativesun on October 9th at Flash. I suppose, more accurately, I met him in the early hours of October 10th. Needing to take a break from the house set booming through the clubâ€™s main room, I made my way to the ground floor. It was residentsâ€™ night, meaning that the club was full of little surprises; like that my favorite bartender was also a techno DJ, smiling up there on the decks, giving me a wave as I fanboyed from the floor.
I headed downstairs to calm my nerves before I called the night. I had noticed, earlier, when saying my goodbyes to less committed friends, how smoothly the ground floor DJ interwove soul/R&B vocals into drum & bass percussive patternsâ€”a mix of genres that seemed appropriate for that early morning.
I didnâ€™t know then how this distinctive sound underlies much of DJ Nativesunâ€™s discography. Generally, I prefer slower temposâ€¦ drum & bass has always felt a little too hectic for me; perhaps Iâ€™m not sophisticated enough rhythmically to appreciate all that goes on between the kicks. Iâ€™ve found, though, since listening to Nativesunâ€™s many â€œre-fixes,â€ that heâ€™s got the uncanny ability to soften D&Bâ€™s flying tempos by blending genresâ€¦ when listening, expect stems from Afropop hits, famed R&B vocalists, and (most recently) contemporary reggae.
About a month later, DJ Nativesun and I finally got around to an interview, which, regrettably, had to take place over zoom. We chatted about his recent influences, the ongoing pandemic, and the future.
First, who & what are you listening to?
So right now thereâ€™s a whole new wave of house music coming out of South Africa. Iâ€™m listening to a lot of young producers from the across the townships and hoodsâ€”Joburgâ€”you know. Itâ€™s a crazy sound. Itâ€™s always like 115 bpm, but itâ€™s got hella percussion. Itâ€™s like they took a South African house style, kwaito, and slowed it down, adding all these elements to itâ€¦ thereâ€™s this thing called a log drum. It gives it these crazy acoustic kicks, if you can imagine.
I recently recorded a mix of full of amapiano(a kind of house music originating in South Africa in the early 2010s; a mix of deep house and jazz melodies, driven by atmospheric pads and percussive basslines) for WERA 96.7 FM. This crew called Black Techno Matters took over and aired it live (find it hereâ€”Studio 96 #165 x Black Techno Matters).
What specific track, produced by yourself or others, is making you excited?
Right now Iâ€™m doing a lot of stuff with this group called Black Rave Culture. We are getting ready to release a single from Volume 2; we already released Volume 1. Iâ€™m really excited about it.
Weâ€™re exploring so many different elements of dance musicâ€”techno, Jersey club, Baltimore house, some jungle, drum & baseâ€¦ we are taking all those sounds and putting them into tracks.
We are going to release a single soonâ€”this monthâ€¦ late this month.
How did you weather the worst of the pandemic; any silver-linings for your process?
Yo, so honestly like, as I was telling somebody the other dayâ€¦ before the pandemic, I wanted to take production more seriously. As a DJ Iâ€™ve been very busyâ€”always playing different shows, traveling and stuff like that. Iâ€™ve never been able to make much time for production.
The pandemic made me sit me down and just focus. I was able to put out all those re-fixes; I did a remix for an artist thatâ€™s on ninja tunes; and I was able to work on Black Rave Culture with my boysâ€¦
In a way itâ€™s been a gift and a curseâ€”I wasnâ€™t able to DJ as much, but it really helped me hone in on my sound and create more.
So you know, thatâ€™s what I got out of the pandemic; that was the silver lining.
Does your teaching influence your music or vice versa?
This year I took break, took a step back from teaching cause the music was taking over. Teaching was always a little day gig. I also ran an after-school program and a summer camp focused on music and sports; it had cultural aspects as well. I was part of the music program, basically teaching kids to DJ and shit like that.
Honestly, I feel like teaching does influence my music because you have to stay humble and open to learning shit.
You know what Iâ€™m saying? â€˜Cause you are always a student in whatever you do, constantly leaning. It teaches you a sense of patience. Yo, in the music game, especially in production, some people get it and others have to sit with stuffâ€¦ really sit down and have the patience to learn it.
Working with kids, you learn how to have crazy patience.
All the technical terms and extra stuff [in production] doesnâ€™t ring to me. Iâ€™m more of a pick-it-up-by-ear and play it. So, patience really helps me out. I learned that through teaching. I guess it goes hand in hand.
If you could name a past project that best hints at whatâ€™s next, what would it be?
Honestly, man, like I said, the project that we just dropped, the Black Rave Culture project, itâ€™s something thatâ€™s moving towards to the future. Itâ€™s all about change; itâ€™s about accepting things as they are and moving forwardâ€¦ that project speaks to whatâ€™s going on.
â€˜Cause basically, thatâ€™s what the project wasâ€¦ it was three brothers (James Bangura, Amal, and DJ Nativesun) who were sitting in their homesâ€”alone, stressed outâ€”who then linked up to make music.
Thatâ€™s what made us feel better during the pandemic; thatâ€™s what got us through. We found a way to focus and create somethingâ€¦ itâ€™s all about finding those things that push you through.
As an artist, how do you think the ongoing crisis will affect your shows and music?
Yeah, you know, I feel like COVID is something thatâ€™s gonna be around. We are still learning to navigate itâ€¦ I think a lot of stuff is going to change, especially with the vaccination.
Iâ€™m pro vax, I want people to be safeâ€¦ I want people to be more aware of their surroundings.
I feel like we are getting to the point where [vaccination] is going to be required even for people to playâ€¦ we are stepping into a new ageâ€”things are going to change. Certain artists are going to adjust, others are not.
Itâ€™s like music, you knowâ€¦ music is always changing; and we adapt with the way it moves, with the way it changes
More broadly, what does the future mean to you?
To me, [the future] can mean so many different things because itâ€™s a mystery. When I think of the future, I thinkâ€¦ honestly, itâ€™s weird in a senseâ€¦ I always tell people Iâ€™m not into astrology because I kinda like the surprise. Itâ€™s what makes life excitingâ€”not knowing. Itâ€™s something that I prepare myself for, in a sense, but I donâ€™t.
Itâ€™s trueâ€¦ people get mad at me. theyâ€™re like: youâ€™re not into astrologyâ€¦ you donâ€™t even wanna to get your palm read!?
Iâ€™m like nahhh I donâ€™t want to know.I like the mystery of this shitâ€¦ even if itâ€™s bad. Thatâ€™s life, what fun is it if you already know?
And finally, who isnâ€™t getting the streams they deserve?
Yo honestly, I feel like a lot of Black women arenâ€™t getting, the fuckin streams that they deserve.
Thereâ€™s a lot of dope-ass fuckin DJsâ€”Black women DJsâ€”that I know who are fuckin fireâ€¦ itâ€™s just they arenâ€™t getting heard.
DJ Nativesun shared with Blisspop the following DJs.