Bruce Abrahamse is without a doubt a legend within our South African psy scene. Over the past 15 years he has gained the utmost respect from dance floors to organizers with his humble approach to music and life. If there was an individual who could capture the essence of psytrance it would be Bruce. It is no surprise that someone with such passion for music would take up numerous alter egos – from DJ Bruce (signed to Nexus Media), to his live psy act Solar Axis, his free form live project Spliff Politix and his latest progressive psy child Synchronist. With his set at the Psymedia Launch Party – Liquid Transitions coming up later this month, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to have a bit of a history lesson, how Bruce’s numerous projects have grown in 2012, constant gigging, his overseas experience, progressive sounds and the direction our scene is headed.
Psymedia: Howzit Bruce! Let’s start off with the basics. You’ve been involved in the Cape Town psytrance scene for close to 15 years now, right? What was your first interaction with psytrance and when did you decide to start DJing?
Bruce: It was 1996, and I was a regular at a club called The Fringe. It was an alternative club, and many an underage drunken night was spent there getting too drunk and head banging till the world spun. One such evening, as Fringe was closing, we started walking down the road, wondering what to do next. We ran into a friend who was walking in the opposite direction, with a look of wild abandon in his eyes. He told us about this place he had just been to, gave vague mystical directions like a character in a fantasy adventure and then disappeared into the mist. We followed his directions, entered a building, and took the lift to the top floor. The lift doors opened and our lives were changed forever… the club was called Logos. As we walked in, a sweet and spicy mix of incense and chai pulled us out of the stale beer stupor we were used to. There were teepees and pyramids, chill areas in the corners, smart drinks instead of alcohol, and the most intriguing music I had ever heard. As a rocker, I HATED techno… but this was… different. It was a year later, in the second Logos in Muizenberg, that the desire to start DJing really kicked in. It was also at Logos that I had my first ever gig – with 2 trance CDs, 4 trance vinyls, and Pink Floyds’ ‘Umagumma’
Psymedia: How long after did you decide to give production a go?
Bruce: I have been into production for a lot longer than DJing actually. I used to play the guitar in little garage bands in High School, and spent many hours in my bedroom, playing around with effects pedals, processors, and early multi tracking attempts, with backing drums courtesy of my little Casio keyboard – haha! My first attempt with psy production was on early versions of Fruity Loops, and then in 1999 I bought a Roland MC-505 Groovebox and began experimenting with ambient and trance.
Psymedia: You’re working on a number of awesome projects – Solar Axis, Spliff Politix and your latest Synchronist. How do all these projects fulfill your artistic needs?
Bruce: Solar Axis, being my Psy live act, gives me the chance to take all the elements that I like in Psy and then find a new and unique way to express that sound through my own interpretation and style. It’s a process though. At first you feel free to write anything, and then you learn all these ‘restrictions’ required to ‘conform’ to the accepted sound… BUT then you realize that it is actually MORE of a challenge and more fun when you need to create an individual sound within those perceived confines.
Synchronist is my new Progressive Psy act. I’m really enjoying the new wave of progressive artists, and what was once a slightly lusterless and faded sound has now been injected with a new and fresh energy. There is much space in that tempo range to explore the funkier and deeper side of the musical universe, and definitely a space I was keen to explore further.
Spliff Politix is a freeform live project, and the only brief to myself was that there was no brief. There was no one sound or style that I wanted to write. It was essentially a title to tie together and try and make sense of a whole other world of genre hybrids that were forming and spawning in my head. Ranging from 68bpm to 168bpm, with elements of world, chill, breaks, funk, rock, ethnic, futuristic, electronic and acoustic.
Psymedia: So do you have a full Sychronist set yet? Also tell me a little bit about a typical Bruce DJ set – what styles/artists do you generally cover?
Bruce: At the moment my Sychronist set consists of 70% DJ material and a handful of original Sychronist material. As the material grows, I will start playing Sychronist as a live act. But for now, I’m enjoying DJing the style, and digging the sounds coming from artists like Lyctum, Nitrodrop, Ghost Rider, Gaudium, Ace Ventura, Unseen Dimensions, etc. I also like to occasionally push it up a notch or two and enter that ‘grey’ area between Prog and Psy. Nothing past 142bpm, but rolling deep liquid Psy with loads of progressive build and clarity.
That’s probably the blurry line where what I play in a Sychronist DJ set, and a typical Bruce DJ set would cross. In general my usual DJ sets tend to be more high energy (145 – 147bpm) , but I do find that there are times where a dip into the deeper stuff is called for, before skyrocketing into hyperspace again.. If you want to control the peaks, you gotta control the troughs too.
So yeah, when playing as DJ Bruce, depending on slot and mood and crowd and too many other factors to bother you with, it varies too much to give any specific set list, but some artists that are currently interesting me across all sub styles and genres of Psy are: Brainiac, Chromatone, Materia, Tron, Bliss, Mezmerizer, Phatmatix, Antispin, Neuroplasm, Earthling, Brainwash, Karmacrop, Paul Taylor… there are loads more, but MOST of the fun is in discovering these acts for yourself and not relying on what other people think is cool. There is so much music out there right now, a lot of it is crap, but if you look hard enough, there are some real gems out there. As a DJ, I guess it’s your role to find those gems and play it to an appreciative audience… but don’t stop your exploration there … go listen for yourself and find YOUR favourite artist making music that you will LOVE, that maybe no one even knows about. That is the beauty of the current musical climate online. Musicians can write for pleasure, free of label or financial constraints, and listeners can decide for themselves what they like, instead of relying on radio stations for decent music.
Psymedia: Our night time sounds will always be huge and dominate the dance floors, but do you believe the more progressive, lower BPM stuff is growing a big fan base?
Bruce: Yeah, it’s definitely growing. But so is our appreciation of all good quality music. So rather than it causing any split in our scene, it is merely opening more avenues for us to explore and enjoy and have choice and variety. It all has a place and function. Progressive sounds great outdoors, but I think it really does well in the club environment. The clarity and uncluttered pace seems to fit perfectly with the social vibe of clubbing.
Psymedia: How did you get involved with Nexus Media?
Bruce:I have always enjoyed and appreciated Nexus Media’s style and quality. I have huge respect for label owners sHiFt and Slug. Every year or so I would send Slug a demo with a couple of my new tracks, and he would kindly listen and give me pointers on what areas I needed to work on (try playing around with your percussion more, that type of thing). About three years ago, I sent them one such demo, and they got back to me, saying they digged the current tracks, and felt it was time to extend an offer to join Nexus Media. I was very excited and humbled by the offer, yet apprehensive, as I felt my style was a tad shade lighter than the predominantly twilight sound they were renowned for. But they put those fears to rest, assuring me that the idea was not to make me conform to any style, but rather to expand the label’s sonic palette, by offering a morning sound that was full of energy and musicality and light, but still had an edge and rawness. I feel blessed to be on a label that allows musical scope and expression. I don’t wake up in the same mood every day, why on earth would I wanna write the same style every day? We are all multi-faceted and multi-talented with an infinity of expressional tools and possibilities – why limit yourself? Explore. Grow. Embrace the change, and you will embrace all of you. Every potential you. The true you, not just a shard of the crystal.
Psymedia: It seems like 2012 has been one of your busiest years so far in terms of gigs and releases. Congratulations on your upcoming releases with Planet Ben Records and Extra Estrada Records. I believe your Synchronist tracks have been noticed overseas too? Could you tell me a little bit about your upcoming releases?
Bruce: Thanks yeah, the Planet Ben Records EP should be out soon, and features three Solar Axis tracks. Planet Ben Records is based in Germany, and it’s my first EP released through an international label. I am really happy to be releasing it through them, as one of my first and favourite records was a track called ‘Orangutangent’ by Planet Ben (producer and record label founder). So it felt very fitting and somehow completed a circle, by releasing my new EP with them. Then I will be releasing a 3 track Spliff Politix EP with French world music/electronica fuision label, Extra Estrada Records. Luckily, rather than the label asking me to conform to any specific sound for the EP, they are going to showcase the full spectrum of Spliff Politix sound, featuring a more traditional sounding ethnic world track, and a fast and futuristic break beat space rock track, which is perfect, as I don’t want to pigeonhole my sound, and would prefer to allow it be an expression of however I feel, removed from peer pressure or modern musical fads.
Psymedia: What’s the most gigs you’ve played over a weekend? Can it sometimes be a bit of a task getting booked all over Cape Town on the same weekend? Where does the balance come in between making money and being a professional yet still able to enjoy parties?
Bruce: I guess it would probably be 4? Three on one night and 1 on another. Nope, it’s never a task. It might not always be logistically easy, but I have no illusions about what I do. I am blessed to do what I love, and it would be silly to complain about the little driving I have to do to live my passion. As for the balance, I would say ideally, the balance is in being able to do what you love, doing it well and doing it for the right reasons. I will always enjoy parties, it is never a chore to attend or play at an event.. Everyone deserves to be able to make a living from their passion, and as long as there is respect and gratitude, you can be both professional and have fun. It doesn’t have to be either/or. I do think it’s important for DJs to party more and not less. You don’t learn what people like by watching them from the sidelines. You learn by being on the floor and FEELING what moves YOU.
Psymedia: Over the last 15 years I’m sure you’ve seen huge changes within the scene first hand – from the music played, to the people that attend and the general atmosphere. Unfortunately keeping everyone happy seems to be an impossible task. Do you think Cape Town scene is currently at one of the higher or lower points since the inception of psytrance in Cape Town? How can we create better harmony and respect?
Bruce: It has always been on a slow, yet steady rise. There have been ups and downs, peaks and troughs, but I think that at the moment this culture is very healthy and BRIMMING with possibilities. Forget the elitism or worries about NOOBS. Embrace every single person as a brother and sister. No matter how different. In fact, the more different we are the greater the resource pool we have to draw on. The greater variation in ideas and skills and lessons, the more we have to learn and teach each other. What we have here is the most creatively explosive and socially impactable culture available to our generation. It is the melting pot and catalyst needed to connect the tribes into the mega-meta-tribe we are transforming into. It is a space where every word and action and thought can have meaning and influence. Where a person can find their individuality as well as their universality. We can create better harmony and respect through appreciating this beautiful and crazy thing we are all involved in. By helping each other grow, and by using the same hand that points a finger, to lift those around you out of the darkness and onto the dance floor.
Psymedia: Your projects have grown throughout the years and you’ve built a name for yourself yet you still find time to play the smaller parties. Some artists may be reluctant to play to smaller crowds after all the time and effort they make. Why have you decided not to limit yourself and still play at the smaller parties? Do they provide a different atmosphere that cannot be captured at bigger events?
Bruce: There are some experiences that just require a handful of your closet friends, the moon, the beach and a sound system. It is here where the more intensive lessons are learnt and the deeper connections made a where friends become family. This is not hands in the air partying. This is eyes closed, soul open celebration. And this doesn’t happen in a shoving heaving mass of ravers. And that is why I love small parties. But I also love huge festivals with way too many people and that tantalizing energy that comes when large groups get really happy together. Why have to choose?
Psymedia: What was it like playing overseas a number of years ago?
Bruce: I played in Germany in 2005. One party was the after party for the Voov (now Vuuv) Festival at the Sage club in Berlin, and the other was at the Space Beach, a man made stretch of beach situated between the Berlin Wall and a canal. A really surreal venue, with mechanical animals made from car parts strewn amongst the beach sand and palm trees and a huge UFO parked behind the dance floor. I was also lucky enough to experience the Full Moon and Voov Festivals (not as a DJ, but a party goer), which were both incredible yet very different. Full Moon Festival was about 6000 people, 70% of them were travelers from all over the globe. Voov Festival was 30 000 people, including every German and their grandmother, taking photos of the hippies smoking chillums like some sort of intergalactic zoo. The most inspiring moment of that trip was being on the dance floor on the first night of the Full Moon Festival, and hearing a foreign DJ play one of my Solar Axis tunes. It was at a time when I wasn’t even known as a producer back home yet, only a DJ, and hearing an international DJ play my tracks at a huge festival in Germany was a greatly encouraging factor to go back home and start writing more consistently. All of a sudden I wasn’t concerned about how I was going to find a label or afford to market myself. The only thing that mattered was that I concentrated on the music. If that was up to scratch, everything else would fall into place over time.
Psymedia: I believe you’re offering DJ lessons? Will you offer production lessons at some point? How can people get hold of you if they are interested?
Bruce: *We are currently experiencing technical difficulties* but watch this space. Studio is under upgrade.
Psymedia: Thank you for the interview Bruce! It’s been a pleasure. Do you have any last words to end of?
Bruce: Stay true to yourself and look after each other. Oh and always bring your own toilet paper to an outdoor.
- DJ Bruce on Facebook