Starspine is Jacques Coetzee. Although Jacques now lives in Spain and works as a graphic designer for some of the top psytrance artists and labels, he was one of the original psytrance DJs to come out of South Africa playing parties as far back as 1996. Jacques was heavily involved in the Johannesburg scene – throwing parties, bringing down international artists, doing decor, lighting and whatever else he could. Jacques also formed Bent Sentient alongside Pierre Zeeman (Parasyke) and was the first psytrance project in the country to feature on an international label. Starspine played last weekend at Fu-Cha Gatherings in Johannesburg and will play at Alien Safari’s Sprung this weekend, as well as Mozamboogy in Mozambique before returning to Europe. Catch him at Sprung this weekend from 13:30 to 15:00 just before Ritmo’s closing set!
Psymedia: Hey Jacques! You’ve been involved with psytrance since its inception in South Africa and worked with labels such as Afrogalactic, Nano, Alchemy and Nutek since their early days. How did you start out way back in 1996?
Starspine: I was part of the Worlds End crew who were doing the first underground rave parties in Johannesburg. Through that association I started DJing and played various styles amongst them one being psytrance. I was invited to play at Rustlers Valley at someone’s dance floor they had set up playing a different style each night. Friday night was psytrance and after playing my set I was hooked and ditched the other styles to focus on that exclusively.
Psymedia: Under the name Bent Sentient alongside Parasyke you were the first artist out of South Africa to release a track on an international label. How did that happen?
Starspine: When I started DJing psytrance I immediately got interested in making the music and setup a small studio. I met Parasyke (Pierre Zeeman) through a friend and as we were some of the only guys making psy we decided to make some collaborations. On our first track Deathrattle we worked so well together that we decided to keep working together under the name Bent Sentient from there on. Originally we were known as Midrange Freedom Fighters and put together a compilation of tracks we had done prior to 2000. We played one gig at the Vortex Ethnicanet Millenium party in Cape Town before changing the name to Bent Sentient. After our third track we started getting offers to release them on various labels.
Psymedia: You collaborated as Bent Sentient alongside Splonge in the short lived Midrange Freedom Fighters. The compilation Midranged, which featured four Midrange Freedom Fighters tracks was released in 1999 on Furtive Records. That was the only release by Furtive Records, correct? Did Splonge ever use a bass guitar for any tracks?
Starspine: Yes thats right. Not on that compilation as far as I know – we did a collaboration track together and used a synth for bass. It was more just a release to consolidate what we had done to that point.
Psymedia: Tell me a little bit about Lunatech which was formed in 1999. What were those parties like? I believe you played at the majority of the parties and brought down a handful of internationals like Pied Piper Paul, Talamasca, Astrix, Skazi and Paranoise? One thing I noticed is that party prices haven’t increased dramatically over the years!
Starspine: They were small and our intention was to do parties a bit more professionally in Johannesburg to try and grow the scene a bit. Our aim was to grow it to the 1000 people mark and when we started it was hovering around 300. We never quite reached those numbers but I always knew it was a tipping point at which the Johannesburg scene would move from being a party to being a subculture. In the interim due to various organisers in Johannesburg that has finally happened. Parties are hitting the 1000 + mark and its becoming a real community. The main thing we tried to do at the early parties was organise good sound and try and decorate the events as well as possible making sure we had a good lineup of DJ’s playing the best music and we wanted to do colour flyers for our events in an attempt to market the events professionally. Our first artist we brought over was actually Cosmosis – he played for about 500 people and it was a great party. With regards to prices there has been an increase – we used to charge about R80 a party back then and that has moved up to between R150 – R300 nowadays.
Psymedia: Are there any parties that particularly stand out? I see you played 16 hours at Desert Storm which is insane!
Starspine: Yes Desert Storm was great – it’s a special place and what happened was we had organised to play some psy at the Solid Records tent to the side of the main floor. On the opening night none of the house DJs arrived so we were asked to open the main floor and so the first night became a psytrance night. Thereafter we continued on the Solid Records floor and it was so successful we played every night so I played about 5 sets all in all. Others that really stand out are playing at the Eclipse parties both in Zambia and South Africa as well as numerous Cape Town parties which always have such a great vibe. In Johannesburg our event with Cosmosis was something special.
Psymedia: Tell me about your decision to move to Spain in 2003. Was that for your music or graphic work?
Starspine: No, it was to be with my wife who is Spanish and lives there. Spain’s psytrance scene has been a bit weak until now but there are more and more producers starting to come out of the woodwork and hopefully this will mean an increase in parties and quality of parties as when I got there they were only squat parties or held in small clubs and come summer time were simply non-existent.
Psymedia: You’re an accomplished designer having done work for the likes of CPU, Painkiller, Biogenesis, A-Team, Mekkanikka, Killerwatts, Groovy Troopers and Alchemy Records to name a few. You also currently design for Nutek Records as well as Zero1 Music. How do you keep your concepts fresh?
Starspine: Each cover is about a different subject matter and each artist has his likes and dislikes, so we usually agree on a style or concept and take it from there so the results are never the same. It’s a living organic thing designing so one never truly knows just where the process will take you.
Psymedia: How has technology changed over the years as an artist and designer? What would you say has been the most dramatic change since you started?
Starspine: Music wise the introduction of computer sequencing and VST instruments and effects has made the whole process a lot easier and accessible but at the same time it has also narrowed the scope and sound of productions down in my opinion as many new artists dont explore new sounds and boundaries sticking with techniques they’ve been taught. If one listens to psytrance circa 1998 there was an explosion of creativity and people were doing some crazy stuff. I feel the sounds have now moved too much in the directions of schools and styles of sounds to the detriment of creative expression. Using analogue synths that aren’t always programmable also lead to a wider variety of sound and a more organic sound coming through. My hope is that producers start putting a bit more melody back into the music and a bit more individualism and above all more psychedelic sounds. On the design front the changes have been huge. Apart from the obvious Photoshop and Illustrators the proliferation of plugins, 3d programs and 2.5d programmes like Zbrush have blown the doors wide open and the only limit is one’s imagination.
Psymedia: Have you considered releasing any new Starspine or Bent Sentient material?
Starspine: Unfortunately since being in Spain I have been so involved in the design side of things and recently studied Digital Compositing for film that my focus has been more on the images than music but I hope to return to some music once I find a bit more time.
Psymedia: I believe this is year first return to South Africa since Groovy Troopers in 2010. Last time you also played a huge 4 hour set in Johannesburg so that must’ve been something special! Before that is was roughly 6 years, correct? Besides Sprung you’ll also be playing at Mozamboogy which looks incredible and at Fu Cha Gatherings this past weekend. What’s it like coming back and seeing how the scene has changed?
Starspine: Yes I played a 4 hour set in Johannesburg ranging through old school sounds to some new material. At the time I was fairly disillusioned with the music coming out and decided to do a retro set that could be interesting to the younger guys in the crowd who may not have been as familiar with the old sounds. Before 2010 I can’t quite recall but I think it was less than 6 years. Yes Mozamboogy is going to be something special. In such a secluded spot one can only think that people who travel that far are going to be there for the right reasons and also the location is one of the most ideal location’s to party in. It’s fantastic coming back and seeing the new energy being brought by the younger crowd and how the parties are evolving. I played at Fu-Cha Gatherings yesterday and to see a dance floor in Johannesburg packed at 4pm in the afternoon was nothing short of miraculous. To me it’s a clear indication that Johannesburg has taken the next step – in the past people would scurry off at sunrise and it was very difficult to sustain a party beyond 10am.
Psymedia: Although you are known for your dark psy work, you’re no stranger to playing all styles of psy. Without giving too much away, what can we expect from your day set at Alien Safari Sprung?
Starspine: My day set will be concentrating on bringing some melody and psychedelia at you in full force. There seems to be a swing towards a neo goa sound in the music for the upcoming year – a sort of going back to the roots in a subtle and modern way which is exciting in its own way. Above all it’s about imparting good vibes to people and connecting them to each other and the earth.
Psymedia: Thanks for the interview. Anything else you want to add? See you at Sprung!
Starspine: Just a huge thank you to all the promoters who I’m playing for this year – Fu-Cha Gatherings, Alien Safari and the guys from Mozamboogy – Roman Sergey and Roysten. It’s a great privilege and pleasure to be back in South Africa playing again and I hope that impart some massively good vibes to everyone on the dance floor because that’s what its about – spreading good energy and vibrations and sharing good music. Big love to the South Africa psy crowd and see you soon.
- Starspine on Facebook
- Bent Sentient on Soundcloud