At the end of this month an exciting new event launches at a secret venue near Fourways in Johannesburg. The multi-sensory event, Natural Selektion, has enlisted the expertise of some top house, techno and drum and bass acts, including the maestro Ryan Murgatroyd.
Releasing music at the tender age of 16, Ryan Murgatroyd has become an icon of South African electronic music.
After the immense success of the Crazy White Boy duo with fellow producer Kostakis, Ryan has made his own impact as a solo producer with a string of world-class releases on labels like Get Physical, KNM and Toolroom Records. The uncompromising artist’s live sets are also a sight to behold, and have earned him bookings at SA’s best festivals, as well as Boiler Room x ADE and 15 Years Get Physical in Barcelona—proving his mettle both in studio and on stage.
Ahead of his performance at Natural Selektion, we chat with “Murgs” to find out more about his ever-evolving career and what we can expect from this powerhouse artist.
You are undeniably one of South Africa’s most prominent electronic acts, with a lengthy career under your belt. How has your approach to music changed since the Crazy White Boy days?
Thank you! To be honest since I’ve started focusing on the individual alias, it feels like it’s come full circle back to where I began. I was making music for almost 10 years before I even started CWB with Kosta, and at its peak it was so successful that it began eating up all my creative energy. When I regained that creative freedom and the chance to do whatever I want, creatively, it was simply a matter of digging deep and returning to the things that made me love production in the first place. Melodies, harmonies, incredible sounds, and music that moves people as it moves me. The nice thing about an alias is that you share the production with someone else, it's not a one man show. So now, I really have to ask myself “What am I trying to achieve”, “Why am I making music?” and “What feelings am I trying to encode here for listeners to discover later on?”
Has there been a change in your approach to music with your new "darker" aesthetic?
I think when you hear the album you will be surprised. While it’s certainly melancholic and reflective, and a bit sad, I wouldnt say its dark per se. In fact, I’ve come to loathe music that is dark for the sake of being dark. There is so much of that mindlessly dark, industrial sounding techno at the moment, and if anything I’ve tried to get as far away from that sound as possible, while trying to write music that energises people and myself. I think people may have heard too much of my club music and decided that I’m a dark producer, but just wait for the album! Happy tears will be shed!
Your live sets have become an integral part of your repertoire. What do you think sets your live performances apart from everyone else?
Well if you come to a Murgatroyd show you won’t hear a single "bleep", "blop", "doef" or "oets" that I didn’t make from absolute scratch. I think the sonic signature of the set is really defined in such a way that I don’t use even a single sound that someone else made.
Last year you were invited to join Black Coffee at his iconic party night at Hï Ibiza. What are your thoughts on the influx of SA acts joining the ranks of the world’s elite on the island?
I think there is a lot of hype around African electronic music right now, and I’m not entirely sure that majority of the artists in that category are delivering on that hype. Of course there are some amazing artists out here, but there are also some very average ones who are getting all this love now because they are from Africa. I personally couldn’t care less whether you are from Sudan or Sardinia, I’m just interested in sonics. I think it’s great that artists from here are starting to make a name for themselves and tour the world, but ONLY if it’s because of the strength of their music, not because they fit the diversity quota on someones lineup. For some people being ‘African’ may be a big part of their identity and who am I to say anything about that, but I try stay away from identity politics as much as possible and I would be mortified if I got booked based on where I was born, instead of the strength of my work. I used to get involved and rant about this kinda stuff on social media, but the only way my opinion matters is if I’m fulfilling my potential as a producer. So for now its head down and gaze forward, but when I’ve shown the world what’s up, I will share some thoughts on this issue.
"Ngithanda" was one of your high-points this year with Bantwanas. How did the collaboration with Samthing Soweto come about?
So I’ve wanted to work with Samthing since Nonku Phiri first introduced me to his stuff about five years ago. You know when Nonku says someone has good harmonies that its 100% legit. The dude is literally my spirit animal, he never answers his phone and it takes weeks, months, sometimes longer to get hold of him. But once we got in studio I saw so much of my finickiness in him. He is an ANIMAL—absolutely relentless. He will sit and re-do a vocal take hundreds of times, each time changing the nuances just slightly until it’s perfect, I think he is one of the guys from Africa that should be known all over the world for his talent, not because it’s African, but because it’s just awesome.
Bantwanas also has a forthcoming album. Can you tell us about what we can expect on the release?
It’s a mini-album of six tracks that has contributions from all the producers in the Bantwanas project. I think it’s a perfect example of what our stage show sounds like. It’s another project where we are trying to use african elements and sonics without going down the stereotypical route of pandering to everyone’s expectations about what it should sound like.
Your remix for Lane 8 is another massive accomplishment for you. What are your thoughts on Lane 8 as a producer and do you think there are any similarities between you and him as producers?
Well I just did my second remix for This Never Happened, of a track called “Stir Me Up”, which is off Lane 8’s second album. I love working with Daniel (Lane 8), and we are always sending new tracks back and forth to each other. And yeah, I do hear something in his work that is very similar to mine in a way. I think its the fact that every song is emotional and emotive and always looking to make you feel something.
What can we look forward to from Ryan Murgatroyd this year?
Woah, ok firstly I have the Lane 8 mix out on October 4th, on This Never Happened. Next, I’ll be launching a monthly mix series called SWOON, the first of which is out in a few weeks. Then there are about four singles out before December and the album is out early next year.
Which artists should we keep our eyes on this season?
Thor Rixon, Bruce Loko, Blanka Mazimela, Kostakis and a Berlin duo called Gheist music.
Tell us something people don’t know about you.
I hate drunk people, the way they hang on you and slur incoherent thing in your ear at parties. They are the worst.
What are you thoughts on the upcoming Natural Selektion event?
Natural Selektion is my first show on Jozi soil this summer, and what better place to showcase all the new sounds I’ve been working on.
Catch Ryan Murgatroyd live at Natural Selektion on September 29th. Event details here.
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