Release Date: Mar 13, 2012
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Electronic, Rap, Garage, Alternative/Indie Rock, Club/Dance, Alternative Rap, International, Dubstep, African Traditions
Spoek Mathambo, from South Africa, is willing to try just about anything. On first album for Sub Pop, Mathambo raps and sings; he dabbles in post-punk, dub, electro; there are township jive-style guitars and grime-style beat-bursts; there are protests against the blood-diamond trade ("Put Some Red On It") and laments about what a bummer it is to have to work for a living ("We Can Work"). It's an admirably energetic hodgepodge which, at its best — in the skittering "Venison Fingers" and the synth-smeared title track — manages to be both danceable and eerie.
Spoek Mathambo's M.O. is to dismantle expectations of African music in the global imagination. Mshini Wam, Mathambo's 2010 debut, spawned "township tech," a brawny rap-inflected dance, as the sound of South Africa's once segregated, still underdeveloped neighbourhoods. Father Creeper expands on township tech, sowing bottom-feeding bass and rude-boy raps as the sonic seeds for something more ambitious.
It's a notable shift, but the only thing one should read into Spoek Mathambo's jump from the funky and chic label BBE to the monolithic indie Sub Pop, is that the innovative African producer's music is highly desirable to all sorts of edgy tastemakers. Father Creeper sounds like an artist-driven, sophmore effort with little or no label interference. Spoek's own dark brand of African wonky pop incorporates dubstep, post-kwaito sounds, politically driven horror-hop, and even the rock-rap promise of Ice-T's Body Count delivered on the bang-your-head monster "Let Them Talk," little of this being the "hip" kind of fluff a jazzy marketing department would desire.
Spoek Mathambo (or Nthato Mokgata as he's known to his family) can be a prickly character: bridling over a feature in these pages last year in which he perceived himself portrayed as a figurehead for kwaito, for instance – whereas as any fule kno, he was really a harbinger of darkwave township tech, a more mutant strain of South African house. But prickly in a different sense, too. His debut, Mshini Wam, featured a cover of Joy Division's Control (with an eye-popping video by photographer Pieter Hugo) that exulted in the cultural friction between Salford and Johannesburg.
As western artists raid increasingly obscure African genres, it's fascinating to hear what comes about when the direction is reversed. On his second album, Spoek Mathambo, a South African singer-producer, ransacks metal, electro, crunk and kwaito (a slowed-down Johannesburg version of house music) to create a thrilling meltdown of global styles. Sometimes, as on "Let Them Talk", the blend is finger-snappingly fluent, but more often it is deliberately disjointed to match Mathambo's fragmented tales of township life, on the likes of the excellent "Dog to Bone".
Africa. Such a varied and beautiful continent; deep, rich heritages, ancient cultures, incredible wildlife, lush forests and arid deserts, colourful and vibrant communities, yet it is also scarred by war, drought and poverty, subjected to centuries of colonial control and order followed by years of indifference and neglect. African music reflects and speaks to this diversity and history.
Despite all odds, every time Sub Pop seems like its ridden current trends to their end, it somehow pulls itself back from the brink of irrelevance. After the grunge bubble burst in the late ‘90s, Sub Pop bet large on Internet-bolstered indie rockers like the Shins and Wolf Parade. Lately, Sub Pop has been betting its future on a genre that would have seemed impossible to Sub Pop singles collectors in 1989: arty hip-hop.
I’ve had the pleasure this week of hearing two South African albums this week - Die Antwoord’s Ten$ion and this album, Spoek Mathambo’s Father Creeper. Whereas Ten$ion portrays a cartoonish, braggadocio baiting, almost fictitious portrayal of South African street life, Father Creeper breathes a certain mellow authenticity; occupying the unsteady middle ground between the tumultuous townships, and the murmuring muddle emanating from the big cities. Something however is not quite right.
Spoek Mathambo’s debut album, ‘Mshini Wam’, was a strange beast, combining filthy techno, Soweto raps and a pummelling dancefloor cover of Joy Division’s ‘She’s Lost Control’. Its follow-up is both more mainstream and significantly odder. Mainstream because he’s added rock guitars and big choruses; odder because these rub shoulders with everything from highlife guitar lines to skittering beats.
There is something relentless about the music of South African-born rapper/singer Spoek Mathambo. Manic and jostling, it flings a series of genres-- grime! crunk! electro! dub reggae! post-punk!-- in front of you like so many disorienting flashbulb pops. Father Creeper, his second full-length and his first for Sub Pop, is too frantic to find a groove, attempting to make a virtue of its messiness instead.
Johannesburg’s Spoek Mathambo is an MC/producer practically soaked in style. There’s hardly a dry track on Father Creeper, the follow-up to his well-received initial foray into “township tech,” 2010’s Mshini Wam. Whether or not he still identifies with that conjured genre, the name has a kind of introductory logic. Hailing from the dense, sprawling township of Soweto, Mathambo combines African signifiers (shimmery highlife, rambunctious kwaito) with electro production evoking both extraterrestrials and human technology (like lasers or ray-guns).
The South African covers a hodgepodge of styles – but move with him and it’s worth it. David Stubbs 2012 For many, Soweto-born Spoek Mathambo first introduced himself with Control, his stark, minimally wired version of Joy Division's She's Lost Control, accompanied by a black-and-white riot of a video, involving paint guns, possession and a non-Salfordian urban desolation. He's credited for conceiving ‘township tech’ but Father Creeper, his first album for Sub Pop, is a maximal affair, a frantic hybrid of traditional South African styles, contemporary rock, dancehall, hip hop and soulful, falsetto pop.
Rapper/DJ Spoek Mathambo certainly doesn't sound like he's from around these parts. The South African MC summons hip-hop out of worldly, idiosyncratic places. No tumbling boom-bap or fog-burning synths – his Sub Pop debut, Father Creeper, is built on stringent, live-band guitars, patchy beats, and ramshackle drums. These are linear songs, flexing organic craftsmanship and a peppy demeanor – undoubtedly the work of a young man's wit.