Felix Laband Lives the True Spirit of an Artist. We speak to him ahead of Grietfest
Every so often, an interview opportunity with somebody I seriously admire comes my way. When that happens, I have to sit for hours thinking up questions that at least make me seem impartial and objective. This time I gave up. Being a massive fan of Felix Laband, even from my kiddie days, I figured I would be remiss not to ask the questions any fanboy would ask given the opportunity.
So naturally we spoke about forms of art, cultural appropriation, identity, influences, ethic and of course, the Donkey Rattle!
Richard Chemaly (RC): Felix, this is all too surreal and I can’t believe I’ve been gifted a rare interview with you. Shot! So let’s start from the top. Born a ‘Maritzburg boytjie in the “Last Outpost”. Did you attend one of the near elitist schools and do those who were around you then support the path you’ve taken?
Felix Laband (FL): Growing up in Pietermaritzburg certainly shaped my life in a very interesting way. I went to St Charles College in the early years and was awarded the main scholarship, so when I forced my parents to let me leave this ”elite type school” so that I could attend Carter High (one of the only co-ed government schools with the reputation of being a relaxed school) my life as we know it began.
I was fortunate to meet friends that ultimately changed my life forever; classmates such as James Beckett, Dean Henning, Len Cockroft and Mark van Niekerk became my gang and we are still all friends.
RC: I ask this because you seem to be taking the Keanu Reeves-y minimalist approach to life. I recall you selling 10 CDs of your original unreleased art for 450 bucks and was gutted that I wasn’t in Cape Town to be eligible to collect. What was the thought behind that?
FL: I make music all the time and most of it doesn’t get released as I have a very strict quality control ethic, which is sometimes stupid, because most of what I make is interesting some way or other and I thought this would be an interesting way to let some of these songs say hello to the world, and to meet some fans that I would never normally meet. The whole experience was very beautiful for me.
RC: I use the term art pretty deliberately because you’re beyond just music. Congrats on your first exhibition a couple of months back by the way. Is it easy to compartmentalise the visual and the sound or is it all a singularity?
FL: It’s way more of a singularity than people realise as I have been making art on the quiet for a very long time now. I kept it behind closed doors as I enjoy the process so much and didn’t want it to become something that challenged me. I also didn’t want to have to deal with the public examination of it. However I was approached by a gallery Kalashnikovv after I started releasing some of this work online and subsequently have started exhibiting and selling my work. This has been really exciting and far more rewarding than I thought.
RC: You were around 24 when Thin Shoes in June dropped so other than dabbling in and letting go of fine arts (albeit a hiatus), what did you do during early adult life?
FL: I studied fine art for one year, dropped out and moved to Joburg to work as a designer in an advertising agency for one year. Then moved back to Durban and worked as an animator until I decided to quit and pursue making music permanently…from that point on I have been living and working as Felix Laband; the music producer.
RC: …And then you graced us with the Donkey Rattle; the track that still wakes me up when Cupcake or QDL drop it at 3am in the Mystic Boer. Of course, it’s up there as one of your most famous tracks so when you didn’t play it at your 2015 Oppi set, we were disappointed because we thought you were over it…but then you go an remix it with Kill The Boer. Where do you stand on your South African classic?
FL: Uhm…I still love that track…as it represents an attitude and feeling that is still me…and I can’t get irritated when people ask me to play it…as it is still fortunately still a great track. But if I did play the same things all the time I don’t think I would be playing very often. I wrote that track in 2001 and it’s pretty cool that it still gets played in 2017.
RC: Your art and often dress has a lot of African inspiration to it and you’ve mentioned as much a couple of times. In these times of social justice, do you think you’re setting yourself for the kind of criticism that the likes of Die Antwoord are now experiencing?
I’d like to think you have a more understanding and respectful approach to the African cultural melting pot? Then again, your claimed favourite venue in SA is named after Lord Kitchener *winks*
FL: I would like to hope that I don’t stand to set myself up for any cultural appropriation…as I don’t ever like to claim to be anything other than a white suburban South African who likes to eat pap…unfortunately due to the period I grew up in South Africa I never learnt to speak any African languages but that does not mean I can’t appreciate African cultures that I love and respect. I will always find myself making music and art with an African influence because that’s who I am.
RC: I was still in high school and following your career in the early 2000s but then when I matriculated and was finally of age to go to one of your gigs, poof, you disappeared. Rumours surfaced that you’d taken to the drug scene, locked yourself away or just wrote music in the darkness. Where were you and what prompted the return?
FL: Rumours are often true. I wouldn’t say I was in the drug scene, but I certainly was on drugs. And I did most certainly make a lot of music, alone in the dark, locked away and lonely.
RC: I spoke with Wolfgang Marrow and they tell me you let them use one of your tracks in a video. There appears to be a serious humility and lack of pretence (which otherwise tends to plague the music scene) in your demeanour. Art is of course your bread and butter but given the popularity of your art you could be eating caviar and salmon. Why do you produce art if you’re not claiming it for all of its (financial) worth?
FL: I have a bad relationship with money according to how much we are supposed to love money and I have certainly wasted a lot of money on things that have done me no good. But I am sometimes grateful that I don’t love money, because it’s meant that my focus has remained on my creativity and not on paying off my new BMW.
Most of my once so called best friends chose the money and most of them now run ad agencies or have amazing studios, own houses, and basically…”have it all” but at the end of the day, do they really?… because certainly of all the things we used to talk and dream about that we wanted to do creatively, I seem to be one of the very few who actually has done and still does them.
RC: As your art is so important to you, how important is sticking to the tech riders and does your humility ever clash with your need to push your artistic perfection when confronted with sound engineer mistakes?
FL: Unfortunately most of the mistakes are often my own as I don’t have very good equipment. In fact this is an issue that I am constantly trying to deal with, but unfortunately new computers and music gear are very expensive so I don’t have them.
I am currently trying to build up my equipment again and hopefully soon I will have gear that allows me to perform exactly as I want without any problems. It’s very shit this issue and it causes me a lot of stress.
And also, we don’t often have great sound systems here in South Africa and this is also often quite shit compared to some of the gigs I have in Europe where the sound is quite amazing.
RC: Since you’ve got musical roots in punk rock, I’ll share that one of my biggest influences is Dexter Holland. You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that guys like, Aphex Twin and Kid Loco are big influences of yours. I have no idea what I’ll say to Dex if I ever meet him. Have you ever met and what would you say to people who influence you?
FL: I have had the privilege of meeting a couple of my influences and in fact one of them (Luke Vibert) actually remixed one of my tracks recently, but you will generally find that anyone who makes great music is generally a great person and recently when I met and played with Robag Whrume the conversation was just natural and inspiring.
RC: Satanic Dagga Orgy have asked if you’ll do them the honour of remixing one of their songs. I told them probably not but if there is a folk song you’d remix, which would it be?
RC: Coming to Grietfest. Generally electro hasn’t made the waves in Jozi as what it has in the Cape. Do you feel that you could draw more Vaalies to the light?
FL: That seems a bit odd to me as electronic music comes from this part of South Africa. But not from the white people. I truly hope that I have my usual racially mixed fanbase at Grietfest and that it’s not just a white affair as that’s why I am excited to get out of Cape Town.
RC: I’ve noticed at a couple of shows that you’re around for a couple of hours before your set. Do you scope out the vibe and adapt your set or would you have prepared a rigid fixed set upon arrival and you’re just early for the gees?
FL: I never really plan anything and being on time is a new thing for me but I definitely am enjoying it as is much easier to play when you have soaked in a bit of the atmosphere beforehand.
RC: Finally, and exceptionally important, will you play Donkey Rattle? *winks*
FL: For you man I will definitly do something like that…