Whether you know Symatics for his cinematography, his DJing or as one of the co-founders of Weheartbeat, it’s quite reasonable to assume that you’ve been keeping an eye on the quality work that he produces ever since first discovering it. This past week I caught up with Symatics to talk about his own work as well as the future of the events company/record store/all-round culture preserver, Weheartbeat.
“Soundcloud is very important,” Symatics tells me as he begins playing beats off of his laptop. Behind him is a wall lined with vinyls, old and new, turning the room in his home into somewhat of a mini music heaven. Most people are familiar with Soundcloud, but if you’re not, it’s the streaming platform’s ability to build connections, provide huge followings for indie artists, and grow communities of like-minded music fans by simply clicking on a few links that makes it so exciting and “important.”
Moments before his beat-playing, Symatics is sitting beside me outlining his entry into the music and film industry, interests in both fields beginning fairly early with the roots cemented in his love for creativity. “It’s weird. I never intended to do either of them,” he says, as he begins to think back. “I’ve always wanted to be involved in the arts from a young age. I have this crazy aunt who was in television and film and I was always around her. The music that they played back then was really great. Everything that I do now just came from enjoying what I did. I don’t think I plan to make money out of it. With time, you start realizing what you can do and we all have our strengths that we focus on and it kind of became a big part of my life. I decided to get a degree first before I did the music thing, so I studied film. Music was just a thing that was always on the side that kept growing and it got to a point where I was like ‘Cool, what do I do with it?’ The interest of being a DJ only came later. All along, it was just buying the music, collecting the music, and sharing it with friends.” Like many people who get their inspiration from the people surrounding them, Symatics is no different. He formed links with DJ Bionic whose friend, DJ Blaze, would host weekly hip-hop nights. Through that, he built connections that would last him until today. “It was meeting people who were into the same stuff and were driven by love and passion,” he explains. “I guess that’s how we got here. Because we don’t have money, we only have passion.”
“I’m doing it because I love it and enjoy it and I feel like there’s a need for me to do what I do. I think the world needs people like us who preserve good music. I’m just looking for new ways to preserve the culture….”
As a DJ, do you primarily focus on hip-hop music?
SYMATICS I used to only play hip-hop. I listened to a lot of hip-hop and I listened to a lot of jazz from my aunt. I started DJing as a Hip Hop DJ, but I would like to be known as an all-round musical DJ. I think that the more you invest time in hip-hop music, the more you understand that it’s not just one genre that makes it, but it’s different elements.
“After playing hip-hop and getting more into playing sample-based stuff like Miles Davis and all of the stuff that’s influenced the culture, your ears grow into stuff. I guess it’s just embracing what’s good at the moment, and what was good before and hopefully what’s good that is still to come.”
What are your thoughts on what is happening in the Johannesburg music scene at the moment?
SYMATICS I’d say that [Joburg] in a good place because more and more people are doing things, which is also not necessarily a good thing because not everybody is doing it right. But the fact that people are doing it is a good sign. There’s a lot of good music being made – not that everybody is hearing it.
“We’re also more connected to the world, so we’re not isolated here and only doing stuff for where we live, but we can now open up to the universe and connect to other people.”
So that’s been the good side of it. But there’s a big shortage of venues in Joburg, so there’s not a lot of places to go to for music and there’s a lot of people. So there’s a lot of frustration from a lot of people in Joburg – people are tired of the same stuff. There’s a thing of people getting stuck in a certain age, and it keeps going on for too long, and then people won’t accept change.
How did you at Weheartbeat decide to go from only doing to events when it started to also developing the actual store recently?
SYMATICS None of the things with Weheartbeat have ever been intentional, in a sense that we never knew how far the electronic beats scene would grow. I think that we were just frustrated with doing the same stuff. We had been involved separately in Hip Hop. Dominique has probably been more involved than me. I came into the scene at a later stage.
“It was at a point where we just felt like things were the same, and we thought of challenging people and also introducing people to something new, fresh, still very authentic in its own way but not too far from what we know. So then we started Weheartbeat and did nights based on beats and DJs and it kind of grew as we built relationships.”
At some point, the artists would come through with merchandise and sometimes they’d leave us with stuff and I would sell the stuff to people and then when we thought of getting an office space, a good friend of ours was like “You guys have been doing this thing, you kind of have links to the right people to preserve the culture and you could extend it in your brand. Instead of just doing events, you could do more.” Myself and Dominique have always wanted to own a record shop, even before we met. It’s always been this thing that we’ve talked about but we never really knew how it was going to come about. Then when we wanted to get the space, our headquarters, we thought of having our things there, and then we branched into the store. That was cool for us because it was like our working space.
“It was almost a physical representation of the brand. People could interact with us in real life as opposed to just online. It was more real. We could sustain the brand in other different ways as opposed to events and relying on sponsorships which never really come.”
It’s stuff that you have to work around if you really want to do something. You need to find ways to make it happen. The store opened us up to many other stuff. We started consulting, now we’re moving towards becoming a booking agency as well and we’re going to start releasing music soon. I think what we’ve been blessed with also is having the right people around us to give us the right advice as to how to move forward. You need to have the right pace.
“We don’t just do stuff. Everything that we do has meaning, everything we do is well thought-out, and we don’t just work with anyone. Our energies have to align before we can do any work. That’s very important to us.”
That also contributed to us being able to work with Eric Lau, Tall Black Guy, Soulection, Mellow Orange, Freddie Joachim, all of these guys. I think if we didn’t have good relationships, we wouldn’t have been able to do all of that work because we were able to do it more as collaborations, like “What can we do together?” Money has never been a big issue. I think making things happen has been the issue. We’ve been blessed to be able to work with the people that we work with.
How do you see the rest of 2017 panning out, and what other plans do you have?
SYMATICS For myself, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve been DJing for 10 or 11 years now and I want to celebrate that by doing more of my own stuff. I’ve got a residency that I’m doing in Melville at Glory, launching from the 1st of February. I’m doing that every Wednesday until the end of the year. I’m doing that for myself and for everyone that enjoys the stuff that I play. Then with Weheartbeat, we’re trying to grow the brand because it’s been 5 years. We’re partnering up with an already existing festival so we’re creating an even bigger festival. We’re bringing music, film, and design to this festival. We’ve also been shooting stuff for the past 5 years that nobody has really seen, and that’s going to come out in our first WeHeartBeat documentary. That’s going to come out with all of the music that we’ve recorded and a book, and vinyl. It’s just sharing what we do and what we can do with our friends. We’re hoping that it will also put us on the map as South Africans and as people making music. I feel like everything in the world is being done except in Africa. So I feel like there’s a lot that needs to come out from everyone here before everyone else starts coming here. We all have international relations with other people but, to some extent, it’s starting to feel like there’s more international people doing things in our own space and it shouldn’t be like that.
“It seems like we are praising them instead of knowing our worth and where we stand with people from outside places, and how we all work together. I think that’s been the beauty of Weheartbeat: being able to work with people around the world and within our space, and being able to create something great out of it.”
It’s never just an event, it’s grown to something else. Hopefully it will carry on growing….
Symatics also gives us a look at some of his favourite records that he owns. Take a look below:
Common – Like Water For Chocolate
Knxwledge – Hud Dreams
Tall Black Guy – Let’s Take A Trip
MF DOOM – Operation Doomsday
J. Dilla – Donuts
Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Madlib – Shades of Blue
One Way (featuring Al Hudson) – Who’s Foolin’ Who
Slum Village – Fantastic Volume II
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
Pete Rock & CL Smooth – The Main Ingredient