It’s Halloween weekend, and Cape Town’s premium-rated techno-heads, Killer Robot, will be blazing a trail of audio destruction, both at home and upcountry. Hg2 Cape Town co-author, Keith Bain (who regularly scours the city for music that avoids clichés and compels him to dance like nobody’s watching) recently caught up with Bruno Morphet, one half of this relentlessly forward-thinking techno outfit, and asked him for some bullshit-free answers about the local music scene.
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Always cutting edge and making efforts to push the boundaries of the dance floor experience, Killer Robot does underground electronic music like they mean business. After four years, their weekly stints at Fiction are the stuff of legend, and while Bruno Morphet and Ivan Turanjanin have earned widespread respect for their carefully crafted sets, they also deserve credit for having brought some of the world’s top techno DJs to join them at the decks. There’s no denying the contribution they’ve made to improve Cape Town’s urban electronic music culture, and they always make an impact, whether playing to a tightly packed crowd on Fiction’s tiny, always-throbbing dance-floor, or pulling in an unprecedented mob of thousands at the Red Bull tent at the recent Rocking the Daisies music festival. They’ve earned our respect over and over again….
What’s your number one reason for living in Cape Town?
The mountain and sea in such close proximity to the city are the greatest luxury anyone could wish for—and they’re totally free. I moved here from Durban in 1980, and I still can’t get over the unashamed beauty of this place.
What drew you into electronic music?
I got into electronic music via my love for hip-hop, hanging out with DJs like Ready D and Rozzano in the late 80s at places like The Base, and really getting my head into the musical component. DJing came much later.
What are the major trends in electronic dance music in Cape Town right now?
At the moment I guess you could say it’s about very loud, very brash electro. Clubs have been marketing themselves to grab younger and younger audiences in an effort to boost their bottom line and the result is an immediately digestible hybrid of old rave samples and plenty of big bass drops. It’s music that doesn’t require much attention at all, but is as intense as it is disposable. Each tune has a self-enclosed trajectory, so you have the intro, the build-up and the big climax… every five minutes or so. DJs aren’t really building sets much, its more about just hyping crowds to the maximum extent to ensure a return booking.
What have been a few of the highlights of your career so far?
Career highlights have been some of the international tours I’ve done, being asked to do some marathon sets in Germany alongside people I really respect. I have shared the decks with Seth Troxler, Ryan Crosson and others, and it’s been a huge to honour to have them over to play here in Cape Town. Warming up for Luciano was awesome, and playing back-to-back with Lee Burridge another standout moment. The festivals we do on a regular basis are also very intense, electric experiences. It’s always a thrill to play to a big, appreciative local crowd.
How did you guys come upon the name ‘Killer Robot’?
When Fiction launched in Cape Town, a lot of their décor and marketing was along the theme of old b-movies. We put together a concept for ourselves that could fit in with that, and it’s lasted us well.
Who are some of the other mentionable electronic outfits working in SA right now?
We have lots of friends that we respect. Digital Rockit, Unsound System, Phat Jack. Anthea and Monique Pascall, who play with us quite a bit, are great DJs. T-Minus and Helmut J, too. There are also some South Africans doing amazing things abroad. I have a lot of time for Alan Abrahams, Brendon Moeller and Culoe De Song. Very talented producers, all of them.
What are the best international artists you’ve had join you for Killer Robot nights?
We’ve had so many amazing artists join us: Konrad Black, Alex Smoke, Butane, Jeremy P Caulfield – the list is very long. We’re quite proud of it.
There’s a tendency in the music industry and DJ world for certain names to become institutionalized, even deified, to the extent that they exercise almost complete control over the scene. I’d say it tends to flatline the scene. Where would you like to take the dance music scene in Cape Town?
I don’t believe any one person should have control of the industry. It’s not something I aspire to. To be absolutely honest, I’d like to see some more diversity out there. There’s are a lot of people bashing out the same rhythm as everyone else, hoping to be recognised and too scared to try anything original or different. Sadly, I believe Cape Town is in a downturn at the moment in terms of venues and opportunities. There’s a lot of talent out there, but not a lot of places to see it. This is due to some extent to economic pressures, but Capetonians can be quite good at killing their own fun. There’s a lot of apathy and quite a smug sense of self-importance from people. There’s a new liquor bill that the Democratic Alliance-controlled city council has imposed that decrees that no-one will be able to keep a club open beyond 2am from next year. No-one seems to want to fight it either, they’re all too busy marketing their ironic t-shirts and shopping for vintage RayBans. These people would rather blog about their nights out than actually enjoy themselves! It’s quite sad really.
I agree. ‘Dance like nobody’s watching’ is my motto. Does living in Cape Town impact your choice of music and the way your sets evolve?
Well not necessarily. I guess I like to build a set slowly and methodically, but as you saw at Daisies, when the pressure is up, we don’t really hold back.
We at Hg2 recently called Killer Robot “Cape Town’s electro gods”. What do you have to say about that?
Ha ha! That’s very kind of you! ‘Electro’ has a rather bad name at the moment, but I think that’s more to do with how its been become adapted by a diverse group of people for different reasons. Strictly speaking we’re about techno, but we don’t like to define ourselves too tightly anyway.
What are your favourite nighttime hangouts in Cape Town?
Well, for clubbing, Fiction is always a stand-out; anyone into non-commercial, experimental and underground electronic music must spend at least one night there. It’s boldly designed, and the closest thing we have to a ’boutique club’, with a small but thumping dance floor. The focus on excellent sound and top-caliber DJs makes it a stand-out in the city. For dining, I like Saigon, Limoncello, Haiku and La Boheme; for drinking, definitely Kink, Daddy Cool, Waiting Room and FatBack Soul, the newest bar on Long Street, and very classy.
And, by day?
The beach starts and ends with Clifton First for me, and I can think of nothing more relaxing than any one of a hundred routes up Table Mountain. It is a jewel.
Finally, what’s happening in Jo’burg at the end of the month?
Well we have a special reunion with our friends Digital Rockit at Rockit vs Robot. We hardly every get the scheduling right so that we’re all on the same bill together, but this is one of those rare occasions to spar with a crew that we have the utmost respect for. The music will be next level guaranteed….
So there you have it. Killer Robot are scheduled not only to reap destruction on local fans at their resident venue, Fiction, on Friday night, but then load up their auditory artillery for an out-of-town mission, with plans to kick serious dance floor ass in Johannesburg on Saturday. They’ll be going head-to-head with their “disturbed upcountry relatives”, Digital Rockit, giving Jozi clubbers a rare taste of Rockit vs Robot, an invariably superlative experience. The DJs will sound off at Jo’burg’s cool new underground venue, The Lighthouse, ironically located high above the ground. It’s up on the 10th Floor of Security Building at 95 Commissioner Street (there’s no phone number, but you’ll find directions to the venue on their Facebook page).
And, if you can’t wait until you get to Cape Town (or Jo’burg) to catch Killer Robot live, why not download two recent mixes by Bruno and Ivan, available here:
And, from November, all through the summer, you can also catch Killer Robot at Sapphire in Camps Bay, where they’ll be headlining The Art of Hot each Friday night. Expect a totally revamped sound system and, finally, a touch of audio class on Cape Town’s Sunset Strip.
Photos: Top Timmy Henny; Bottom Glen Montgomery