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An Interview with Electronic Dance Music Pioneer, Das Kapital

Das Kapital is a household name in the South African Electronic Dance Music (EDM) scene. The blue-eyed, pale-skinned, tattoo-bearing headline DJ, recording artist, producer and re-mixer has played at festivals like Rocking the Daisies, Ramfest, Syngery Live and clubs nationwide from Pretoria to Stellenbosch. His single, ‘Brainbang‘, was voted the Hottest by 5fm and has broadcast on commercial stations YFM, Metro FM and Good Hope. And, as a composer, he’s created the trailer music for Hollywood movie, 21 Jump Street, SA film Harlinn as well as Adidas and Nokia adverts.

Yet, for the man behind the music, Kyle Brinkmann, it’s about more than partying till the early morning hours and coping with vampiric sleeping patterns. His 5fm radio show, In Das We Trust, introduces listeners to a global selection of what he deems to be the best unreleased EDM, while his record label Do Work Records mentors emerging talent and aspires to put SA music on the international stage. 

Das Kapital

Pin-point the moment you decided to make music for a living; where were you and what were you doing?

To be honest, I started writing music in one way or another when I was about 12 or 13. The medium and style was fluid, but underneath it all, the drive to create sound was what I always pushed for. I worked on songs from the end of primary school, all the way through high school, and didn’t stop really. I guess I must have been about 18 when I decided it wasn’t just a hobby that “may eventually go somewhere”, and made it the path I put all of my energy into. I took time to learn everything I could about the tools at my disposal, so I could better utilise them to create things I could be proud of. People took notice of some of the tracks I was putting online when I was 19, and it all just flowed from there, really.

If not music, what would it be?

I wonder about this constantly. I genuinely believe I would have thrived in marketing, copywriting and all of those spheres. I’m still interested in going into more marketing-driven work, in a few years from now.

I think people need to learn what they really want out of the music they listen to, rather than accepting the sonic swill they’re being fed on a daily basis.

How did your alter-ego, “Das Kapital”, take shape?

“Das Kapital” started out as a character – a blend of exaggerated personality traits and characteristics I see in myself. It allowed me freedoms and strength I didn’t necessarily see in myself at the time. Over the course of the last few years, however, the line between “Das Kapital” and “Kyle” have blurred slightly – maybe because I’ve grown into the version of me I aspired to be, or possibly because I’ve allowed “Das Kapital” to settle down a bit.

To clarify the name, because people often ask about that, it’s Karl Marx’s magnum opus – the origins of socialism and by extension, communism. I was young, well-read, and into the idea of a foreign name (referencing my German heritage). There’s a little joke in there about making music for the people, but also making a living off my work. It just made sense, and ultimately stuck.

You lead a nocturnal lifestyle; initially, how did you adjust to this shift?

Honestly? I’ve always lived like this, since I can remember. Staying up too late and regretting it the next day is something I got used to throughout high school. I would often stay awake until 2AM or 3AM writing music, and then would wake up at 5:30AM to get ready for school (I lived far away from Cape Town at the time). When I was out of school, I would sleep much later, but now I’m back at a place where I’m working until 3AM or so, then take an hour to unwind, sleep until maybe 9AM or 10AM, then get back into it. The idea that I can make a living off of doing what I love is motivation enough to put in the hours to keep my project growing and expanding. I have a lot of responsibilities, but that’s really what makes doing what I do so exciting – whether it’s touring, writing music, running a record label, or doing radio shows, the creation justifies the time spent.

Das Kaptial

What are the pros and cons of the job?

Pros: I wake up and do cool shit most of the time. I get to meet and work with incredible people, that I couldn’t have imagined knowing a few years ago. I get to see the whole country and a lot of the world when I tour. I learn all the time. I get to dictate my own schedule a lot more often than I would if I worked in another industry.

Cons: I don’t get to sleep a lot. Sometimes I have to be on call for things in other time zones (if I am working with people in LA, I have to be ready for them to ask for changes to a track at ungodly hours, for example). Holiday season does not exist (it’s often when I’m busiest). I don’t get to see my friends and family as often as I’d like to. Trying to balance a functional personal life with a professional one is hard due to the amount of time and effort the job takes. Health can take a knock in periods of high stress.

What’s your biggest career highlight so far?

It’s always tough to say. I shift my own goals regularly so I don’t get hung up on past successes or quiet spells. Headlining both Oppikoppi and Rocking The Daisies dance stages for 3 years running (2012 – 2014) was pretty massive for me, mainly because I could watch the crowd grow with me. Most recently, getting my own weekly feature on 5FM, In Das We Trust, every Thursday at 8:30PM on Warras’ show The 5th Element. I get to play unreleased club tracks from around the world to arguably the largest youth market in the country, and the feedback has been incredible for the almost 90 weeks the show has been running.

Growing up in Cape Town, how has Capetonian music changed since you’ve been involved in the scene and where do you think it’s heading?  

That’s a great question, albeit a tough one to answer. When I started getting involved in Cape Town’s nightlife in 2009, everything was very shiny and new. A lot of amazing sounds had made their way into our clubs via Europe, and people were going out in large groups every week to the clubs they trusted. Dance music hit it’s biggest renaissance since the rave days in the last few years, which lead to the bubble and slow deflation we’re currently experiencing.

Almost everyone “loves” dance music in some shape or form now, but that ubiquity means that there’s nothing special out there in the eyes of the club goers. It’s hard to pack a club in Cape Town, when the same lineup would have queues around the block in Johannesburg.

It may be a creative avenue, but in order to thrive in it, you need to learn, understand, and appreciate all the little details. In this regard, there is an astounding lack of education in South Africa for people trying to pursue music.

That takes us to where it’s headed – back to its roots. The people that create, curate, and develop the culture in this city are taking things back into their own hands. It’s a tough time to be a new artist in this country, but I also believe that if you work hard and put your music in the right hands, it’s also the best time to be a South African musician, regardless of where you come from or what you sound like.

It’s a slow process, but I believe the next year or two will yield some of the most special content and experiences, especially from Cape Town.

Das Kapital

In the past couple of years outdoor festivals have increased in popularity. In your opinion, what impact has this had on South African’s music taste and what do you make of niché festivals that have become increasingly mainstream?

I think it’s a double-edged sword. Artists like me can travel the country and beyond, playing and creating and releasing music, to a wider audience than ever. However, the audience needs everything immediately. If you’re too quiet, you’re worthless, and that’s hard. I think people need to learn what they really want out of the music they listen to, rather than accepting the sonic swill they’re being fed on a daily basis. There’s room for the scene to grow yet, but the listeners have to grow first.

What don’t people realize about electronic music business?

You’ve actually mentioned the key word. “Business”. It may be a creative avenue, but in order to thrive in it, you need to learn, understand, and appreciate all the little details. In this regard, there is an astounding lack of education in South Africa for people trying to pursue music. Talented people get eaten up and spat out by the industry all too regularly, and that needs to be addressed. It’s never easy, and there is no such thing as a sure fire way to do something. Just because a particular plan worked once, doesn’t mean it will work again. I guess, really, you just need to remain fluid, and ready to take it as it comes. Lastly, you’ll want to give up, a lot. But the only surefire way to fail is to not try. Don’t covet other people’s success. Just focus on getting your sound – your art – out there.

Who or what influences your music and why?

It’s hard to choose so I’ll pick 3.

Miles Davis, for his ability to always do something new, whilst staying true to his own vision. Also, for the way the parts of his songs “talk” to one another. It’s undeniable.

Stevie Wonder, for the emotion within his music. I don’t really know what it is about him, but I’ve always found his music so captivating. It grabs at my chest on the 100th listen the same way it did on the 1st. That’s something I aspire to, even if I’m writing a techno record.

Everything new. I listen to hundreds of new songs each week, often by new artists I haven’t heard of, and I can’t help but draw on what people are doing to further influence my own sound. There are millions of people out there writing dance music to varying templates and styles, and each of them has his or her own way of doing what he does. There are no real rules to this stuff, and I like reminding myself of that regularly.

In 60 years from now, what do you want to have achieved?

Honestly? To have written music that defines a period in someone’s life. I want to have created something (or many things, I hope) that is the singular thing that people use to remember a feeling, a place, a period in their lives. The rest of my goals and achievements will stem from that.

Who are you listening to right now?

Special Request – Modern Warfare EPs I, II & III [XL Recordings].

Party with Das Kapital tonight (18th December) at  “Overtime” at Fiction, on the 29th of December at the Smoking Dragon Festival in the Drakensberg and on New Years at the G&G Balito Street Party

Follow Das Kapital on Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud.

Das KapitalDas Kapital

Photography by: Jono Jebus 

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