If you’re keyed into the burgeoning beat scene in South Africa, and Gauteng in particular, you’ve most likely come across the sounds of Vox Portent. The Boksburg-born, Benoni residing beatmaker is known for his experimental and ambient style of electronic music and splits his time between graphic design, production, photography, running his own music label and moving between a number of different creative personalities, most notably Vox Portent. In light of his upcoming album, Youth, we spent a morning chatting to Steve Hogg, the man behind the monikers.
The morning was beautifully still in Orange Grove. We were there for visual purposes rather than for the atmosphere – the sleepy suburbs really do sport some stunning flowers – and the shoot went smoothly. Well, that’s not counting the frumpy old woman shouting from behind her security gate, lapdogs yapping away beside her as she threatened to get us arrested for photographing her house. We tried to reason with her of course. “We’re just here for the flowers, ma’am,” we’d say before she went on to lament our knowledge of local flora, phone in hand, ADT on speed-dial.
True to his character, Steve had been quiet throughout it all, staring, listening and taking in the surroundings. While we’d been moving around the suburbs and the main roads, scouting for locations and particularly leafy private residences, he’d been mapping the sound and feel of the whole morning, slowly translating it into a song in his mind.
“I think if a song had to come out of today,” he begins, “It would have a lot of light sounds coming in. Kind of emulating sun and leaves interacting with each other so it’d have these sparkly sounds along with airy stuff. It’d definitely be like a chillwave track in a way, but it’d have an uplifting sound as well as a bit of quirkiness. You’ve gotta bring the old lady in somehow.”
When it comes to inspiration, almost anything can become a new sound for the producer, from meeting new people and going to new places, to certain interactions and emotions. “Obviously there’s also the process of actually writing the song, I think that’s when it all comes through, how you felt throughout the whole day,” he explains.
To go all the way back to his musical origins would lead you to a 14-year-old Steve, in love for the first time and trying to channel these new-found emotions through an acoustic guitar. Later, he’d be introduced to Fruity Loops software through a high school friend and move into the unrefined realm of EDM and Deadmau5-style house music.
“I was quite a dick during that time. I was putting out really bad music and raging online through Beatport forums, talking trash about other producers,” he laughs. “Luckily I moved on from that period in my life.” A short family visit to Australia then saw a 20-year-old Steve flooded with new influence and perspective, much of which formed the beginning stages of what we hear from him today.
Now 24, Steve’s bringing out his debut album as Vox Portent. Simply titled Youth, the album is a retrospective look at his youthful days. It’s a nod to the love-sickness, the growth, the angst, the confusion and the wonder, while also serving as a point of departure for the artist – a final hurrah to those adolescent years. In the album you’ll hear many a story. You’ll also experience the influence of Steve’s other creative outlets – of which there are also many.
There is his photography, an emotive and colour-driven blend of whimsical imagery, and his other musical persona Je Suis Ohne which stems from the artist’s musings on love. There’s also Rooinek, a newly-formed duo comprising himself and long-time friend Thami 2 Shoez, and I Suppose Ja, his music label and creative collective. “It’s kind of like an identity crisis in a way, it’s a very trippy thing,” says Steve. “But ja, in terms of Vox Portent, I just needa release this album. It’s been two years now of just sitting and being unsure about certain things while the tracks have just been waiting for me to get back to them.”
And what can we expect from Youth? “It will be quite a heavy listen. The beginning will be kind of uplifting and up tempo, but as it gets to the end, it’ll switch up completely,” he explains. “There’s some hectic songs on there! But ja I’m excited about it. It’s time it was finally brought out.”
Youth will be released on 1 November 2016. You can pre-order the album now on Bandcamp.
Photos by Nikki Zakkas.