Yoav Sadan & João Orecchia ft. Ross Campbell @ The Assembly (CPT)
Where: The Assembly, 61 Harrington Street, Cape Town
Yoav Sadan (USA/UK/SA)
Joao Orecchia (USA/GER/SA) ft. Ross Campbell
An amazing concert of highly skilled musicians showing us what is possible when mixing organic instruments with electronic technology. This promises to be a mind bending journey through the possibilities of sound.
Ross Campbell plays a really small drum kit and stays as far away from drum solos as he can.
In the late eighties, at age 16, he joined his first band, Celtic Rumours.
They sounded a lot like Simple Minds and had a hit on Radio 5 with a songcalled Slow Rain. Somewhere around 1992, Ross joined Landscape Prayers with guitar supremo Nibs Van Der Spuy and bassist Didier Noblia.
They recorded and played weird, hard to play, instrumental tunes that never got radio play, but opened him up to a whole new style of music and the fruits of rigorous rehearsals. Both he and Didier joined Chris Letcher and Brendon Jury of Urban Creep a couple of years later. This rock band had a distinct local flavour and, riding the country’s wave of post-apartheid glee, a number of radio hits (Sea Level being the most notable) on a couple of SAMA nominated albums.
Ross returned to instrumental music with the band Benguela which he co-founded with guitarist Alex Bozas and double bassist Brydon Bolton. The improvising Benguela phenomenon lasted ten years – they released three critically acclaimed albums, played every festival in SA, collaborated with Breyten Breytenbach, Koos Kombuis and Tony Cox (whose album won the best instrumental SAMA award 2007) and never rehearsed.
Towards the end of the nineties, Ross also joined pop/rock outfit Fetish. They too had a number of radio hits and SAMA nominated albums. They signed to Virgin SA and were chosen to support international heavyweights Smashing Pumpkins, Skunk Anansie and Lenny Kravitz.
In 2000 Ross joined the Sheer Sound record co. as their Cape Town dogs-body.
In 2003 he started his own obscure label called Open Record, releasing albums by Felix Laband, Derek Gripper, Benguela, Brendon Bussy, Alex Van Heerden and Enkeleen. The label won awards for design, received brilliant reviews and sold precious few records. He joined up with folk/rock singer Simon van Gend and they recorded and released Pocketsongs in 2005.
Guest of my Feelings, Simon’s third album has just been released through 2 Feet Music and the band plan to tour internationally throughout 2009.
Ross has also been playing drums for Farryl Purkiss over the last couple of years and toured Australia with him in 2007. They have just recorded Farryl’s second album, to be released later this year.
I use a small space ship full of looping devices and effect pedals to create sounds with a variety of acoustic and electronic instruments including guitar, banjo, voice, bass, melodica, toy instruments, theremin, tape recorders, self recorded samples, and more. I combine layer upon layer of sound, constantly reprocessing and chopping up the sounds I’ve just recorded, building dense soundscapes, while pulling all the sounds together into an abstract song structure.
I mix improvisation with loosely precomposed material, finding joy in “accidents” and “mistakes”. The element of chance is an important component also in my composing process. I don’t always want to know what will come out. The process is important to me.
When the opportunity arrises I like to work completely improvised with only the sounds in the space as source material. Then I loop, distort, and chop up the sounds I record out of the space.
After growing up in Brooklyn, New York and moving around to cities like London and Phoenix and to small villages in England or in the Catskill mountains in New York, I ended up in Berlin, Germany. Playing concerts in Berlin’s underground (illegal clubs, bars, cinemas and festivals) I met Tobias Vethake, founder of Blankrecords. We immediately started our improv collaboration called Vincent and I eventually released my first solo album, Motherless Brooklyn, on Blankrecords.
In 2004 I moved to Johannesburg, South Africa, where I still find myself.
My second solo album, Hands&Feet, is nearly finished and will be released in 2009. My duo with Tobias Vethake, Vincent, is seeing it’s first full length release, It’s Only Wasteland, Mum, this year on Blankrecords. I’m also playing with a very talented lady named Jane Rademeyer who’s just released her debut album, I Think A Halo, and there are many more exciting collaborations on the cards for the near future.
Imagine a record that matches the leftfield edge of Beck or Radiohead with the kind of sure-footed pop hooks Justin Timberlake’s people would write a blank cheque for. A record which vividly conjures the life of an insightful outsider, set to the dark, loping rhythms of Massive Attack or Portishead. A record built around a voice that’s as sweetly expressive as it is richly soulful. Then imagine that every single sound of it, including the bass & the drums, is performed by one man on his amazingly versatile guitar. That record is Charmed & Strange.
The road towards this striking album began in Cape Town in the late 1980s, when a nine-year-old boy began sneaking to his neighbour’s house to listen to Wham! and OMD. At Yoav’s house, such “light music” was banned, on the insistence of his father, a Jewish architect who lived through World War II in his native Romania, before moving to Israel (where Yoav was born) and then relocating to South Africa with Yoav’s opera singer mother. Only classical and opera would waft through their home.
That only made the pull of modern music stronger for little Yoav. “From the moment I started listening to those cheesy songs at my neighbour’s house, I knew I’d be a musician. I can’t describe the rush it gave me. The fact that music was an illicit pleasure actually made it the most exciting thing in the world for me.”
By the time he was 12, Yoav was waiting until his parents had gone to bed before quietly practicing on the battered guitar his elder brother had given him. “I’d had to play instruments that I hated since I was four, things like the piano and the cello,” he says. “I guess the guitar was my way of rebelling.”
As he hit his teenage years, Yoav continued to consume music with an insatiable hunger, always pushing at the boundaries his parents had set. He began with the relatively safe sounds of Simon & Garfunkel and the Beatles, before moving onto the dark pop music of U2, Depeche Mode and The Cure. Phases of devouring hip hop, grunge and electronic music followed.
Growing up amidst the cultural boycott of apartheid-era South Africa, Yoav had never been able to see the bands he loved play live. But as the old order finally began to crumble, Paul Simon led a new wave of touring acts visiting the country. From that point, Yoav went to see every band that visited. A Crowded House show, when he was 15, proved particularly memorable.
“They did a thing where they asked if anyone in the crowd wanted to come up and sing,” he says. “They chose this guy, but he sucked and they threw him off after two lines. I was quite near the front and a lot of people near me knew I could sing, so they were all pointing at me. Neil Finn said, ‘OK, one more’ and next thing I know I was on stage in front of 15,000 people. I started singing ‘Into Temptation’ and the place just went nuts. I did the whole song and then got this massive ovation.”
That night, Yoav went to bed convinced that music was his calling. Those who witnessed his performance seemed to agree; the local media were so impressed they speculated that his appearance was a set-up, arranged by Crowded House to get the crowd going.
Suitably encouraged, Yoav began to focus on his own songwriting. “I’d written poetry since I was a little kid and there were always melodies in my head, I just had to learn how to bring them together.” By the time he finished high school at 18, he was regularly demoing his songs in local studios.
After a year at university, Yoav dropped out to head to London, armed with little more than demo tapes and big dreams. “It was hopeless,” he says. “I spent three weeks trying to shop my music around, with absolutely no joy.” But just before Yoav was due to head back to South Africa with his tail between his legs, he got a phone call. His cousin in New York had found herself sitting next to a record executive at a fundraising dinner, with Yoav’s demo in her bag. The exec listened to it on his way home. Struck by Yoav’s powerful singing voice, he called to offer him a development deal.
Within a few weeks, Yoav had relocated to New York. Compared to Cape Town, the city was a thrilling sensory playground. Yoav threw himself into everything NYC had to offer, feasting himself on countless gigs and disappearing into clubland.
At this point, Yoav’s music was what he describes as “pretty conventional singer-songwriter stuff”. It was good enough to get him to America and onto the stages of venues like the Mercury Lounge and CBGBs, but it didn’t reflect his love of clubbing, electronic music and hip hop. Then one day everything changed. “It was summer solstice and I’d gone with my guitar and some mushrooms into Central Park. The plan was to zone out and lose myself in my playing. For some reason, I started banging out rhythms on my guitar and I got really into it. There was this school field trip of 7 or 8 year old kids walking by and they suddenly started dancing to what I was doing. I was playing these crazy drum ‘n’ bass rhythms and they were whirling around me like trance hippies. It was incredible. I felt like I was DJing with my guitar.”
Yoav had stumbled upon his new direction. “As a songwriter, the guitar limits you to strumming or picking. It’s very different if you can write something to a beat. I tried to translate dance music to guitar. I started pounding it, learning what I could do with it, using it as my decks. You can get an assortment of kick drums and snare drums by hitting it in different places or a synthy sound by playing with feedback. The more I did it, the more possibilities I found. It became all-consuming for me.”
After spending the next few months writing songs to go with his new, beat-driven sound, Yoav sent one of the first finished tunes to Johannesburg’s main pop station to gauge the response. When he didn’t hear anything back, he forgot about it. “Then a few months later I Googled myself and discovered that it was a top 5 hit in the station’s chart. No-one knew who I was, but I was competing against Gwen Stefani and Justin Timberlake. So I went back to South Africa and played some shows. I decided to make all the sounds on my own, with a loop pedal and a delay pedal. The response was amazing. I knew then that it was time to make an album.”
Unfortunately, the US execs didn’t agree, telling Yoav his sound was “too unique”. After five years in New York, his development deal had come to nothing, so he came back to the UK in 2006 to try his luck with some contacts here. This time, the response was instant. “I played for a couple of producers and they both immediately said they wanted to work on a record.” Early recordings quickly attracted the attention of new label Field Recordings. A deal was signed and Yoav made Charmed & Strange in Oxford and Montreal. Then his North American career began in earnest as Tori Amos heard the album and asked him to support her on a 50 date tour, resulting in rave reviews and 6,000 Yoav CDs sold via the merch stand.
Every note of Charmed & Strange is played, teased, tapped and pounded out of Yoav’s guitar. The album opens with the hypnotic Adore Adore, followed by Club Thing, a seductive tale of clubland excess in which Yoav proves he only needs his trusty acoustic to compete with Timbaland’s beat-making. From there, one darkly uplifting song trips into another. One By One is a sighing eulogy to friends lost too early to responsibility; the yearning first single Beautiful Lie muses on disintegrating relationships and hidden truths; the groove-laden Yeah, The End paints a vivid picture of impending apocalypse; and the album is rounded off by a gorgeous, slowed down cover of the Pixies’ Where Is My Mind? that could tear a heart at a hundred paces.
It’s a record that sounds unlike anything else around, edgy and original, but with the tunes to light up daytime radio. “I’ve been told it sounds like Damien Rice produced by the Neptunes, or an acoustic Nine Inch Nails, or Beck meets Buckley meets Björk. I’m not sure any of those is right. I guess I’d just say it’s left-of-centre pop music inspired by all the big themes in my life and all the music I’ve been into. It’s been a huge and often frustrating journey to get me here.” Yoav allows himself a smile. “But it’s definitely been worth it.”
Recently Yoav has opened for Underworld,played the Coachella and Glastonbury festivals among many,opened for the Ting Tings last US tour,had a gold record in Denmark,a number one tune in Russia,and sold out headline tours of Canada and Europe.