Sean Magner takes a peek into the world of production duo Christian Tiger School by way of a review of their latest release, Chrome Tapes.This article is part of a series on music producers throughout the African continent called #RespecTheProducer. Check out daily updates on tumblr and follow the Instagram account.
Having emerged from a bedroom of Vredehoek in 2011/2, Christian Tiger School appeared something new and fresh relative to their Cape Town micro-context. Lacing Hip Hop with post-internet/chillwave/blogwave tracks, they had forged a new mould for kids caught up in the new musical intersections being provided by the Internet.
After the release of their debut album Third Floor (Bombaada), Christian Tiger School had already reached a critical mass. Headlining every festival from Durban to Barcelona, the context in which they had emerged was fluid and developing faster than many could keep up with. How, then, do two young Capetonian producers deal with it? Rip it all up and start again is how.
Chrome Tapes is Christian Tiger School’s second album and the first to be released off of New York Label, Tommy Boy Entertainment (De la Soul, Handsome Boy Modelling School). The album is 10 tracks of progressive and immersive electronica. If anything, it’s evidence of a group that understand radical content demands radical form. A group that have finally released something illustrative of their true potential.
Opening track “Mikro Brothers” is a prime example of the new blank canvas. With a sparse gong, we’re welcomed into the world of Christian Tiger School, reimagined. Previous work has also been dense and heady, but the new work exhibits a more mature understanding of aural landscapes where the negative space is as important as the rest. Further progressive tendencies emerge with the inclusion of Okmalumkoolkat. Bringing his unique Zulu-compurra flow on “Damn January”, what we have here is the frontier of both South African music production and South African rap finally converging. It seems almost decades ago that we were crying out amidst the Cape Town electronic music scene: “Where are all the rappers though?”
Personal favourite “Zloz” is a techno behemoth that lumbers and aches over a full six-and-a-half minutes. Deftly accented with a crystalline synth, the track marks the beginning of a progression toward the heart of the album: after segueing through the Fuck Buttons-type seer of “Handmade Mandarin” and the self-referential “Star Search Phezulu”; the epicentre of Chrome Tapes stands tall in all of its resplendent glory. “Chorisolo” raises the tempo to that of the likely heart rate of the dogs in the music video. With a menacing thrust forward, the track erupts into maximalist-yet-refined splendour. The warped vocal track, looped and contorted, is knotted throughout the track and manages to create a hook that is both melancholic and ecstatic.
This part of the album is likely owing to the group’s obsession with dance music and having not listened to that much hip hop in writing the LP. But they haven’t shed their love for hip hop entirely; “Ultimate Frisbee’, “Mikro Kousins” and “Demamp Camp” hark back to the boom bap of tracks past but still manage to reposition the viewfinder forward, incorporating more distinct samples — less murky than on previous releases. While this may signal an opportunity for the group to fall back into their past iterations, “Cinderella Rocafella” is able to provide the perfect concluding chapter. Meeting almost halfway between the progressive electronica and their hip hop roots, the track offers a mission statement over 8 minutes, suggesting the group’s intended trajectory. With a brutal drumline, the track gallops and strides amongst a synth that shines like an expiring supernova only to give way to another, otherworldly, complex creation.
Since Third Floor’s release both Luc Vermeer and Sebastian Zenasi were able to explore their respective musical inclinations and what appeared obvious was that Christian Tiger School were never going to be the same. Too much has happened in the interim. With Seb it was dropping out of UCT Music school and experimenting in other various musical groups like Fever Trails and Yes, in French. Luc further developed his taste for rap, hip hop and everything these genres touch by way of his solo alias, Desert_head. At the same time, the South African music scene over the past three years has welcomed a new wave of rap and hip hop while also seeing its electronic scene blossom and spiral into myriad new avenues.
While their CTS back-catalogue has never really felt basic per se, with the release of their new album Chrome Tapes the contrast is evident, and I don’t think the duo would have it any other way. Chrome Tapes is a bold release, likely to scare off some fans. But it’s nonetheless admirable in its quest for development and progression.
And it’s this progression that was so necessary: Christian Tiger School had routinely become encased in critical cliché: “aural soundscapes”, “LA-Beat-Scene inspired”, etc. It’s all so trite, yet fails to ever recognise what the two producers behind it all are actually doing on their own terms. Chrome Tapes, thankfully is that moment where CTS have owned their creation. They are no longer a sum of their various influences; they’ve transcended stereotype and placed themselves at the new frontier.