It would appear that Crazy White Boy love flying beneath the radar. However, their ability to write hit songs has pushed them into the limelight. With the release of their second album, the dance duo believe they have managed to dip beneath that radar. Therese Owen disagrees.
Cape Town was abuzz with dance events this month. One of the most important was the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival where one of the most popular acts was Crazy White Boy and their female singer, Nonku Phiri. And yes, she is the daughter of that fabulous musician, Ray.
However, it seems she has chosen the popular genre of house music to start her career.
Phiri was introduced to Ryan Murgatroyd and Kosta Karatamoglou of Crazy White Boy by their previous singer, Rue Groove, who is the voice on their hit song, Love You Better.
“Rue is one of the best singers to come from this country,” say Crazy White Boy over some very healthy salad and fresh fruit juice. (They say they travel too much to eat junk food which is why they are health conscious.) Rue, however, decided to move to Europe which created a vacuum in their live shows.
“We enjoy working with Nonku because she can sing and is not full of s**t,” says Karatamoglou. “She is also stylish and reliable.”
“Having three guys on stage was a bit much,” says Murgatroyd. “We are also really difficult to work with in the studio. Kosta and I are synched up because we have been working together for so long.”
As is well documented by now, the two producers and DJs met while working at Soul Candi. Karatamoglou was a systems developer at the dance label while Murgatroyd had been called in to the Soul Candi Institute of Music.
“Soul Candi, as the biggest label, wanted to diversify into education,” explains Murgatroyd.
“By 2009 we had three campuses. We teach them everything they need to know electronically.”
He proudly says the Soul Candi Institute of Music has entered into a joint venture with Boston City Campus. But with such a busy DJing career, where does he find the time to teach?
“My role is content direction so I don’t have to be there all the time,” he shrugs.
Karatamoglou, the duo’s other workaholic, has a pop-up bar on the side which is currently located on Green Market Square.
While their first album Zoma (2012) propelled them into national dance and pop consciousness, their second album, Ghetto Tech, sees them searching for more depth artistically. It also features Phiri on some of the tracks.
“Our first album was what people expected,” says Karatamoglou.
“With this album we did what we wanted. We went against the mainstream. It is a much more authentic African sound.”
Murgatroyd, who is the more cynical, says: “If we had to record five Love You Betters we would have had to go to clubs with our rap faces on. We saw the effect of having Top 40 hits. It was soul-destroying having these promoters or club owners booking us, but not knowing who we are or why they booked us. We were tired of playing s**t shows to idiots. If we don’t succeed with this album we can always go and work behind a bar.”
“Yeah, but also, we learnt when we played Ibiza that those who stuck to their guns now charge more as DJs,” says Karatamoglou.
Crazy White Boy say they are studio producers and aspire to pretty much all things DJs naturally aspire to.
“We are not classically trained musicians, but we’ve gone to great lengths to learn music theory,” explains Murgatroyd.
“We’re part of a new generation of musicians where the sequencer is the instrument. Most classically trained musicians only learn one instrument. Producers have to manage them all on a macro level.”
Aside from Phiri, Ghetto Tech also features Matthew Gold. They had previously collaborated with him through Goodluck and ended up doing four tracks together.
“Matthew is an all-round nice guy,” smiles Karatamoglou.
This musician certainly knows how to sing house, as does Phiri. The Cape Town songstress also features on Jack Parow’s new album, Nag van die Lang Pette.
She, with Crazy White Boy, is part of the growing dance culture in Cape Town. Not since the days of the Bellville explosion with Die Heuwels Fantasties, Francois van Coke et al, has the Mother City witnessed such a preponderance of hit artists from that city.
But in keeping with their slightly Bohemian angle, the dance scene is doing its level best to keep it on the underground down low.
The reality is, however, talent cannot be ignored, and as much as Crazy White Boy are trying to keep it real and away from the charts, Ghetto Tech has a good chance of churning out a big hit or two.
The two seem nonchalant. “This album is about integrity,” says Karatamoglou. “We could have recorded songs for radio and clapped our hands at every club, but that wouldn’t have been the truth.”
The truth is Crazy White Boy have developed a unique and instantly recognisable sound that they plan to conquer Europe with.
“We have a lot of interest from Europe and even as far afield as China,” says Karatamoglou.
Well, if a place like China gets them, there’s no looking back. How underground can you be if a nation of more than a billion wants to dance to your music?