On the 29th of August, in an overheated hotel room in Cape Town, Shiba Mazaza sat down with Yukimi Nagano (vocalist), Erik Bodin (drummer) and Arild Wering (live keyboardist) – 3/5ths of the sensationally diverse Swedish electro outfit, Little Dragon. Now, in less than 12 hours – forming Part 2 of the Adidas Originals’ Live Performances headed by We-Are-Awesome events – Little Dragon will welcome Cape Town’s spring with a live performance to an overcrowded Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock.
Q: So, what went down in that hotel room?
A: 3, 2, 1… Here’s what:
Is that the reason you decided to come down here to perform?
Erik: Well actually I’ve been here many times, and we played here before… there’s a fresh source of good music and interesting things we found on YouTube from South Africa. So we’ve been very interested in South Africa for a very long time.
Brilliant! How long have you been in Cape Town now, a day or so? We hear you had a surprise performance last night at Fiction. How did that go?
Yukimi: Yeah we got here yesterday! The guys booked their own show. They wanted to DJ…
Erik: We were at Royale – that burger place – and somebody slipped up and told! We were looking for a place to DJ… so five minutes later we were in there playing a set.
You were saying that you were working with Jose Gonzalez, what else have you been into in terms of the music scene in Cape Town?
Yukimi: We want to discover more. The only ones we know about really are the ones we found searching on YouTube. Honestly yesterday, we went into a music shop and we were like “woah!” There were rows and rows of music, and we didn’t know what was good and what’s not; someone introduce us to the fresh new thing! We’re curious. We’ve been influenced by a lot of the South African house music, checking out stuff online, amazing dancers… Stuff’s mind-blowing! We want more.
Do you know about kwaito?
Erik: Yeah we do actually!
As such an original local beat, has that inspired your styles at all? It seems to be a rhythm that everybody understands…
Yukimi: Yeah, it has that repetitive vibe, where it’s not like you’re waiting for the hook, or waiting for anything really. In the end, you can just get lost in it and dance your life away to one beat.
Arild: I like kwaito because it’s not as dark as European house music, it has an uplifting feeling. You can get pumped up and happy on it.
Erik: We love that song ‘Jezebel’. Proffessor? Oskido? That’s a hit.
So what did you grow up listening to? You’ve been together since you were high-schoolers, what brought you guys together and inspired you to form the band?
Yukimi: Hip-hop! Lots of hip-hop.
Erik: We still do. Yukimi wasn’t a good rapper…
Yukimi: I’m still not, but I’m better!
Erik: No she’s not! …But we were all so driven and passionate, we all went to music school and we were very outside-of-the-box people. We didn’t fit in but we were striving for something new. We were very into jazz at school, and when you study music you either do classical or jazz… but we loved hip hop and soul and synth music, so we slipped slowly but easily out of that “school” vibe.
How important is it then, for a modern band to have a musically educated background? How much importance do you put on your background?
Yukimi: It’s not important to me at all. I really feel that anyone who is curious and wants to learn themselves, will learn by copying stuff for example, or listening to music and if you have the ear for it you will pick up the technique anyway. School allowed us to find each other, and it gave us time together. From a very young age I was determined; all I wanted was to do music… This is who I am. There was no one in my class who had that feeling about what they loved to do before I met these guys… no-one could relate. This connection is why we’re still together now. Music is who we all are.
Arild: Sometimes I feel that with music school, learning certain things like scales and theory holds me back in a way, because it doesn’t feel natural. I could never have come up with certain things based on music school alone. The more you learn, the more you have to break those boundaries, and with less boundaries music has a different twist to it.
I admire people who create beautiful melodies without that musical background.
Yukimi: I love classical music, and obviously that comes with a bunch of rules. I respect that, but as an individual I think the best teacher will not tell you how to do what you do, which is a tricky thing to be… like use your breath this way or not close your eyes too much, or something like that. The best teacher will tell you to be yourself and embrace that self.
And with so many different collaborations you’ve been part of, like the new song with Big Boi, and Raphael Saadiq, SBTRKT and Gorillaz for instance. How do you keep the music your own without losing the Little Dragon essence?
Yukimi: It’s hard, because we are who we are and we never really think too hard about what we’re doing. We don’t have a conference and decide beforehand. We just go with it, and it always just comes out sounding like us. WE love to challenge ourselves, and it is trying not to repeat yourself all the time, and to just surprise people and surprise ourselves really.
Erik: It’s getting easier. The more people appreciate who we are as we are, we don’t have to worry about breaking rules. We do what we like; we’ve made it so far and worked so hard.
We’re in a period where we’re going from one label to the next, and it’s the confidence in ourselves that drives our music.
There were a lot of question marks when we first started…
Yukimi: Yeah, like “are we going to do radio songs or not?” “What genre are you on now?” etc. And we tried to, but when we did it, we brought the track in and it was crap! But now, we’re more confident in our sound and if the radio wants us, they come to us;
we don’t compromise our sound for radio play.
When you’re in studio not thinking, it sounds better and the appreciation of that helps.
Speaking of appreciation then, you have a Little Dragon documentary in the works. Is that a milestone of where you guys have gotten thus far or is it more showing appreciation for your fans?
Yukimi: Yes, we do. But we’re not sure where that’s going to go yet. We’ve had so many fans from the artistic communities, doing covers of our songs and things. And we want to use it as a way to accumulate more support. There’s a link on the website where fans can send in their submissions too. We want it to be something artistic and special.
Do you have any advice for young South Africans who want to go the creative route?
Yukimi: We’ve seen so much on YouTube… We do realise that South Africa is different from Sweden in that you can get free music lesson if you want there, and it’s not as easy as that for everyone here because of the gap between the rich and the poor. Just get involved in terms of doing the YouTube thing; I found these amazing dancers getting down in their back yard from South Africa –
so get your Twitter on and reach out to people because people want to see it, and it needs to be seen.
Little Dragon are set to perform on Friday August 31st, at The Old biscuit Mill in Woodstock, Cape Town, and again the following day at MOAD in the Maboneng Precinct in Johannesburg. To find out more about the shows, click here.