Luc Vermeer and Sebastian Zanasi form the psychedelic/dream hip-hop duo with the random name: Christian Tiger School. Influenced by the LA beat scene, they are bringing the fresh sound to South African shores – with success. The launch of their debut Third Floor earlier this year, their opening set for Little Dragon and performances at STR.CRD, EarthDance and Rocking the Daisies, have indicated that they could just be the coolest new thing on the SA music scene. Amped to meet them, we found out that they are also devoted music fans as well as creators, have a dope sense of humour and, believe it or not, similarities to Justin Timberlake. Here is what we talked about.
Do you ever get high before you create tunes?
Luc Vermeer: We get fuuuucked. (laughs). No, we don’t smoke actually. We don’t need to, we’re quite stupid as it is. I guess it works for some people but I think if we smoked, we would make the most amazing Grammy Award-winning song and then if we’d look at it the next day it would be the shittest thing ever.
Sebastian Zanasi: Yeah. No drugs or alcohol when it comes to making music.
Luc: Alcohol sometimes.
Sebastian: We’re people who are so obsessed with music, it’s everything that we do all the time, so we’re always in the mood to make music. That’s the only thing we need to feel.
Do you know what a song is going to sound like before you make it?
Luc: It kinda depends. When we’re sampling something we might hear what we’re going to do with it but I don’t think we’ve actually visualised a song from scratch. It usually takes one thing that triggers what we have in mind. So it can be a sample, drums or some chords that he (Sebastian) has laid down and then we’ll fire it from there.
When and how did you realise that people liked your music?
Luc: We bought all our Likes on Facebook. (loud laughs)
Sebastian: When we got to make something at Red Bull Studios in Cape Town for the first time that was a tiny bit of an indicator. And just sharing with friends and getting nice feed back from them.
Luc: There were also a lot of people at the album launch and it was weird to think that they’d come to watch us. In Pretoria people knew the tune and were singing along. That was just weird because Cape Town and Pretoria are so far away from each other. I think that’s when we realised that it wasn’t just people who we know that like our stuff.
When and how did you decide what musical direction Christian Tiger School would take?
Luc: We still haven’t decided that. (laughs)
There is no direction, we’re kinda just going down a hill in a trolley.
Sebastian: It’s such a weird thing because you obviously make music from what inspires you and that always changes. We’re constantly up and down. I’m not fully satisfied with what we’ve made.
Luc: There’s still a very experimental side to our music. We haven’t made enough songs yet. You need a good number of tracks before you can see what direction you’re going to take, even if it’s just a very broad direction…what we like more, what we feel more, what we’re best at.
You might add some vocals though?
Luc: I mean in a broad sense our main direction now is electronic and experimental but within that we don’t really know.
Sebastian: It’s going be this but within it there are just too many little niches and we still need to find ours. But yeah with the vocals…
Luc: For the next EP we want to get one rapper and one singer. Not sure who yet. But we’ll catch two nice elements of electronic music and hip hop and fuse them together.
Do you know who you would really want to work with?
Luc: Singers are easier. Well, they’re not easier but we are very specific when it comes to rappers because it’s very easy not to sound good with rapping.
Sebastian: Especially on electronic. When it comes to local singers we both enjoy Inge Beckman and Eve Rakow from the Frown. Internationally, it ranges from smaller acts, not smaller in size that is…
Luc: We just want midget rappers. (laughs)
Luc: Guys who have already dabbled into the experimental side of hip hop would be cool. Like Blu, for example, he’s already done stuff with Flying Lotus and Samiyam, that kind of stuff.
Sebastian: My one big dream would be Yukimi from Little Dragon, man, she’s so cool.
I really enjoyed the concert when they played here.
Sebastian: Yeah, my knees were wobbling throughout. She has the coolest melodic lines.
Did you get to meet her at all?
Sebastian: Yeah, I did it was crazy. And I wasn’t like, ‘Hey, I’m Sebastian I want you to sing on one of my songs’. I was really shy. But, they’re a nice bunch of people, Little Dragon.
What other dreams do you have for the future?
Sebastian: It’s so far out – it’s a dream – but I’d like to be signed by Warp. And then just tour with all the people we really enjoy listening to. Luc, what’s your dream? I know you want to skate down Long Street naked.
Luc: That’s actually a nightmare that happens every night…
I hope a bigger community with experimental music and hip hop will develop in South Africa. I think it’s rising now but it would just be nice to have events that are similar to Boiler Room and Low End Theory. I think in the future we’re going to have a lot of projects, like solo projects. So it’s going to be interesting. I might work on some more hip hop-ey stuff, he (Sebastian) is definitely going to do some electronic stuff. But those will always be side things. Christian Tiger School works so well and we’ve been doing this straight for about a year and we’ve only had two main arguments so far.
What international artists would you ask for advice?
Luc: Portishead, RJ D2, DJ Shadow and J Dilla if he was still alive.
Sebastian: Bibio and Mount Kimbie.
Luc: I’d say Portishead because their production style is quite interesting. They used to sample their drums and then resample and resample just to make it more low-fi. They also used to make a song and then press it on vinyl and then record it again. Also, they would find break beats and just slow them down a lot so it would be like ‘Funky Drummer Fast’, which is like, drum ‘n’ bass-ey and then slow it down completely, which would make it ominous. The pitching of the drums and how slow they are would make it sound dark.
Do you think non-electronic genres will die out in the future?
Sebastian: I think electronic music might get a whole lot more popular and it might get to a stage where within popular culture, those people might think that electronic music is taking over.
Luc: The only way for electronic music to take over is for it to replace acoustic music, like instrumental music, with the same sort of sound except it’s electronic. But I don’t think that’ll ever really happen because there’ll always be people who like acoustic music. You’ll never have an electronic band replacing a folk band.
Sebastian: And I don’t want it to happen either.
As much as electronic music is intensely beautiful there are things that just can’t be done by a computer and that has to remain.
What do you say to technophobes who say electronic music isn’t proper music?
Luc: Fuck you. (laughs)
Sebastian: No…I would say…geez that’s a hard one.
Luc: It depends how much of a technophobe they are. You could be doing the same fucking chord progression on a laptop to what you’re doing on a piano.
Just because it’s on a laptop does that make it not music?
I mean people use electronic guitars, it’s still an instrument. I’m just talking equipment-wise. I don’t mean actual genres.
Sebastian: There’s always this stigma about it because a lot of great electronic artists don’t have musical musical backgrounds.
Luc: Classical backgrounds you mean?
Sebastian: Well, for example, Gold Panda doesn’t play an instrument, doesn’t know theory. So obviously he’s a musical person but he’s not musically trained. And I guess their argument is: now he’s making music, but why? That means I can do it. But on the other hand you get Little Dragon who were music students. They’re all using synths, keyboards and MIDI controls.
Luc: I guess it also depends on who’s making the song. You can draw out the notes for a keyboard sound, if you just do that, that’s not really being a musician. I think that’s what people don’t like when it comes to laptops because it’s so much easier to make a song than to actually do something on a piano.
How do you go about it?
Luc: I’m not classically trained and he’s getting there, he’s much more competent than me but we’ll find something and practice that progression. Well, I would because I’m not that good at piano. I’ll practice until I get it right and then we’ll record it. So it’s not like we’re cheating by drawing it out and then you say to someone: I composed that – although you just drew it out. It’s music but I think that’s what technophobes don’t find musical. A laptop is a musical instrument, a sampler is a musical instrument. It just depends on how you do it. If you just gather loops you’ve downloaded and put them together on garage band, then well done. And I’m just saying that because I started out doing loops on garage band but that’s just because I didn’t know any better.
Is remixing lazy?
Luc: I think it takes just as much skill. It’s just a different side of music creation because it’s always nice to see what someone does with a song. If you know the song that is being remixed it’s really interesting to see how people have changed it. For me, that’s the main reason for remixing. When I was into different electronic music, like dubstep and electro, I would always try and remix really crappy songs where people would say: uh that’s a really shit song but now there’s a cool twist to it.
And you can remix something well and not so well.
Luc: Yeah, definitely. You can get it so wrong. Just choose genres that just don’t go. Or maybe they could but you just did it wrong. Except for hip hop. Hip hop remixing is just putting another beat to the lyrics. It’s really funny.
What was the most awkward thing that ever happened when you played?
Luc: I had to lift my keyboard at Waiting Room because they were switching over at the end of our set and I started pretending that I was a butler with a pizza going: ‘Do you want some more?’ And then the cable that connects my laptop to my keyboard hooked the needle of the one turntable and it went zwooop and everyone heard that.
Sebastian: It happens often. That same gig I had to hold my little piece of equipment up in the air for 20 minutes and battle with a tired arm and faulty cables. I’m sure there are many more of those moments still to come. I’m so excited. (laughs)
Luc: At least I can hide behind my laptop, you got nowhere to go dude.
If you had to be in a boy band of the nineties which one would it be?
Luc: Backstreet Boys.
Sebastian: ‘N Sync because I have slightly curly hair and if I’d sit on Justin Timberlake’s lap…
Luc: No I don’t think you’d fit in because Justin Timberlake would tell you to get out, so maybe O-town for you…