He has been on the rise for a while, bringing back the rhythm into the House Music scene and delivering outstanding releases on labels such as Jimpster‘s Freerange Records or Dennis Ferrer‘s Objektivity. Additionally the mysterious artist’s music has been supported by most influential artists in the scene like Dixon, Âme from Innervisions or Frankey & Sandrino (Sum Over Histories). We had the honor to have a little chat with Hyenah – an artist who always puts music over personal belongings.
Torture the Artist: Your tracks ‘The Idea (Frankey & Sandrino Remix)‘ and ‘Soak It (Andre Lodemann Remix)‘ are highly charted in Resident Advisor‘s top100 of 2016 and in Beatport‘s Deep House section. Has 2016 been the most successful year in your career so far?
Hyenah: Most definitely so. Especially the overall top 10 including Frankey & Sandrino’s remix on the pole positions at Resident Advisor and also a second Hyenah track there are a huge surprise. Also being declared the Afro House Artist of the year over at Traxsource is just fantastic and very very flattering. So you are right: it has been an overwhelming year. way beyond what I was hoping for.
Torture the Artist: It all started with ‘The Wish‘ in 2014 that Hyenah began to rise and is now a constant in the Deep- and Afro-House scene. Where does the African influence in your tracks come from and what is your connection to Africa?
Hyenah: It is interesting that you ask this because in Africa people ask the exact opposite thing: ‘How come you are so techy, so dark and so edgy? Where does that come from?‘ So you see it is always a matter of perspecitve, like so many things in life. I guess my secret is to play on this open field right between the very soulful, deep and groove focused South African House scene and the strong focus on perfect mixing, engineering and a very detailed work on sounds, which stands for the European scene. I actually think it is more a triangle, since I also consider the American raw- and roughness an important influence.
Torture the Artist: Having released on infamous imprints such as Freerange, Objektivity, Drumpoet, Systematic orAEON – just to name a few – is quite an accolade taking into consideration that Hyenah has been existing for a little more than 2 years. What are the labels you are going to work with in 2017?
Hyenah: If you knew, you’d be surprised how many labels asked for music but I declined, the selection process was a very careful one here.The first release this year will be a remix on Tribe Records. I also hope that Objektivity and Freerange will sign more of my new tunes. Further planning involves a release on our own Berlin based RISE imprint which is hopefully happening this year. Talking about remixes, for me the most important thing is, that I feel like I can do something great with the stems of the original. Sometimes the original track is amazing, but I still feel like I can’t create something relevant with it. That is why I am very careful and selective with remixes and i had to put down a lot of requests in the pasts.
Torture the Artist: AQUARIUS HEAVEN and Nonku are two artists you have worked with so far for your tracks. What’s an artists you would like to work with in the future, and why?
Hyenah: Hmmm. Good question. There is also The LazarusMan to mention. I have someone in mind that I have been trying to work with for a while now. And it seems like it might be happening. She’s got my instrumental track and is working on it. Fingers crossed that it is going to happen. I am not looking for the perfect voice. I am more looking for a special ingredient, for somebody with a real strong character and something reasonable or at least authentic to say. Nonku is fantastic like that. I still love the natural and very intimate timbre of her voice. Actually Mr. V would be great! Or Nina Simone (R.I.P.).
In the end it is them not me that make a gig special.
Torture the Artist: You always DJ with a mask in order to not reveal your identity. What is the purpose behind it?
Hyenah: Thank you for asking. I don’t think my identity matters nor is it really important. And I don’t care if my audience is black, white, yellow or purple, gay or straight. I just want them to come together and lose themselves, express themselves. So I don’t want the crowd to judge me by those standards either. I actually don’t think that I am important or relevant. My current mask actually represents a mirror and an X behind it. So I want to cross out my visible identity and I want to reflect the audience back to themselves, because in the end it is them not me that make a gig special. It is the audience creating the magic, I am just playing with it, reflecting moods and the momentum.
Torture the Artist: DJing in clubs around the world – as you do – gives you an insight into different local scenes as well. What has been your most striking experience?
Hyenah: There are so many fantastic places. The Deep House scene of the black community in South Africa – unfortunately it is still quite segregated there – is on a whole different level. People are so enthusiastic and emotional about House music there. It is hard to describe. House is basically what Reggae is in Jamaica. It is part of their identity. There are fantastic artists down there that have super star status that hardly anybody knows over here. With the hype around Black Coffee finally the awareness of that scene is rising also in Europe. To fully understand how magic it is down there, you really have to experience when a crowd starts chanting on an instrumental track and gets into a back and forth mode – kind of like a question / answer pattern – without anybody organising it. It just happens. It’s magic! I actually get goosebumps just by talking about it.
Torture the Artist: DJing in clubs around the world also mean you have to cope with a lot of stress. How do you manage to relax and what are three tracks that immediately put you in a relaxed mood?
Hyenah: Hmmm. actually I love the whole music thing so it doesn’t really stress me out. And I am not booked three or four times a week so I can still handle it. Let me think though…
Reading books definitely makes my mind re-calibrate and focused when things get too hectic. And I enjoy watching people do their thing.
I guess people checking out my charts make up max 2% of the people that are going to see me DJ.
Torture the Artist: You are one of the very few artists that posts his top10 tracks regularily and giving interested music enthusiasts the chance to dig your current favorite music. Does this also put some pressure on you, because you have to come up with new gems rather quickly since some of your charted music can be considered as outdated the moment you play it?
Hyenah: To be honest, I don’t think about that too much. Most music I play is brand new for 99% of the folks in the audience anyways, since it is still such a niche genre even though it is gaining more and more attention. So for most, even the style of music is new. I guess people checking out my charts make up max 2% of the people that are going to see me DJ. If they checked my charts on Traxsource, Beatport or RA before. Fine. Obviously I love to impress those trainspotters. It is not my main goal though. My thing is it to take people on a journey. On this journey there might be stops that people already know and there might be whole passages that they’ve never even imagined. The journey is still unique to that particular place and moment. Charts for me are more about showing some appreciation to those artists and tracks that I respect the most in that particular moment. Most of them do not get a lot of attention, so I try to change that a bit.
Torture the Artist: Where do you dig or find inspiration for music?
Hyenah: Inspiration is everywhere. Moods, interesting people, situations, productions by other artists, new stuff, old stuff, different genres. I think inspiration comes naturally when I am open for it. I don’t even know, if I purposely dig for inspiration.
Torture the Artist: What alongside music do you spend your time with?
Hyenah: I prefer to not reveal too much about me personally. I do consider myself as a very interested and open minded person, always being curious about the world in its full entity, trying to understand things from different perspectives. In all fields: music, arts, politics, science, culture, people – in things that are happening around me. And I like stupid jokes. <laughs>
Three highly underrated Afro House Jams of 2016 – Hyenah style
I still remember how I played ‘Maarifa’ for the first time. It was at watergate club “official” and I was warming up for Black Coffee. All of the sudden he appeared next to me and was so eager to find out about that track that he basically forgot the say hi. I dropped it many, many times since, mainly as the first track of my set (when I am not warming up). It just sets a totally different vibe whatever a DJ before you plays ‘Maarifa’ is incredibly effective to set a new mood, build tension and take the floor. Much respect at Jonathan Kaspar for this very African masterpiece.
Enoo Napas Remix for Black Queen is the perfect tool. And I mean tool in the best way possible. You can always use it to intensify the energy level on the floor. It just builds and builds and rolls and rolls. You can play it in a more Afro vibe, but als in a House or even Techno set to create special moments. Such a wall of sound.
What can I say. Siel has been the highlight in many of my sets last year. It contains everything I want from a track. A super positive overall vibe, fantastic African vocals, a very driving groove and just the perfect build up. It is just the perfect rollercoster of African house music.
Interview by Holger Breuer