The South African underground can be a fussy one. A fierce passion & pride in the music one listens to has given rise to subcultures within subcultures, where sub-genres can inspire cult followings and become their own genuine movements. Of the current wave of young musical trends which fits this description is dub techno, and one of the finest selectors locally is Thuso Moloke AKA 2SMAN.
I quickly discover when we meet at the shaded hotspot of Yours Truly in Cape Town that the chilled, laidback energy that accompanies so much of this genre is directly mirrored in Thuso’s personality. We get to discussing his origins in music and he nostalgically recounts being the “kid in the taxi boot next to the speaker” as his first introductions to house music. Being immersed in the music wasn’t initially a matter of choice, it was simply a consequence of being a youth in Kagiso, west of Jozi.
This is not to say he didn’t love the music, as he quickly used his familiarity with technology to figure out how to use auto mix tools on DJ software and craft his own mixes. He had taken the first steps in the art of selecting, but not quite in the art of the mix yet. This came through hanging with older kids from his area who recognised his ear for good music and would let him to practise on their CDJs in exchange for music. Eventually this deal began to feel disingenuous to him, “It started to feel wrong, sharing the music for free” he says. He promptly cut off the arrangement.
His journey as a DJ took a big step forward when he started studying sound engineering at ASE and befriended a like-minded student, Kat La Kat. “He introduced me to the proper culture of being a record head & collector”. By this stage Kat had been honing the art of turntables for years and quickly got Thuso addicted. “I started falling in love with vinyl”. I ask him what exactly drew him to it, and he explains “There’s more control. You feel more connected to the music. With CDJs you can sometimes feel like you’re just matching numbers, with vinyl the music is tangible.”
Learning vinyl helped him land his first ever club gig, which he painfully laughs as he remembers “It was chaos. I played at House 22 and the gear was all connected with one frame. So if you turned the bass on the monitor up, even a little bit, the needle would jump out of place and skip.” It’s funny to contrast that image with the smoothness of his mixing today but he adds that it’s all part of the learning experience. “Those are the real tests and challenges.”
At this stage he was playing a variety of sounds but mostly drawn towards down-tempo, which was very popular in the country at the time. Stylistically selectors tend to have moments of breakthrough that help them discover their own style and for 2SMAN this came through playing with tempo. “I realised that it wasn’t just about speed. I could change the entire feel of the record through tempo.”
Playing records slower and slower helped him find his niche spot and define who he was as a DJ. Dub techno is definitively slow, and could very well be mistaken for deep house slowed down to its limits. “I put together a mix for dub techno label Hello Strange and it got a huge response,” he says when asked whether there was lightbulb moment. “Even today I think that’s the mix that really defines me”.
Around this time Thuso decided to extend his efforts not just to furthering his own pursuits, but to those of his hometown as well. He founded Deep Under KG as a vehicle to expose house music talent within Kagiso, both through events as well as a podcast series. The events helped bring well known names to Kagiso and get them face to face with local artists. Fostering a feeling of motivation was important to the ethos of Deep Under KG says Thuso, “I wanted to show that the dream is not that far fetched.” To date the podcast series has hosted artists like Wandaful, SPYC9T1 and TOVI who are all becoming regulars on well known Jozi line-ups.
2SMAN himself has been a name to look out for on line-ups around Gauteng for a good minute now. His brand has become synonymous with the growing underground dub techno movement and he regularly brings this sound to respected floors like Deep Town Jozi and the KLK Party. He has also started getting his feet wet in eventing, organising the Ether and #KLKFRIDAYS parties alongside Kat La Kat. The events will be a monthly showcase of his & Kat’s affinity for the deeper sounds of house.
It became clear from our discussion that Thuso is an artist who sees his sound and his music collection as an extension of himself. Being able to share that with others through the art of DJing is just as personal to him as having an intimate conversation, perhaps even preferred. He smiles brightly when I ask what he thinks the future of dub techno looks like in SA: “I think we’re undoubtedly the next generation of the underground.”