Though Jozi is commonly referred to as the music hub of the country and Cape Town as of late has been producing deep house stars aplenty, the history of deep house in South Africa will always be inextricably linked to Pretoria. As an 012 native the city and it’s appreciation for the deeper sounds of house music greatly impacted my own tastes, laying down the foundations for what would become deepstreet in a later decade.
This made the opportunity to get to know the story behind one of my favourite hometown DJs, Kat La Kat, an unmissable one. We met up on a cool Friday afternoon in the leafy suburbs of the city to discuss the origins of his musical journey. Kat’s a reserved guy with a quiet confidence that speaks to his years of experience in the game and we quickly got lost in conversation.
He spent his formative years in the township of Ga-Rankuwa, north of Pretoria. I ask him if this was where he first found house music and he smiles, “I think it first found me.” He recollects the elders around him playing legends like Frankie Knuckles and Larry Heard, and beginning to become obsessed with the grooves that had such an impact on the environment around him.
This obsession came to an abrupt halt when his family moved to The Orchards, located closer to the Pretoria CBD. Cut off from the house loving community he had grown up in he realized his sources of music had disappeared too. After a brief period of indulging in other urban genres, mainly Hip Hop & Kwaito, the compilations from the likes of DJ Christos, Vinny Da Vinci and DJ Fresh reignited Kat’s fire and kick-started a collection habit that would span the rest of his life. He managed to grow a sizable collection of music before the thought of DJing really seemed like a possibility.
The idea that mixing was something he could do stemmed from a valentines day special at his high school, where older students had set up turntables. “These were kids at my school!” he remembers thinking, realizing it wasn’t an unrealistic dream after all. He saved up to get his first pair of turntables and spent the rest of his high school career honing his craft both at home and at his high school peers’ parties.
By the end of high school Kat had established a solid fan base around his neighbourhood and a growing one outside of it, regularly gigging at pubs in the surrounding townships such as Mabopane. It was during his tertiary studies in Sound Engineering that he befriended a then up & coming DJ he had seen performing at some of those same high school parties: Jullian Gomes. Their friendship involved a lot of supporting one another at gigs and led to Kat’s first frequent club feature at Amaros in the CBD. That Kat and Jullian still regularly play on each other’s lineups today is a testament to a solid friendship built on great music.
This all coincided with an important development in the industry, the rise of digital music stores. Kat recalls embracing the evolution immediately, as it allowed him access to a lot more music. “With most of the vinyl shops we had, it wasn’t always a level playing field. If you had good relationships with the stores you could get your hands on all the records you wanted, but if you were a new customer you missed out on a lot of music. With digital I could buy and play the same day it was released, every time with no sold out or reservation stories.”
The digital revolution also allowed Kat to start regularly podcasting. He initially had 3 different styles and would often have to play soulful, deep and afro sets depending on the mood of the party. These were the days where the afro/tribal style of house was the prevailing sound. A lot of this can be heard in Kat’s earlier releases and mixes. “It wasn’t really my favourite though, I loved the dark stuff more”.
His brand had been steadily growing by 2009 with regular performances at highly revered spaces like House22, guest features on Television shows like Channel 0’s 411 & VuzuTv’s Hit Refresh, and appearances on online taste-maker podcasts like DeeperShadesOfHouse. He also began to make strides with his productions by releasing through Next Dimension Music, Anané Vega’s Nulu Music and getting the opportunity to compile his first compilation release featuring young local artists: Afro Unleashed.
It was 2011 that Kat remembers as the year he decided to cut back and focus on the music he really loved. He threw himself into the deeper side of house music and stopped taking gigs for other sub-genre styles. “I nearly became extinct!” he laughs, remembering how little he was playing at first, but his Deep Vibes Series podcast mixes were now becoming increasingly popular and creating some demand for live performances of the music.
Another technological development happened around this time that Kat again would embrace: learning via video on the internet. “We didn’t always have the resources available to learn the more technical sides of production. We had no access to professional music studios or active producers and engineers. The internet opened up a lot of that for us and gave us ideas on how to push our music in better ways with minimal tools.” Around the same period Kat worked on his first professional project as a mixing engineer: holding technical duties for his long-time friends & collaborators D’Vine Brothers’ debut album on House Afrika Records. His productions had been largely afro-tech inspired until this point and he started to pushed the deep focus into his craft here too.
This focus started to pay off in 2013 when he played a couple of high profile festival gigs like Rocking The Daises and Oppikoppi, as well as premier underground parties like The Warm Up Jozi, Toy Toy and Truth Midrand’s Upstairs Floor. He was also selected to work with respected underground music institutions like the Redbull Music Academy Bass Camp. He notes the following year as when he felt the direction he wanted his music to take started to feel established, smiling “You could be outside the club and know it was me who was playing.” He also aligned his production work with partners he felt were more representative of his sound. Both the Lagoon and Strange Signals EPs released through Swedish Brandy Productions are easily recognisable as early marks of the current KLK sound.
2018 saw Kat’s first full length release, coming full circle to release on the label that he was originally inspired by: House Afrika. He laughs as he recounts how he was originally meant to put together a compilation, but changed his mind mid-way to submit his own music and collaborations. The 10 track album was an all killer, no filler affair featuring artists like Dwson, Vandal M, Sir Rizio and Aquatone. Packaged with offerings from Just Move Records, Jazzuelle & Kid Fonque this release topped the iTunes Dance chart for several weeks, hit Musica’s top 5 local releases chart and won the South African Dance Music Awards 2018 Compilation of the year.
Not content to let that already impressive contribution be his only work for the year he followed up with a 6 track collaborative EP with fellow Pretoria artist BillowJazz, released on his own new record label KLK Music. Kat speaks fondly of his creative partnership with the younger producer whom he briefly lived with. They would spend months creating ideas but never quite finishing them, eventually managing to complete the EP in a few weeks.
The long creative journey Kat’s career in music has gone through may sound arduous, but it’s clear from his current standing that years of investment has started to pay dividends. His consistent brand building paid off with an Old Khaki clothing endorsement and Ballantines have partnered with him on their True Music Series, seeing him DJ events from Boiler Room in his hometown to their international Beat Hotel in Morroco’s Marrakech. Red Bull saw fit to bring him into their Beyond The Music series which aired on Channel O earlier this year, where he got to share his story with a wide audience. Fans of Kat’s productions have also got much to look forward to, with a release on dub techno taste makers Hello Strange and collaborations with Leeu, !Sooks, AB Walk and more in the works.
Until such time arrives listeners would be best advised to dig in, hold tight, and as Kat La Kat often voices: “Keep it deep.”