Image: Kelly Makropolous
Interview by Arnold van der Walt
South African dream-pop group Diamond Thug will be performing at the acclaimed psychedelic festival, Endless Daze 2018, in Cape Town, South Africa this coming weekend. Ever-changing and growing since their formation, Diamond Thug is one of the most diverse and eclectic groups the African country has produced. Their sound ranges from electronic pop records, to ethereal psychedelic rock pieces. They have seen support from notable publications like The Huffington Post, Billboard, Wonderland, DIY and Indie Shuffle just to name a few. During 2016, Diamond Thug went on an extensive European tour, picking up brand new fans along the way. Having released a handful of EPs and singles since their inception, 2018 saw the group release their debut album, ‘Apastron’, which was received with critical acclaim and caught the eye of Apple Music as it was chosen for the music giant’s New Artist Spotlight campaign for April.
Ever since their formation, they have evolved their sound, growing with each new band member, adding a fresh new cog to the machine. Diamond Thug lifts you up and allows the listener to soar beyond the reaches of your imagination. Intricately layered with rich textures and haunting vocal work, Diamond Thug feels fresh in an over-saturated world, providing the industry with a never-before heard sound that’s hard to ignore.
We sat down with Diamond Thug and spoke about their upcoming performance at Endless Daze, making fans forget about the harsh realities of life, and Kepler’s Law of Planetary Motion.
Hey there, Diamond Thug! As a group who slowly added members one by one throughout the years, what would you say each member brings to the table?
Yeah, it’s been a slow process to find a set up we feel comfortable with. We feel like the current four-piece enables us to write the music we want to write. Adding members can be tricky, especially when you compose together as a band. When we started it was only me and Chantel. We made pretty weird electronic music. With each addition of members, the sound shifted, but we did our best to keep that underlying desire to write music that was a little bit different to your genre-defined sounds. It’s very important that you have the same vision for the sound you want to create. Each member brings something different. Adrian was a major add in terms of his production skills and multi-instrumentalism. Teddy sort of brought a grooviness to our music we’d been lacking, allowing it to get bigger and to get people moving. They’ve also brought their personalities and interests to the table. It’s opened up a whole lot of concepts and common interests that inspire a lot of what we write.
Besides Diamond Thug, are there any other projects each of you are involved with?
Yeah, we’re all involved in other projects, normally we end up doing a lot of them together. Chantel has her solo folk-project Van T, Adrian and Ted often session for her live. She’s got some great new music coming soon. Adrian has his a solo act too, named Adrian Culhane, Ted also sessions on the drums for that one. Then together Adrian and I have an experimental electronic project called WVV. I guess we are all just really into making as much music as we can.
Your sound incorporates a blend of electronica, pop and a influence of psych-rock. To someone unfamiliar with your sound (or these genres), how you describe your sound in your own words?
Out of all the descriptions people have used for us, I like Space-Rock the most. There are definitely sounds that take influence from Dream-Pop, Psych-Rock, and Electronica, we try to write pop-sensible music in the most authentic way we can. Sometimes we drift into pretty weird spaces, we keep writing this Medieval Folk-Lore sound. I’d like to think our music is defined more clearly by the feeling it communicates than by any specific genre.
Speaking of, how do you go about creating your ethereal sound? Are there any specific steps you take when creating a new track?
We mostly write together, but songs always come from an initial idea that someone creates alone. We really try to experiment and play with our synths and samplers to create sounds that define songs. We try to utilize all the of the gear we have and layer sounds until it feels whole. We also like mixing up instruments, we play with three synths, Adrian plays guitar and mandolin and we use an SPD and drum machines to take it further.
David Bowie is quoted as saying “It makes me so angry that people concentrate on lyrics. It implies there’s no message in the music itself.” What are your thoughts on this statement? Music or lyrics?
First off I would like to say that Bowie’s lyrics are incredible, I’d be very surprised if he didn’t spend a lot of his time focusing on them. But his point definitely stands. I think sometimes today’s pop music lacks the meaning in both music and lyrics. A lot of songs are written to turn up a party or make references to consumer culture that’s easy to relate to on a surface level. There’s some really great pop out there, and there are artists who definitely get meaning into both. I guess for me the most important thing is that there’s balance. Our album, from title and lyrics to sound, was rooted in the concept of an apastron, which in basic terms is the point at which a celestial object is farthest from the star or object it’s orbiting. Lyrically there are comparisons between Kepler’s Law of Planetary Motion and the forces pulling people together and pushing them apart. ‘Pale Blue’ is inspired by a speech by Carl Sagan called A Pale Blue Dot, which amongst other things touches on the relative meaningless of human conflict from the cosmic perspective. We tried to make the music speak to the theme too. We settled on a space between creating soundscapes and writing songs. Each song is progressive, whenever an idea returned, we tried to give it a sense of evolution. Writing with a sort of cyclical pattern, still bound by the passing of linear time.
Diamond Thug recently released ‘Apastron’, your debut album. What is the most memorable response you have had to your music?
I think it’s the ongoing way in which our listeners have been engaging with it. They’ve really dived in at a level that we had hoped they would. We wanted to write an album that varied emotionally, that had the sort of complexities we face both in our daily lives and our deep wonderings. We hoped people would properly engage with it and a lot of them have. Seeing people resonate with ideas, emotions and questions you put out is really fulfilling as an artist.
If there is a single emotion you want fans to experience at one of your shows, what would that be? Why?
I think the point of our sets are that audiences don’t have to be stuck in a single state for 45 minutes. We drift from ecstasy to reflection, sometimes it’s light and fun, other times it gets a little more dark and aggressive. If I had to choose a single feeling, it’d be the feeling that your far away in some remote spot, surrounded by nature and you look at the stars and just marvel at how big and beautiful it all is. You forget everything else in the world for those moments. That’s something I’d love to make people feel.
As musician who has been part of the music industry for a couple of years now, is there something about the industry that you feel should change/can be improved upon?
I know it’s tough on the pockets of fans in these tough times, but I think people need to be willing to pay more money to watch musicians put on shows. Over the past few years the prices of everything has gone up, but tickets have sort of stayed in this ridiculously low bracket. It takes a lot of time and effort to put on a great show, and far more to get to a point where you’re capable of doing so. I’ve seen a lot of really great bands rise and fall because they couldn’t sustain their careers. I think we’ve all missed out on tons of great music because of that. If you like watching world-class live music, you have to help create it by really supporting it.
You’ll be gracing the stage at the 2018 edition of Endless Daze in South Africa. What can fans expect from the performance? What makes this festival so special?
We’ll definitely be leaning towards our more psychedelic and experimental repertoire. We’re also working on finishing up a new song that we hope to play for the first time at ED, it’s probably one of my favourites of anything we’ve written. There’s so much that makes Endless Daze special, there’s an emphasis on production quality that creates a space where it’s easy for artists to do their best. The capacity is perfect, the crowd feels big, but it’s still small enough to find your friends. The location is one of the best I’ve experienced, there’s a beach and good toilets. I’ve attended every Endless Daze they’ve thrown. I’ve wanted to play it every year and I’m really stoked we will be playing it this year.
Apart from your performance at the acclaimed Endless Daze festival, what does the future hold for Diamond Thug?
We’re busy making plans to get over to the UK & EU next year for an extended period of time. We’re spending the rest of the year playing a few shows, but we’re really focusing on recording a whole lot of new music. We have a lot of unfinished songs that need to get out.
Ticketing and event information on Endless Daze can be found on their website.