Sibot's Journey Pt. 1: Hard Work Beats Talent

Mohato Lekena / August 10, 2017

“Talent” has become too romantic a word to describe the real world. It negates everything else that it takes to make a great artist, or a great writer or a great producer, and replaces it with magic. When I first heard enigmatic producer and performer Sibot play, I similarly thought he had appeared fully formed, from nowhere, with that elusive word, “talent”. He was influential, with a long list of collaborators, but almost no beginning to think of. Sibot appears to be an ever-present force in the scene. This type of thinking, though flattering, is deeply flawed and misrepresents how people become great – how every big performance or collaboration for someone like Sibot is the culmination of decades of concerted passion.

Early influences
“In the beginning of high school I wasn't very musical, but both my brothers were,” says Sibot, when asked about early influences growing up in Johannesburg. His brothers both played drums, initially eclipsing him, until they didn’t. 

“I quickly worked out that I was capable of keeping up with them, and even getting better than them, with time. They gave up, and I carried on.” If determination characterised that success, it was passion that would truly set the momentum for Sibot’s future.

“Throughout high-school, I was listening to a lot of hip hop, and after high-school I went overseas for a bit to try do some work in Europe. On that trip I spent a lot of time alone, listening to Lyricist's Lounge and the Eminem album that came out in ‘99. That totally changed me and imprinted itself on me. My love for hip hop is still very present today.”

Sibot was already interested in the mechanics of DJing and how to get onto the club scene. Returning from Europe, he was ready to make an impact on his home city with new ammunition in the form of a vinyl collection of songs he loved – spanning from early Rawkus Records acts like Company Flow, to more left-field icons like DJ Shadow.

The Joburg scene
“I started playing at Under The Counter at a place called 208 on Tuesdays. That would have been around 1999 to 2001,” says Sibot of those early days cutting his teeth as a DJ. The mechanics of those spaces wasn’t perfect, but still provided opportunities and motifs that would last. 

“There was more of a white scene in Joburg at 208, though it was still quite mixed, and a more black scene in downtown Joburg at a place called The Club. There was a DJ battle there that I won, wearing a mask and gloves so nobody knew I was a white guy… that’s where I first met Ninja [then Waddy Jones] and we started Max Normal after”

Moving towards production
With Max Normal, Sibot moved away from only being a scratch DJ to choosing and looping pieces of music on the decks, while the rest of the band played around them, underscoring Waddy’s subversive raps. In this way, he and the band worked as a production team, defining the music together around Sibot’s loops and performing it live.

At this point, the cross-pollination between the rap scenes in the country’s two major hubs (Johannesburg and Cape Town) meant involvement for Sibot with crews from both. He had met members from the influential rap group 5th Floor and hit it off with them immediately, which led to providing production for them too.

“At the time, Joburg and Cape Town, for me, weren’t that different,” says Sibot. “Look at Groundworks and 5th Floor as the groups that were quite big; they were based both in Joburg and Cape Town. It didn't feel so separated.”

DJing had opened up a new world of production and created a platform for collaboration with a broader musical community. The next phase of Sibot’s career, though, would look beyond turntables. 

“My goal then was to make music, have it pressed onto vinyl, and play it myself. That was before I discovered you could play live with samplers. So, when I discovered that I didn't need to press records and I could play music on machines, my whole path changed again...”

​Part two of this series will focus on the shift in Sibot’s career towards electronic music, and ultimately to forging a career as solo behemoth.

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