A Sort Of Homecoming

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Sunday May 29 2011 (Michael Bugeja - The Sunday Times of Malta)

South Central - Boys in the hood

As the dense cloud of dry ice engulfing the stage thins out, the silhouettes of two young men in black jeans and face-concealing trademark hoodies emerge from the swirls of smoke, their appearance accompanied by a hard-hitting electronic beat that the crowd before them instantly tunes in and literally goes crazy to. This is essentially what went down when Brighton-based Maltese lads South Central followed up Fatboy Slim’s DJ set at Ta’ Qali last month, but it could just as easily refer to any of their performances in the past two years or so, whether headlining their own gigs in the UK, Europe and beyond, as opening acts on tour with The Prodigy and Pendulum, performing on the same stage as Rage Against The Machine in Finsbury Park or wrapping up the Sonisphere Festival after Iron Maiden last year.

Rage Against The Machine and Iron Maiden? These are hardly bands one would expect an electronic act to perform with, surely! “To be entirely honest, we were scared stiff of stepping onto the stage after Iron Maiden since we had to close the festival” Rob, the keyboard-handling half of this much-talked about duo admits, adding that it actually went rather well despite their fears. “Seeing thousands of rockers getting into our music was quite a pleasant surprise”.

The duo’s connection with rock festivals is more plausible when one bears in mind that South Central’s earlier work involved a fair bit of guitarwork. “It did…but that was then, and this is now”, Keith, the computer whiz half of South Central states quite matter-of-factly. A dab hand at inventing customised sound gadgets and devices, he is also the one responsible for the stream of warped, processed beats and sounds that reel out incessantly from the speakers during live performances. “We’ve moved on from the stuff that’s on (2008 compilation) The Owl of Minerva”. Not dismissing guitars entirely, as anything and everything can be used in the studio, he defines their music now as “dominated by synths; a clear pointer that we’re moving more towards electronica instead of flitting in between genres”.

Given that new album Society of the Spectacle was finished around a year ago (although it was only released last month), where are their musical bearings rooted right now? “Well, to tell you the truth, we’ve even moved further on from the songs on the album”, Rob explains. “As we’re promoting the album, we obviously need to focus on that as well as taking care of our fanbase”. Keith concurs, but assures me that they’ll still be “doing their thing”, which he explains, “is basically to find the right balance of dance-orientated music that will still appeal to audiences beyond the clubbing circuit”. Acknowledging the indie-dance streak at the core of South Central’s early releases, this rather seems like the next logical step, perhaps more so given they’ve spent so much time on the road with The Prodigy and Pendulum, whose music is equally informed by an electro-rock crossover.

Having toured and performed in so many different cities and countries, it may seem odd that South Central only got to perform in Malta last year, when they opened for The Prodigy. “We had obviously wanted to play here for ages, but hadn’t got the opportunity”, Rob confirms. But did the experience live up to their expectations? “Well, the funny side of it was that no-one seemed to realize we’re Maltese. Everyone was interviewing us in English, so we surprised them all by answering in Maltese” he laughs. “Before we went on stage, I must admit we were a bit nervous”, Keith continues. “Despite the fact we’ve performed in various countries and been positively received, we had no clue what the Maltese crowd’s reaction to our music was going to be like. We were obviously thrilled that the home crowd embraced us totally”.

Strangely enough, the current two-man line-up is more often than not billed as a DJ act, when in reality it is much more than that. “Originally we started out with a full band line-up, but that format is currently on hold”, Rob explains. “We have to call our act a DJ set because we use bits of songs by other artists in our set”, he continues, obviously referring to the mind-blowing mash-ups of epic hits by Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine, Rammstein and countless other artists that they throw into the mix during their sets. “That said however, the music is actually played and processed live during the set, which gives us an edge over normal DJ sets as we have more freedom in changing and manipulating the music instantly in reaction to the crowd response”. To anyone still in doubt then, rest assured that Rob’s keyboards aren’t there as a prop, they’re very much live and plugged in and vital to the performance, which probably explains why he’s smashed a couple of them in the past when they failed to work properly. It’s something they both laugh about now, but I’m sure they seriously hope they won’t get to experience it too often.

If their way with a ‘DJ set’ seems rather outlandish, that’s probably because South Central don’t often do things the conventional way. Take the first single off the album for example; Demons was released as a free track with the Fireplayer remix app, which they agree was “a great marketing opportunity for us”. In contrast, they took a risk with the controversial music video for next single The Day I Die (which was recently also released through the Fireplayer app), which might be deemed as rather graphic by some. “We did take a risk with that video” Keith concedes, “but it was something we really wanted to do. There were mixed reactions to it, but I’d say that the majority of people understood the point behind it…and on a positive note, everyone liked the track”. Other hints of South Central’s far-from-ordinary approach are the inclusion of Gary Numan and A Place To Bury Strangers on the album. “Gary Numan is one of our heroes so working with him was a dream come true…an honour for us”, Rob assures me. “The collaboration with A Place To Bury Strangers came about after we met at a festival in France”. “We liked the sounds they use and the fact that they build their own effects pedals to create them. We connected through that”.

Despite the fact that the album is only weeks old, South Central’s focus is definitely not weighed down by related promotional duties. “We’re currently working on new singles which we’re keen to release so we can share where we’re at right now with our music”, Rob is keen to point out. Keith is just as enthusiastic. “We’ve been experimenting with some new sounds and techniques and I can tell you we’re quite excited with what we’ve done so far. Of course, before releasing anything there’s our first full gig in Malta this Saturday at Gianpula to look forward to. We’re planning to lay on something special for the occasion so we hope to see you there”.

South Central: Come Back Home Live will be held on Saturday at Gianpula. Local DJs Darvas, Jay Zinga (Mathematikal), Squeak and Lierbag will be performing. For more information about the event, visit www.knockoutevents.info.