New Brownswood recruit Skinny Pelembe makes his maiden voyage to Bristol this month with his new afro-tipped, psychedelic soul EP, Sleep More, Make More Friends.
Born in Johannesburg and raised in Doncaster, the producer, multi-instrumentalist, singer and MC signed to Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings earlier this year, debuting with downtempo-meets-melodious masterpiece I’ll Be on Your Mind. It followed his 7 Year Curse EP, which he self released in 2017 on his Skinny’s Own imprint, while under the mentorship of Brownswood’s Future Bubblers talent development programme (whose current cohort includes Bristol’s own Kayla Painter).
Brownswood have been continuing to help broadcast his skills and range throughout 2018, with more releases including the psychedelic Split / Swallow and boom bap heavy I Just Wanna Be Your Prisoner featuring Hejira, from the new EP – released at the end of last week.
In a seemingly short time, things have skyrocketed for the singer-producer, who just a few months ago supported Nightmares on Wax at the behest of Lauren Laverne. However, when people’s ears clap on to such a talent, word spreads quickly.
effortlessly transitioning between psychedelic rock grooves and classic hip hop cut ’n’ paste styles to create his own mellow sound
Clearly technically adept, effortlessly transitioning between psychedelic rock grooves and classic hip hop cut ’n’ paste styles to create his own mellow sound, Skinny is also a natural creative – even to the point of writing in his sleep. Skinny explains:
‘Once I’m happy with a beat, I put it on loop and go to sleep. Hopefully when I wake up, it’s somehow seeped into my head. I’ll play guitar over the top of it, then usually get rid of the sample because I can’t afford it, and try and fill in the gaps. Then I’ll bring what I’ve got to the live band and try and incorporate a little bit of them into it as well – I’m trying to not be such a control freak any more!
‘Any time I have an idea, I lay it down straight away. It’s natural for me, because it’s the way I cope with everything. It’s a kind of therapy – I need to do it rather than want to do it.’
It’s a kind of therapy – I need to do it rather than want to do it
This creativity transcends the music making process process, with Skinny having shot most of his own music videos himself. Despite signing to a notable label with a budget behind them, Skinny shot his Brownswood debut I’ll Be on Your Mind using his Samsung Galaxy on a budget of £10.
‘Again, it’s the control freak in me’ he explains. ‘I don’t really want to hand things over to people, because all my songs are really personal and I feel a bit weird giving that vision to someone else and seeing what they do with it. That said, we’re currently filming the first video where I’m not all over the whole creative process, so I guess I’m learning to let go.’
He also takes charge of most of the track artwork, painting the cover for forthcoming EP, Sleep More, Make More Friends. ‘It’s a melted self portrait – which is kind of how I was feeling at the time’ he says.
Known worldwide for embracing the experimental and groovier side of electronic music, Skinny Pelembe fits right into the Brownswood roster. On top of that, the approval of Gilles Peterson comes with a certain amount of kudos.
‘Working with Brownswood has given me more confidence to run with the ideas that I have. In the beginning, I thought some ideas would be seen as silly, but having the backing of people who I think are really cool saying “yeah go for it” is great. Brownswood have given me a lot of confidence and creative freedom.
‘On I’ll Be on Your Mind, I got the sound of an elephant, which I really wanted but thought would be preposterous, and I mapped to it a keyboard and played the elephant through the keyboard, then put that through an amplifier so it sounded like the kind of guitar I really wanted to have but can’t really play.’
While Skinny’s sound sits well within certain worlds, occupied by the likes of Jordan Rakei and Tom Mische, it’s impossible to compare him to another artist
While Skinny’s sound sits well within certain worlds, occupied by the likes of Ninja Tune’s Jordan Rakei and Tom Mische, it’s impossible to compare him to another artist. He arrives at his sound via a South African heritage and North of England upbringing, with a clear appreciation of many different genres that he doesn’t shy away from letting seep through into his songs.
I’d love to be somewhere between Mad Lib and Neil Young
‘For me, I’d love to be somewhere between Mad Lib and Neil Young, they’re the go-to people that I listen to all the time. I guess there are four check boxes that I feel like I’m ticking in my head; the feel and attitude of garage rock – kind of Iggy and the Stooges I Wanna Be Your Dog attitude. Also the laid backness of dub production, then also a really strong hip hop sampling aesthetic. Finally, being able to play it on a guitar. Ultimately, good songwriting is guitar. If you can’t play it on a guitar or a piano on its own, it’s not really a song. A song you can strip way back and it’s still brilliant. I really love that and I try to be able to do that even with the weirdest songs that I’ve got.’
Ultimately, good songwriting is guitar. If you can’t play it on a guitar or a piano on its own, it’s not really a song
When Skinny Pelembe comes to Bristol’s Exchange this September as part of the Colston Hall Presents series, fans will get to witness this live, as he brings a full five-piece band with him to play the tracks live. It’s also something he incorporates into his recordings – despite having the skillset to complete full tracks on his own – heading to the studio with a huge array of collaborators, vocalists and musicians, before creating the finished project on his computer.
‘I guess there’s no science to prove it or explain it, but when somebody really means something when they play it and you’re in a room with however many other people, you can capture the sound of everybody really feeling something in the studio – you can capture the sound of them smiling. That’s what I’ve been saying to my producer on this album. I’m not mad fussed if I’m getting the tightest takes, I want the takes of the band smiling in the studio and then I’ll fuck around with it afterwards. It’s getting the vibe of happy people in the studio.
there’s no science to prove it or explain it, but when somebody really means something when they play it (…) you can capture the sound of them smiling
‘Every time we play the tunes live as a band, they kill it – I’m the weak link in the chain, which is exactly what I wanted. It’s amazing.’
The full Sleep More, Make More Friends EP has just dropped on Brownswood Recordings, however Skinny confirms that there is more new music on its way, including a choral composition with his keys player Chloe Beth Smith and the Field Notes Choir for the Future Bubblers 2.0 compilation, also dropping this September, plus a full album due early next year.
Unfortunately, he’s having to stay tight lipped about the project – ‘There are two very great legends who I did some tracks with and they’ll kill me if I say that they’ve been working together.’
There are two very great legends who I did some tracks with and they’ll kill me if I say that they’ve been working together
Photos by Karolina Wielocha & Auriane Defert