Sway is one of South Africa’s most popular female psy-trance DJs. She’s also the co-owner of Beartrap Productions; the organisation behind three of Cape Town’s major outdoor festivals, namely Ground Zero, Celestial Beings and Remanufacture (that is to take place on the 16th of November). Within the psy community, she’s affectionately referred to as Mama Bear, but her real name is Laura Ann Rix. During the past fifteen years Laura has progressed from capturing Cape Town’s psychedelic scene on camera to blasting her banging beats to thousands of fans on the dance floor nation-wide. Sway’s musical style can be described as powerful, bouncy, fun and always unexpected. She draws influence from a range of genres including full on, hard trance to electro and progressive. Through Beartrap Laura has exposed South African trance-enthusiasts to A-listing international acts such as Mystical Complex, Dapanji, CPU, Mekkanikka, Bizzare Contact, Exaile, Orca and Skazi. Laura firmly believes in engaging with her audience whether she’s in the DJ box, on the dance floor or online. Although her passion lies in outdoor parties, she frequents the indoor scene during winter too. You need only experience a Sway set live to feel the genuine love Laura has for psytrance and her fans.
At MMD, photo by: Llyod Newkirk Photography.
Psyked: Hi Laura, I’m psyked to be chatting to you today, I’m a huge fan! You’re not only a resident DJ at Beartrap Productions. You’re co-owner. When did your involvement with Beartrap begin?
Sway: Sho, it all started with my husband. Before we were married he hooked up with this little gang of guys from Stellenbosch who owned Beartrap. They were all local kids who went to varsity there and they all knew eachother. They grew up on the farms of Stellenbosch and they had a massive following. My husband would do the sound for them. Then they grew up and out of trance parties and decided that they didn’t want Beartrap anymore, and were just going to let it go. So my husband bought Beartrap from them and we’ve kept it and built it up again over the next seven years. Doing production is an experience. It’s something I love. I’ve worked for Investec, I’ve worked for I.T companies, I’ve worked for programming companies, that’s what I used to do for a living. But I hated it. Hate, hate, hate!
Psyked: What was the first party you ever played at and how has the scene and your music evolved since then?
Sway: Now, that’s a good question. The first gig I ever had was at the old Gettafix, I thank Bruce for that. He’ll always be my hero. He gave me my first gig. Dave Mac gave me my second break which was at a club above Mama Africa called Upstairs, which my husband owned though we weren’t married at the time. That’s how I met him.
My first outdoor party was a Beartrap event, and funnily enough I was supposed to play in the evening but there was some issue with the generator, so they had to put me on in the afternoon. Rinkadink and Broken Toy played at that party too. It was very rustic back then. Parties weren’t like they are now, there weren’t the event regulations that we now have to guide things. Mostly, they were really well organised squat parties. It was fun, it was underground. Everyone was grubby and dirty. Layered clothes and dread-locks were the in-thing. It’s changed since then, I think it’s become slightly more sophisticated. If you look at the younger kids who come into the scene now, they all come from a club background. They come to outdoor parties not necessarily for the psy but for the outdoor party experience. I think, as organisers, we should acknowledge that. This season, Beartrap is going to break away from our tried-and-tested formula which has worked in the past. Now, we have our following, we have our base and we are going to try to give people more of what they want.
At Fiction, photo by: Equinox Experience.
Psyked: From the organiser’s perspective, what’s it like trying to cater for such a growing scene? Is it more difficult nowadays because there are so many party-goers? Are there more needs to satisfy?
Sway: I find that the biggest problem is that five years ago there was a party every two weeks and every one got a certain amount of people. Everyone’s parties did well because there was enough of a break in between each one. But now, there’s a party every single weekend, and every season. I think there are enough people to feed all the parties but I don’t think that outdoor psy trance has the pull to get enough of those people to all of those parties. For example, if on one weekend nearly five thousand people go to The Sunflower Festival and nearly the same number attend Alien Safari the following weekend, there’s a pull of ten thousand people you can tap into. But a lot of those people are not coming for the psy and that’s what makes it hard. They’re coming for the outdoor experience so they’re going for the brands they know. You have to build up your brand. I think it’s going to be tough on the smaller guys this season. People are going to have to think clever with what they’re doing.
At the The Village, photo by: LVstar Photography.
Our philosophy has been to always bring only new talent to Cape Town. We debuted Menog, Smash3D, Tryambaka, Dapanji, Sinful Reactions, Orca and the list goes on and and on. Then we see other people bringing out acts that we debuted. Because we debuted them we did okay but now they’re making the money on it. This season, we’re bringing out Class A who was just here for Sunflower and got a really good reception. And we’re bringing Dapanji back. Hopefully we’ll debut Ranji’s progressive project as well, which is very funky and very sexy music. We’re also going to look at bringing down acts that have done well in the past but we’ll still try and bring new talent in also. I don’t like force-feeding people things. In the past when we asked for feedback from the fans regarding the acts they wanted to see, they’d just repeat acts that have already been here. But it’s slowly changing and I feel that the psy followers are becoming more involved in what the artists are doing by getting to know which acts are connected to which, who is collaborating with who, what the different sounds are, where the DJs are playing and so forth. I don’t think it was like that five years ago, so that’s brilliant.
Sway with Bliss, photo by: Dreamer.
Psyked: Speaking about progressive, at the Eqlipse Full Moon event this winter you played a more “progressive” set. We’ve seen many progressive side projects start up lately. For example, Bruce has Synchronist and EMP has Contra. Can we expect any more prog from Sway?
Sway: It’s a hard one. I don’t think prog is the right word. We need to come up with a different way to describe what Class A, Ghost rider, Neelix, Morten Granau and those guys are producing because it’s not progressive. But this is the tag we have given it cause it’s slower. The music Gandalf plays, for example, is slightly more progressive in style (even what Wulfsohn played at Equinox Exclusive).
I still see it as full-on, it’s just slower. So we’re not looking at 145 BPM, we’re looking at 135 BPM, which is quite a lot slower when you have to move your feet to it. I really love it. I think it’s funky, I think it’s sexy. And I think it’s got melody, it’s got groove and it’s got the most essential psy trance quality which is a banging bass line! So yes, I played the same kind of set at Sunflower. I’d like to do the more “progressive” thing under another project name but it’s a challenge because Sway is already well known for the psytrance/techno sound. I’d happily play the progressive tunes on a Saturday night when a Sway set is booked but I still want to do a full-on set at the party. (Yes, it’s selfish, I admit it). I don’t want to lose touch with the full-on. That’s what I love. That’s how people know me and love me, too.
Psyked: I’ve heard that when you’re behind the DJ box that you adapt and alter your set according to the particular crowd. How does the vibe and energy of the dance floor actually affect you as a performer?
Sway: That’s a powerful question, Tia! It all depends on the event. At The Side Show, for example, I play for a more commercial crowd. So I know that if I play tracks from Smashed or Orca, they might not go down as well. I can still play them and the dance floor will still jump up and down but ultimately, as a DJ my job is to be a conduit for music and to give the dance floor what they want. A producer gives the dance floor what they play, a DJ has to read the dance floor. On the other hand, when I play at Equinox Experience (Wednesdays at Fiction) I will play a similar set but less commercial with less vocals and when I play at Vortex, I’ll plan a set that is much more psy-orientated, without any vocals at all. Having said that though, if I drop a track and see that the dance floor doesn’t respond or the back of the dance floor starts to empty out, I don’t play the whole track. I immediately move to something else and I’ll change the style, change the sound of the bass line, change the tempo and bring in a little bit of electro or whatever.
At Mungus Fungus.
I’d say the hardest dancefloor I ever played to was a crowd, this winter, who just wanted electro. It didn’t matter what I did, they weren’t interested. It might even have been at the Side Show. I remember I dropped Scrovinsky, Skrillex and Deadmau5 and suddenly the dancefloor just picked up. I wasn’t even playing psy trance anymore but luckily I just happened to love that music and I had it in my bag. As a DJ you have to adapt. I have eaten a DJ’s set list that was given to me on a piece of paper, so I feel quite strongly about that. Know the direction of your set, maybe have an idea for your first track, see how the dance floor responds to that and then take it from there, that’s your job.
Psyked: Is there an event you’ve played at this year that you really enjoyed, or a moment when you really felt the vibe of the dance floor?
Sway: At The Village at the end of last season, I played an old school set on the second dancefloor. Then they closed the main dancefloor a bit earlier so everyone came down there and then I went from playing a two hour old school set to playing a nearly two hours long Sway set. The dancefloor underneath that small tent was just amazing! Everyone was obviously still psyked up from what they were getting on the main stage and they just brought that whole massive vibe with them. It was super.
At the Soulstice Festival, photo by: Michael Yankelev.
I thoroughly enjoyed playing at the SOULSTICE FESTIVAL in Joburg too. The crowd is different, it reminds me of the old free range parties from eight- ten years ago that I never ever played at because I wasn’t DJ-ing back then. But it’s a very hard crowd. They’re not like Cape Town fans who are super vocal. That’s why the international acts love playing here. Nobody shouted on the dancefloor in Joburg, it took me 45 minutes into my hour set to get a whoohoo from them. I really had to work it hard.
Psyked: Would you say that the Joburg psy scene is growing somewhat?
Sway: I definitely feel that it is. They also have a much more forgiving winter so their outdoor season can potentially be longer. It’s freezing there at night to the degree that your fingers will stick to the buttons on the mixer. But even though it’s cold, it’s not wet like Cape Town so during the day the sun will shine and people can still party. I think the Joburg scene is growing. There are a lot of good organisations out there who are buying space and every one of them seems to have their own unique brand, style and what they want to offer. I think that’s important. I see a massive amount of support by the organiser for each other which is great, too.
Psyked: So Remanufacture is coming up and it’s Beartrap’s first outdoor party of the season. The theme this year is IndepenDANCE, what inspired the name and what’s the message behind it?
Sway: The Cape Town scene has become very competitive among the organisers. Once upon a time in a land far, far away, we were all really close friends. I would go as far as to say that we’re still friends but it’s become competitive. I can’t say much more than that. It’s something that’s new-ish to the scene and it’s not something I love about it but it’s inevitable. As I told Psymedia in my interview last year, the only thing that we can expect from this scene is change and if we try hold onto it and to keep it the way it was five years ago we are going to throttle it to death. We have to let it evolve. It’s a living, growing community. The indepenDANCE theme is about that. It seems people bleat about which party is better, which party is bigger, who’s throwing the party, who’s going to the party, whether they have been doing it for a decade or one year. But, I don’t think this is the criteria that should be instrumental in fans deciding which events to go to.
At Remanufacture 2012, photo by: Emelen Photography.
There’s a Deadmau5 track where the intro said it best: it’s about the music. It’s about a place where music is more important than the promoter, the venue, the DJ, what your man thinks, what your woman thinks. The music is more important than your clique or your clothes. It’s about coming together, being free to dance, to laugh, to express and to do it outdoors and have an amazing time, and be independent from all the bullsh*t that goes on. That’s what we want to do with this party, we want fans to disconnect and reconnect with this in mind.
Psyked: We all know that Dapanji is coming back to Cape Town for Remanufacture, how exciting is this for Beartrap and for you on a personal level?
Sway: Well when they came down for our 10th anniversary – which was our first really “big” party – they were the first internationals that I really connected with. They’re such down to earth, real guys and they had such an awesome time. So I’ve been waiting a while. And I can’t believe they were actually here in February of 2012, a year and a half ago. It seems like five years ago! When they got on the plane to go back home we said we’re bringing you down again as soon as the time is right. So when Beartrap decided to bring down an artist that had already rocked Cape Town, I knew it had to be Dapanji. I’m super excited and I’m excited for Ranji to showcase his other projects because he’s really blossomed as an artist. Everyone knows Dapanji as super psy tech with it’s funky beats but I think people are going to be really surprised at what Ranji has to offer with respect to this progressive style which is born from full-on and it is very warming to know that these guys can actually make more than just full-on. They clearly are musicians in their own right. They’re not just guys who are striping together little bits of digital data on a computer. So I am super excited about that.
Read Part 2: Exclusive Interview with Sway.
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