Discovering South Africa’s Diamond Thug Is More Than A Happy Accident [INTERVIEW] BC ARTIST PROFILE: DIAMOND THUG
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It was the name of their group that piqued my curiosity at first: Diamond Thug. Then it was a live-to-tape video of them I found online performing “Slow Down” that made me reply to an email from their publicist about possibily meeting up at SXSW.
This quartet- Chantel Van T (Vocals + Keys), Danilo Queiros (Bass + Production), Adrian Culhane (Guitar/Backing Vocals + Production) and Ted Buxton (Drums)-from Cape Town, South Africa has been playing together since 2015, and has been able to create a unique sound that takes advantage of a wide swath of musical technology from synths to midi-clocks, creating a sonic soundscape that compliments their lead singer’s unique vocals.
Amidst the hectic bustle of the first official day of SXSW’s music festival, we took some time to chat and snap some casual photos.
Did you guys know each other before forming the band?
Danilo: We met each other through this music. I met Chantal through an ex-boyfriend of hers that I was studying with and I interviewed Adrian on a radio show on the University of Cape Town radio station. Actually, I interviewed both of them in their previous bands. Then, when I started making music with Chantal, Adiran’s old band had moved to Australia and he wanted to play with us. I met Ted through a friend of mine who he was dating. It’s sort of like everyone I know is through dating a friend of mine.
So this band was formed from failed relationships?
(Shared amused agreement.)
Chantal: And also by accident. Like Ted sneaking behind stage at a festival that we played in South Africa, and he was like, “Just hug me. I’m not allowed to be here right now. Pretend I’m your cousin,” and then he became the drummer soon after.
Are there any bands right now that you’re kind of influenced by?
Chantal: […] We all have very different music influences, but then there’s some very key collective ones so Tame Impala, Foals. (General shared mumbled agreement from others.) Bombay Bicycle Club. Yeah, um, those are like the three…Radiohead is also quite a big band favorite.
Danilo: Those are probably our four biggest “like” bands.
Chantal: And Alt-J is band that we all like as well.
What’s is the most recent thing you’ve worked on?
Danilo: [We] released an acoustic track called “Kommetjie” which is [the name of] a small village south of Cape Town.
Chantal: I used to live there, yeah.
Danilo: We released that September last year, […] but “Long Way” is our biggest single, and gives a better idea the sort of direction our music takes on our new album. It’s a bit more “electronicky” … a bit more like a journey in the song.
So when you guys write music, where does it come from? Does it start with a melody or a lyric? How does it start?
Danilo: [W]e do a lot of writing as a group. But it will sort of be someone’s idea moving forward an initial riff, or an initial bass line, or an initial vocal melody that sort of we think, “Ah, there’s a song there.” Sometimes it’ll just happen from someone playing guitar by themselves […]. [O]ther times it will just be us standing together messing around between practicing existing songs.
So, for the most part, it’s a real collaborative effort between all four of you guys?
Chantal: Well, I can say for the lyric and melody side of it, sometimes it very much stems from writing poems and things like that, but then when you come together as a group, it’s quite cool to see how then someone else reacts to it and says, “Like, this is how I see it.” It’s always changing […] it’s a collaborative thing. But it always comes from an idea, and I never kind of let go of that feeling cuz to me it’s all about that feeling. Then the collaboration visualizes it and we get it where we feel the song needs to be.
Danilo: I think also what happens is we all want to be playing music that we all enjoy so it’s not like we’ll play a song if we don’t like it. Everyone has to like the song. Everyone has to say, “I like every part of the song,” for us to feel like it’s a well written song.
Ted: Yeah, if someone doesn’t like a part, we hold nothing back from each other. If we don’t like a bass line or guitar line we’re like “No, sorry, I don’t like that.”
Is there a song that has a more significant meaning than other songs?
Chantal: I think one that we all really enjoy playing live is on our EP “Monday Will Have To Wait”, “Beauty Through the Devil’s Door”, because of the feeling it evokes. I mean, it probably means something very different to everybody [but], it has this amazing kind of metaphor. [It] starts off […] easy and slow [then] sort of explodes towards the end [with] feeling […].
Ted: [W]hen we write music, it’s very much about getting from a point A to point B, and not about writing parts that we stitch together. So, […] while you might hear a verse come back with the same chord progression, we try to make every verse sound quite different with each chorus building … and the last chorus should be the biggest […] soundscape in a sort of way that’s very ambient. But, just like when things change […] and there’s things to listen to, I think it goes with Chantel’s lyrical writing that it’s often like a story that develops quite metaphorically and we try to make the music feel pretty similar to that.
So, the name of the band, Diamond Thug. What does that mean?
Adrian: I mean the name…I didn’t come up with the name. Danilo’s got a tattoo of a diamond on the side of his foot.
Danilo: Like a hand-poked prison tattoo style. I just had a friend who took a needle and stuck it in my foot a few times. It was a name that started off when we were a making a more electronicky, hip hoppy sort of stuff. It made more sense then…
Chantal: It’s like a secret thing. No one really knows what it means, but for some reason we’ve kept it and it feels right.
It’s like an accident; a happy accident.
Chantal: Yeah, a happy accident and now you stick with it. Go with it.
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Derrick K. Lee is a music attorney, blogger, concert photographer and co-owner of Blurred Culture. He goes to a lot of shows and sometimes he writes good. Music is his boo.
All photos are edited with iPhoto. Lightroom edits can be made upon request. For prints and/or approvals for special uses of any photo taken by Derrick, please contact him directly.