Jullian Gomes: Pretoria house hits Sonar Barcelona

Pretoria house music producer Jullian Gomes slipped through Cape Town’s Red Bull Studios to put the finishing touches to a set destined for the pinnacle of global electronic music, Barcelona’s annual Sonar Festival.

*This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight; section on 18 – 19 June 2011.

Jullian Gomes: Pretoria house hits Sonar Barcelona

Jullian Gomes is something of a conundrum – he’s small and softly-spoken, with a quiet and understated mode of dress. So much so, in fact, that it’s hard to imagine floor-grabbing sets of music issuing forth from this compact and unassuming package. Not to say that Gomes’ take on house music is all banging beats and overwrought vocals – it’s a far deeper and funkier potion that he mixes, and one that’s seen him hold dancefloors enticed and enthralled since 2003. Last year, he played his first overseas sets as one of two South Africans invited to take part in the annual Red Bull Music Academy in London and has now been invited to play the Sonar Festival in Barcelona, alongside electronic and experimental music giants like M.I.A., Aphex Twin, Steve Reich, Four Tet, Underworld, Boys Noize and Mzansi’s own Die Antwoord.

“I’ve heard so many stories about the festival,” says Gomes as we sit on the couch inside Cape Town’s Red Bull Studios. It’s quite a thing for an interviewer to be seated there. During studio workshops and academies, this is where the interviews take place for the assembled audience and to be broadcast to the world. Previous sessions on this very sofa have included talks with Hugh Masekela, Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, Steve Aoki, Boom Monk Ben, Ninja Tune legends DJ Food, local pioneers like Theo Crous and Krushed ‘n Sorted and many, many more. “People say there are lots of good things at Sonar, ” continues Gomes, “Black Coffee played there and Culoe (De Song) played, and they told me about how it was for them, plus I’ve seen all the pictures and videos of their sets. It looks like a good gig.”

Gomes gives a nod to the fact that he’s not the first South African invited to present South African house at the esteemed international stage, and rightly so, as explained by Richard Rumney, who runs South Africa’s Red Bull Studios, is a past editor of the leading local music publication, Music Industry Online, and is an old-hand when it comes to Sonar, having attended multiple previous festivals.

“Electronic music in South Africa is one of the styles that is leading the scene,” says Rumney. “Of course it’s great that Jullian is playing there, but I’d also have to say that if Sonar didn’t have someone from the South African house scene there, then it would be an oversight on their part. A lot of the rest of the world is looking towards what’s happening here, especially in terms of what they call ‘South African rhythmic house’ and all the perversions and mutations of it.”

“Jullian will be playing at what they call Sonar By Day, which has a variety of stages with everything ranging from very experimental electronica to deeply chilled lounge sessions. He’s playing on a stage that’s a bit more of a party stage and is closing that floor on the Thursday night, playing the biggest set of that stage to probably about 3 000 people. Black Coffee played that set in 2006 – or it might have been 2007 – and it was a beautiful set, perfect for the Barcelona summer – and people in that city know how to party; ending off with the day party after sunset, so somewhere around 10 or 11pm. Then having dinner and getting ready to go out for the evening party, where the clubs only open at 1am. Then they party through until sunrise, and end off on a beach somewhere. After Black Coffee, they booked Thabo “T Man” (Konopi) and then Culoe De Song.”

How does Gomes feel about the expectations that follow being classed alongside big South African names like these? He gives a smile and a shrug and says, “I’ve known Culoe for the longest time. Before… how would you say it? Before he blew up and became so big. He’s from Durban, but we know one another from playing together. Black Coffee, I met him in Pretoria in a record store in 2004 or 2005 so I’ve known him since, like, Grade 9 or 10. Being in the same industry, we’ve worked together on a few occasions too.”

Is it really that the young DJ and producer feels so little pressure about his pending international set at the world’s largest annual expose of this sort of music? Again, Gomes, offers a smile and a bit of a shrug. “At Sonar, I’ll do like I always do. With music, you have to take people on a journey. That’s always what it is, no matter where you play or how many people you are playing for. So, I have my music but I haven’t really planned my set – I will take it on the moment and play what’s right for what I feel. It’s like being here in Cape Town, in the studio to create some new tracks. I could never go into the studio just for the sake of making music – there has to be something there. Even though I am not a songwriter who does it with vocals, there has to be something that you are going through, some emotion or feeling, to make the music and the sounds that I am using.”

Jullian Gomes is released locally on Multi Racial Records and House Afrika, and internationally on Earthrumental and Realtone Records and has recently begun international collaborations with UK veteran, Atjazz and on a new South African project, G Family. Also look out for the new label he is forming, Phoonshai Records, a name which plays homage to his family’s roots in Madeira. More on MySpace.com/JullianGomes and http://2011.sonar.es, as well as on Red Bull Music Radio at RedBull.com.

8This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight; section on 18 – 19 June 2011. Find out more on Tonight.co.za