Science fiction, tribal rituals, transpersonal psychology ... These are just a few of the ingredients that make up the metaphysical sonic force known as Portable AKA Bodycode, otherwise known by the name Alan Abrahams.
Born and raised in South Africa, Abrahams soaked up the continent's ancestral sounds. Later, he would begin channeling them through the futurism of techno, honing his singular brand of soul-infused electronica and hooking up with esteemed labels like Spectral Sound and Perlon.
Performing live, Abrahams aims for nothing short of a transcendental experience, with his music as a shamanic vehicle of collective psychic release. Find out for yourself when he throws down with SAFE and Miami favorite Stryke at the Electric Pickle this Friday.
In the meantime, see the cut for Crossfade's conversation with this fascinating mind.
Crossfade: Many would call Africa the cradle of dance music -- certainly of tribal rhythms. How did growing up in South Africa shape you musically? And how much of what you do as an electronic dance music producer can you attribute to Africa and how much to Europe?
Alan Abrahams: Growing up in Cape Town, South Africa, influenced my music in quite a substantial way. My auditive enviroment was constantly infused with the sounds of the African continent -- be it traditional indigenous music or the African soul sounds of Miriam Makeba or Hugh Masekela. The latter's ''Don't Go Lose It Baby'' is still stuck in my galaxy and my smart phone. In my very early days of composition, I used to collect field recordings of tribal music from all over the continent, mostly from the public library. I would sample, mutate and breathe a different breath into them. Use some of the elements and incorporate it into my music. This practice still stands today, as it's the backbone of my sound. I would consider this one as one element of my sound. The other side was my influences from early Chicago house music and techno. The first of which I was exposed to in the many illegal parties in South Africa. Upon moving to the UK, I further developed this sound in the form of my various albums and into the sound it is today.
What can you tell us about your development as a producer? And how did you that evolve from the studio to live performance?
I had no formal training. Growing up, I always yearned to play the piano, but my parents could never really afford anything of the sort. Upon leaving the nest, I got the next best thing: a Workstation -- Roland W30, no less -- back in the day before computer sequencers. Later, I got more involved in computer-generated music and later combined the two with various MIDI controllers -- the hardware and software combined as one. The live element added a whole new dimension to my sound. With the onset of Ableton Live, electronic musicians were really freed up to experiment in ways that didn't exist before. And now I'm singing live too, removing the often reviled boundary between electronic musician and audience.
Did singing come naturally to you? How do you approach the lyrical/vocal aspect of the songwriting process?
I always loved singing. Before Portable or Bodycode, I was part of a duet in South Africa called The Mighty Masses. We got a record deal, recorded the album. But then the label sat on it, as they couldn't place it within their idea of the "market." It wasn't "black enough." I abandoned that idea and threw myself into electronic music and instrumental expression -- the backbone of my early Portable compositions.
A few years ago, with the release of my first album on Ghostly/Spectral, The Conservation of Electric Charge, that fire was ignited by the track "I Data." This was explored more with my Perlon releases, "Know One Can Take Away" and [to an even fuller extent] on my current album Into Infinity. I'm reading a lot of science fiction and writing little lines and ideas down while reading, things I find pertinent to my life. Later, when I come up with a theme of a track, I throw those words around, mix them up, cook them, spice them up, and present you with a song. My current album draws heavily on the fact that I am in love. It's a love album. A deep touching emotive sound.
How did your Portable project first come about and how did that transition to your work as Bodycode? What differentiates the two?
My earliest Portable work was a type of reaction to dance music at the time. Rhythmic, but as a ghostly element of the dance music structure. Later, once I started touring, many of the offers were in club environments, so I needed to jack up my original Portable sound to be more dancey in live situations. Upon doing this at a gig in Detroit, the Ghostly/Spectral guys asked me to make a similar project for them, being one squarely aimed at the dancefloor, and Bodycode was born. The difference between the two lies in the fact that Portable still remains within the realms of experimental music -- my current album playing with the boundaries of pop-inspired music and underground house, and Bodycode [is] always squarely aimed at the dancefloor.
Did you feel a musical kinship with the Detroit school before joining the label? Or do you feel one now that you've released with them?
As far as kinship is concerned, I never thought of it in that way, really. I'd like to think of my music as universal. Not specifically from one city in the USA, but from the world as a whole.
You've described Bodycode as a channel for "unlocking the psyche via the body." How important is the psyche when it comes to the dancefloor? What emotions or subjective experiences are you looking to put listeners through with the music?
I've always felt that dancing, in its purest form, with only the aid of sound, can unlock the psyche. It's a type of communion with your inner self. I feel it really goes back to our ancestral times when we used to dance around the fire, as a form of communion with each other and our inner self. I feel that's what the dancefloor actually is, a kind of evolved fire-dancing ritual, a form of dance therapy as it were. I find this over and over during my live performances. It starts with me -- the energy I put into the performance directly reflects upon the energy felt on the dancefloor.
You seem to have a very conceptual approach to your music and artistic persona. What inspires you artistically and intellectually outside of music?
I draw a lot of my inspiration from nature. I try [to] take time out and withdraw from my hectic lifestyle. I also read a lot of science fiction and this bleeds across into my music and sound.
What prompted you to launch Süd Electronic and what's been going on with the label lately? Any forthcoming projects or releases?
We wanted to have a voice saying, This is South Africa's angle on electronic music -- "süd" meaning "south" in German. This past year we have been taking a little break. Lerato, my partner, with her label Uzuri, and me with my touring and album. But next year, we're set to relaunch the label with a remix release of one of my Portable tracks, "Albatross".
Where do you see yourself taking your projects and sound in the future? Are you planning to stay in the EDM game long-term? Or do you see yourself expanding into other musical styles
Well, right now, I am working on music for a contemporary dance piece for a festival in Berlin in January, and I intend to make more music for films in the immediate future. I am also working on a new Bodycode album for Ghostly/Spectral. And as the winter is setting in, I will aim to finish it during this time.
As far as staying within the EDM game, I like to think that my sound is mine, the Portable/Bodycode sound, and I intend to continue staying true to it and follow the inspiration and honesty wherever it takes us.
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What can Miami expect during your performance at the Electric Pickle?
I will be showcasing a lot of the new Portable Into Infinity album. There will be live singing, there will be sweating, there will be joy, and maybe, just maybe, some tears along the way!
Portable AKA Bodycode with Stryke. Friday, November 18. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 10 p.m. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.