Alan Abrahams aka Portable aka Bodycode is an artist very much defined by his past and his journey from South Africa to Paris via Berlin and Lisbon has seen him develop into a critically acclaimed artist working with some of the biggest players in the house and techno scene. With a sound that lies very much between minimal techno and soulful house we explore his story with a Q&A below, accompanied by an hour long mix.
First, our usual icebreaker…what’s your first musical memory?
I come from quite a large family where most of my siblings are at least a generation apart, so my first musical memory would have to be the anything from first album of the band Earth wind and Fire.
What instruments did you learn as a child, do you still play them today?
Actually none as a child. Currently I am in Cape Town on tour and visiting my family and just the other day my Dad shed light on where my musical ability comes from. It turns out his mother, who passed away before I was born, was a piano player. As a child I always wanted to learn to play the piano but we were too poor to afford that. As an adult, while living in Berlin, on the motivation from Levon Vincent no less, I bought myself a electric piano and started taking lessons,just a few year back. Before that everything was self taught or playing from ear.
When did you start producing dance music? Did you start by recording instruments or experimenting with computers?
My first international release was in 2001 my EP Patterns and Signals and I had started experimenting with computer software.
Which producers and musicians have inspired your sound over the years?
The producers are always changing but constant inspirations are Larry Heard, Bach, Arthur Russell and Missy Elliot.
Your last full length LP on Studio !K7 was very much a return to the soulful South African textures that informed the music of your youth. Is this a sign of your new direction or will you continue to straddle the line between deep house and minimal?
Very difficult to really say. With each album I try to evolve, like every artist I suppose. The fact that I have been able to compose music for such a length of time gives me a broader canvas to work with, where I can go back and forward across my output and choose one what I would like to draw from, at this point I wouldn’t want to restrict my creative horizon in pointing out , that this is what I will be doing next . My live performances encapsulates this ethos. Many of the k7 album tracks are mutated into a type of house music. Right now, I am experimenting with elements of jazz and attempting to invite them into my aural landscape, so who knows where I’ll be end up.
Given the current climate of political turmoil, do you feel a need for dance music to be more politicised and become a medium for change as it was with hip-hop and many other genres throughout the last 50 years?
Absolutely! Some of my new material, which I’ve been performing here in South Africa has a political message. It’s important for us as artists to use our medium to motivate and shed light on situations that need to change. The far right are very very organised. They are grouping and collaborating to break and push back the civil world. We need to get organised!
How important have Lakuti and Zip been in your journey and what role do they currently play as mentors and friends?
Well Zip is a close and well respected friend. Lakuti and I have been friends for over 20 years. We started on this musical journey together, moved to London around the same time, set up Süd Electronic together and she has been and still is my constant believer, always pushing me to go further and not become complacent. She is like family.
You were recently involved in a Cape Town broadcast on Worldwide FM, showcasing some local talent. What do you think up the current state of the scene in Cape Town?
There seems to be a lot going on in South Africa. I just performed at the Cape Town Electronic Music festival where there was quite a few South African artists to take note of.
Who is your favourite new South African musician and why?
My favourite new South African musician is Nonku Phiri , she performed before me on the Worldwide FM broadcast and she’s a singer and electronic musician like me, but encapsulating a different end of the same aural spectrum.
Who would be your dream collaboration, alive or dead?
Brenda Fassie, FKA twigs, Max Richter and Lady Skollie.
Could you tell us about the mix you’ve made for us.
I recorded it in Paris, during the coldest days we had over winter. I needed some music to warm up my spirit. Standout tracks for me must be the Reekeem – Bal Era on Uzuri and the Levon Vincent track Berlin.
What’s coming up on the horizon we should look out for?
Everything is so freshly realised I almost don’t want to say just yet, but I forged a new collaborative project between two other South African Artists Nonku Phiri and Esa Williams as yet we are still brainstorming a name. The most immediate release wise would be Perlon’s Superlongevity and I am just putting some finishing touches on a new Bodycode EP.