"Pluto" is filling dance floors and the airwaves, pushing Cape Town band Beatenberg into the spotlight.
The gentle strumming of the guitar strings calls out gently, teasing you out of your chair and on to your feet. Then comes the dramatic thump and drumming so characteristic of South African house music … and then a smooth, crooning voice joins in on the melody. Pluto, arguably the biggest song in the country right now, is a unifying dance floor filler and It song of the radio waves by newcomers Beatenberg in collaboration with DJ Clock.
Pluto became the second most downloaded song from the local iTunes store four months after its release and has remained in the top 10 since. And it has received more radio airplay than any other song – local or international - for the past couple of weeks, according to Entertainment Monitoring Africa. It is definitely a coup for DJ Clock and the three members of Cape Town-based Beatenberg: Ross Dorkin, Rob Brink and Matthew Field. But it almost didn’t happen.
Universal Music label executive Neil Sinclair first suggested the collaboration. “He’d read an interview we had done before where we mentioned that we love South African house music,” says Beatenberg drummer Brink. A couple of names came up, but the band settled on DJ Clock as they were already fans of his. The Durban-based DJ and record producer is probably most well-known for his 2008 mega-hit Umahambayedwa.
“We were super excited just to meet him,” says Dorkin, who plays bass. But when that happened, the collaboration almost collapsed.
“I think there was a little bit of miscommunication,” says Field, the band’s guitar-playing vocalist. “We had another song that we had recorded and when we met him and played the song for him, he said it was great but there was nothing for him to add on it.”
The band had flown to Johannesburg for what was supposed to be a recording session, but returned to Cape Town without having recorded with Clock. It would eventually happen at a later stage after the record label intervened. This time, everything would be done from scratch – no pre-recorded songs, just the band and Clock in the studio, where they would create the foot tap-inducing magic of Pluto in the space of 24 hours.
The relatively unknown Beatenberg acknowledge that the collaboration with DJ Clock has been a mutually beneficial career move, especially in terms of making music in a deeply segmented market where crossover hits – let alone artists – are quite rare.
“With Pluto, we got to have a number one song on Metro FM and Clock got to have a number one song on 5FM.”
Similarly, Durban pop band The Arrows were really only known to pop music fans before being thrust into a broader mainstream consciousness through their collaboration with producer DJ Kent on Spin my World Around. Although the band makes it clear that Pluto had long been recorded when Spin My World Around was released, there is no denying that it replicates the magic collaborative formula of the 2013 hit.
Not all are destined for number one spots, but at the very least these types of collaborations expose artists to new audiences. In a recent interview, the seasoned DJ Clock admitted to being forced to “go corporate” to find a new audience.
“It was interesting for me because we kind of feel that we are the ones who have gone ‘corporate’,” says Brink, though Dorkin says it has worked for the group and the producer.
As a collective, Beatenberg started recording independently around 2011 and have put songs out previously online. Over this period they’ve been able to fine-tune their sound. The penny dropped for the trio when they posted a track called Echoes on Soundcloud about two years ago.
“Echoes was different from what we were doing before,” says Field. “It is the sound we wanted to work with.”
After Echoes came Chelsea Blakemore, a song written by Field that has spawned several remixes by independent producers.
The laid-back feel and stripped down sound on this record is what Beatenberg say we should expect more of come June 19, when their official debut album The Hanging Gardens of Beatenberg drops. The album will be available for pre-order on iTunes from the May 23.
Asked if the reception to Pluto has not influenced their sound, Field says it would be silly of any artist not to learn from what works once the music goes out to the market.
“There’s a way to be kind of influenced by it in a good way and then there’s the wrong way. The wrong way is being greedy and trying to do another Pluto. I think trying to recreate Pluto is going to fail. But, you know, just working with Clock and hearing those sounds with our music, it opens up the scope for us.”
Dorkin adds that the song they recorded and took to DJ Clock to listen to before they recorded Pluto with him will be on the album. “That, like Pluto, has an up-tempo feel,” he says.