In conversation: John Wizards (Planet Mu) ahead of Field Day Festival

Posted By: The Wild Times

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Field Day has always been about cutting edge and diverse programming. This year’s event, taking place in Victoria Park (London) this coming weekend is no different. Mixing well-established acts like indie rockers Warpaint, alternative rock icons Pixies and progressive pop stalwart Blood Orange alongside rising talents like Jaakko Eino Kalevi, Ryan Hemsworth and East India Youth, the festival finds the perfect balance for any discerning music fan. On top of that, you also have a wide selection of DJ’s from Ame and Dixon to Todd Terje and Daniel Avery plus the far flung sounds of acts like Omar Souleyman and Seun Kuti & Fela’s Egypt 80 to create a lineup that is as fresh and exciting as it is diverse and far reaching.
One band that we are really looking forward to seeing and one that seems to encapsulate Field Day’s entire ethos up in one fell swoop is South Africa’s John Wizards. Bedroom programmer John Withers and vocalist Emmanuel Nzaramba’s debut album was heavily lauded last year and rightly so. It’s dream-like but energetic and uplifting aesthetic gave the record an inimitable feel, merging their African heritage with elements of electronic music to create a soundscape so immersive and intoxicating that it transforms the listener to a new reality in each of the album’s short tracks which burst full of colour. Ahead of their performance on Saturday afternoon, The Wild Times caught up with John himself to find out more about his burgeoning project.

In what ways has life changed for you since your debut album came out last year?
The change isn't dramatic, but it's busier. At the back end of last year it was taking up almost all of my time so I ended up quitting my job. I sleep later, work harder, swim better, and worry more.     
How have you managed with the extensive touring? What is the biggest challenge travelling with your band so much?
I'm settling into it. Challenges are things like: missing home, not eating too much chocolate, having to always share beds and asking strangers for accommodation.
What countries / cities have you particularly enjoyed playing to?
Barcelona and Amsterdam, thus far.
When playing outside Africa, do you feel that audiences are attracted to an exoticism that they see within your music? How do you feel about that?
I'm not sure. I think the spell of exoticism might wear off once they see 5 vanilla white guys on-stage. I'm sure that people do have their listening shaped by ideas of 'exoticism', but it's a term that I'd like to avoid.
It does seem that African music is being championed by western cultures more than ever right now. What is your take on that? Do you think that certain western labels are exploiting local African artists when they relicense their music and release it for instance? Or do you see that a genuine passion to spread different sounds across the world etc?
Honestly, I'm not sure how these labels are dealing with the African artists that they reissue. There's definitely a well established discourse around exploitation of artists from the developing world and I'm sure that difficult power dynamics exists between the artists that are being reissued and the labels that are doing so. That being said, I get the sense that some of these labels, like Sterns, are genuinely passionate about the music from Africa that they are releasing and put a lot of care into it.
How important is it for you to reference the sound and culture of your homeland into your music?
It's certainly worth exploring; not simply as a musical tool but also as a way of learning about your country or culture.

Have you noticed a difference in the way South African audiences react to you since the LP?
The difference is subtle. We're still largely unknown in South Africa.
What do you enjoy most about festival season and why?
Honestly, this summer will be my first one. I'll definitely enjoy the weather and the novelty of new cities.
Do you relish the chance to play festivals in London, like Field Day where there will be a diverse but clued up crowd to play to?
Playing in London is great, for that especially. So, hopefully.
Do you have plans to record a follow-up album soon? Do you feel any external pressure to get another record out at all?
Yes, I started writing more productively again after the album was released. I'll get home in summer, take it easy and hopefully get some more done then.
What roles do you and Emmanuel play within the writing process? Do you both have rigid responsibilities or do you just work it out as you go?
I do the writing and production and Emmanuel comes up with his vocals. I wish it weren't quite so rigid, but it makes things simpler.
Are there times whilst you are working in the studio where you actually miss making music in your bedroom?
Honestly, I've never been able to write or record anything in a studio. Not because I don't want to, but rather that when I've had access to them I've always been too busy with other stuff. I'm still firmly stuck in my bedroom.
What’s next for John Wizards?
A walk to the Joan Miró museum.
Field Day Festival takes place this Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th June at Victoria Park, London. Final tickets can be found here.

Words: Tom Jones

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