Since 2013, The Kiffness have become known as an outlandish and witty electronic music act, using not only their tunes, but their music videos and hilarious posts on social media to not only gain attention, but to also create some light-hearted social commentary for their fans.
As the brainchild of David Scott, The Kiffness have collaborated with top SA acts like Tresor, Shortstraw and Moonchild, playing festivals like Rocking the Daisies, Splashy Fen and Park Acoustics in their four year career.
Following the release of their new album Soul Safari, we chatted with David Scott to find out more about this ingeniously creative act.
Most musicians have a musical background of sorts. What’s yours?
My grandmother was a concert pianist, and although I never met her she left us with her baby grand. As a kid I used to plonk myself in front of the piano & taught myself to play.
A few years on, our junior school started a big band and the scary German conductor in charge came into our classroom & told me I’ll be playing trumpet. He determined my fate as a trumpet player in that moment.
When I started high school my brother had a laptop with E-Jay on it, and I “produced” my first song when I was 13. I was hooked. My brother and I got into other free music production software like Audacity, and I’d spend hours making songs from beats and samples that we ripped from computer games and popular songs, and we recorded vocals through our crappy computer mic. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I loved it.
Throughout high school I learned to play various other instruments; guitar, bass and drums, but I was always most fascinated by production. As fascinated as I was, I was made to believe that it could never be a career and so I focused my energies on becoming a doctor like my dad.
I went to WITS to study Medicine, and after half a year I dropped out. The fact that I had no time to make music left me feeling depressed and uninspired. At the time, my brother had started a career in cartooning and animation. Witnessing him grow as a successful cartoonist and seeing him do what he enjoyed for a living inspired me to do the same, so I started making music again. My parents were understandably concerned that I wanted to be a musician full time, but they were supportive nonetheless. I went on to study a BA at Rhodes University in Music and Philosophy, and during my time there I played in a ton of bands and became a club and campus radio DJ.
After my time at Rhodes, I moved to Cape Town to study sound engineering at Cape Audio College to expand my production skills. I came top of my class in my first year and they offered me a scholarship for the second year course. By then I had already started playing a bunch of shows and couldn’t commit to my classes, so I dropped out. The gigs I was playing didn’t pay much, but I saved up what I could to re-invest in sound gear. I remember I invested everything I had into a pair of studio monitors. I had no money for a while. But soon after getting my studio monitors I created a string of pretty decent tracks and got signed to Sony. My music started getting played on radio and things began to snowball from there. I’m lucky and grateful to be where I am now.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in music? And which artists fueled that pursuit?
I think I would’ve been miserable doing anything else. Apart from my brother’s influence, seeing Goldfish play for the first time at the Rhodes Street Party in 2008 really inspired me. I had never seen anyone do what they were doing—fusing electronic and live music together. Because I was playing in bands and DJing at the time, it opened my eyes to what I could potentially do in the future.
My brother had done many of Goldfish’s music videos and through his connection to them I managed to form a pretty good relationship with Dave and Dom when I was starting out. They taught me a lot about performing live electronic music.
Where are you originally from and why the move to Cape Town?
I’m originally from Jo’burg. Although I had a pretty decent childhood there I have no real desire to live there. There’s a certain energy that you get from the natural surroundings here in Cape Town that you can’t get anywhere else (which is such a Capetonian thing to say, but it’s true). It’s no coincidence that some of the best music I’ve written has been after an epic hike or surf.
Which local acts do you pay homage to and why?
I know I keep bringing them up, but Goldfish’s second album Perceptions of Pacha was a real inspiration. It’s inspired some of my better tunes and inspired my brother to create some of his best animation too. Apart from that, I was afforded the opportunity to open for them a few times at Submerged Sundays when I was starting out, which really gave me a good head start in my career.
I also have mad respect for BCUC, so it’s a great honour that that they were willing to collaborate with me on my new album. They encapsulate the true spirit of uBuntu in their music and they’re not afraid to drop truth bombs on difficult social issues at their shows. I know a lot of musicians with amazing outlooks on the world, but most of them keep their views to themselves for fear of what the public think. BCUC inspire me to keep speaking my truth, and to not be afraid to speak my truth.
What is your perception on social media and its power?
I try to use social media as a tool for sharing ideas which I feel are worth sharing, and for me that normally comes in the form of satire.
During my time at Michaelhouse (before social media), I used to spend quite a lot of time sketching whatever ideas I had in my homework diary. I’d draw satirical comic strips of the headmaster, make caricatures of guys at the school etc. It was really cathartic— a method of escape from the boarding school environment, which often felt quite claustrophobic. The whole time at boarding school you’re being told what to do, but my diary was a place where no one could tell me what to do or say, and I could just express myself. The guys in my house were naturally curious to see what I was drawing, and soon enough my book would be passed around the classroom. I often wouldn’t know where my homework book was because it was being shared across the school. Essentially it was like pre-internet 9gag.
I think guys enjoyed reading my diary because although it was my own personal means of escape from reality, it also helped them escape from their own realities.
Fast forward to now, and I’m still the kid at school creating his ideas, only now on a much bigger platform, and with a much more effective means of sharing. I often don’t know the power of my content until I read the messages I get from people saying that my post really made their day. I’ll often meet fans at shows who say the same things. It’s a nice feeling knowing that your posts have affected people in a “kiff” way. There are also people who hate my posts, which is also cool. Essentially, I don’t care what people think of me—what matters to me is that the ideas I’m putting out are worth sharing.
Sketchy Bongo has been the focus of a few of your Facebook posts. Why the beef?
I think beef is the wrong word - Yuvir is a nice enough guy. We played Boat Races in PE together last year and we actually got on pretty well. I admired the fact that he was able to churn out hit after hit at such a fast rate. At the time I think he must’ve had about 5 songs on high rotation across national radio.
But then I got the news that a bunch of his songs were basically exact copies of demo songs from Sample Magic and I found it pretty nuts that something like this could happen in plain sight. I can at least understand why he did it. He’s a producer in high demand and to keep up with the workload he found some shortcuts and took a gamble on never being caught.
I mean, hats off to the guy—technically, what he’s doing is not illegal, but some may argue that it’s not entirely ethical.
Your video for “Game of Love” is seriously underrated! What brought about the concept of the video?
Thanks! The song was written by my band mate Raiven and it’s about the inner conflict that goes on when you’re going through a break up, so the concept of having two dancers catching fire is a metaphor for that message.
The video reminds me of a relationship I had with a girl at Rhodes. We never actually officially dated, but I was convinced I was going to marry her one day. She never felt the same way, and ended up dating a much handsomer dude. I was pretty heartbroken. For a long time, the metaphorical fire inside me felt really painful and destructive, but in the end it was actually a necessary part of the cleansing process in allowing myself to move on.
Are the dancers actually on fire in the video!?
They really were on fire. No special effects. We had to hire in a professional fire stunt team, and the dancers had to do fire training. It was pretty intense.
What did you want to accomplish with your latest album Soul Safari?
The album was written during a significant time in my life. Firstly, I got married. Secondly, I started to become known for my often satirical social commentary on platforms like Facebook. These two things play a major role in the making of the album. The theme of love and its complexities is prominent in the first half of the album, whereas in the second half, I made a concerted effort to create music that was more in line with my social commentary—songs like “White Privilege” & “Rise Up” I think reflect that.
You have a very tongue-in-cheek approach to your music. Without sounding trivial, what actually inspires you to write your songs?
Some of the songs I write myself are indeed very tongue-in-cheek, and those songs I think are inspired by the absurdity of my own human existence. You know, the fact that we tend to take ourselves so seriously when we’re actually mere specks of live in a vast and infinite universe. So I guess “The Broccoli Song” and “White Privilege” are songs which celebrate the utter absurdity and randomness of life.
But then there are other songs, like “Soul Safari” which came to me in a vivid dream. I was digging in the ground and I found a massive nugget of gold, and I woke up knowing that I was going to write a kiff tune that day. It really felt like the inspiration come from a power much bigger than myself.
The song also highlights the absurdity of life for me, because although we’re mere specks of life in a vast and infinite universe—creating a song and video of its nature made me feel like my quest for meaning is not entirely in vain, but that life actually does have a much deeper purpose. Whether it’s true or not, who knows?
Do bergies still like to fly?
Lol, what a crazy tune and video. It just highlights what I was saying now about how I’m inspired by the absurdity of our existence.
Do bergies still like to fly? Probably not. I don’t want to speak on behalf of the homeless but I’d like to think most homeless people just want to live civil lives like anyone else. In hindsight, it’s not a song or video that I would make today. I think it scores a solid 10/10 for absurdity, but if I’m honest it’s also a bit exploitative and socially insensitive.
Over the years I’ve learned that it’s ok to poke fun at people, as long as the people you’re poking fun at are in a position to be made fun of. I’ll make fun of Woolworths, Telkom and Zuma any day because: 1. they can take a hit and 2. they’re asking for it. Homeless people on the other hand are victims of their circumstances, and even though the guys in the video willingly participated, there’s something about watching it again now that doesn’t quite sit right with me.
But hey - we live & learn. Over the years I’ve made a concerted effort to try and put myself in other people’s shoes, and I’ve found that it’s grown my sense of compassion and understanding of the world.
Tell us something people don’t know about you.
I secretly love Woolworths. Don’t tell anyone.
Soul Safari is available now on iTunes.
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