How to unstick yourself with friends: An interview with Cistamatic
Cistamatic is the brainchild of Gabbi Le Roux. What started out as an electronica/trip-hop project in 2018 has, as of April 2022, suddenly and unexpectedly morphed into a three-piece honest-to-goodness rock/punk/feels band.
The band now plays raucous basement shows, which is wild for me given where they started. Now with them about to release their next single 'Soft Side' on 27 May, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of excitement and enthusiasm. This is an important artist to us as a label. We hosted their debut show many moons ago, and now we get to release a single that is incredibly dear to their heart. A single that’s being released just as Cistamatic has lept off a cliff into the messy, moshy, glorious punky abyss.
This one’s a long one, so buckle your butts.
Now Now Just Now: The three piece, how did that come to be? Cistamatic use to be a solo act and I don’t remember any other musicians joining you when you gigged.
Cistamatic: When I was 16 I started my first band and we were a really shitty punk rock band. Then I was in a two-piece band, I played drums and I sang, we were trying to be the white stripes, obviously. Then I was in this band called Husky Stash, with Frankie Brooke from In Bloom. He lives in Berlin now.
Along with the rest of Cape Town.
Totally. So I was actually in bands until I was 21. But none of them got anywhere, we didn't really know what we were doing... Wait is this part of the interview? Is this on the record or off the record. I need to know when I'm talking to the press [laughs].
You’re always talking to the press, pretend like I’m not even here, I am just part of your imagination, please do go on.
Ok yeah [laughs nervously]. So I have a good feeling about this band. I've finally found the people. I've been very selective with them. I haven't been in a band since I was like 20 because you know, people are shit. And these two beans (Ethan Pelser and James Turner) are such sweeties and they're in their 20's and they are so wholesome. They're incredible I love them, they're like my lil brothers
"I'm going to be angry if you fuck a teenager"
How’d you meet them?
I wasn't even looking for them, I put my feelers out tentatively and these two just fell into my lap. The bassist reached out to me and was like "hey we should jam" and I asked if he knew a drummer and he just said “yeah my friend James!”. And so we started playing together two months ago and it's popped off. We're pretty tight for a band that's been playing for two months, we're working hard.
So they’re younger than you, how’s that dynamic playing out?
They're not old enough to be fucked up yet [laughs]. Like the other day at our gig a bunch of girls came up to us. And I was like guys ok we're doing band lessons 101. [Puts on a stern bossy pants voice]: “Guys, girls are gonna wanna fuck you, and some of these girls are going to be under the age of 18, and I'm going to be angry if you fuck a teenager.”
I'm like momming the band; dadding the band.
Ok damn, that hilarious, but also good. While speaking about live stuff: The live version of 'Soft Side'. How different is it to the recorded version that we’re releasing on 27 May?
We're definitely like a lot more guitar music now. We've pivoted to being a guitar music band now. There's no back track, no electronics, it's just us. Cistamatic is a band now. We're playing some of the old songs and they work.
I've always been very purposeful in the way I write my songs, I feel they should be very recognisable no matter what format they're in. So I don't think people will notice that much of a difference [between the live and the recorded version]. 'Soft Side' is all about that lead melody line that carries the song. Obviously there are a few textures and synth lines that aren't in the live version… I was even going to get a synth player for the launch for the song, but then I was like nah we can carry this as a three piece.
The more rocky angle works because that's where I've always come from, and plus it's fun you know, to be loud and punk and make noise. It's really connected me with the music I grew up listening to. I always wanted to front a bad ass punk band.
All the way back when you were 16?
No god no, before that. All I've ever wanted in my entire life is to front a fucking great punk band. But the dream changed and I tried to become a lil electronica producer artist thing. But really, I just want to front a punk band.
I was actually wondering if you guys [Now Now Just Now] were worried that the live version of 'Soft Side' was so different from the recorded version...
No way. We love it. That's how it should be.
"It sounds kinda woo woo, but I was also like: that's fucking sick."
Yeah and songs change every time you play them and hear them and you have a different relationship with them.
Totally agree. It reminds me of something I heard Billy Corgan say in an interview. He said that every live performance of a song is like a photograph of that song, and on any given night at any given time when it’s played that is just what that song looks like at that moment.
Yeah, and I think it's also interesting to think about how the listener changes… I’m going to be getting into some woo-woo shit, but I think it's a cute story...
I was in a club a few months back and Dancing Queen [by ABBA] came on. And it hit me that somewhere in the 70's four excellent pop musicians got together and captured this moment in time. And if you're in the western world you probably have some kind of a relationship with those three minutes in time.
So there I am in The Waiting Room and everyone is singing the song at the top of their lungs, they know this song, they have a relationship with this song. This song stirs feelings for them, it stirs up memories for them. And we're all here experiencing this thing differently, together. It's almost like everyone, or the song, is travelling through time. It's connecting you to other people because everyone has an emotional response to this thing. And I think that's just magical... It sounds kinda woo woo. But I was also like: that's fucking sick.
That's not woo that's the facts
That's the facts. Dancing Queen. Whether you love it or hate it, you have feelings about it. It has this changing emotional context, every time you're hearing it you're reliving that thing and adding your own life experiences to it. And with a song as famous as Dancing Queen it’s so obvious and present.
"Something that's important to me is fluidity."
Listening to you speak now, it makes sense then that your project has developed in the way it has. When you released your first Cistamatic stuff, you were in South Korea?
It was just before I lived in South Korea that I recorded my first EP. It was more of a trip-hop EP. I was very into trip-hop and I was like: I can do this.
Then has what Cistamatic means to you changed over the last four or five years?
Yeah it's changed a lot. It's always changing. Something that's important to me is fluidity. And part of the reason I began producing music by myself was to free myself from the constraints of a band and other people.
And a lot of my songs, weirdly enough, I don't play them [live] or finish them as soon as I write them. Like ‘Holy Tuesday’ is a song I wrote when I was 17. I still play it in our set, I think it's one of the best song I've ever written.
Then ‘Soft Side’ was something I was working on just after I got back from Korea in 2018 and I'm only releasing it now. It was like I had written this song and it was so special that I didn't want to show it to anyone until I got it to what I wanted it to be. I wanted to honour the song. I needed to find the right... I think it's the best thing I've ever made. When I wrote it I think I saw that and I saw that and decided to keep it close to my chest and let it bloom, and I'm happy I'm letting it bloom with you guys.
I listen to the [‘Soft Side’] mix now and I'm not like "Oh god no I hate this". It's the first time I've ever made something and felt like: "This is good, this is really good".
Do you think it helps that you're playing with a band and you have a record label? People who are affirming your beliefs in the song. You started the project being like "I wanna be free from the constraints imposed by working with others", and now it seems like you've transcended that.
"It took a lot of working on my own confidence as an artist to let people into that vulnerable space."
Now, it's more like I'm finding this is OK. It's OK to let other people help. It took a lot of working on my own confidence as an artist to let people into that vulnerable space. Previously I'd had very negative experiences with bands I was in… Being in a band is hectic and vulnerable. It's like being in a relationship.
I was so scared of that for a long time and I shut myself in my room and I was in a band with my computer. There was no... You get stuck. When you're on your own you can get stuck. And when you're playing with a band you can pull each other through that.
That’s great to hear, it sounds like you’ve come a long ways.
I don't know what you guys saw in me when I started Cistamatic. I did my first performance with you [on The Floor] and I had no idea what I was doing with my laptop. That was just before I went to South Korea. After that, I didn't perform for like two, two or three years, until like... there was a point just after things opened up in 2021. At Raptor Room last year, I did two gigs on my own.
What was that like for you? I'm trying to imagine it.
It is terrifying. TERRIFYING. [laughs] Oh my Jesus. There's a lot going on, and I don't want to be the kind of musician who just plays to backing tracks. So trying to maintain my actual musician cred I'd try to sing, play an instrument, and trigger stuff. I'd be trying to do all this and then it's my Macbook and there's a lil rainbow ball and it's like oh Jesus lord christ somebody help. But there's no one to help, because you are alone and no one knows your setup [laughs].
And someone looks at your Ableton session and they're like what the fuck is this?
I was doing it on Logic.
[This interviewer is now dead]
Not even Ableton Live, for live performances- What an amateur. OK but the guitar rig on Logic slaps. I did it though... And there are these awkward pauses in the set while you wait for the next project to open. And then you awkwardly talk to the audience and it's like: Don’t worry audience, this is a performance art piece.
Don't mind me, I'm just answering a few emails
Exactly! The piece is about how it's impossible to make a living as an artist these days. Even when you're gigging you have to reply to emails.
I wonder how many people have done that, actually replied to text or an email while on stage.
DJ's are always on their phones lol… I have respect for DJ's I'm not coming for them. As someone who tries to DJ, if someone can answer texts and DJ, holy shit. I'm too involved in my beats. I'm too busy doing my best to beat-match to text.
DJing is stressful, I find it worse than playing live music.
I don't. I find that nobody cares about your beat-matching if you're playing bangers.
Totally, but that's what's terrifying, the selection.
Oh yeah, but I have wonderful taste in music so I don't have to worry.
Uh-huh [laughs]... So in addition to being the best DJ in the world, you’ve also been learning the dark arts of audio engineering over the last few years. How’s that side of your musical journey going?
I've grown a lot as an engineer in the last while, I've been recording and mixing bands. I'm getting my chops, getting my hours, cutting my teeth. I know so much more than I used to now.
"I'm very daddy in the studio."
Did you get into music production because you thought you'd be an electronic artist?
I was always interested in producing music and playing in bands but it was always such a male-dominated space. It just was not what girls did. I remember SAE did an open day at my high school and I was thinking: "There are going to be no women in this class and it's going to be too masculine and that's not my thing". It's a symptom of this larger social construct of women's jobs and men's jobs. Women are supposed to be good at feelings jobs, and men good at tech jobs, but it turns out I'm good at both, and you need both to be good at production.
I really got into production because I wanted to figure out a way to produce and perform music without having to interact with other people. And that was Cistamatic until like 2 months ago. It was just me working on it and me playing everything.
On ‘Soft Side’ I played everything, drums, bass, guitar, synths… I produced it myself as well and I mixed it. A friend of mine Wade Fyfe helped with the final touches and sparkles, and the arrangement. But yeah, everything you hear on that comes from me.
How very Trent Reznor of you!
Yes, very Trent Reznor, love that. Thank you.
I'm very daddy in the studio and I do not take people's shit and everyone has to do exactly what I say. I am planning to record an album's worth of songs and release them over three EP's next year. I'll be producing and recording all of it as well. So it's nice to have confidence as a producer to have the confidence to get what you want and say what you want. Nowadays I'm like: "What?! You didn't phase-align the overheads, you fucker!”
OK. Before we start nerding out on audio production twak, which no one wants to read, I’m going to change angles a bit here…
We should start an ASMR channel where all we do is talk about audio production shit. [laughs]
[In an ASMR voice] And then, move your limiter to the front of the chain
[In an even more ASMRy voice] You want to achieve about -2 decibels in peak reduction. Make sure your attack is not too fast. If you are struggling with buzz, try a comb filter...
Ok ok, seriously, back to the Cistamatic: The last couple of songs you’ve released, particularly The Flesh Prince, have a strong visual element to them... What's your take on music videos?
They are a pain in the ass. But in the last 6 months I've moved to the city and I am very lucky to be just friends with a lot of really really great artists and designers and creative people in general. My second love is film, after music, so music videos are definitely something I'd like to fuck with. But budget, it's a pain in the ass, I'm a control freak and I have a very specific vision I want to achieve. But I'm learning to let go of some of that, and that's come from playing in a band and learning that other people have sick ideas too.
"The kind of songs that get written when you're angry, horny, and listening to Nine Inch Nails."
In the Flesh Prince video there’s a big black streak of horror; are you a fan?
A lot of our songs, especially our heavier songs have a big light/dark divide. One half is: I'm healing and vulnerable. The other half is more like: I will rip your eyes out if you touch me. Because the heavier darker songs have heavier themes they fall more into the horrory, edge-lord territory. The kind of songs that get written when you're angry, horny, and listening to Nine Inch Nails. And those are also all feelings.
Which is why I like to categorise this as a feelings-punk band. There are a wide variety of feelings. Sometimes you are angry, horny, creepy and that's why I love horror. It's a great way to explore ideas. What people are scared of can tell you so much about somebody, or a society and what they value.
The Flesh Prince is a recurring character and two of the songs we play live are about the Flesh Prince. It's this succubus, this predator who prays on predators. A vampire who hunts vampires.
I'm just about through the final season of Angel, so I'm kind of an expert on that right now.
Ah Buffy! Man, love that show. I recently re-watched True Blood, what a mess. What a hot mess.
OK wait, let’s get back to the horror in Cistamatic… When are we getting our werewolf nun song? I’ve been lucky enough to hear the demo and I can’t wait to hear the final track.
Yeah! I play that with the band. It's on the list. We'll record it. It's on the angry/horny section of our set.
What's it called again?
'Wolf Girl'. Yeah: “I'll piss on you so you know that I'm your territory” [lyrics from Wolf Girl]. That's another track with the Flesh Prince character again. It's loosely based on a short story from St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.
It uses the werewolf metaphor to talk about the colonisation of the Native Americans and the colonial project to beat the wildness out of indigenous people. And how society tries to beat the wildness out of women and feminine bodies and tries to remove their autonomy and their power. It's a very cool story. It's very much an example of why I love horror. Horror is a vehicle to talk about larger political and psychological things.
Well, it has been awesome catching up with you. As we wrap, is there anything besides the album launch and the single launch party on 27 May that people should be keeping their eyes open for?
We're gigging. I'm taking every fucking paid gig they're offering us right now. Our plan is to be “hello we are here". We're booked out ‘til the end of June so that's awesome.
That's great. That's exciting.
Anything else for me to answer?
Hey, I ask the questions here. No, we're right on time, I have everything we need. I'll just misquote you, put some scandalous lies in your mouth, and yeah we'll publish it.
As long as you make me seem funny cute and terrifying.
Funny, cute, and terrifying, noted.
I'm joking about the terrifying thing. Just make me seem like a badass. It's like “hahahaha I'm so cute I'll piss on you so you know that you're my territory.”
Yeah, but like in a friends way though, right?
No not in a friends like way, like in a you-should-be-terrified kind of way.
'Soft Side' will be out on all major streaming platforms on 27 May.