Cape Town produces some phenomenal musical talent. The city’s DJs are known to be passionate about their craft and border on fanaticism when it comes to the Music they love. There are those who follow this path because they feel the need for acceptance. Some do it for the perceived elevated status it will bring. There are others whose arrogance leads them to believe they can do it better. Then there are those truly gifted individuals for whom it is a calling and whose talent stands out above the rest. Cassiem Latief is part of the latter group. Mention his name to DJs or clubbers and it will illicit the same response – ‘Great DJ’ His ability to select good Music and fluently communicate a message through this medium is second to none. The Lost and Found is proud to bring you an interview with Cassiem.
Welcome to The Lost and Found
Thank you for having me.
Please introduce yourself to our community
My name is Cassiem Latief and I grew up in Wynberg, Cape Town. I come from a family of one younger brother and an older sister who passed on at a very young age. I was into skateboarding in my youth which I was really good at, but in the end I settled for Technics SL1200 turntables instead of coming home with busted knees and bruises. Usually after an eventful day being chased by the SAPS ( South African Police Service ) and security guards! LOL
Why Music…how did it all start for you?
My earliest musical memories are of my Mom, my younger brother and myself. As kids we’d spend most of our time in the family kitchen, where the radio was always playing. I remember tracks like ‘Close To You’ by Maxi Priest, ‘Pump Up The Jam’ by Technotronic and ‘Back To Life’ by Soul II Soul would play on the radio. We’d immediately turn up the volume and everyone would just break it down and shout the loudest to the hooks of those tracks LOL It’s funny though, now that I think of it, most of the groovier tracks that were released at that time played a huge influence in my journey and my career in music.
How long have you been collecting records and what was the first record you bought?
I’ve been collecting records for more than 15 years. I started collecting records before I started DJing and at least two years before I was able to afford a set of turntables. These were roll pitch Technics SL D2′s, bought from the money that I used to get working weekend jobs.
The first record I ever purchased was by ‘The S Men’ ( Roger Sanchez / DJ Sneak ) and the track was called ‘Back’ on the Narcotic label. I remember specifically buying that record for the inside dub cut, ‘Sneak’s Backward Mix’, of the original track. The groove and the tempo of the dub version was hypnotic and I felt that it was ahead of its time. In my opinion it would still be relevant today if I had to play it in any House set.
What was your introduction to DJing and DJ culture like?
My introduction to DJing was in high school, in standard 8, which is where I met Robin Dixon. We were in the same class and I found out that he was a mobile DJ, playing house parties and functions on the cape flats. I ended up at his place one afternoon after school, watching him playing tracks which were big hits at the time, on his home DJ set up. What immediately caught my attention was the dub versions of the originals. Robin and I cut school one day and made our way to town to buy new records. We ended up going to two record stores, Trax and Syndicate Records, and I was sold…
Do you remember the first time you heard House Music?
I actually didn’t realize that I was listening to House Music the first time I heard it. Back then cuts like Paul Hardcastle’s ’19, Steve Silk Hurley’s ‘Jack Your Body’ and Banderas ‘This Is Your Life’ were my earliest encounters with the genre. I would hear these tracks on mix tapes that were circulating around the Cape Flats. It was a bit later, when I discovered record stores, that I realized the genre I was referring to as club music was known as House Music.
What do you look for in a song before you decide… this is THE one!
The track has to be interesting. I can hear from the first four bars, of any track, if it’s worthwhile listening to the rest of it as the drum arrangement will always stand out with a unique groove to it. Most of the time the simplest tracks will cause the most damage to any dance floor. The way it is arranged, with it’s different sounds to keep the audience on the floor. Keeps them interested and takes them on a journey. Like telling a story. To me, good music will always have a solid groove. It doesn’t matter if its 115bpm or 125bpm, it will always create an atmosphere or mood of its own to keep the listener wanting and anticipating more. Real instruments being used in any production is a big yes for me. No matter if the mood is dark and deep or a more friendly sound which you can play in a warm up set in the beginning of the evening.
You worked at seminal Cape Town record store DJ Syndicate. Tell us about the experience.
I started working at Syndicate Records in 1998. I remember clearly Dino Michael ( owner ) calling me on a Thursday evening and asking if I would be interested in working at the store. I went to see him the following day and the rest is history. I gained so much experience working in the store, made many good friends as well as accumulating a dangerous vinyl collection of my own. There was never a dull moment as I was in an environment where I always met interesting characters. I listened to all genres of music and saw genres breaking in the music industry and slowly fading away.
I would deal with guys buying hard house, trance, progressive house, deep house, hip hop and sold many DJs their first record. I also built great relationships with the DJ community around South Africa and if you were a DJ looking for fresh vinyl I would have certainly have crossed paths with you.
I’m sure many people remember the notorious ‘shipment days’ when new records arrived to be sold in house. The store had a database of all the DJs across S.A. and everyone would be contacted, via sms, to let them know that the new product was out on the shelves. I always dreaded those days. As soon as everyone was contacted the store telephone wouldn’t stop ringing and everyone would want to speak to me, wanting to know which titles had landed. Of course most memorably every single DJ that walked into Syndicate Records always thought I was hiding records behind the counter, and I would never hear the end of it!!!
Sadly, towards the end of those memorable years I saw first-hand how digital sales were affecting vinyl sales. I would get emails, on a daily basis, from suppliers in the U.K, France and the U.S. notifying me that they were closing down. This was very disturbing to me as I could foresee where the record business in S.A was heading. The day finally came when Syndicate Records closed its doors as record sales were not enough to keep the business running financially. I’m thankful that I was able to survive this and am able to continue to make a living in a somewhat cut-throat music industry.
Which 3 albums/songs have played an influential role in shaping your musical style?
- De La Soul ‘Stakes Is High’ Tommy Boy
- Sade ‘Love Delux’ Epic
- Larry Heard ‘Where Life Begins’ Track Mode/ Alleviated Records
You’re one third of the Soul Revolution. Tell us a bit about the group and how it came about.
Soul Revolution was a club night hosted by Erefaan Pearce and Leighton Moody and held at Club Deluxe. They would book live artists and guest DJs who would add to the experience. I was booked to play at one of the Soul Revolution events and the hosts came up with a concept called Trilogy where we all would play back to back. This worked really well, not surprisingly as we all started DJing together as friends at the very beginning of our individual careers. We would meet at my house to play records, more than 16 years ago, as we all had very similar tastes in music. The event continued over the years and I was booked now and then when the Soul Revolution brand decided that they wanted to do the Trilogy concept.
What has been your favourite gig to date and why?
I played at a mutual friends event called the ‘Harvest Ball’, which was put together for the Rastafarian community of Cape Town. Various selectors were playing dancehall, hip hop and drum & bass with MCs doing their thing by hyping the crowd. I felt very intimidated as my sound didn’t fit in with what was going down at the event. It was weird because I just came from another event that was hosted by a cigarette brand and everyone was dressed up. I now found myself at a ‘Harvest Ball’ where Rastafarians were dressed in hessian bags.
I eventually told the guy hosting the event that I didn’t want to play as I thought my sound would not work with the audience. He immediately took the mic from one of the MCs and told the community that I felt intimidated playing to them. I was really embarrassed, I could feel everyone staring at me so eventually I just walked to the decks and started playing, taking over from the previous DJ who was playing dancehall.
I followed his sound by playing a dub style track without any hats, snares, kicks or synths you’d find in conventional House music. Eventually by the second track, which was Solomonic Sound ‘Children of Israel’, I had the floor going without the audience even knowing they were dancing to House music with a dub twist. I have played many events in my career but this one still stands out. The odds were against it but I was able to make it work. Fire burn mi sehhhh!!!
What makes a great DJ?
A great DJ, in my opinion, is someone who can create the right atmosphere and take an audience on a journey no matter what genre he or she is playing.
What inspires Cassiem?
Good music is always inspirational. There’s music for every mood you could possibly find yourself in…
You’ve got a gig at the CTEMF this weekend. What goes into preparing your set?
I dig for music that appeals to me, on daily basis. Most of the time I’ll be sitting with certain tracks that I could never play out because of the type of event that I’ll be playing. What I normally do is have everything with me and choose the tracks that are suitable for the time and mood in my set as I go along and allow the set to develop naturally.
Thank You for your time and your valued contribution to the Music we Love!
No, thank you Alastair for giving me this opportunity to be part of the Lost & Found!