PHFAT allowed Helen Herimbi to tag along to their first album signing for their newest offering, Happiness Machines.
It’s the day before electronic hip hop group PHFAT launch their new album, Happiness Machines.
Mike Zietsman, better known as Smooth Mike, is not exactly happy. I jump into the back seat of his car – he’s already running late for the scheduled set-up time for PHFAT’s album signing at the Puma store in Canal Walk.
“I’m super worried that there’s going to be no one there,” Mike later blurts out, emphasising the words “no one” before trying to mask it with a laugh.
In bumper-to-bumper traffic coming out of the Cape Town CBD, we notice a huge poster with PHFAT – formerly P.H. Fat – written on it.
“It gets a bit silly with all the designs and having dots and things in the name,” says Mike, “and also, we’re not going to deny that the old albums (Dinosaur Blood and You Are Going To Die) exist, but now we know what the f*** we’re doing. We sound like us now, less forced.”
The 17-track album sounds like the group that’s made up of rappers Mike (who also dabbles in production), Disco Izrael and producer Narch has grown up.
Mike says the album title explores “ideas about how often things are sold to people using their subconscious. These desires they didn’t know they had. It’s weird, but is it necessarily a bad thing?”
We take the wrong off-ramp and Mike cracks up as he attempts to change lanes. When the robot goes green for us, his car switches off.
Having seen PHFAT pack clubs and festivals, I wonder why he’s so worried about a signing. Finally inside the mall’s parking lot, Mike turns to me and says: “I’m a better rapper than I am a driver.”
The group sets up and people stroll into the store.
Most are there to see PHFat, but a middle-aged man goes “PH-what?” to the group’s photographer. Disco and I eat sweets and argue about which flavour is Granadilla – Disco’s favourite. Granadilla is the flavour he’d make the geometric lightning bolt that’s the album cover image designed by Jason de Villiers.
Short of R50, a girl can’t afford the album, but Disco flashes his 32, motions to the beer bucket and says, “You can grab a beer, though.”
Narch, whose swapping of digital for analogue results in the awesome Junios beat as well as Snacks, which has the West Coast Whine (think Dr Dre), is the subdued PHFAT member. “Less is more,” says Narch.
“Since dubstep hit South Africa, the trend became the most hard, technical beats possible, but I’ve thrown out digital synth because you lose out on the art if you’re editing beats with the click of a mouse.”
He covers his thumb with ink from his marker and gives a fingerprint instead of an autograph because “the pens are too small to write neatly and I thought I’d be different”.
Three teenage boys are super giddy to have Mike sign their CDs as well as their skateboards. Mike, whose relationship with Puma began when he was a downhill skateboarder at 15, copies Narch’s fingerprint idea and Narch shouts over his loud beats, “You can’t fingerprint if I’m fingerprinting!”
“Hallo, don’t be scared of stuff,” Mike writes on a board. People showed up and Mike is clearly in a state of euphoria that has replaced his earlier nervous state. Narch has also loosened up. Since the last time I sat down with them, Mike has tamed his mohawk into long hair, Disco cut his curly ’fro and Narch grew his hair out. Narch raises his eyebrow and says, “When I cut my hair, I’m going to get someone to make custom paintbrushes from it.”
PHFAT’s new single, The Machine, has been playlisted on 5FM. The dark ditty that’s accompanied by a film noir-esque video sees Disco rap: “Laser-faced kids get their names replaced daily.” It’s a reflection of the assembly line that the industry can sometimes be.