Electronic music pioneer Markus Wormstorm shares his office space with us
Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photography: Nick Gordon
The sound hits you like a wave. Honeymoon Studios on Kloof Nek Road is next door to a Pilates studio and a German bakery, but there are no noise complaints because the 100-year-old building has bullet-proof glass over the windows, lots of carpeting on the floors, steel wool buffers on the wall and free-standing bass traps that stand sentry in strategic places around the studio. Clap your hands and you’ll hear no echo, it’s dead space, and so when Markus Wormstorm plays something for us, which is often, it comes rolling out of the speakers, peaks, then crashes.
After graduating from the Pro Arte School of music in Pretoria, Markus Wormstorm moved to Cape Town in 2001 and started collaborating with established names in the knob-twiddling scene, helping to define his genre. We unfortunately do not have enough space to dedicate to an unabridged biography for the man, but here’s the highlights reel:
Sound Ink, Kompakt fm, Sonar, EA Games, over a million downloads for his game Petting Zoo, collaborations with Felix Laband, work for the Mars One project, Waddy Jones, Sibot, Spoek Mathambo, The Real Estate Agents, African Dope Records, Puma, adidas, The Constructus Corporation. Sweat.X, Antipop Consortium, Viktor Vaughn, The Blackheart Gang, Audi, Coke, Chevrolet, Mercedes, MetroFM, video game scores, movie scores, a fantasy children’s book, South African Design Indaba and so many awards that his mantelpiece owns a trophy cabinet.
The guy’s a pretty big deal, sure, but we’re not about to rest on the super-producer’s laurels for him, and have showed up at his place of work in order to find out what he’s up to now that he’s no longer the scene’s boy wonder.
“I could not be fu**ed with the scene. That whole thing is fu**ed. You’re either an insider or an outsider. You either play into this hierarchy-based pack mentality, similar to those found in monkeys, or you don’t. I’ve always felt like an outsider with everything. Playing live gigs? It’s not fun. I don’t dig having to adapt. Fu**ing hate it, to be honest. It’s awful. Stressful. I hate everything about it. Hate having to prepare. Hate having to go there. Hate having to speak to people. Hate it.”
What Markus loves is being inside here, his studio and his cave, making the type of music that makes you feel like you’re on drugs. Music that plays tricks with your ears and conjures up images. Music that he makes while puffing on a blueberry vape.
“You can smoke it in the Woolies. Smoke it at the in-laws. It’s good, dude. It really gets me through some long lunches.”
Markus feels that the idea of a record label is an outdated concept because of the advent of the information age, calling record labels the monoliths of a done era. Instead Markus is focused on finding ways for him and his friends to make money, so he created Biblo.tv, "the only library music that doesn’t suck", which does extensive work in the gaming, film and commercial industries, selling soundscapes from the likes of Christian Tiger School, Thor Rixon, Dank, Card on Spokes, Gary Thomas, Ali B, and Jimmy Edgar.
Which is not to say that he’s given up on making music for both himself and his fans.
“The stuff that I write for myself is completely separate. If I find it might work commercially I’ll bring it across. But they’re usually very separate. Did my last album Akira under a pseudonym because it’s so different from my other stuff. Like a lucid pop. I sing in it too.”
Markus plays his upbeat TV-game-sounding epic Akira, which is an ode to late-80s animation. Different scenes, specifically the bike chases in the beginning, influenced each track.
There was a period during which Markus left the security of his last studio and was stuck in a bit of a purgatory for a while, living and working from a psych ward at the Oude Molen asylum. Today, with a house and a wife and a cat in the leafy southern suburbs and this studio here in town, Markus is hitting a rich creative vein. Along with the aforementioned tribute album he’s also making podcasts for the first time, which feature the likes of Lauren Beukes, Max du Preez and an anonymous 90s ecstasy dealer.
“I want Studio One to be a voice-over recording studio, and thought I’d use the podcasts as marketing for that. Alexis Christodoulou and I came up with the concept together while we were drinking. I’m buddies with Lauren and got her in to speak about the research she did for Marie Claire on 419 scams. Then I’ve always been into Max du Preez, huge fan, especially his knowledge of lesser-known South African history. He’s a world authority on the wandering philosopher king Moshweshwe who was mentor to the famous Moshoeshoe who founded Lesotho. We set all these stories to music. Our newest podcast is about a drug dealer who used to push a lot of gear through the house scene in the 90s. It centres on the rise of the dark bouncer organizations in a free drug-filled utopia and musically we mixed bad 90s house with Cliff Martinez-style tension.
The studio has a pair of Sony TVs stuck to the wall, two wooden desks full of brightly lit DJ equipment, fantasy art and cutesy cards that Markus’s wife Ali draws of them. It’s here that Markus wrote the score for the feature film Four Corners, which earned him a Safta for Best Achievement in Original Score. The award is in the bathroom competing for floor space with the toilet brush.
“I originally wanted to go for an 80s power office vibe. That’s why the golf clubs are there and I’ve got the globe and the banker’s lamp. I had a little table with whisky and glasses and things, but now I just surround myself with the shit that I collect. This is a Teslasphere. It reacts to sound. Then there’s this international space station model, the Enterprise space shuttle, fire jet, a crown from a party... This is the crown jewel. Alien hive mother. I’m a huge Alien fan. This thing’s got 110 moveable parts!”
All those other things are toys. It’s the tools that really matter. Stuff like the Korg MS 2000 R that he uses “For cinematic effects, like the Drive soundtrack, it builds tension.” Markus holds up a machine covered in the same wallpaper that was used on the cover for the 3 CD album he put out with Sibot as The Real Estate Agents. “808. Sampler. Record sounds into these reactive patches here and then you can run two effects over it. This is my oldest, relevant piece of equipment.” He lifts up the Push, a loop player that allows him to make an entire track without ever having to look at a screen. His computer is on the floor. “32 gigs of RAM. Hackintosh. That means it can be Mac or PC.”
Markus moves over to the record player and starts digging through vinyl, pulling out some Sweat.X, the group he formed with Spoek Mathambo. Will he do something like this again?
“I might produce a rapper. I won’t start a band. Maybe not even a rapper, maybe a singer. Our infrastructure is cool for that. It’s on my mind. Right now I’m more focused on generating IP (intellectual property). Just finished a virtual instrument, Arkus. Which will hit the market soon.”
Markus explains the instrument as spreading arcs, where you can hold a note and then move it up or down, kind of like the beginning of Lost. My face is a blank.
“I’ll send you some official copy when it’s done. I think it’s going to make us a lot of cash.”
Markus needs a lot of cash. Blueberry wax goes for like a grand a gram, his wife wants a baby and then there are the costs of running things here.
“Rent is obviously stupid, this being Cape Town, and then there’s my personal. I like that, it’s like an army term - personal. I mean my guys. I have to make sure everyone gets paid. We’re doing well. When I first started doing the business side of things myself I thought, ‘F**k, this is so easy!’ As an artist you have this mental block, ‘Ohmigod, I can’t send an invoice.’ And that’s all that it is, sending fu**ing invoices, and a lot of guys give away 15% to have someone else invoice for them?”
Ultimately we’ll always want Markus for his music, despite his focus on these business hustles. The good news is that he’s releasing new music through the German label he’s signed to, M=MAXIMAL, which is distributed through Kompakt.fm, in October. In fact, this week’s mixtape is a first listen exclusive.
“My new album is almost done. I bought 400 metres of LED strips and want to fill a small room with all of it and some screens and do the type of visuals that Jannes (Hendrikz, Markus’ cousin) did at Satori (Afrika Burn stage). I hated playing like that. Felt so disconnected from everyone. I’d rather rig a small space, invite like 20 people at a time, play smaller, shorter sets, maybe do two groups a night…”
And the thing is, if that’s what Markus wants to do then that’s probably what Markus is going to do. Would you march to someone else’s beat if you had the ability to produce your own?