Building community and growing the culture with Soulection and Uppercut
Words: Afrika Lethabo Bogatsu | Photography: Nick Gordon, Ashiq Johnson and Aidan Tobias
If you’ve been living under a rock and have no idea what Soulection is, you probably missed one of the dopest parties to hit the country this year. But we’ll humour you for a second. Founded in 2011, Soulection is a West-Coast-based global music collective and record label that also hosts a weekly radio show on Apple Music's Beats 1 Radio.
In the words of Julio Galvez, director of worldwide bookings and partnerships, who goes by the stage name 'The Whooligan', “Soulection is a platform that represents and supports people within the culture – be it music, photography, design or technology.” The word 'culture' has become quite ambiguous, but the word 'community' and its meaning is thankfully still clear. And Soulection is a great reflection of that meaning, you just need to go to one of their gigs to fully understand.
Having first graced our shores in 2015, when Uppercut reached out to host them, they describe South Africa as more than just a booking but an experience they’ve always wanted to have. “Outside of just the music, there was an immediate connection to people and the music, you can’t avoid opening up and immersing yourself in it.”
Julio says “When I’m booking our events worldwide, my biggest thing is loyalty. I’m loyal to everyone that’s taken care of us. It’s more about building a platform and a global community. If our platform is doing well then we can create opportunity for artists in South Africa to shine on a show. We’re constantly trying to expand the community.”
Uppercut and Soulection's relationships make sense because as Julio says they’re in it for the same reasons, “We’re here to create magic together.”
“We’re all about creating a space where we want to be and where we can listen to our kind of music and experience good vibes, so people naturally gravitate towards that,” says Stephan Viollier, one of the founding members of Uppercut, and who hosts a weekly Friday night event at the Waiting Room. Since its official inception in 2011, Uppercut has grown organically to become a nightlife mainstay and a home for hip-hop in Cape Town.
The collective all started off as multi-genre DJs with a wide range of interests and influences, each playing different sounds. “Even though we’re known as the hip-hop guys we’re not stuck in that. Within hip-hop, we switch things up and keep things interesting for our audience and ourselves.”
They credit their longevity to their diplomatic approach when working with people. There’s often a competitive small-pond mentality within hip-hop, where people think one person's success takes away from another. Uppercut has steered away from this by placing an importance on the overall growth of the community rather than individual success. “We don’t exercise any control over who’s in the Uppercut crew or not, so people drift in and out. While you do things under our umbrella, you carry yourself in a particular way. But if you want to build your own thing, then we encourage it. If it doesn’t work out and you want a home again, come get a few gigs.”
They’re not about competition or egos but focus on good energy. It’s exactly this energy and philosophy that has, over the last seven years, made Uppercut a household name that’s respected all across the country. Uppercut as a brand and as a crew has influenced and inspired the city immensely.
Says Julio: “When you feel like you have friends and there’s a real connection, like a family vibe, the show is amplified.” This is why they make a real effort to be accessible to their fans online and in real life. “We try to listen to everything people send us.” They say that’s how they keep their fingers on the pulse of what’s new and relevant.
Uppercut has the same open minds, open ears and open door inclusive policy. “We come from the old school generation and we’re good friends with a lot of the OGs, but at the same time, we bring in a lot of new guys. Anyone can come to us and submit a mix, we’ll give them an early slot and if they do well, we’ll get them more involved and play with older more experienced artists.”
Hence Button Bashers, a monthly event created to scope out talented beatmakers and DJs and to build a community and space where ideas and skills are nurtured and honed. Button Bashers works much like a battle, but for beatmakers and DJs, where they’re given a sample, a week to flip it and rework, and a platform to play their version live at The Waiting Room where the crowd votes on a winner who’ll get another opportunity to play a set alongside other DJs.
This cross-pollination between DJs of different genres and generations is experienced by audiences alike at all events hosted by Uppercut.
Uppercut and Soulection represent something that isn’t common in the music industry, They focus on good music and good energy without any airs of celebrity and VIP vibes.
“We don’t like to kick it backstage," says Julio. "It’s so dope to get to vibe with people on an authentic level and enjoy and spend time with them, just kicking it even after the party is over. That to me is community.”
Despite being well-respected and experienced establishments, both Soulection and Uppercut are far from protectionist like one would expect from people that have been around for so long. They aren’t stuck in purist nostalgia, but rather place a great importance on progression.
“It’s a balance between loyalty and pushing the envelope. We’re super progressive in the way that we think and the music we make and put out. We try to champion each other to do better in life. Like, if you weren’t happy last year and the situation you were in, hopefully, Soulection and the music we make elevated you to be better this year.” And do better is something Soulection does well, year in and year out. There’s a consistent growth in the sound that Soulection produces. You can expect and trust Joe Kay, The Whooligan, Evil Needle and everyone else affiliated with the collective to make and play music that is timeless yet progressive. Which is why Sounds of Tomorrow is so aptly named.
Ultimately the Soulection show felt like a combination of a sing-a-long house-party vibe where your musical tastes are affirmed and being coerced out of your comfort zone by new sounds and artists who still feel familiar. Like Uppercut, it's made up of music heads and fans of hip-hop who pride themselves in a deep knowledge and appreciation for music. Says Julio: “The discovery and education of music is a big thing for us that we take pride in.”