Coachella
Photo Credit: @brianngo.photos/Instagram shared by @kylewatsonmusic

South Africans couldn’t have been more proud to see local artists like Kyle Watson light up the Coachella stage this year. We sat down with Kyle to find out what the milestone moment felt like, his beginnings as an artist, advice to future South African DJs and what he would call his Coachella experience if it were a movie:

 

Global (08 May, 2023)—South African DJ Kyle Watson achieved a milestone moment for his career and South Africa by playing at Coachella 2023—the pinnacle of all festivals.

He and Uncle Waffles made festival-appreciating locals feel like we’d made it to the musical Olympics, representing SA through two genres that define South African culture—House Music and Amapiano.

But, this was no overnight decision. And, for Kyle, it was a long time coming as the artist had actually earned three Coachella invitations, two of which never came to be.

He’s put over a decade of work into his career, earning household name status in Mzansi with the rest of the world soon to follow.

We wanted to hear all about it and the journey to Coachella, so we sat down with Kyle to fill us in and inspire all of us.

You’ve been building your career for almost 15 years, and it’s definitely paid off! Firstly, how does it feel to be a South African artist who made it to one of the greatest annual music events appreciated globally?

“It’s pretty incredible as a South African to be able to break out of the South African scene and play overseas in general. I mean I think it’s quite difficult breaking out of South Africa, it’s a country that’s kind of far away it doesn’t have a lot of money in the scene… South Africa doesn’t get a lot of big acts, definitely not as many as major markets like the UK and the US and Europe and stuff, so we’re exposed to less big artists which makes it of kind of even more special when a South African artist who starts down there on the tip of Africa manages to actually get out and tour interationally, which is something I’ve been lucky enough to do since about 2016 I think.

“And just the fact that I was able to go through and play Coachella, which is like pretty much the pinnacle of festivals. When you say you’ve played Coachella you know it’s tough to get bigger than that, it’s an incredible feeling.

“I’m very proud of myself that I was able to get to this point and the people around me who helped me get there too, which is something I really, really value and appreciate, it feels pretty special.”

Where did your journey as an artist begin, both physically (if you can remember) and at which phase of your life?

“My journey as an artist began when I was quite young, my parents introduced me to piano. 

They had asked a young Kyle if he wanted to do lessons, to which he said ‘yes’, not knowing it would be the beginning of a bigger dream.

“I must have been about 7 or 8, or somewhere around there and I played the piano for 8 years, [I’ve] always been more of a creative person than a number’s kind of guy.”

Kyle jokes that his brother got the ‘number’s guy’ calling.

“My journey started way back then…and it all built up from there…”

He adds:

“My father was in the music industry his whole career so he introduced me to music production software and the rest, the rest is really history.”

You were first invited to perform at Coachella in the year that will not be named. Obviously, the fest being cancelled must have been a huge dampener. Do you think you grew musically in those quiet years for the world?

“Yes! That was a really big dampener. Obviously getting the chance to play Coachella and then out of all the years that COVID decided to hit, it was 2020 which was the year I got invited to play Coachella the first time. 

“I got invited back to play in 2021, and that never happened and then I got taken off the bill for 2022 which was almost like another tough one; tough pill to swallow…but they had me back this year which definitely redeemed it all.”

Of 2020 as a hectic year for musicians, Kyle said:

“It was a very interesting time for artists. Everybody kind of had a different reaction to it. Some people felt like they had a lot of creative output, some people felt like they lost all that inspiration.”

Reflecting, he shared that he made a lot of music during those ‘quiet years’.

“Initially I felt like I had a lot of inspiration, strangely enough. I think it was because maybe I had a little bit of extra time.”

He nods to the fact that the music he made then was “quite creative and risky.” 

“Some of the stuff was almost too crazy and weird, but I put it out anyway.” 

However, he adds that since getting back into touring at the end of 2021, his music has grown a lot, with 2022 being the year that saw his music grow the most.

You’re about to play your first set at Coachella. Take us through your thoughts in that moment. Did your excitement triumph any nerves? Any ‘rituals’ you have to get amped?

“I actually don’t have any rituals that I do pre-set.. I try to keep as calm as possible!”

Kyle adds that his philosophy is to be present.

“I try at least to just be in that moment…the more you think about what you’re about to do, the more stressed-out and anxious you start to feel. Once you’re on the decks you just kind of, do what you do. You know what to do.” 

Of Coachella, he mentions that the nerves were definitely there and could be felt, but that the most important thing, no matter the crowd size or performance, is simply that people are having a good time, and Coachella was no different.

Of a moment of awe during his Coachella set, Kyle says:

“There was a moment in the middle of my set where I paused for a second, looked around and I was like ‘there’s 6000 people in front of me right now at Coachella, this is actually amazing, I can’t believe this is happening.” 

If your Coachella experience was a movie, what would it be called?

“Where Is the Air Conditioning?” 

A lot of budding house and electronic DJs in SA (and around the world for that matter) can’t wait to be where you are now. What advice would you give them that you would’ve appreciated back in the early days?

“Find your sound first before you start putting music out. Make enough music beforehand without really letting it out into the world just to figure out where you are, what you want to be, where you want to go…Have a clear idea of where you want to be, and just stick to that path, stay true to your sound.” 

His second point of advice focuses on being unique.

“It’s more important now than ever, to have some kind of a unique selling point.

“Whether that’s your music or your brand, the way you interact with people, your sets, your presence on social media…Music is quite disposable now as well…music doesn’t stick around as long as it used to 10, 20 years ago.” 

He shares that the secret is building on your uniqueness.

“You really have to have that…little bit of magic sauce; secret sauce that sets you apart from the rest of the crowd.”

And, don’t worry about focusing on trends.

“Try not to jump into a trend because what happens then is you rise and fall with the trend.”

As a South African repping the global stage, what do you think the current cultural shifts in music are, and what are you excited to see in the industry?

He shares that there is a ‘humongous” Latin House trend that has taken over like Tech House, which is one big cultural cross over.

In a nod to SA artists making exciting moves he shares:

“There are a lot of other South African artists who are coming up and repping on the global stage as well.

“I’m almost looking at it like all of the different cultures joining…It’s quite cool, everything is melting together.

“It’s very cool to see the scene…melting together in this way and I’m very excited to see what the future holds.” 


Source: GTG Interview
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Ashleigh Nefdt is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Ashleigh's favourite stories have always seen the hidden hero (without the cape) come to the rescue. As a journalist, her labour of love is finding those everyday heroes and spotlighting their spark - especially those empowering women, social upliftment movers, sustainability shakers and creatives with hearts of gold. When she's not working on a story, she's dedicated to her canvas or appreciating Mother Nature.

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