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The first thing you notice when meeting Rose Bonica (real name Natalie Rose Perel), is the frantic energy that emanates from her presence. This inherent anxiety may once have been crippling, but has now proven itself useful in forcing her to question the intentions of everyone and analyse the authenticity of everything she encounters in her career. Traits which are helping Bonica navigate the tumultuous terrain of the South African electronic music industry.
We meet on a warm winter’s day in Cape Town. Bonica is scattered and energetic, trying to deal with artist admin while simultaneously experiencing several levels of frustration. I manage to get her to settle down on the couch with a bribe of peanut butter and banana toast.
It is mildly alarming when you put her career timeline in context with her achievements, less than two years ago Bonica had never produced a song. And now with the release of her sophomore EP she’s on the playlists of artists across Europe, while unsurprisingly remaining under-appreciated back home. However short the expanse of her career may be, the challenges she has faced thus far means her story is ready to be told.
In October 2016 Bonica started producing and after months of living as a hermit she emerged from her lair to share her weird and challenging creations in the club. April 2017 will go down as the month that changed everything, for both Bonica and her debut audience.
The crowd response was a combination of bewilderment, confusion and euphoria. We may have all been in the same room, but we weren’t all hearing the same music. Bonica will be the first one to admit she’s never possessed coping mechanisms for her anxiety and frantic nature. Music is the anchor she needed to pull focus and contain the chaos, what you hear when you press play is a reflection of the environment from which it was salvaged. The distinct voice and character of Rose Bonica’s productions is a powerful declaration of self-worth, confidence and substance.
So how do you come straight out the gates with an unapologetic new sound, play your own music live and survive the critical eyes of audiences who have become accustomed to hearing the same music on repeat? In Bonica’s case she simply had no idea she was an exception to the rule. In her mind every producer was playing their own music and performing live in the club, its her own admitted obliviousness that gave her the confidence to believe she was entering the game on a level playing field.
With the introduction of Rose Bonica to the Cape Town music scene out the way, the rumours and shock about her playing live, spread across the city. Promoters started booking her based on hype, without really putting her music into the context of the line up, which led to some shows in 2017 whose cringe value outweighed the career value of the experience. But these are lessons learnt, about being more discerning with the shows she should take and also trying to find a space where her sound could infiltrate a scene and grow with the right audience.
Her passion and intensity is the driving force behind her success, underneath the self-deprecating banter and nervous laughter is an artist who is aware of her capabilities. This knowledge and drive has informed her views on assimilating into the various genre circles in the city. Not expecting to play at events or in spaces that she doesn’t already support, Bonica shows up to learn and familiarise herself with the people and places she has been working to introduce to her sound. The fickle nature of Cape Town electronic music culture deems you unworthy of a place in it unless the “right” people accept you, so when the time came for her to perform in a space that claims to be the home of underground music, it should come as no surprise that she was met with disrespect.
On two separate occasions in the same space, Bonica has been cut off mid performance while playing the music she is known to produce and where she was booked by promoters who were fully aware of why they had booked her. In both instances the promoters were policed by the so-called gatekeepers to the fortress of underground music, in an act of hypocrisy that is undeniably synonymous with the “culture” of the city. This venue has gone on to prove that it’s claims of diversity and nurturing of the underground is merely clickbait for public support and holds no weight in practice.
It’s too easy to fall back on the excuse that she’s new in the game and should expect these hurdles. It shouldn’t be a smooth ride but when tastemaker events like CTEMF and Future Frequency Festival can recognize her talent, it only illuminates the close-minded policies of other “curators” in Cape Town. Being knocked down by critics only feeds the beast, which is a testament to the tenacity Bonica possesses and a clear indicator that she is meant for things greater than what is on offer on home soil.
She has grown to be unafraid of breaking boundaries, is learning what it takes to be a pioneer and is using her voice to drown out the celebration of mediocrity which has saturated the industry. This part of our conversation got particularly heated until Bonica dropped the mic with a perfect summation, “I just want you to know there is competition and you should do better”.
Her latest offering, “Don’t Let It Get To Your Head” was as much an internal conflict to complete as it is a declaration that she won’t back down. There have never been rules in her production, but there is a statement that runs cohesively through each track which draws the listener deep into the chaotic landscape, chews you up and spits you out. This release is meant to make you uncomfortable, to shake up the complacency and remind you that there is a world of music that you’re cheating yourself out of by limiting the pool from which you discover. And if dance music history had taught us anything, it’s that the weird kids end up revolutionizing the game.
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Listen to the album below on Apple Music.