We Are All Connected: After 10 years, we bid farewell to The Other

It is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to The Other – the banner under which friends and music heads Aaron Peters, Matt Hichens and Philipus Johan have been throwing parties as SWIM, DJing as The Other DJs, producing radio as The Other Radio and selling records as The Other Records for the past 10 years. 

They hosted a farewell party and panel discussion with Cheshire Vineyard at 1 Park to celebrate the community that has grown around The Other, a community based on the motto “we are all connected”, and as a long-time admirer of their work, I had to attend. 

The Other was born out of a need for more alternative music spaces. It used a do-it-yourself approach to create platforms that put inclusivity at the forefront of their mission – particularly important in a country where the line-ups of commercial club nights and festivals are almost always dominated by white men.

I stumbled upon The Other Records when it was based at Observatory in 2018. On a whim, I went to the Betterhalf store, where The Other Records had a modest two crates of LPs. The selection in these crates was refreshingly eclectic: white label house 45s, South African jazz and new South African releases,  each with its own handwritten description of the record. I walked out that day with Peace Forever Seaside Senegal Castle by Gourmet – the description said “the oddball Cape Town producer and singer offers up his cocktail of breezy, twisted journeys, swimming mud made of chocolate”. That kind of playfulness is present in everything The Other has done.

What sets The Other apart is an eye for detail and a desire to add a personal touch to every endeavour. As Aaron put it during the interview, “We’re very on the nose with what we do”. From those two boxes, The Other Records expanded into a room just behind the Betterhalf store. It quickly became a hub for record collectors and musicians; spilling out onto the street on sunny afternoons. Hanging out there broadened my understanding of local music and introduced me to a ton of selectors.

The Other was created out of the SWIM parties that Aaron, Matt and Phillipus Johan used to throw. As they describe it, they started SWIM to fill a gap in Cape Town’s nightlife at the time – ” We didn’t feel like we fit into a lot of what was happening – at least in a musical space.” Matt chimed in adding, “It was like the other stuff, you know. You do this and then we’ll do the other thing. [SWIM] gave us a lot of passion and strength to just, like, do it our way.”

“It was a launch pad for us to be able to spend some more time with our friends and do some things that brought us a lot of joy and moments that we could share with a lot of people,” Aaron expanded. That launch pad was the starting point for the record store, the radio station and Search – their New Year’s Eve music festival. 

“We never had a 10-year plan,” Phillipus Johan explains. “We were delusional in the best possible way. It was like, imagine what we could do if we all quit our jobs. That that ended up happening is pretty crazy.” It is inspiring how the Other Records expanded and became such a presence in the city. As Aaron puts it, The Other Records was started as a way to bring in music that otherwise couldn’t be found in Cape Town, “The store wasn’t started because we were ever committed to serious record collecting, but flipping rare records was how the store was able to survive.”

One of the highlights of this 10 year journey, that was mentioned during the discussion, was the friendship the store owners formed with legendary South African jazz pianist, Tete Mbambisa. Aaron bought a collection of his records including a rare original copy of Tete’s Big Sound. At the time, Aaron believed that Mbambisa had passed away. However, after the re-issue of the record that came out, Aaron learnt that Mbambisa was alive and living in Gugulethu.

“It was a beautiful moment for him to come into the store [and] to see a record he hadn’t seen in a long time. We decided to raise money from selling this record [The original of Tete’s Big Sound] that could go to him. He would come and visit the store every now and again, and tell whoever was in the store incredible stories about his life. Getting to know people like that in a music space was very special.” The telling of this story was extremely moving and it showed how important the Other Records became through its appreciation and support of local artists. 

The momentum of starting the record store helped get the Other Radio off the ground. The biggest stumbling block came with the advent of the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 – when the radio started broadcasting. “Having that constant worry about how we’re going to just pay the rent from the beginning when we didn’t have events [to generate income] was weirdly not as defeating as it could have been. We were quite persistent and stubborn, which I’m happy about,” Phillipus said. 

The Other Records allowed The Other to grow its brand and highlighted the need for a community, but it was really the Other Radio that allowed that community to grow beyond Cape Town. The radio boasted shows from producers in other parts of South Africa and internationally. “I think everyone being super keen from the beginning, people we really look up to, really made [The Other Radio] feel like the right thing.” The Other Radio demonstrated The Other’s dedication to inclusivity, as the majority of contributors were intentionally POC, LGBTQI+ or femme. 

One of the saddest facts of this story is that it illustrates the lack of financial support given to cultural institutions in this country. Even as the recipients of Ballantine’s True Music Fund, that helped The Other Radio relaunch after their eviction from Ghost, the founders still had to make the decision to close up shop. Ghost was the penthouse space on Loop Street from which The Other Radio broadcast. Anyone who hung out or partied there will tell you what a perfect space it was, and what a blow it was to the scene when it closed. 

However, Aaron is hopeful saying, “I think if we had to do that [creating The Other] now, it would be in a very different space, because there’s a lot of others. There’s so many interesting collectives. Right now, Cape Town is extremely exciting when it comes to the alternative – which feels right to close this chapter because, you know, the other is all around.”

“We’re all connected. I say it so much and it’s something that I won’t stop saying. I’m so glad that that became such a big part of what we do, because we really couldn’t have done this without the community that supported it.”  

On a closing note, I have been assured that the Search festival will definitely continue. The Other Records will be having an in-store sale and will be closing shop on the 27th of March. The Other Radios’ Mixcloud archives will remain active but the website’s future is still to be announced.

The Other’s impact on Cape Town’s music scene can not be overstated. The Other has given all those that experienced it, an example of how to create, learn and build dynamic cultural institutions that are committed to respect, learning and connecting through music.