[Ben Jamieson (left) and Benjy de Kock (right) at Concept Records on 30 November. PHOTO: Pierre-Louis Bredenkamp]

Ben Jamieson and Benjy de Kock are the duo behind Concept Records, an independent recording studio nestled in the suburbs across from the Rondebosch Golf Club. However, Ben and Benjy view it as much more than that: a growing creative community that fosters connections among local artists and discussions about the state of the industry as a whole.

In addition to studio recording, Concept Records provides a variety of services such as live sound engineering and videography. Together, they’ve worked with an assortment of local artists like Hartleyvale, Tefo Mahola, Metro Villa, Luh’ra, and Nobuhle Ashanti.

We chatted with the pair to hear about how Concept Records found its feet and where it’s headed. We also used the opportunity to get their insights on the challenges local artists are facing, and what a way forward for Cape Town’s creative sector might look like.

Concept Records
[The studio is home in more than just spirit – Benjy de Kock previously lived in the space for two years. PHOTO: Pierre-Louis Bredenkamp]

Doing it yourself

“We didn’t start Concept Records to make a recording studio or profit or a small business. Those things have arisen around a desire or need to record. At first ourselves, our band at the time, but then it’s grown from there,” Benjy tells us.

Both Benjy and Ben attended Cedar House in Kenilworth, where they formed their first band, Texas Radio. The two gained valuable experience in the production process while recording three EPs for Texas Radio at Woodstock’s Rude Rat Studios.

After graduating, some of the band members scattered, and Benjy was getting ready to embark on an overseas study exchange. The group decided to finally record their album, so they pooled their money and resources to rent out time in a recording studio.

“We put all of our money in and got five days in studio — and then we were out of money. We couldn’t get it mixed, we couldn’t get it mastered, we didn’t get it distributed. We’re still sitting on this album of great recordings but we never had the resources to take it any further,” Benjy explains.

Both Benjy and Ben were also involved in the creation of another project, Coriander Colin. They had a lot of material already written and composed, so they took advantage of a free studio day to lay down all 26 tracks they had been sitting on. However, the tracks only received a single, quick pass through mixing. Because the album never got fully developed, those initial recordings remain on SoundCloud, unused.

Concept Records
[Ben studied sound engineering for a year and a half before dropping out to focus on the studio. PHOTO: Pierre-Louis Bredenkamp]

“So now we’d had these two experiences of having big concepts for major albums and projects but not having the resources to actually get them recorded,” Benjy explains. Once he got back from his exchange, Coriander Colin had a new drummer and a bunch of new material, which meant they had a dilemma on their hands.

“We had to ask ourselves: are we going to put our money into another few days at a studio and find ourselves stuck at the next steps again? Or should we take an equivalent amount of money and buy equipment to record it ourselves?” Benjy says.

They managed to buy a mixing desk, a pair of monitors, and a large diaphragm condenser. And so Concept Records was born at the beginning of 2019. They learnt through hands-on experience, recording themselves, and have taken everything from there. 

Getting music into the world

The Concept Records studio is set up in a three-room back garden flat behind a six-person digs in a very chill suburban neighbourhood. 

“Somehow we’ve never had complaints. Well, minus one. It’s super comfortable,” Benjy laughs. “Even the collage [on the walls] — in this age of distraction — gives you a lot to engage with at any point. But it’s also not sterile, it’s a living space that you feel alive in,” he adds.

When it comes to recording, the pair’s approach starts with assessing what the artist wants — and making sure the artist knows what they want. “That can be quite a big step that people realise: I want to do something, but what do I actually have to do to make it happen?” Ben says.

Concept Records
[You can check out Concept Records’ deep inventory on their website. PHOTO: Pierre-Louis Bredenkamp]

The two love working with analogue gear, and they’re always trying to experiment with what pedals they can record with on the side. “Sometimes [the pedals] just give you some ideas, but sometimes they make the energy in that take that ends up on the record,” Benjy says.

Being musicians themselves, Benjy and Ben are very aware of all the steps it takes to get from a creative vision to a recorded album. “The things we were trying to make in the first place were big ideas, not just ‘I want to get a whole lot of streams on Spotify’. There’s this thing in me or in us as a band that could sound amazing, but that’s met with a lot of practical barriers in getting that out into the world,” Benjy says.

This understanding means the Concept Records team is willing to be more flexible and accommodating to an artist’s wants and needs. “An artist may want to do something that is technically not optimal, but for vibe is most necessary,” Benjy tells us. “That’s the value add we bring to our clients — we’ve been there before,” he continues.

The pair’s shining personalities and care for their work are evident in the glowing comments from artists who have worked with them. 

“I haven’t really found another duo that supports your creative vision yet contributes significantly to your creative process […] And they are two very lovely guys,” Henko Uys of Cape Town-based rock group, Almost Alive, tells us.

“There was a light-heartedness, accommodating, and inspiring energy about the space that reeled me in. It truly was one of the best decisions I had made in my career thus far,” Nobuhle Ashanti, local virtuoso, told us in a previous interview.

Concept Records
[“We’re not too sure where it’s going but we feel like this kind of space is necessary for the scene at the moment,” Ben Jamieson tells us. PHOTO: Pierre-Louis Bredenkamp]

The real dream is shared prosperity

Aside from more pedals, gear, and analogue gadgets with knobs to turn, the pair look forward to taking on more ambitious projects. “A big thing would be some bigger, conceptual albums coming through,” Ben tells us.

The music industry right now is very focused on singles and the measurables they bring to the table — higher streaming numbers and easier social media attention. “Everyone likes a good song. But in terms of the creative process and as creatives ourselves, there’s something much more substantial in [creating] a body of work that takes you somewhere,” Benjy says.

All the artists that Concept Records has worked with so far are self-funded. So, they tell us the real dream is for there to be more resources for local artists. Benjy recounts stories of bringing artists in for roundtable discussions about the local scene:

“We ask 30 people to put up their hands if they’ve ever invested money in their music — everyone puts up their hands. If you’ve ever made money from your music? Seven hands go up. If you’ve ever made a profit or broken even? No one. There are all these people with amazing ideas, with creative intentions investing in themselves already but making a loss. It’s clearly for the art,” Benjy explains.

The goal is to find a way of funding art that doesn’t just cause a net loss for creators. It’s about rewarding the value of artists, not an expectation of getting rich. “Although that would be nice too,” Benjy laughs.

Concept Records
[The view from a pedal. PHOTO: Pierre-Louis Bredenkamp]

Finding ways forward

Ben and Benjy echo many of the sentiments we’ve heard from artists in the scene about their struggles to find audiences. Lockdowns created a hole in the landscape as medium-sized venues disappeared, and audiences seem to have become more insular.

“Like Mercury, Assembly, Raptor Room — all these spaces are gone that used to accommodate a band that could pull more than 30 people but less than a stadium or theatre,” Benjy explains.

“It’s barren down here. But I think the community is growing, people are realising that something needs to change,” Ben adds.

One way forward is through medium-sized, multi-use venues. Ben and Benjy emphasise that there’s a lot more creative output than just music — there’s drama, comedy, visual art, and filmmaking, just to name a few.

“There are a lot of different silos in Cape Town, a lot of spaces that don’t have much overlap but that could benefit immensely from connecting across genres, venues, demographics, and income groups,” Benjy explains.

There’s still a long way to go in fostering a local creative scene that’s accessible to audiences and also rewards the value of artists. But there is no doubt Concept Records will be a part of whichever direction it heads, providing a space for independent artists to connect, explore, record, and support each other.

Inside that back garden flat, swimming under cables and pedals, Ben and Benjy’s grinning faces will be hard at work spinning creative visions into reality.

Author

​​I write about the tech sector in hopes we can find human-centred alternatives to the mess we’ve made for ourselves. I get involved in the music scene because leaving passion unpursued is a sin. When my feet aren’t busy on the sokkie floor, you can find me chasing silver linings.

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