Jason Hinch is a top South African rock drummer who’s worked with everyone from Arno Carstens to Zolani Mahola, Albert Frost to Francois van Coke, as well as countless others. The son of a Dr. Professor of music and a concert pianist, Jason has been immersed in music his entire life. After studying Jazz composition and Jazz drumming and obtaining his BA in Music in 2010, Jason pursued a full-time touring and recording career performing over 200 shows a year and recording on numerous albums. Recently Jason launched his solo project, though, which is far more electronic. We sat down with him to chat about the South African music industry, some of the challenges faced by bands and producers, the divide between rock and electronic musicians in South Africa and much more.
I understand that you grew up in a family of musicians – how much of a role did that play in causing you to gravitate towards picking up an instrument?
Oh totally. Some of my earliest memories are from underneath pianos, my mum and dad practising together or with orchestras etc. My dad studied music in London in the 60’s, can you imagine? And while we were growing up he would play us his favourite jazz and rock records. My mum, although a pianist, was always a rocker at heart and introduced us to bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. My oldest brother introduced me to bands like Nirvana and The Prodigy when I was like 10 and my other brother got me into punk at first with guys like NOFX etc and a little later on crazy stuff like Meshuggah and The Dillinger Escape Plan. After high school, I started getting into stuff like Justice and Aphex Twin.
I guess my point is that my family’s influence on me to want play music was huge. Any kind of music. Everything. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.
I can imagine that it must have been tough at the beginning as there must have been a lot of pressure on you to succeed and be talented at playing music – was this initially the case?
It was never like that. It was always for the love of it. Always. Later on, I studied music and that brought with it it’s own set of pressures. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well but it never came from my family.
Out of your family members, who had the most influence on which instruments you chose to play and why? Were there any instruments you were forced to play or were you allowed to pick and choose?
My brother was definitely the one that got me into playing the drums. He played the guitar for a few bands who were pretty big in their day. He was the first person that taught me to play an instrument. Just messing around together. Those were good times.
In high school, drums wasn’t an instrument so I played the trumpet and did my Royal Schools exams like that. In university, I specialised in drums and jazz composition but we had to play the piano too. That along with the theory we did for big bands and orchestras etc has been insanely helpful. That bit of piano and all that theory. For my own writing mostly but also just being able to communicate with other players.
You’ve had a pretty amazing career as a musician but what was the catalyst that made you decided to actually pursue music as a career? (Besides having a family of musicians)
I started playing shows pretty young. Like 13. I was playing with older guys playing house parties and little fests and stuff at first but then by the time I was like 16 we were playing clubs and stuff and by 17/18 I was doing tours and festivals.
That was definitely the catalysts for me. I was just like; DAMN, THIS IS SO RAD. Haha.
You’ve played for countless artists – what has been the fondest memory of your musical career so far?
Touring Brazil last month was life changing. That was really incredible. Some of those first big stages I mentioned were super memorable. There are a lot of highlights. Getting nominated for a SAMA, winning an MK award. Some of the endorsements I’ve gotten were pretty huge for me. More recently there are a few main stages that stand out. Rocking the Daises, Innibos is huge, Up The Creek, Oppikoppi, The Standard Bank Jazz Fest, Table Mountain Blues Summit, STRAB in Mozambique is amazing too. Some incredible studios. There are lots of things man. It’s been real. Playing with all the incredible people I’ve been fortunate enough to get onto stages with is in itself a highlight. I’ve worked with some incredible human beings.
On the note of playing for many artists, you’ve also played for many artists across numerous genres which is something I find to be quite unique. Why do you choose to drum over such a wide spectrum of music, or rather – what made you decide to do this?
It was never really a choice. I grew up playing a lot of different styles, I studied a bunch of different styles and then played more different styles sessioning etc. I think it was just a matter of necessity. I wanted to be a working musician and you can’t just play for one artist if you want to do that. So yeah it started kind of naturally and later on it just kind of became my thing. My passion is music so that would include all genres.
When did your interest in electronic music start?
I first fell in love with electronic music listening to guys like Justice and Aphex Twin when I was around 16. Coming from a performance background I was always just like, “I HAVE TO DO THIS LIVE”. One of the reasons I studied music was because I wanted to do that stuff live. Eventually though drumming kind of took over and the electronic thing took a back seat. I wanted to do it again later on but the whole “EDM” thing just felt so fake. I dunno. I didn’t want to be a part of that. Right now though everything just just feels right. It feels really natural.
How did you get started doing live electronic music?
Originally, like 6 years ago, I was playing live drums and sampling electro and stuff but it just wasn’t practical. Drums are such a mission hahaa. Maybe the infrastructure just wasn’t really there for something like that in SA.
I always had this super old MPC that I would mess around with when I was writing but I started really digging playing around on it and started messing around with the idea more and more. Eventually it just kind of clicked; I could play any instrument with it. It was perfect.
That’s where the idea to do it on the NI Maschine I use now came from. The one I play on actually belonged to Zebra and Giraffe originally. I bought it from Stef who I play in another band with called Art Snakes. Stef’s rad. Thanks Stef!
There is a rather annoying culture in rock music where fans of rock music tend to look down upon electronic music as being an inferior genre due to it not being made with “real” instruments. What are your thoughts on this?
The definition of a musical instrument is something you use to make music.
You know there was a time the electric guitar wasn’t considered a “real instrument”? There was a time where every single instrument was brand new. Think about that. The electric guitar, responsible for rock music’s birth, was once basically the equivalent of a laptop some people now love to hate on so much. A blank canvas. Completely new territory waiting for someone to write it’s future. It’s quite beautiful actually.
Miles Davis’s mother wanted him to be a classical trumpet player. She didn’t think jazz music was “real” music. If Miles Davis had listened to his mother some of the greatest music ever recorded would not exist today. It was the same for Jimi Hendrix. I guarantee Beethoven’s parents/friends, were like; “what is this crap?”, you know?
My point is, If everyone listened to the generation that came before them we would probably still be banging rocks together in a cave. For real. It’s ridiculous. You’d think people would have learned by now to be open minded enough to accept the new as it stems from the old.
Why do you think there is this enormous divide between rock and electronic music in terms of what people within each culture think of the genre?
I think it’s fear. People fear what they don’t know. I think a lot of musicians hate on other genres because they don’t understand them. They don’t understand how they work and that scares them. It’s also a mind set and group thinking situation, “my buddies in the rock scene all agree that electro is shit, so I must too or else I look like an idiot”.
I feel like it becomes more and more entrenched each year. Do you think this is because rock fans only ever see the commercial (and average) side of the electronic scene?
You know that’s ironic right. You’re describing commercial music as inferior in some way. Which it’s not. Music has always served different purposes. Wether it’s prayer, dancing, going to war, whatever. Dance music is, wait for it, made for dancing. Pop music is; made to be popular. It does this by being, catchy and memorable. Just because something doesn’t give you what you want doesn’t make it “bad”. It’s just not your thing. If you gave it an honest chance in the first place. And that’s cool. We’re all different. It’s human. But if we go around persecuting everyone who doesn’t believe in the same things we do.. Well. We know where that gets us.. The crusades.
And actually I think the opposite. I think younger kids these days care less about genres than ever before. I think our generation are more eclectic than ever. It depends on so many things. The setting you’re in, the mood, the person you’re with..
I read this amazing article by a guy called Lefsetz. He’s amazing. Check him out. He was saying how people don’t need music anymore to define who they are. It used to be a necessity. You were a punk or a jazz cat, or a metal head or a jock or whatever. Then came technology and disrupted that. People could define themselves into really small or really huge communities using technology. Gaming, blogs, Instagram, whatever. And within each one of those categories a million subcategories. You didn’t need music to define who you were. Tech was the new rock ’n roll. Now though, the entry point to tech is so much lower than it was and the scarcity is gone. You wanna know what the next big thing is? Politics. That’s the next rock ’n roll.
A big part of the divide is this belief that if you listen to “x” then you can’t listen to “y”, and this actually applies to divides within the genre themselves. Do you think this is an incredibly backwards way of thinking? That you can’t listen to one genre if you listen to another?
Pop culture is something to be indulged in. It’s not meant to be taken so damn seriously. It’s not politics. It’s not life or death. It’s supposed to be fun. Go to a bar/club and get drunk and dance. Go to a metal show and head bang. Go see a proper jazz band and get your mind blown. People take it so seriously. Life’s too short. There’s so much cool stuff out there if you’re just open minded enough to listen out for it.