Raytheon Orion: The Brother that Moved On


Thato Tsotetsi

Thato Tsotetsi - former contributor to Artsvark. Author of The Pink Gospel blog.
Thato Tsotetsi

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Raytheon Orion playing at the TBMO Art Party '14. Picture: Thato Tsotetsi/Artsvark
Raytheon Orion playing at the TBMO Art Party ’14.
Picture: Thato Tsotetsi/Artsvark

Since SABC radio passed the law to have broadcasters play ninety percent local music, there has been a lot of grumbling and hubbub. Social media has been awash with scathing attacks on the regulation, many citing how there isn’t nearly enough local material to make up that much of radio playlists; those that don’t question the endless libraries of South African music available have suggested that local music simply isn’t good enough or on par with their international counterparts where quality and production ethic is concerned.

I hadn’t listened to music radio since Gareth Cliff left 5fm anyway, so the changes did not affect me. I did however, hold strong opinions on the matter, that being how the decision had been long overdue.

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It wasn’t just a matter of patriotism or any such put on reasons, being an artist myself I understood the need for exposure and support for the purpose of growth and ultimately making a living from one’s craft; and on the matter of production ethic and quality, I can name endless musicians that have and are still doing brilliantly where that is concerned. I’d even go so far as to say that some of our local acts are good enough to rival international acts – and this isn’t just blowing hot air up an already inflated sense of self-importance.

It is known in most of my circles that I am an avid supporter of local music and do everything I can to promote bands/musicians with potential. One such act I find to be amazing in their production ethic and artistry is the amazing art collective turned band, The Brother Moves On.

The Brother Moves On (TBMO) Picture: Ravingfox
The Brother Moves On (TBMO)
Picture: Ravingfox

Formed during 2008 and 2010 by the late Nkululeko Mthembu along with his brother Siyabonga Mthembu and friends Raytheon Orion, BJ Engelbrecth along with cousin/relative Zweli Mthembu (with Ayanda Zalekile and Simphiwe Tshabalala joining the line-up later). The band line-up changed frequently, ringing true to the band name since the collective was never meant to remain rigid forever, as opined by the members themselves.

The collective is famed for their poignant and emotive live performances that are equal parts politically charged as they are emotionally debilitating; this fact found them recognition in international markets as one of the most sought after South African acts on message driven festivals. As with most musical ensembles, the individual members have embarked on breakaway solo projects in pursuit of what I presume to be an individual voice outside of the band.

Zwash (Zweli) has gone on to compose and produce music with breakaway collectives, Stopnoncents (with Sims and Ayanda), Happy Brown Baby Collective (mostly Siya’s initiative) and Zuko Collective as well as recording his first solo offering, the Load Shedding EP under the stage name Yusuf Makongela.

On the other hand, Raytheon had maintained the recording and release of solo projects as Raytheism (since changed to Raytheon Orion) releasing three EPs in the period, Facecontrol [theunderlyingmeaningoftheobtuse], Clean*Free*Water*Forever and Emancipation. This write up is meant to focus on the individual projects of the specific members of TBMO outside of the collective.

Raytheon Orion playing at TBMO Art Party ’14. Picture: Thato Tsotetsi/Artsvark

The Brothers suffered what I consider to be a considerable loss (since the death of Nkush) in the late months of 2015 when guitarist, Raytheon left the band permanently to pursue other interests in the UK. There has since been speculation around the reasons for the guitarist’s departure and whether the collective would survive the absence of his distinctive guitar playing; an element I believe to be an integral part of the TBMO sound, the absence of which can be heard on the band’s Black Tax 1 EP released in October 2015. I understand that his contributions were understated for the large part to give light to the compositions of Ayanda and Zweli.

As an avid follower of their work, the changes were hard to miss and instead of following all the speculations and theories I decided to speak to the individuals instead, beginning with the man whose guitar playing is nothing short of hypnotic.

I had a chat with former member, Raytheon Orion, whose latest project Supremacy was released on his birthday, 16th June 2016. In addition to his stage name from Raytheism to Raytheon Orion, there is a considerable departure in sound, structure and composition of this latest offering. He abandons the characteristic alternative electronic music with dark chamber elements in favour of a more rhythmic progression laced with elements of Oriental music that tugs at the spiritual.

Instead of the release being a conventional four or five song set, this is one composition that spans 31.50 minutes in length. It’s easy to assume this to be a rehashing or reimagining of the structures on Emancipation which featured three tracks the minimum length of 20 minutes. This is different in how the understated guitar work seems a deliberate attempt to allow the soul to swim in the celestial; none of this is surprising from someone prone to skirting genres like a triathlon athlete without ripping off any of the sounds he touches on.

The release is accompanied by the following piece of writing:

Supremacy by Raytheon Orion cover art. Picture: Raytheon Orion
Supremacy by Raytheon Orion cover art.
Picture: Raytheon Orion

Information now absolute
elegant mystery
an archaic modality
assumption reigns supreme
to deter true knowing
a kingdom now supreme in nothing
necessary experiments
subsequently ordained
to establish the rules
of this new wave

This is what he had to say about this and other questions I had for him regarding his direction, time with TBMO and what his prospects are for the future.

Thato (TT)  –  I remember the first time I spoke to you, you were with Siya at Kitcheners and the three of us shared a table. You spoke of Carlo Mombelli’s influence on your work (I assume specifically with TBMO) and went on to say how you compose a lot of stuff that you never end up sharing with the rest of the guys because it’s so far out there. Is that perhaps part of the reason why you ventured on to a solo project so early on in the group (the release of Clean*Free*Water*Forever released concurrently with A New Myth)?

Raytheon Orion (RO)  Carlo is a boss. No doubt about that.

I was composing & producing before I met any of the TBMO members. Facecontrol: theunderlyingmeaningoftheobtuse was actually a much longer set of tracks that I made in the early 2000s, pre Bandcamp or SoundCloud or Facebook really.

Raytheon Orion Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN
Raytheon Orion
Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN

I never really decided to separate my solo stuff from brother. There are so many influences in that grouping of people that it is hard to get them all in. I think I was adequately represented though with TBMO. I have always been recording though on my own. I have some stuff recorded, some stuff scored. I’m taking my time with it.

TT –  You are well known and largely respected (by peers and music lovers alike) for your insane guitar playing which was widely considered a necessary part of the TBMO sound for the alternative/psychedelic influence it gives the music.

I imagine a lot of people expected you to go prog rock or alternative rock when going solo. Why the Scandinavian heavy dungeon/electronic direction?

RO – I’m not deciding anything for certain (genre-wise). Things tend to go in a direction based on what rig I have setup at home. I sold a lot of my gear before I came to London, so the rig is quite slim. I like the limitations though. Makes me focus on the guitar rather than the FX or software.

Right now I have rigged a simple delay chain. One for extremely long range – reverse – swelly – drone-y -ambience, and another for short range – fast – bitc-rushy – static-y – glitch. Both guitars and vox run clean through the same chain.

Whatever changes I make, I make them on the pedal board only (in real time) to both instruments (which are summed essentially). I live mix this and record it all straight into Reaper. Mild post work done. Maintains itself as an improv drone. If I can fall asleep to it, then I’m done.

There are some compositions that I am working on that would require a bit more preparation. So perhaps the prog stuff is coming.

I like listening to soundscapes sans lyrics. So I guess that is what I like making too. Calms the mind. But there is also some “not calm” stuff in the coffers.

TT –  Who are your primary musical influences?

Raytheon Orion. Picture: Jack Daniel's Music Reporter
Raytheon Orion.
Picture: Jack Daniel’s Music Reporter

RO – I try not to listen to much of the same artists. There is something that happens to you when you make people iconic in that way in your life. Similarly, there is something that happens to you when you are made iconic. Both, I feel, are not a true representation of self, or the art forms. Celebrity-dom bores me, and I feel it quite dangerous actually. So I avoid it as much as I can.

I like to feel that music is channelled rather than created. That we hear it from somewhere and translate it for others to hear as well. If we are good, at best, we adequately translate the thing. If not, we feign it with ego till enough people are convinced of the thing.

Either way, people decide what they like to feel from it. Either it makes them feel elated, or popular, or normal, or like they belong to something. Or they just want to passively consume a club banger. Whatever it is, people decide this for themselves, what version of the witchcraft they want to be influenced by.

I like to be influenced by the feeling of serenity, and then subsequently, the feeling of dominion. Not in an aggressive way, more in the way of “dominion over self” (if there is such a thing). So this is what I look for when I’m listening to music.

I mostly just search for drone/ambient mixes on Bandamp/YouTube and let those play in the background throughout the day. I don’t know who made them or where they come from. I just know what it does for me, and I move on with new knowing. No ego, just self. I have to relearn this lesson again and again. The method is there though.

TT – TBMO was heavily political in the subjects it addressed through the music, Raytheism/Raytheon Orion seems to be largely existentialist and about knowledge of self. Is this where your head swims to most times

RO – I do not understand how it is possible to not consider every action/inaction as both political & existential(spiritual). I think after some time I began to feel that wisdom dawns more and more when you make peace with the way the world is rather than trying to change it all the time. That, and you cannot hope to reconcile vice in the world if you have not reconciled it within yourself first. Thus reconciliation begins with the self. See… they’re not separate at all.

TT: Why the shift from Raytheism (Alien music) to Raytheon Orion (pseudo spiritual sounds)

RO: Visitations, I have realised, take on many forms. Before, I think I wanted to pay homage. Now, I feel that they worship us. A coming of age perhaps.


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