I first met Djae (pronounced JAY) Aroni at a benefit skate and rock n roll event Ramps and amps I back in 2012/2013 i think. Really cool dude.playing with his band Crystal axis them comprising of his brother Abuga Aroni on the drums..Neel on Guitar and him on bass. They were playing to our crowd of like 30 skaters and metalheads in the hot sun on the grass..no monitor speakers..no sound guy, no bouncers…I was hooked…fast forward to more BOTBs more RAMPS AND AMPS this time with a bigger turnup..and bigger stage and sound…we’d trade punk albums and get hyped on all the other local bands …and then Crystal axis would go on to be a force to be reckoned with in the Africa with their debut album being a big hit..all over Africa getting them mentions in magazines ,the local papers,radio play.. a documentary ..the girls (lol. jk idk..maybe)…but then the scene died out a bit ..Crystal axis didn’t play live for a reall long time…Djae and Abuga left the country..dont know what happened to Neel and Ahmed…so we at heavy and the beast hit up Djae now in the UK for some answers during all the brexit hullaballo,masters exams,and recording with his new band stone free…
So let’s start; how and when did u get into rock and roll ?
I got into rock when I was about 12. I can’t pin-point how or why but as a musical style/genre it just stood out to me. I was immediately captivated by the instruments and how everything blended and mixed together to create ‘noise’ that sounded so good. I was impressed by how musicians could continuously put forward such amazing riffs and hooks and keep writing more material.
At the time I was pretty much the only person in my group of friends that was so heavily into rock and alternative music; to me it was poetry and it provided a sense of relatability that lacked in loads of other genres. I would save up money to buy those fifty-bob cds on the side of the road with ‘Rock n’ roll’ plastered on the front of them, haha. My Uncle would tease me by saying I used to listen to ‘mzungu music’, haha.
How did crystal axis start up? Tell me information that wasn’t in the newspaper interviews by the way.
Crystal Axis started up many years ago and was the dream of a bunch of kids who wanted to make music and have fun while doing it. I went to school with Neel and that’s how I met him, I had known Abuga all is life since you know, we’re related. We got in contact with Ahmed much later on and I’ll explain more on that in a bit, haha.
I saw Neel playing guitar during one of our music lessons, I think I was around 12/13 at the time. I couldn’t play any instruments then but I had been wanting to learn how to play for a while. So I told him that I would learn how to play guitar and that we should look into starting a band together. So we started a band, with just the two of us. Unfortunately, at this point I still couldn’t play guitar, and I wouldn’t own my own guitar for another few years.
A year or so down the line we formally started a band and we were called ‘Inertia’. People who used to attend the earlier Battle of the Bands’ sessions that were held in Rezorous may recall that name. We played a few gigs under that name and recorded a few very bad quality demos as well, haha. But I personally was not happy; I wanted a more unique band name and a do-over to our roster. I wanted a complete change of everything. Under ‘Inertia’ there were about seven of us, of which only four of us actually played live. So we booted everyone except for Neel and Abuga and we started out again from scratch as Crystal Axis.
Crystal Axis remained just the three of us for a while until one day when I got a message from a random ass dude named Ahmed asking if he can audition. At this point Crystal Axis had begun recording some material with Angad from Absence of Light but we didn’t really have a vocalist. So I spoke to Ahmed, I asked him if he could sing and he said yes and boom, he by-passed any auditions and was immediately part of Crystal Axis. So the four of us formed a new chapter of Crystal Axis, the line-up was never really complete until Ahmed joined. We always spoke about possibly getting additional member on keys but I think we were all very happy with our line up and didn’t want to make any changes; we were all comfortable working and playing with each other.
Let’s talk about your debut album ‘State of Unease’ probably the most awesome Kenyan punk album released; how did you do it? Awesome album btw..
State of Unease took quite a while to write if I am being completely honest. Each song was written at different periods of time and at the time of writing I didn’t know that they would be in an E.P called State of Unease. The songs on the E.P are as a result of several years of messing about, writing music and refining our sound.
The first song I personally wrote my entire life was ‘Dysphoria’, and that was way back when I was fifteen; it didn’t have a name until it was time to record the E.P, before that it was just ‘that-song-Djae-wrote’. The song was meant to be dirty, grungy and full of angst which represented how I saw the world at the time, people “crying out loud” and “waiting in vain” for the fulfilment of false promises by our politicians and people of power. I was very brooding as a teenager and I think that reflects in the lyrics in this song as well as the grungy and grimey style of music.
‘Boogeyman’ was one of my favourite songs to write in terms of the lyrics and the theme. I was very into poetry and had initially written this as a poem. Whilst reading through it I picked up my guitar and messed up and Boogeyman the song was created. Unlike ‘Dysphoria’, the lyrical themes in this song were darker and had less to do with how I saw the world. This song was actually a result of me reading a rather harrowing article about a man named Albert Fish, the real life Boogey Man. If you’ve read any accounts about him they are all extremely barbaric and brutal; a very odious man who took part in some extremely vile activities. The song is very loosely based on what I read about him, if you listen to the lyrics from start to finish it tells a somewhat short story about a Boogeyman and his own nefarious deeds. When I wrote it I was a big fan of dark poetry and I was exploring authors like Edgar Allan Poe, H.P Lovecraft, basically anyone who had a flare for the macabre style of writing. I still have a lot of the poems I wrote and many of them are a tad bit darker then the lyrical content in Boogeyman.
‘Devil Sold His Soul’ took me a while to write, we kept refining and adding on to it even as we were in the studio recording it. There was no particular writing process behind this song, I sort of just let it happen and we all rolled along with it and took it as it came.
Is crystal axis still active, practicing and shit? Should we expect more stuff from you guys?
Well the most important thing is that Crystal Axis hasn’t broken up or quit making music. Unfortunately, we just haven’t been able to do it for a bunch of reasons. For starters we’re never all in the same place at the same time. Last time I was in Kenya, Neel was in Mexico, Abuga was back to the UK and Ahmed had exams. So it didn’t really work out. The last time everyone was together in one place was probably early 2014, or something like that. This makes it difficult to practice and jam together. Not to mention everyone has something going on like uni, work, and life in general. That plus distance hasn’t helped our cause.
But it doesn’t stop us from writing music or coming up with new material. Hopefully we shall be putting out music again soon, just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen at all. We just need the time. And of course, ideally, we all need to be in the same place.
But just to be clear, the band is not defunct or broken up.
What’s your other electronic music project Sckeef and Spinach all about, how is it different from crystal axis?
Well the biggest difference is the genre and style of music, Crystal Axis is punk rock, Sckeef & Spinach isn’t. The latter is a dance music project that I started in high school with my friend Kevin Msibi. We compose and produce everything we put out, except for remixes or whatever. It started off as a fun thing to do then eventually along the road we sort of buckled down and really put a lot of effort into it. We got of our tracks signed and released by a few small labels and we got great feedback from that. We got to work with some really great producer around the world on some tracks and we have a lot of unreleased material (because I am too lazy to finish the things I start)
Again, this is another project that I haven’t focused on as much because of… reasons. Not to mention Kevin and I have not been in the same place together in a long time, whenever I am in Nairobi he is just leaving the country.
You left Kenya to go live in the UK a while back to pursue your law degree yeah.. how’s that going for you? And is that the reason you haven’t been putting out so much music?
Yeah, left Kenya to study. It’s going as well as it could go I suppose, I graduated last year with my bachelor’s in law, I’m studying for my masters now and I’m almost done. All in all, been an interesting experience and I’m grateful I got the chances that I did, I’m lucky.
This has been one of the reason I haven’t put out as much music, not the sole reason why but it does factor. There are periods of time when the work load is immense and that’s all I focus on. I played with a bunch of different bands here, I played with a death metal band called ‘Lucifer’s Stepdad’, they’re called ‘Raijin’ now, and we released an E.P. I’m also playing with a three-piece band named ‘Stone Free’ now and we’re looking into recording and releasing some music pretty soon.
So yeah, school is one of the reasons I haven’t put out as much music but it isn’t the sole reason.
What about brexit? You are in the UK. That was a big deal.. hehe..didya vote? Are you happy you guys are out of the EU?
It was a massive deal, yeah. And no I didn’t vote, haha. But personally I was of the opinion that they were better off in the EU rather than out, I spoke to a lot of people who voted leave and they all had rather interesting reasons why they voted the way they did.
Honestly, I’m neither happy nor unhappy. As a non-EU International living here at the moment, it’s sort of business as usual as far as I’m concerned. We still have to apply for visas the same way as we have been doing, that doesn’t change for us. I’m talking from the point of view of a student here though.
The UK is a big concert country, how many bands have you seen live there? Can you tell us some memorable moments from those gigs?
The live music scene in the UK is absolutely immense! There’s something on every other day, and there’s literally something for everyone. I’ve seen quite a few local bands. Honestly, if you want more info on this you should talk to Abuga, he is the ‘Gig Connoisseur’. He might not have any money to eat for a week but he will always have some cash for a gig. He’s actually met and spent time with quite a few big name rock stars.
My most memorable gig was when I initially moved to the UK to study, back in 2012. I had moved to a town called Canterbury, that’s where I was doing uni. I went to my first gig with a bunch of metalheads I met on campus, didn’t even know their names, I just tagged along. We went to a pub in town that was absolutely packed. It stands out because I was the only black guy in the entire pub, I was a unicorn. As if that wasn’t enough, the second I told people I was from Kenya and that we listen to metal in Africa they lost it. It was an interesting experience, definitely one that I will remember.
You used to organize a lot of gigs back in the day, like ramps and amps and stuff. Can you explain to me how you got to do so many gigs and why you did it?
That’s a pretty fair question, I don’t really remember how I got into doing Ramps and Amps… I met Vince when I was in high school, he was the main organiser behind Ramps and Amps and it was his initial idea. I think he heard the band practicing and he pitched me the idea about setting up a battle of the bands for high school bands and I jumped on board right away. Ramps and Amps started out as a charity event, that’s why I jumped on board and put so much effort into it; we got to make noise doing what we love while also helping others. It was a big win-win so I took the opportunity.
So the first Ramps and Amps we had was really small, there were three bands in total and the crowd we had was of less than twenty or so people. The next one we did was bigger and better and rather than just being a high school BotB we threw in loads of other bands as well. Each year got bigger.
I was lucky that I got to organise gigs like this, I enjoyed every second of it and if given the chance I’d definitely do it again.
What have you been up to mostly?
Studying fam, this masters thing is no joke. Plus I’ve been working, London isn’t cheap, man needs to eat. So when I’m not studying I’m working, and when I’m not working I’m studying.
As you can imagine it’s been so. Damn. Fun.
Other than that, I’ve been playing and jamming with Stone Free. We’ve had a couple of gigs and jam sessions in the past months and we’re looking to record and release some music soon. So watch this space, we ideally will be dropping an E.P before end month.
Do you still play guitar in the nude?
That information is classified…
Hahahaha…okeyy UK or Kenyan girls?
What do you miss most in the Kenyan rock scene?
Everything! The amount of passion and dedication in the Kenyan scene is absolutely amazing. The lengths that bands go to just to record and release music is pretty kick ass. Everyone involved always gives 100% and that is simply amazing. Despite having played a few gigs here, nothing beats the mosh pits at home or the gigs.
Not to mention the rock scene is like one massive family, there’s a massive sense of community and you can’t beat that. It’s great and it’s definitely one of the things I miss the most. I’ve met a lot of great people that I probably would not have met if it wasn’t for the rock scene. Heck, that’s pretty much how I met you (disclaimer: I in no way think Slammy is great)
I savoured every time I played a gig because I didn’t get out often. I’m not sure how many people knew this but almost everyone in the band was under 18, we had strict curfews so we made every second count.
Where do you see it going? Are you psyched?
I’m definitely excited about the direction the scene is going, there’s loads of new bands and acts coming up and it’s exciting to see things develop. It’s pretty awesome seeing bands across multiple genres coming up now. It’s great to see that there are more studios now.
I’m excited about it for sure, it sucks that I can’t be there in person to experience it all but I nevertheless support every band that’s trying to get out there.
Words of advice to all the keeds in bands and doing gigs?
Practice, practice, practice. And then when you think you’ve practiced enough slap yourself and go back and practice some more. There’s no such thing as too much practice and it’s the only way to get better at what you do.
Put yourself out there, take the criticism whether it’s good or bad. Gig as much as you can and get yourselves out there, the more noise you make the better. Get as much experience as you can.
Save up some cash for a decent studio session and record some music. There’s nothing wrong with releasing low quality demos, but if you want people to take you seriously you eventually have to invest in some good quality recordings.
Sawa budah ..When do you return, cause we all know you will?
To be honest, I’m not too sure myself. I haven’t been home in almost year now. I might be back next month, or might be here a while longer. Right now everything is sort of hanging in limbo. I’m trying to get my shit together and sort out my life (insert long whine about being a millennial here, and how life is so unfair and blah blah blah)
Kenya is home, nothing will ever change that for me. It’s where I grew up, it’s where I first fell in love with rock and it’s where Crystal Axis was born. I most definitely will be back, there’s no doubt about it.
thanks for your time man…stay \m/
really old crystal axis footage to be posted here soon 🙂
interview by : Samuel Karugu