I always maintain that I found out about KoolOut from a fellow rapper named Frank November, way back when I was in University in KZN, which I profusely am thankful for, because when my time ended, I was looking for a place to call home. A job that would make me happy, above and beyond just being able to get paid right. A place where I could grow, build my knowledge and also become a future influencer for those who are around me. So late last year, I found KoolOut. I could name you countless experiences since then that have made me wish I could share them with the world, but for now, let’s start here.
When I talk about sharing the experiences, I mean being able to go through them because telling someone or showing them on my Instagram story would not be the same, you still viewing it from the outside. With KoolOut having their 10th birthday earlier this year, which they’re celebrated in association with Butan and CanDo’s Unbreakable Experience, I figured it would be best for my continued experience to find out where the team came from and how I get to etch my name in the history books of the entertainment industry by being part of the Koolest team.
This week was the founder’s birthday. International DJ, model, hip-hop honouree, multiple award winner, someone I consider a ‘vibe engineer‘…
Akio Kawahito aka DJ I.D.
…one of 2012’s sexiest DJ’s, one of the creators of the first DJ Tutorial Video in Africa, former Shiz Niz resident DJ, has featured in Hype, GQ and even Rolling Stones magazines…above and beyond this, he’s the creator of KoolOutLive, KoolOut Concepts…the company I gladly find myself working for currently…
A Master’s in International Relations, and a secured job as an analyst in the International Criminal Court, how did the passion for music win over ‘security’?
I had been DJing for about 3 years while I lived in Japan and through my student days in Amsterdam. When I got my M.A., I just assumed that I was supposed to get a job with an international organization and pursue a career in the field. During that year at the ICC, I didn’t DJ once and the way that I missed music made me question my careers trajectory.
What’s first hip-hop song you liked?
That would have to go waaaaay back. I can’t remember specifically, but it would have been LL Cool J’s “Rock the Bells” or Doug E Fresh’s “La Di Da Di”. My brother had that Doug E Fresh cassette and bumped the fuck out of it.
The day you made the decision…
I first decided to pick up DJing in Japan. I was fresh out of University and getting a check so had a little bit of money for the first time in my life. I convinced my roommate to buy a turntable if I bought the other one and a mixer. From there we started hosting house parties in our flat and then eventually found a club that would let us host nights.
Biggest hip hop influence on your come up?
I would say the whole Rawkus era was really big for me coming up. The artists and the music coming out really spoke to me and was contrasted with what was commercial at the time which was like Ja Rule.
2. Your history has you in places that people in South Africa wish to head over to, why make this your home?
South Africa kinda made itself my home as opposed to the other way around. I felt so comfortable from the day I arrived. I loved the racial diversity and in particular the existence of Coloured people. When I got here I was like
Whaaaaaaat? Mixed people got their own group and culture????
The longer you stay the more ingrained you become into people’s lives and theirs into yours. Outside of that, from a career point of view I was doing what nobody taught me was possible.
Please tell us about your Japanese/Netherlands History
Moms is from the Netherlands and I used to spend a lot of time there growing up. Moved there as an adult to get my Masters and stayed for an extra year working. My background there really got me used to a life of travel from an early age.
My father is from Japan and I lived there when I was a kid. The university I attended was like 90% white so when I graduated it had been 4 years frustration so I was like
“Peace, I’m moving to Japan.”
Spent two years there and really grew as an individual and learned a lot about my dad in ways that I couldn’t have understood as a kid.
Spent most of my time until I was 18 years old in the U.S so it was obviously impactful in my growth as a human. All of the things of searching for identity as a mixed race Asian kid in the Dirty South to developing a love for basketball and hip hop came from my time in the U.S.
My first residency was in Nagoya, Japan at a club called the Plastic Factory. I’ll be forever grateful to them, because I was rubbish as a DJ, but I pulled a crowd. This was short-lived though ’cause I moved out of Japan pretty soon after hooking that up. I would say my first true residency was in Amsterdam at a bar called Lux. I used to hold it down every Wednesday for about a year.
You’ve been influencing hip-hop in the country for so long, what do you think of the growth of the local scene?
Its been crazy to see the growth. I’ve alluded in social media posts to the times when hip hop was straight up frowned upon and how we had to endure 6 hours of House for 1 hour of hip hop. I posted sometime in like 2012 that we would overtake House in the next few years and people laughed at me (I need to go back and find this post). Watching it change from underground to a commercial movement with definable economic metrics is amazing. I just wish more artists were eating off the growth as opposed to the corporates and agencies.
Who’s your Favourite artist?
Its tough for me say my “favourite” artist, but I would say the artist I respect the most is AKA. He literally ushered in the modern era of Hip Hop and changed music not only in South Africa, but the whole continent. The way he has created longevity and maintained relevance should be a blueprint for artists coming up.
Best Artist that ‘choked’ or rather never made it?
There are a few. One would be ILL Skillz. I was the DJ in the crew and we had a lot of talent and buzz coming out of Cape Town. In the end, poor management and bad internal decisions doomed the progress.
Is South African hip hop missing anything?
For sure. Its still too commercial-centric. We’re witnessing the rise of the subcultures now, but until there is an alternative movement that actually generates revenue then we’ll be stuck with a lack of choices,
Who were the Previous members?
What were the Biggest Struggles?
The biggest struggle as an events brand is staying relevant. People want something new and exciting. Your fan base gets older over time. You can’t expect a person that comes to every event at 25 to keep doing so at 35. Their priorities change.
Best Moment of the Cape Town times?
Really every first Wednesday of the month was incredible. It was a different time. I made R500 per event, but each one was epic. I did it straight up for the love. If I had to pick one moment, it was probably the People Under Stairs show. It was our first international and we sold it out. Kids were paying to get into the club below Zula and then climbing up the walls to get into the show.
4. KoolOut moves to Johannesburg. Why?
I’ve been asked this question a lot so I’ll keep it short and sweet. Kool Out was a black party. There was no room to grow and our movement was never gonna be respected in Cape Town. We knew we peaked out in CPT. If we wanted to do anything with this brand, we had to move to Joburg.
- Deciding on venue
I have very specific criteria for venues. At the time, everybody was onto Rosebank so I specifically wanted to use a place that no other crew was using so that we could take ownership. I scouted a bunch of locations and decided on Kitcheners, because the setup reminded me of the vibe we had in Cape Town. At the time Braam was nothing. No other businesses on the block and one streetlight. It wasn’t a place where black people went. We got so much shit and people laughed at us for using Kitcheners. Within a year, we had the place poppin and all the people that were laughing at us were hustling to get their own nights at Kitcheners.
- New audience problems?
Always. Finding ways to appeal to a new audience is always a challenge. There are always new promoters and parties that have easier access to the youth demographic. One advantage we have is experience. Musically, I made it a point never to be my parents meaning I wouldn’t be hard headed and insist new music coming out was kak and my music was the best. I decided I would be open minded to all the new movements and sift through what was good and what I didn’t fuck with.
- Explain Alchemy
You always want to be on the forefront of trends and I’ve been talking about the rise of the subcultures. Kuttah and I have very diverse music interests outside of hip hop and we wanted to grow this platform. We found that the crews running these events were too clique-y and exclusive so we decided to start our own series and be inclusive. I wanted to separate this from the Kool Out brand which has essentially become synonymous with Hip Hop so that we don’t confuse our base.
– Artists you would love to have on the KOL stage?
Locally, we’ve had just about everyone. Internationally I can’t say because we’re trying to get those artists now and I don’t want to tip my moves.
– Dream Colloborations
We’re working on a collab with New York’s Everyday People. This would be great if we can manage to pull it off.
– Any song, or project you could’ve made yourself or wish you could’ve had a part to play in?
Maybe the original Fill Up the Dome. That was transcendent and inspirational moment for South African Hip Hop.
6. 2017 Kings of Gauteng Hip-Hop Awards
- What did it take?
Consistency and our biggest year. The Alchemy Music Festival was groundbreaking. It was Afropunk before AfroPunk. Just watch even this year and moving forward how many CBD based urban festivals there are. We laid down the blueprint.
- What do you think was the deciding factor for the judges?
“I don’t know. Maybe they felt sorry for me. LOL.”
I was the India Arie of the SAHHA. I think between myself and Kool Out, I had over 7 nominations in the last 5 years and now wins.
- Other Awards are you aiming for?
Promoter of the Year would be dope. Maybe eventually DJ of the year, but the criteria on that doesn’t really suit me.
7. Picking new members?
- How you got to pick Kuttah
I knew Kuttah from early Kool Out days and we stayed in touch while he was in Durban. When he moved to Joburg at the same time I did, I knew he would be a good fit.
- How you got to pick Banesa
When Raiko left Kool Out, it created a big void cuz he was my right hand. I needed to fill the spot, but instead of trying to replace Raiko, I decided to try and replace myself so that I could focus on the creative side. I had known Banesa for years through her work in Cape Town with Bank Productions and knew she could take over the eventing and admin side.
- Is there someone you wish you could’ve had on your team?
Maybe another Rain Maker. That’s about it.
8. Favourite albums of the most recent years
- You mixed Skyzoo’s Homecoming tape, how did that occur?
I’d developed a relationship with Douglas of Conscious4Life which was hosting international shows. He hit me up and I jumped at the opportunity. I had been listening to Skyzoo for years so it was cool to mix the tape.
- Any other projects you working on right now?
Just trying to be active with releasing mixes. My Low End Theory mix from LA did 3,000 plays in two weeks and trended in 4 countries.
- Music you’re anticipating?
Hard to say bro. Artists just release these days without warning.
10. Where to for KoolOut?
- You started the Koolout website and do most of the graphics, is there gonna be a time where you focus on something else entirely?
For sure. I love music and will never give it up, but part of me believes what I was meant to do, I haven’t even discovered yet.
- Retirement thoughts?
I retired from management 2 years ago. That’s the only retirement I’ve considered.
- Next 10 years for Koolout looks like…?
Let go of the small things and only focus on the big ones.
I’ve had this article for a while I’ll admit, but I felt it would be appropriate to put this out there because this weekend, we celebrating his birthday at KoolOut.
If you’ve read up to this point I say come and experience a vibe. Beer pong, 30 seconds challenges, and maybe the honour of meeting your favourite artist…either way, there’ll be an experience…created by Akio and a well-oiled machine of a dedicated team. I just hope you love it…but until you do…
Trust, it’s Chilled Vibes And Cereal.