06 | Sibusiso "SBU" Sithole
Dream Team is hosting a dance workshop at Supreme Dance Studio tomorrow, so it’s a perfect opportunity to feature one of the DT brothers who will be teaching!
“S. B. U.”
If you are already familiar with Sibusiso “SBU” Sithole’s work, then you probably just read “SBU” in that high-pitched voice that he tags some of his music with. In fact, for much of Chicago’s dance community, Sbu doesn't really need an introduction. In addition to creating a lot of the music mixes that teams such as CODA, Dream Team, and GRV use in their performance sets, he's heavily involved in dance as well, performing and choreographing for the teams he represents.
Not only that, but his sense of style is uniquely him. When I walked into Supreme for this interview, Sbu is waiting in the lobby area rocking his signature nail polish, brightly dyed hair (today's color of choice is a hot pink), a sleeve of bracelets, ugg boots, and backwards pants. This is intentional, and his refreshing brand of self-awareness and confidence to be inexcusably him is something that characterizes all his work. That decision to be the truest expression of himself is something that Sbu encourages for everyone.
He definitely gives off a go-with-the-flow kind of vibe, but he's also extremely committed and disciplined when it comes to his craft. He's also just super dope to chill with in general, and if you're into freestyling to instrumentals in longer car rides, hit him up!
Music in the Dance Community
SBU: *shoutout to CODA shoutout to Dream Team*
John: I feel like you’ve been involved in so many things creatively - what are you currently focused on?
SBU: So dance-wise, right now I am predominantly involved with Dream Team and CODA. I used to be involved with many more groups, but I think when you get older and life starts happening in life where you have a job and relationships and all that extra stuff, you start honing in what are the most valuable or meaningful experiences.
Back in college as a freshman, you could be like “I’m joining eight teams,” but you can’t be doing eight teams nowadays. So I'm definitely making my priorities. As of now and the predictable future, I'm rocking CODA and Dream Team.
John: I know you've been heavily involved with music production as well, especially in our dance community. What’s the extent of your involvement with music both in the dance scene and outside of it?
SBU: To be honest, I don't think I'm super involved as far as what I do in the music industry. I'm much more centered in the dance world socially and musically, but only now am I getting to meet more people in the music scene. For the most part, I've been doing this music thing by myself.
But dance-wise, I started doing this music thing for the urban dance community back in 2011. That's when Viet Phan (Dream Team) joined FIA Modern. Ever since then, I've been a "music guy" for the dance community but for the music community, I don't think I would be considered existent. 😅
John: Yeah, I know you and Viet go way back. Did you join FIA Modern with Viet?
SBU: Yeah yeah, we go way back we go way back. I never was in FIA, but I’ve always been affiliated with the individuals there because Viet connected me to a lot of people in FIA and we're all friends. When we both graduated high school, Viet went to UIC and joined FIA. Turns out they were looking for somebody to make the music for their sets.
At the time, Viet knew that I made music. I told him, "if you needed help" - I said if you need help. I didn't think about it as like a big thing, I just meant if you need - like you Viet - if you need help, I got you. So Viet goes, “Well, technically FIA Modern needs it, but I’m a part of that team. I need help, therefore they need help.” 😂
I’m like, “Alright cool” and basically ever since then my music work has taken off and never stopped.
SBU: As far as Chicago and the Midwest goes, it might actually be easier to name the teams I haven’t done. 😅 To be completely honest there are times when I'll see people performing on stage and I’ll hear their mix and I'm like...oh yeah I got to do that! Especially now that I’ve made music my business - like my actual job - that happens a lot.
Back when I was only doing one or two mixes a week I’m like, “Hell yeah I did that, I remember the hell out of that.” Now it's to the point where I'm more aware of who I haven’t worked with. 🙌
John: Yeah I think like your portfolio is growing hella - like I know Archie Saquilabon (GRV) was here for the Intensive.PNG Dance Camp. I didn’t know that you had mixed for Archie until I started looking up Youtube videos to share to help promote for .PNG. And I’m looking at this video and I’m like…wait…Sbu…did you, did you do this one?
Keep working and networking
John: How. How did you get involved with doing work for Cali-based teams’ sets?
SBU: A big thing that I promote in general: You know when someone is teaching a workshop and then say they get only one person in their workshop? So they decide to stop doing teaching workshops because they think that no one's listening or no ones watching them or anything like that. They get discouraged easily.
Or if you do photography and you get one like on Instagram and you get discouraged because you think you don’t have a million people the first few times you post.
The big thing I promote is just consistently keep working. You never know who’s going to listen to what you do. And when someone finally does listen to it, they might listen to everything else. Especially with social media nowadays, especially Instagram, you can watch one person's link, like that, and then scroll through everything else that they do. You can end up with five different interactions from the same person. So always keep working.
John: Yeah, sometimes it's not just how many people pay attention, but who. Quality over quantity. (Note: Hat tip to Gigi Torres for that insight!)
SBU: Yeah. So for example it was a big connect to get to Archie Saquilabon in L.A. through a friend. So Terry Turner, who is currently in Puzzle but at the time he was in CODA, he asked me to make him a track. It was a remix of “dots on that dots on that dots."
I had wanted to make that song for a while, but it was dope that I was actually paid to do it. So I made that track and then performed it for CODA. After the dance season finished, Terry wanted to make his own video and he asked me to be in the video – so I was in the video, but also made the song.
SBU: Terry posted the video, and already happened to be friends with Archie on Facebook. Archie commented on it was like, “Yo that's a dope video, but who made the mix to that song?” 😂 So Terry tags me in the comments. Archie and I just contacted each other through there. Up until the Intensive.PNG Dance Camp at the end of 2017, I've hadn’t physically met him yet.
John: And that blew my mind because when I picked Archie up from the airport for Intensive.PNG I brought you up, and the way both of you talk about each other I figured you both had met at some point.
SBU: Haha I mean we talk frequently because like I'm always doing stuff for his music - not even just GRV or GRaVy Babies. He also teaches dance in Colombia, so I'll make mixes for that, or he has students I think in Canada, so basically wherever he goes I do that. Anytime that he's working on a new project, we have a conversation.
John: It’s dope. I mean - there's a lot of smart networking through the community, but I also think people are naturally drawn to your unique sense of sound. For Archie to say, “that's the sound I want.” That's a big deal. When I'm listening to music, I can tell it when I’m listening something you've created. You have a distinct and recognizable brand.
SBU: Which is really wild. I mean outside of that "S.B.U." voice tag I put in my songs sometimes, it's interesting for people to recognize that I made a song even without hearing that tag. There are tracks that I've done for people where I didn't use that tag but listeners still know it’s me and I rock with that. That means it's resonating with people that “I’m here.” It's been really cool to be able to hone my skills in this dance community with my music because overall, I did dance mixes primarily to improve as a producer for the type of music I am personally passionate about.
A Unique Sense of Sound
John: Talking about that style of music you want to do, what are your biggest music influences and why do you gravitate toward specific music and sound? What do you look for?
SBU: I think between 2017 and at least the rest of 2018 - I think people will get a better sense of the music that I produce outside of trap and hip-hop. I haven't been able to release a lot of the ambient and trance tracks that I love working on, because I didn't want to release those tracks when the time wasn't right. I wanted to have the right networks so that when I released those tracks, I had access to a larger platform to share my work. Now I work with labels and talk with their managers, and now I'm releasing more E.D.M.
As far as inspirations go, it's a lot of producers and people from SoundCloud. I barely listen to a lot of top 40 stuff. By the time I finally listen to a song that is hot everybody is like –
John: It’s cold. ❄❄❄ 😂
SBU: Haha yeah yeah - its cold! By the time I found out about Gucci Gang or anything from Beyoncé or whatever is on the radio - by the time I listen to it, it's been a song already. Most of time, I’m just way into E.D.M. There are lot of subcategories like wave music, ambient, trance, futurebass. Industrial. Several different genres and D.J.'s that I listen to. I spend so much time listening to that kind of music that sometimes I don't listen anything else outside of that.
John: And you can hear it. When I listen to your mixes, I’m like “Yo I’ve never heard of anything else in the community like this before.” It reminds me of this one video, where they are talking about diets.
SBU: Yeah yeah yeah that guy. That clip of that guy….on like the breakfast club.
John: Yes - that's the one! (Since this interview, I actually dug up the video and wrote a mini-post about it here!)
SBU: That clip or just that whole interview is a big part of the way I live life. The stuff that [Saul Williams] says resonates with me in a big aspect because what you involve yourself with - listening, watching, hearing, smelling, eating - what you involve yourself with becomes who you are. If you involve yourself with a lot of negativity or a lot of things that like, I don't know…
John: Or even if you involve yourself with the same two or three things, too. Then that’s the only thing that comes out creatively.
SBU: Exactly. Me realizing that was important to my growth as an artist. I've always had this constant battle still to this day with having the fear that the only way that I can be successful this is because of the trap stuff I do. When I release ambient tracks like this one, I sometimes fear that people will just be like, “meh oh that’s cool. BUT THAT BODAK YELLOW MIX THOUGH.”
John: Yeah, I remember you posted this a while back:
SBU: That's literally the reason why I made that post. I always have that internal battle. I guess you could say, I'm multi-talented when it comes to electronic production because the stuff most people know me for is trap or hip-hop, which are definitely different realms than the E.D.M. or trance scenes are like. Since they are different networks, one of my music networks can grow while the other might not depending on how much I work and how much influence I have. I consistently have that fear.
I would love for both of them to be equally successful. I don't want to be in a situation where the music that I do for my clients is the only thing that people want to hear from me, because then I'll be famous for something that is not my truest passion. I mean, making music is my passion but it wasn't my goal to be like the Rich Chigga remixer.
The Purpose of Life (No, really.)
John: Speaking of competing priorities, I know there was a point last year where you weren't sure if you could balance a regular 9-5 job with the music work you do. You had a day job, but you ended up leaving that so you could focus on your musical work. Often artists struggle with this balance and decision between "a real job" and artistic endeavors. Can you talk about how you approached your own decision?
SBU: The big thing that I will go to my grave with is the pursuit and fulfillment of what your purpose is. That's something that doesn't have to do with a job. It can be. It can be a job. But for me, your purpose is a fulfillment that helps you feel good about yourself. It helps you to feel good about your life. Your relationships. Most things. As long as you feel like “why I'm here makes sense." There are times especially when you get into older age where you can feel misplaced and feel alone in what you're doing, and that feeling and misplacement can devalue the way you feel about yourself and your accomplishments.
I knew from a very young age that my purpose was predominantly in music and dance - overall my purpose is to inspire others through my art. And I know that not a lot of people necessarily have that solid discovery at a young age. But for me, music and art is a huge part of who I am. You know, all this extra stuff that I have with my hair, my pants, and I the way that I am as a person is solely based on the fact that I'm fully allowing myself to be the artist that I want to be. Because that's inspiration. It allows other individuals to feel at ease with being who they want to be as well.
When I've had other day jobs, I felt depreciated. l felt like this can't be what was meant for me. Especially when you're young, you have so much time to do stuff. You could still be out here doing great and creating professionally at 50, 60, and older. There are so many things that you can do in life, so why waste your time and allow some other individual - even if it's your family - to depict who you want to be because...they're not you.
Stages of Progress
SBU: If approval and respect is a concern - people will respect you more when they see your progress. They won't respect your work if they don't see any work.
The more of that you put time into something that's not your true passion, the more you have time for them to not see progress. Which is why to a certain extent I'm like eff it. I can't waste my own time. That's why I decided to do music full-time. Whether people are going to be cool with it or not, that's fine because this is a stage of progress.
I’m in it to fulfill what I need for my purpose and not what others think of me. But...if someone did have something to say, they’ll be able to look back at my track record and see that I'm not just sitting on my hands doing nothing. I have a track record, and with that I'm fine. I'm fine because I stay consistent with what I do. I'm fine with other individuals eventually understanding that music can be something that is my life, and hopefully that inspires other individuals to pursue their dreams as well. It can be scary to do that if you don’t see anyone else doing it, but I want to be that example for people.
Honestly, that's a big part of why I think I make the music I do - because nobody that in my circles makes the kind of music that I make. I don't need a million people to be on the same page right as long as it makes me happy. My happiness is my happiness and if you're happy with that, then that's cool. If you're not, then I'm still happy.
That's why I'll be releasing a lot more of the music that genuinely makes me feel whole. A lot of the music that I'm working on now is stuff that I've been conceptualizing since 2014. I just haven't released most yet since I was doing a lot of this trap and hip-hop stuff and honing my craft.
John: Absolutely - anything in particular you want to highlight?.
SBU: So January 31, I'm dropping a song with Sally Moy - shout out to Sally!
John: Oh is this the track that we heard in the car on the way to Six Flags this summer?
SBU: Yeah yeah I’m finally releasing the song that I did in the summer of 2017 and it's a big track. It definitely means a lot to me in the sense that it made me realize the route that I want to go with my music. At first, I used to be more of a hardstyle D.J. and my work was really dark. The stuff that I was playing had a really dark side. Although the messages in that music didn't necessarily affect me in a negative way, I can imagine that it could affect other people in that way. I realize that I don't want that to be what I’m known for.
John: Yeah you want to create a different legacy.
SBU: I want my legacy to be not that, haha. This song that I did with Sally is more along the lines of self-appreciation and allowing yourself to be the most that you can possibly be. What better way to do that through music. Sally’s dope – she’s extra talented, and we've already seen a her showcase her talent in videos and showcases in the community as well.
REVEALED: The Backwards Pants Story
John: We’ll switch gears a little bit - but I feel like this story is awesome because even though we laugh about it, this story reflects your general view being authentic and true to yourself.
As we've said, you have a very unique style. Different hair colors. Bracelets all up and down the arm. But one story you told us after Intensive.PNG really stuck with me. SO. THE BIG QUESTION. Why does SBU wear his pants backwards? 😂
SBU: 😂😂😂 This needs to be like the thumbnail for this post. “REVEALED: SBU TALKS WHY HE WEARS PANTS BACKWARDS.”
So here's why: Sophomore year of high school was the biggest change of my life. In freshman and sophomore year I was a different person trying to fit in with a bunch of people that I wasn't really like. (For reference, peep the throwback picture! 😱)
Then junior and senior year I was like, "You know what? This is me, deal with it." So anyway, sophomore year was that transition and I had a summer job with a friend. We were hosts at an acting theater. Basically, we ran the front desk and direct people to their seats or help them find the bathroom. That kind of stuff. So you really only worked for 30-45 minutes and stayed there for 6 hours because the show goes on the whole day. So during that time while the acting show is playing, the two of us are just chilling in front. One time we ended up just watching YouTube videos of Just Dance 3.
In Just Dance 3, you can see the silhouettes of people dancing so you can copy their movements even though you don't exactly see them. But even with the silhouette, we were able to recognize Les Twins in the game. So Les Twins obviously look super recognizable: they’re tall, they have a lot of hair, and the thing that they highlighted in the game was that their pants were backwards. They had neon lights around the rim of the back pockets so you can see that it was a back pocket like -
John: - Ain’t nobody got back pockets like that. 😆
SBU: Yeah yeah you can tell that that's a back pocket but it's facing the front. So I was like whoa! I had followed Les Twins since they were younger, but I never knew that about them since they never talk about it. It's just their life and I respect that so much because you don't necessarily have to showboat your artistic individuality - it's just you. It just makes you happy. Some people are like “HEY THERE MY NAME IS SO AND SO AND MY PANTS ARE BACKWARDS JUST SO YOU KNOW.”
So I look at my friend and I was like, "You know, we should do that at school - that sounds like a good idea!"
Came to school. He didn't do it. 😂 It was just me solo dolo. But then after that, I was like you know what? I can do it by myself anyway. Now it’s been almost a decade of backwards pants.
John: lollll so a decade of CODA and a decade of backwards pants. (CODA just recently celebrated being a dance company for 10 years in 2017).
SBU: Yup! A decade of pants, and bracelets, and actually just a decade of being you know unique and not caring about what anybody has to say. Just doing me. ⬛