Isaac Tollestrup, better known by his pseudonym Hartebeest, strikes me as a musician who belongs very much to his generation. He began producing beats as an early teen – an age many start learning their first instrument. Through the internet he’s received considerable attention without ever having to play live.
In balanced parts hip hop, jazz, pop and every electronic genre that can be thrown into the mix, Hartebeest’s music comes out sounding unequivocally modern. Cut cymbals, sound FX, pitched vocals, and raps (in both English and Korean) all key parts to the palette of sounds Tollestrup offers up on the debut ‘Hartebeest’ EP he released at the start of the year.
Within these four tracks is the song Kalimba, featuring Rayne (Nakita Rayne Talamahina). An eerie, spaced out head-nodder, Tollestrup entered it in the Play It Strange songwriting competition in his final year of high school. It made the finals, which led to Dave Parker mixing the track and, following that, the rest of the EP.
“It made more sense than re-recording the whole song.”
Through Play It Strange, as well as a series of re-posts on Soundcloud and music blogs, Kalimba widened Hartebeest’s audience significantly – currently sitting on a decent 23,000 plays – though from Tollestrup’s demeanour, you’d never guess it. When we talk, he seems excited simply by the possibility that anyone could be listening.
“No one has my music on their iPod yet!”
His own, though, is full. Over the course of our conversation, he cites an assortment of producers and beatmakers including Tennyson, Taquwami, Balam Acab and the Kerosene Comic Book crowd; diverges to talk about how he’s been finding inspiration in a lot of Japanese beatmakers, and convinces me to give EDM another try. We end up discussing the effect cultural and continental boundaries, as well as the bridge that the internet provides, has on the ‘beat scenes’, illustrating just how extremely well-informed Tollestrup is on the style.
‘Well-informed’ seems to be a theme in his music. There’s an understanding of genre and style in Hartebeest that perhaps isn’t so visible in many local producers at the moment. Though this could be explained as a by-product of his studies of jazz at Auckland University, Tollestrup attests that while the course hasn’t changed his music in terms of style, the substance has certainly got more complex.
“Jazz schools taught me a lot about harmony… I play out all the voicings on guitar before I programme them in.”
Currently working on a yet-to-be-titled beat tape, and with a plan for live shows, the future is looking exciting for Hartebeest. If anything’s for sure, with time, plenty of people will have his music on their iPod.