Saturday, May 10, 2008

Setting South Africa's Music Scene Alight

Following a recent decision to take a Gonzo approach to my journalism, I couldn’t be happier to receive a message from Marc de la Querra stating simply “We’re in Bohemia, if you’d like to join us”. Is there a better way to interview a band than getting to know them over a couple of drinks, cigarettes and dodgy pub food? I think not. Marc is a guitarist and vocalist for a Durban-based band called Fire Through The Window. He is joined by Sinead Dennis who, above being the lead vocalist and the girl who gets to play their very cool star-shaped tambourine, is Marc’s girlfriend. Other members are Matt Coombes on the bass guitar, Sidney Rash on drums and guitarist Peter Babol. The five members differ in many ways with varying ages, studying everything from music to design and marketing- throw in one girl and you have a team that will undoubtedly make for interesting conversation, not to mention pictures from music tours! The band began in 2007 as no more than a hobby, call it a side-project if you will. Marc was involved in another band at the time, but sat down one day to write some songs for his girlfriend. When discovering that Sinead was pretty well-endowed herself when it came to music, the pair started writing together. As much as this kind of gesture would normally make me feel nauseous, one can’t help but know that this time it’s different. The band’s lyrics are catchy, but by no means cheesy and the words subsist with such candor, one can’t help but smile and tap your feet to their sound. Their live performances are a time period of sheer sincerity, blended with a vigour few bands possess on stage. And obviously, it works: Fire Through The Window has spent two weeks at the number one spot on the University of Johannesburg’s radio station for best local act, they reached the sixth position on Five FM’s ‘High Five at Five’ countdown and their single ‘Just Like You Are’ is featured in an advert for Apple’s iPod Nano as well as being one of the featured tracks on MK 89’s soon-to-be-released music DVD. On top of this, the band is all over the place, getting plenty of airplay on radio stations across the country and satisfying their followers with ample live performances. After recording their work “just for fun”, the band got a contract with local record label, Witchdoctor. They describe the label as being unspecific and never pressurising them with regards to decisions. On why they released ‘Just Like You Are’ as their first single, I am met with a simple answer: It was the first song Sinead and Marc wrote together and it just felt right. Fire Through The Window recently had their first performance in Stellenbosch- understandable, seeing as they live so far away. But we are guaranteed to be graced with their presence in the near future and it seems the town and its music-junkies made a good impression. Other shows to look out for include Rocking the Daisies and various smaller gigs in Cape Town. When asked to compare their hometown to the Cape, they point out that they are less known here and that each crowd really depends on who they play with, but they are in the process of expanding beyond the comfort of Durban where they say they are “spoilt” with loyal fans. With regard to pursuing a career in music, the band highlights the superiority of the international music scene, pointing out that, despite the vastness of the market for “mainstream” music, there is also enormous opportunity for alternative sound. They compare the scale of South Africa against bigger markets, while contrasting the actual feel of the music. But they certainly are not saying no to the idea, and much time was spent debating the possibility of juggling an international music career while living in South Africa. On being the only girl in the band, and one of the few in the industry, Sinead immediately states that every band needs a girl, voicing her frustration over dealing with disorganised (all-male) bands. She also tells that she is not often taken seriously and that she is denied many ‘privileges’ as people presume she is either a ‘manager’ or ‘girlfriend’. The male members, naturally, tease her about being emotional, yet it seems that Matt, though male, may be even more guilty than Sinead of “being a girl”. Overall Sinead does good work of breaking many stereotypes around women in the world of music. Their style is unspecific. Influences include Broken Social Scene, Kings of Leon, Johnny Cash, even Stevie Wonder, though ultimately the band sounds little like any of these. But their sound is a unique assembly of buoyant Indie with beats of sweet punk and explosive garage pop strokes, all mixed with a pleasing sincerity that makes the band so real, and simultaneously, feverishly addictive. Finally, they’re here. A band like this is so damn hard to find.

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