Sunday, June 22, 2008

I Think You'll Be Amazed... Again

The Dirty Skirts Album Launch: Daddy Don’t Disco 20 June 2008 at the Alexander Theatre, Johannesburg
It was the day after I had had my wisdom teeth out and having lost an entire evening of gigging, I was itching to get out and jam to some good local music. What better event then, than the Dirty Skirts’ launch for their new album, Daddy Don’t Disco? My parents were anxious, concern being their parental duty I guess, but I headed out eagerly to the Alexander Theatre, armed with painkillers, GPS and the knowledge that I was on the VIP list for what I knew would be one of my gigs of the year! And oh, it was… I have been a fan of the Skirts since their debut album was released in 2005, so of course I was more than eager to see what their new album had in store for their enormous base of avid supporters. For me, the show started the second I walked in. After getting a considerably alarmed looked from some Joburg boy when I popped a small white pill with my Vodka (they were prescribed pain meds, I swear) and disobeying the doctor’s strict orders of no alcohol/cigarettes for a week, I took time taking in the venue. Every surface was covered with either projections, photos or enormous banners adorned with the album title. From the roof hung countless records with electric yellow lightning bolts zigzagging across them. Being a theatre, the venue’s sound was phenomenal! The volume matched the clarity flawlessly, making for a show that will weld its memory into the brain of every person that was there. The band took the stage, with lead vocalist Jeremy fully clad in white and sporting his usual quirky glasses. On disc, he is one very talented vocalist with a lot to live up to. But I am afraid to say that live… He is just that much better! I was astonished by the performance, immediately convinced I could never word the experience adequately. Jeremy had his crowd entirely absorbed in what he was doing, his incredible voice projecting into overt facial expressions and lucid hand gestures that made their music come to life, breathing awe into everyone listening. I was a touch disappointed with the (lack of) length of the set, albeit only because I could have endured hours more of such music. The performance was exactly what one envisions for a live show: dark, sweaty, a bit cramped, but unforgettable, with illustrious verve on stage and a discharge of absolute talent! The new album incorporates a sound similar to their usual Indie Rock, though this time it is considerably more alternative. There is a far more prominent electronica stroke this time round, with tracks such as “Witches Bewitch Us” keeping things eerie yet unique. The lyrics differ from track to track, with some being peculiar, some simple and others downright exquisite, with lines that will haunt your thoughts with their sheer invention. The album is fairly toned-down, with nothing too overbearing. But that’s not to say it won’t blow your mind, merely that you can listen to it repeatedly without wearing it thin. I have no doubt these boys will knock the socks off the Pohms during their UK Tour in August, but I can hardly wait for them to get back home so I can experience them all over again.

Rocking Against Racism

Ubuntoer II: Die Helde, Zinkplaat and New Holland with Tidal Waves Tings ‘n Times, Pretoria, Wednesday 18 June 2008
The evening began with my getting lost. As usual.(I am beginning to see a pattern in my writing here.) I found myself alone, in Sunnyside (the siff, dangerously dodgy core of Pretoria), getting frantic and teary-eyed, with little idea where I was and even less of an idea as to how to get where I was supposed to be. Oh, and did I mention that I was sporting stilettos and a My Little Pony t-shirt? Not ideal. But thank goodness for family and technology: a long and tearful cellphone conversation with my brother got me to Tings ‘n Times. Regrettably, I missed New Holland’s performance but from what I hear they have only improved since I last saw them which, trust me, says a helluva lot! Plus I spent the last night of the tour having many shots with TeeJay, which made up for missing their show and assured me that he is still as kiff as ever. I must add here that the Gauteng crowds suck. At least, compared to the Cape crowds they do! They just kind of stand there, fairly still and eerily quiet, gaping as if they have never heard good music before. (Judging by the revolting garbage played in their clubs, perhaps they haven’t.) By the time I had paid exactly twice as much as I would in Stellenbosch for my usual drink, I was considerably unhappy. But, not to be stopped, I grabbed hold of every familiar, Stellenbosch/Cape Town-based face there and together we made sufficient noise and squeaked sufficient takkie, as good supporters should. I am a fan of Die Helde and their live performances have yet to let me down. With enough energy to keep their chilled yet vibey Afrikaans Indie rock very much alive they took the stage with an easy grace, live shows being nothing new to them. Their sound is as accomplished live as on disc, and I had as good a time as always watching these boys perform. Tidal Waves is a Johannesburg-based band that had me instantly captivated by their music. The five-piece had the dull crowd jamming to their sounds, hailed to be “Original music for original people”. Their music is a funky reggae that will doubtlessly get your dancing shoes skanking, especially when you get a load of their proper Afrikaans treffer, “Lekker Lekker Dans”! These talented musicians jumble in some powerful rock, ska and nostalgic blues to sing about war, poverty and the government with an engrossed enthusiasm that captivates their audiences. A fitting band to have play for the cause of raising awareness about racism in South Africa, theirs is a sound you’d be unwell not to enjoy, with bewitching vocals and sheer gift that will get their tunes desperately stuck in your head. Zinkplaat is without doubt one of my favourite local bands, thus watching them was the highlight of my evening. Not only are their lyrics hypnotic in their simplicity, but the sound that this band emanates on stage is pure energy, pure art. Words struggle to explain watching Basson and Bertie face-to-face on stage, playing to one another, entirely lost in their own soulful universe. It is the utterance of a magnificent conversation, without saying a word. Their connection and talent, not to mention Beer’s remarkable skill on the drums, is what brings their music to life. Watching them renders me speechless, electrified by memories of Bullybeef and campfires gushing through my South African veins. Despite my strong dislike for the place, I had a superb evening rocking against racism. Yes, I arrived late and shaken and the crowd was not nearly as cool as the ones in the Cape. But seeing these guys perform made it all better. I even spotted a pair of gumboots and that, with the music, almost made me feel like I was back home. Despite the shoddy Gauteng crowds, it appears that the Cape’s musical exports are universally awesome.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

This is Mettle

“There are the people of the day, and the creatures of the night. And it’s important to remember that the creatures of the night aren’t simply the people of the day staying up late because they think that makes them cool and interesting. It takes a lot more than heavy mascara and a pale complexion to cross the divide.” I was sitting in my bedroom, busying myself with perfectly innocent student activity, when I was summoned to my closest encounter (thus far) with hell itself: Metal for Motherfucking Africa. (I am not entirely sure if this was the event’s official title, but it is what the gathering was called all night by everyone there, and so the adjective stuck). Of course, I had no choice but to attend. Not only had a close friend invited me, I was also listed as an official photographer which meant free entrance and being duty-bound to make an appearance. Fine then, it was the very least I could do and I was on holiday, after all. And so I grabbed my camera and set off, wholly unaware of what was in store. They say ignorance is bliss, but I’m sure that, had I been aware of what lay ahead, I would either have prepared better (mentally, and perhaps armed myself with garlic) or simply not gone at all. Alas, Mother Nature (perhaps Lucifer, in this case) continues to practice an oddly cruel sense of humour. It was a decent venue, one of my favourites, which generally hosted superb music gigs at which I had become a regular, to put it slightly. But tonight, I became quickly convinced that I had taken a wrong turn, fallen into a black hole of sorts and tumbled, head-first and camera-in-hand into a hellish nightmare. The venue’s populace greeted me in a tsunami of pitch clothing and ghostly complexions. Their eyes were sunken and either vacant, closed or penetrating as if their glares were sucking the very goodness out of me. Their hair was black, the only exception being a full head of luminous green curls and the odd bit of purple, white (I don’t mean blonde, I mean a slain-unicorn silver) or angry red. There were dreadlocks, flyaway curls, greasy rats’ tails and what was artfully similar to those abandoned bird’s nests that just hang in trees forever, without use, because the bitch wasn’t satisfied with what her hubby had produced. One thing they all had in common was that they scared me. Once inside, I couldn’t decide whether the light made me more or less terrified than the eerie moonshine outdoors. In the end I decided that it made little difference and turned to alcohol to ease myself a little. I focused on scowling perpetually and turning down the corners of my lips, fearing they would claw out my blue eyes if I dared look anything short of miserable. Not that I wasn’t… Where did these people come from? The town is not a big one and, being largely populated by students, one is sure to have seen most of the people that live in it at some point. But I had never seen a single one of the beings in this entire place before. I knew this because they are fairly noticeable and especially so in daylight, I’m sure. Was there some sort of secret metalhead society, the seemingly ordinary student members crawling out from under rocks, morphing into these demonic vampires when the sun goes down? It was more than just emo make-up and piercings; these things had ceased being human from where I was standing! Next I found myself at the stage. Desperate for some artistic proof that I had actually been to this occasion, I stood at the very front, waiting for some action. And action I got. Plenty of it, too. I found myself, not surprisingly, at the very core of the moshpit. I have since firmly adopted the belief that there is a God; the mere fact that I was not trampled to death is adequate evidence. I was knocked over a couple of times, though two of these were even trailed by an apology (evidently these boys were Afrikaans metalheads). The moshpit enclosed a bizarre culture I had not been exposed to before. The aficionados were viciously adoring of the music and had no manner of expressing this zeal other than physical violence. (I have never understood this redundant phrase. I mean, if not physical, then what kind of violence are we talking about exactly? But I digress…) They began to shove one another, jostling and heaving against friends and foes alike. The fray intensified with each thrust and sooner or later everyone would have a chance at falling down. Someone would help you to your feet, of course, albeit only to kick you down again. The cesspool was like some sadistic cat-and-mouse game that was far beyond my comprehension. Satan himself graced the stage. He was bald, pale, and aggressive with white irises and a frizzy ginger beard long enough to blowdry. He was exactly as I had always imagined! I must say I did not appreciate his incessantly calling me a ‘motherfucker’ and asking whether I was having a ‘motherfucking good time’. Jared Leto, perhaps, but no other man has the justification to address me in this manner. Even more terrifying was one of his devotees who had caught my eye from the very start. (This says a lot, since there was plenty to focus on. I’m sure I passed as a junkie rocked on some sinister drug with my lively eye movements which resulted from being utterly confused as to what or whom to stare at!) She was skeletally thin, and equally pale. She wore torn fishnet stockings and pieces of material I’m sure were intended to be a top and skirt, though they were only about 10cm long each. She also wore no underwear! (I only know this because at some point she was lying on the floor, spread-eagled and unconscious, divulging more information than anyone cared to have.) Her shirt read “Whore Insane” and I contemplated telling her that she must have mistakenly switched the two words around. Finally I found myself a safe perch from which I could not only take pictures without a fear of being crushed, but also survey the belligerent throng in confused amazement. What a peculiar culture. Then again, I am sure they would scratch their black heads in perplexity if they were to watch my behaviour on a typical (significantly less eventful) evening out. Eventually I concluded that they were simply different to me and no less strange than the blonde things running around town making out with poles to the sounds of Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears. A little more intimidating, I’ll admit, but only because they don’t weigh less than their GHDs. The evening was like watching a philanthropical documentary and it had certainly been a learning experience. Not only did I know to avoid these festivals in future, I was also vastly more appreciative of my music. Still amazed at having survived the ordeal, it was only the following morning that I realised I had been wearing a pink Pringle jersey all along.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

aKing at Dorp Street Theater

27 May 2008 I hadn’t yet seen aKing live when I heard they would be gracing our little town with their presence. Having listened to their album (Dutch Courage) countless times, this was one gig I simply would not miss, come hell or History 214 exam. The atmosphere was exceptionally different to what one would usually experience at a live performance. Especially because of their esteem in the local music scene, one would expect a characteristically wild night, with excessive dancing, drinking and bad singing (from me, standing as close to the stage as I can without being arrested or something). But Dorp Street catered for a show that was ideal for the true aKing fans. The small crowd, all seated, remained hushed throughout the act, genuinely appreciative of the musical genius on stage. There was no shoving, screaming, having your toes crushed by some Afrikaner who has not yet realised that there is a reason he is a prop, not a dancer... And for the first time in a long time the alcohol went only from hand to mouth, rather than hand to all-over-my-(formerly)-white-jeans. The ambience was comfortably intimate, with a distinct air of awe from the tranquil group of fans. Even the lighting added to the character of the show. I was less than impressed with the sound, which kept failing- a bit of a killjoy, no? But I guess it happens, even to the best of us, and that certainly wasn’t enough to keep me from having a perfectly enjoyable evening. Neither did it seem to perturb the band, which simply picked up precisely from where they had been dropped, perfectly in time, as though nothing had happened. I always thought that doing a Fokofpolisiekar spin-off was a brave move, due to the expectations, if not stigma, attached to taking over from one of South Africa’s greatest rock bands. But aKing failed me not, with a first album that is hard to get tired of. Dutch Courage is a collection of tuneful rock, with straightforward- but simultaneously compound lyrics complemented by a voice that orders attention. And it’s even better in real life! Their live performance is scarily analogous to what they produce in studio, the band suffering no weakness when faced with performing on stage. But what impressed me most, besides for Hunter himself, was the energy. It was not overbearing so as to detract from the actual music, but it was there, so thick it drowned the room in a viscous layer of reverence. Hunter kept the crowd hypnotised with his alluring talent, never once slackening the grip he possesses so artlessly over his fans. I must be honest and say that some new work may be in order. As much as I enjoy what I’ve heard thus far, I am ardent for more! However, my avarice is simply a sign of appreciation and I do not doubt that aKing will please their followers with whatever they conjure up next.

The Lottery Tickets, New Altum, Gravity Wins Again and Yes Sir! Mister Machine

Hidden Cellar 31 May 2008: The event was set to turn Stellenbosch and all its rockers on their heads, and this was no false promise. The Hidden Cellar hosted four bands in one evening: The Lottery Tickets; Gravity Wins Again; New Altum and Yes Sir! Mister Machine, working together to craft a night of mind-blowing rock I will struggle to forget. The Lottery Tickets, in their curious, casual approach to performing, burst onto the stage not only singing “YMCA”, but sporting outfits that would have made The Village People positively swell with pride, I’m sure. With lead vocalist Robert Volker keeping things amusing with his peculiar “radio voice”, The Lottery Tickets did a fine job of performing their chilled music with just the right amount of oomph, making the crowd feel comfortable in the setting as well as easing them into what would evolve into far more hardcore music. Gravity Wins Again did not blow me away. The performance was average enough for me to take a break from jamming like a lunatic in stilettos, and so I watched from a chair in the back. Look, it didn’t make my ears bleed or anything, but the band certainly didn’t blow my hair back either. With a passable musical formula, their sound is uncomplicated, making it fairly accessible to any plebeian who knows precious little about good music. You have to give them credit for rendering the crowd fairly appreciative. I remain sceptical as to what this says about the crowd. New Altum had the party rocking out once again, with a more hardcore sound. Despite my salivating in fervent anticipation for Yes Sir! Mister Machine to take the stage, I did enjoy New Altum. Enough, even, to torture my feet a little longer in those ridiculous shoes. Their music has an interesting experimental nature that keeps it slightly apart from your usual screamo stuff, while they create a feel of never trying too hard to say something. Rather, they say whatever and hope the crowd walks away having experienced something more than another band. Well, that’s what I felt. I could be horrible wrong... Finally, finally... Yes Sir! Mister Machine stepped onto the stage. I must inform that I replaced my stilettos with flats for this one which, trust me, is quite a big thing for even the least girly-girl out there! That should give an indication of how eager I was. But nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. Yes Sir! Mister Machine is a band everyone should experience live. Their sound is hardcore with an experimental line strung throughout, mixed with strokes of hardcore dance music. The music is even better live than on disc which, trust me, says a lot! But what had me speechless, besides for having screamed my lungs out, was the sheer energy on stage. So some of their moves may be a tiny bit generic, but can you call it generic of they do it even better than the originals? The involvement with their crowd was overwhelming and I felt like a kid in a candy store, utterly confused as to where to look or what my favourite part was. The performance called for a moment of silence afterwards, not only to catch my breath but to take in what I had just witnessed. The bands jointly created a perfect build-up to end the evening at a zenith other shows will struggle to crown.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Bullets From A Pretty Blue Gun

Local band The Pretty Blue Guns is an exciting export, offering an unusual slant on alternative rock and blues. Barely of age, these young lads are certainly not letting their age count as a disadvantage in their careers as successful musicians, having played gigs at numerous venues and events across the country. With the recent release of their EP, “Dirt”, their future is a thrilling prospect indeed. Based in Stellenbosch, the band is made up of local boys Andre Leo (vocals and guitar), Lucas Swart (drums), Brandon Visser (guitar) and Greg Thompson (bass guitar). Though they have only recently begun to take their music seriously, the band members have been playing together since their high-school days- Visser and Thompson are currently in Matric at Paul Roos Gymnasium. The ensemble began as mere pleasure with Leo and Visser playing acoustic, old-school blues and toying with writing their own music. From there the hobby grew into what is currently a possibility for great things in the local music industry! The Pretty Blue Guns will play at this year’s Splashy Fen in KwaZulu Natal. Plans for the remainder of 2008 include Rocking the Daisies as well as a video launch in August. Finally a tour of the East Coast with fellow local music act Howard Roark, presently in the very beginning stages of planning, is on the cards. Other than their bigger plans, the band can be found regularly in Stellenbosch and Cape Town’s music venues with other esteemed artists. On playing in Stellenbosch, Leo stresses the band’s focus on keeping their approach personal and intimate, performing regularly at the site they have come to know and love. When it comes to work such as advertising and photography, close friends are asked to undertake projects as extensively as possible. Their sound is a coarse blend of old-school rock and Indie blues, along with a garage-rock stroke that makes for a sound that is entirely their own. Aside from their ability, their live performances are carried out with a violent energy that keeps the crowd rapt with craving. With influences such as Kings of Leon, Tom Waits and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, it is easy to see the origin of their lyrical inspiration. The words are candidly sinister, with an understated, biting wit that is hard to find in music today. Though young, the band is anything but juvenile and while not yet dreaming of being international superstars, they don’t plan on bowing out of the music scene anytime soon.