Posts Tagged ‘south africa’

In a country bearing the scars of a turbulent, unjust past, being honest and expressive about our identity as South Africans can be a rather confusing, risky and confrontational act. It is now almost two decades into democracy, and political correctness still often pervades our discourse, or is countered with racially-charged rhetoric, presenting an uneasy middle ground where an increasing number of born-free’s are left feeling ambivalent or indifferent, wondering what all the fuss is about. And in terms of creative expression through music, large swathes of the rich history of African and South African music might seem less relevant now to a culture raised in a globalised society. So what does it then mean to have a ‘Proudly South African’ story, and does every person have one to tell?

A past as storied and segregated as our nation’s resides in an ever-shallow grave, forced to be reassessed, acknowledged and used to create a future where many of those living in it are disconnected from those revolutionary roots, and not necessarily out of ignorance. Amidst this paralysis of analysis concerning identity, simple but authentic outlets of emotion are often the best antidote, returning to the raw instincts of our nature and who we are. Former Beatle John Lennon was a famous advocate of primal therapy, which was a means for him to elicit the repressed pain of his childhood. Whilst the process of such therapy might be a bit extreme, the act of looking inward and confronting your base self is a universal route towards expressing a story that is yours and yours only.

 

John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono both underwent primal therapy in 1970. His first post-Beatles album 'John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band' had many songs that were directly affected by his experience in therapy

John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono both underwent primal therapy in 1970. His first post-Beatles album (‘John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’) had many songs that were directly affected by his experience in therapy

 

Take South African super group BEAST for example. Their formation, as documented in a Benitha Vlok-directed companion film to their debut album, came from a childlike notion of two friends wanting to do the same thing and, even if it was a ludicrous idea, follow through with it. Rian Zietsman and Louis Nel (guitarist and drummer of alternative rockers Taxi Violence, respectively) both wanted to play bass in a band and assuming that role in duality, got to work on laying down some tracks (despite both never having played it before). Sasha Righini, drummer of the melodic indie rock group The Plastics, got behind the kit, and BEAST had limbered up, ready for an exploration into the dark, grimy corners of garage rock.

As with any beast, the grunts and moans of the band’s instrumental attack are its lifeblood, pumping sludgy sub-human fuel through the veins. But BEAST found its voice in Inge Beckmann, songstress of the avant-garde electronica act Lark, now appearing in a frighteningly sexy form as grungy she-devil. Her operatic feminine shrieks cut through the growling riff-fest, with simple, biting lyrics, a dynamic vocal range, and a punky attitude to boot. This back-to-basics approach removes all pretension, leaving a lean, unapologetic, minimalist monster. Whilst BEAST’s actions might speak a lot louder than its words, Beckmann’s blunt, yet evocative tales spill out over the eight-song set like gasoline over a wildfire, sparking on album-opener ‘Fill The Hole’ in brutal one-liner fashion (“Blind the lover/Kiss her mouth/Drive the dagger/Now hang yourself”), or flowing in the stream-of-consciousness effluence of ‘Walls’ (“Walls in my head vibrate when I drill holes in them/Rapidly rising rampart/Enemies are closing in”). Vivid character sketches emerge in the ominous ‘Man In Between’ and comparatively light ‘Cat Lady’, whilst ‘Hand of God’ sees her snarl apocalyptic omens with religious fervour.

 

Inge Beckmann singing Mudhoney's 'Touch Me I'm Sick' in their 'Smoke Swig Swear' short film

Inge Beckmann singing Mudhoney’s ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’ in their ‘Smoke Swig Swear’ short film

 

The song writing process was lucid, seemingly off-the-cuff, and admittedly fun. To quote Beckmann “our credo is kind of like what bands (the Seattle grunge scene in the early 90’s) were like…they weren’t that concerned with what they sounded like; they just had a good time.” It’s the sort of ethos espoused by countless jam bands, jazz collectives or freestyle rappers over the years, where groups of talented people have congregated together to see where the music takes them. Whether these sessions become a catalyst for a deeper search for meaning – that’s for the artists to decide – but the act of collaboration can be a chaotic yet honest one, with the opportunity for innovation.

BEAST’s preposterous twin-bass setup is relatively unique, especially in the South African music scene, but Zietsman and Nel have felt their way towards something that works for them, the former playing a lower, rhythm-led role akin to a normal bassist, whilst the latter employs a higher, chord-based attack. On most songs, this matrimony manifests as a churning colossus of punk-influenced metal, occasionally channelling Queens of the Stone Age’s ‘robot-rock’ style, particularly on the deliciously melodic ‘The Grape’, where interwoven mid-fi murmurings are propelled by Righini’s relentlessly powerful drumming. But overall, BEAST is left as untamed as it should be, which is not to say that substance is sacrificed for style, but rather that it does not get in the way of a rollicking ride to the heart of rock ‘n roll. Even the album title (Smoke Swig Swear) lays the band’s intentions bare, and to be honest, they don’t care how you interpret their primal urges.

 

BEAST Album Launch - 23 February 2013 - Photo by Gerhard de Kock

BEAST Album Launch – 23 February 2013 – Photo by Gerhard de Kock

 

In the keynote speech from this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) music conference, Dave Grohl (of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame) outlined his path to rock stardom, and how he found his voice through persistent practice and solo adventuring. He recounted a story of how he learnt at 12 years old to create his own one-man-band through the creative use of his old handheld tape recorder. The results were not revolutionary, but they were his: “To my chagrin, though, what I got was not Sgt. Peppers. Rather a collection of songs about my dog, my bike, and my dad. Nevertheless, I had done this all myself, therefore making the reward even sweeter.”

Whether you’re taking tentative steps towards greatness a ’la Grohl, or making an unrefined return to the wild as in the case of BEAST, finding your voice through music shouldn’t be fraught with concern as to how it relates to the society you’re in. Everyone has a story to tell, and perhaps without political, religious or broader social connotations, it might not be ‘Proudly South African’ (at first). But tap into your inner beast, and you can reveal a story that screams something uniquely yours. Call it “Primally South African”.

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned ‘battle of the bands’ to bring out the best in burgeoning local talent, and the final round of the Rolling Stone South Africa Rockstarter search at Mercury Live on Thursday 15th August 2013 saw some fascinating performances from the last two gladiators left in the arena. But the added ‘battle of the sexes’ element ramped up the high-stakes pursuit of the lucrative grand prize.

The first competitors were the feisty femme fatales of Cortina Whiplash, a Gauteng-based rock outfit that brought showmanship equally matched with substance. Whilst donning Venetian masks and dousing lead singer & bassist Loandi Boersma in gold paint, their aggressive metal-tinged attack flirted with elusive reggae ramblings, backed by the strong, sultry vocals of Boersma. Opening with a slow-burning cover of Radiohead’s ‘Climbing Up The Walls’, the ladies’ confidence soared throughout the set, imbued with a distinctly ‘girl power’ humour. This was especially evident in guitarist Tessa Lilly’s admission “there’s nothing worse than trying to headbang with an ill-fitting bra” – a refreshingly female take on stage banter. Not even a lengthy break in between songs for complex tunings could dampen the girls’ spirit; what it did was show their willingness for experimentation with an energetic and exciting formula.

 

 

The boys from the appropriately-named Ballistic Blues were next into the arena, and got off to a rollicking start, forging their blues-based salvos with an upbeat, rock ‘n roll rhythm. The Cape Town-based band’s earnestness and chemistry were clearly on display: lead guitarist Tyan Odendal playfully interacting with drummer Francois Keyser’s kit mid-song, as well as each member exuberantly singing along to lead singer Nick Forbe’s howling tales of “sleeping in other peoples’ beds” and “Oppikoppi, and all the dust that gets up your bum”. Beneath that mountain of frizzy hair emanates a gravelly, nuanced voice that deftly carries hits like ‘No Harm’ and ‘Roll Along’ from their self-titled EP. Shuffle-blues is another potent weapon in the Blues’ arsenal, slowing down the tempo, but never sacrificing the intensity and sexual energy of their impressive musicianship.

The dust had barely settled before the more senior headliners for the evening, The Black Cat Bones, took to the stage, whilst behind the scenes, representatives of Rolling Stone South Africa, The Kraken Rum, and VH Music & Publishing deliberated over the final decision. This allowed for lead singer Kobus de Kock Jr. to hold court over the Mercury crowd, his throaty vocals smoking under the riff-based melting pot of blues rock, causing a delirious deluge of dancing. The Bones’ structures are tight and simple, but win one over with sheer force of will, as they delve deep into the heart of blues.

Midway through The Black Cat Bones’ barnstorming set, the four-month long nationwide search culminated with an unprecedented result: both groups would share the honours, and with it, a feature in Rolling Stone South Africa, an album recording at VH Music & Publishing, as well as the opportunity to serve as worthy ambassadors of The Kraken Rum for a year.

There was much to celebrate, and both bands joined the Bones onstage for an impromptu collaboration to cap off their hard-earned shared victory. Whilst lead singers Forbes and Boersma danced and sang alongside the irrepressible de Kock Jr., the young Odendal precociously duelled with Bones guitarist Andre Kriel during some rousing Zeppelin-esque stompers, capably keeping up with the powerful rhythm section.

When one witnesses the confidence and talent of these two groups in a live setting, any hesitance in picking just one winner is justified.

Two gladiators entered the arena that night, and two left it victorious.

 

Tyan Odendal (lead guitarist of Ballistic Blues) plays alongside Andre Kriel (guitarist of The Black Cat Bones

Tyan Odendal (lead guitarist of Ballistic Blues) plays alongside Andre Kriel (guitarist of The Black Cat Bones

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 4th of April 2011. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes)

 

Three albums in, and aKING have undoubtably risen to the status of princes of South Africa’s rock royalty. Balancing critical and commercial success, the boys from Bellville have toured relentlessly since their 2008 debut Dutch Courage, crafted their sound from album-to-album, and now The Red-Blooded Years is a mature and confident claim to the throne.

 

'The Red-Blooded Years' is the band's third, more adventurous album

‘The Red-Blooded Years’ is the band’s third, more adventurous album

 

Combining their well-known catchy rock ‘n roll/country rock style with some sonic experimentations, such as the use of keyboards and synthesizers, the new album has an amalgamation of sounds and influences, whilst still retaining that undeniable aKING vibe. This is mostly due to the unique, brooding, gritty baritoned voice of lead singer Laudo Liebenberg, who once again infuses each track with rousing bravado, passion, sincerity and even tenderness. The band also has a line-up change in the departure of rhythm guitarist Hunter Kennedy (due to his hectic work schedule being in Die Heuwels Fantasties as well). His replacement is Andrew Davenport, whose arrival must’ve prompted the band to reassess their sound, as well as the 3-month rush it took to record 2009’s Against All Odds.

 

aKING - SA rock royalty. New member Andrew Davenport is on the far right

aKING – SA rock royalty. New member Andrew Davenport is on the far right

 

 In certain songs, bassist Hennie Van Halen also contributes to keyboards, and this change is immediately evident on the lengthy synth-heavy intro of album opener ‘Catch Alight’, first single ‘The Runaround’, power ballad ‘Holding On’ and soothing charmer ‘All In The Wind’. These new additions sound rather natural for the band, and they meld with their image quite smoothly. Both Andrew and Hennie contribute immensely to the backing vocals, which gives each track an added boost in the crowd-pleasing stakes. This was particularly evident in their live show I had the good fortune of seeing at Kirstenbosch this past Sunday (3 April 2011). The band enthusiastically get into the swing of things vocally, and in my opinion, its effect is the markings of a band hitting their stride musically. Drummer Jaco ‘Snakehead’ Venter is one of the most exciting drummers to watch live, and could make a funeral dirge look like a Broadway musical the way he smashes those drums. His eager playing style makes for some seriously contagious beats emanating from behind the kit.

 

Rocking out at Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts (3 April 2011)

Rocking out at Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts (3 April 2011)

 

Despite the mostly upbeat demeanour in their music, aKING has always had an intriguingly dark, oftentimes sexual side to them and their lyrics. ‘Cut-Throat Tongue’ is this album’s most obvious example of that side (“Lift that cursed skirt, vicious young jackal/My confidence is coming”), but everywhere else there’s smatterings of songwriter Laudo’s angst-filled, ambigious confessions and musings. They’re the kind of lyrics that might pass over you first time round, but will soon start to resonate with you after a couple of listens. My personal favourite lines are from ‘All In The Wind’: “I don’t drink too much, just enough/To sink my teeth into the evening/And grind through the days”. 

The Red-Blooded Years is a thrill-ride from start to finish; something that you can come to expect from this band, whose dynamic is getting stronger and stronger with each release, adding to a bubbling melting-pot of ideas and talent. The only possible negative I can think of is the instrumental ‘The Sleeping Sound’, which finds itself tagged on as the last track. It rocks out really well, however, and closes the album in a similar ambient style to the one that ‘Catch Alight’ opens it with – a beautiful symmetry perhaps? This is their coming of age. Long live aKING.

 

Tracklisting:

  1. Catch Alight
  2. The Runaround
  3. Cut-Throat Tongue And Razor
  4. Kick Me
  5. So Close
  6. Holding On
  7. All In The Wind
  8. Weak Man’s World
  9. Any Other Way
  10. First Brush
  11. Red Blooded Years
  12. The Sleeping Sound

 

Release date: 1 March 2011