About the coolest thing that can happen

I had my first radio appearance today. And before you think that I’m famous, let me tell you this, it had nothing to do with fame and everything to do with luck. Not only that, that luck is only lucky if 10 people were listening. My friend’s father has started an online radio station in the sleepy village of Hout Bay, in the Western Cape, fondly known as the Republic of Hout Bay due to its seeming detachment from Cape Town and the tendency for villagers to stick to their own. “Republic Radio”, as it is so wittily called, maintains a prevailing focus on 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s music. A strong commercial slant predominates, which makes me feel a little apprehensive. But I am now listening to some of my old “History and Appreciation of Music” songs and starting to think that the term “commercial” could encompass just about anything. With Jimi Hendrix one minute and the Beach Boys the next, I realise that it all belongs somewhere. And let’s face it, radio stations were good once and the music they played wasn’t always mucky and one-dimensional.

So my appearance was actually linked to a potential job, without a salary, but with a lot of the cool factor thrown in, enough to keep me interested. And due to my absolute and all-consuming love for music, it’s actually a little prize for all my hard work being The Ultimate Fan. The chance to be a radio presenter, with a rock show, where I get to choose the music: The Ultimate Job (without the money). One downside: I am limited to commercial rock from back in the day. Perhaps I am lucky in that rock from back then was diverse and progressive and damn fine music. You see where I am going with this – I scored big time. I am now determined to get to a play a little Metallica.

My musical education was a whole lot of DIY, with the occasional formal learning taking place; such as the aforementioned “HAM” course with I took as an extra credit at University. That course for some was an easy credit towards a BA, but for me, it was four hours a week of complete submersion in real information, with an introduction to the weird and quirky. I have totally forgotten everything that I learnt in the classical and jazz sections, but have gleaned a few quality anecdotes about rock music. The best thing about HAM was that it was a real course, with real lecturers who knew their stuff, where you were expected to learn how to appreciate music through listening to it and perhaps discussing a bit of the history for an hour every week. The fact that I was expected to listen to music repeatedly, so that I could recognise songs within a bar (something I am still particularly bad at due to a memory like a sieve), just seemed to be too good to be true. My time at University now seems slightly surreal and undoubtedly peculiar too.

While HAM was a formal way of learning about that thing I love, rock music, the DIY aspect involved a whole lot of reliance on the circles of people I ventured into. While my childhood had been ruled by “East Coast Radio”, a provincial radio station as commercial as it gets, I was lucky to have been a natural fan of music from the day I was born. Talking about music has always been my favourite kind of conversation and I know now that I will always be open to anything and everything to do with rock music: any discussion, any book and any band. Along the way to this very day, I have spoken to more band members than I care to list, have read just about every biography on Jimi Hendrix (and have started a collection of books on various bands) and spent thousands of hours discussing music with the few friends who care enough to have a worthwhile opinion.

But the best way to learn about music is to listen. Of course. It may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but there are a great number of people out there who don’t listen. Of course they listen to radio, but their minds do not filter or process what it is they are listening to. They don’t often absorb the right information, such as where a band comes from or what the lyrics are saying. And this is the way you kill music. Music is not supposed to be one-dimensional. It is not supposed to be something which is merely sound; rather it is a feeling, a story, a sign, a protest or a journey. It’s a lot of things which the general public seem to misunderstand or not really care about. The thing is, the public dictates what happens, so in many ways, we need to pander to their whims. Music is a business now and you have to sell music as a product, not a feeling.

It is of course really ironic that I am currently reading a book by Irish rock DJ, Dave Fanning. Dave is an institution, if you get my drift. He discovered a good many bands, he had a hand in their advancement and he was always true to his first love, music. Of course, that’s what the book says, but I believe him. More than that, I admire him greatly. So far, I have learnt a great deal from him – that’s it’s okay not to like what everyone else likes (hence my dislike for electronic drivel) and that music should come before pride. He has also taught me to do what you love, but work hard at it. There are no half measures allowed.

The trouble is, my heart sinks just a little when I realise I will never be a Dave Fanning. For one, I tend to enjoy commercial rock, have shied away from the very obscure genres such as psychedelia and punk and have run away screaming from Indie Rock, the latest rock to emerge from the radio waves. I am way behind when it comes to rock trivia and I will never ever catch up. Music is always undermining my confidence, although I owe a lot of that to people I encounter around me. Truth is, there must be a million bands out there and there is no hope in hell that I will ever know all of them. A large part me wishes that I didn’t give a shit.

When it comes to this radio show, it’s about the coolest thing that can happen to someone like me. I have to simple hang on to whatever integrity I possess and play music for the sake of the music, with just a little thought given to the audience out there. But damn, I am nervous. So, to ease the nervousness I am going to make myself this promise: that I am also going to be true to me. I mean, that music that I really don’t get, I can miss. No big deal. No one will even notice.

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The Proverbial Drain of Real Life

I met my friend S on the other side of his microphone. He was hosting a show on a “college” radio station and was interviewing me about the local music scene. In between breaks, we got to talking about ourselves and I was completely blown away by his experience of bands and his overwhelming encyclopaedic knowledge of music. He had watched a number of massive rock acts of the 80s and 90s while he lived in England. The music he put on that day was eclectic, underground, different. S belonged behind that mic; even if his talent was only know to a handful of listeners.

He recently found himself in Cape Town working as a producer for a show on a local talk radio station. He had the second most popular show. Until the media brought him down – in particular, his own media. He apparently wrote something in a tweet which his company took offence to and then proceeded to dig a deeper grave through a blog post entitled “Radio killed the, well…radio”. He should know; he works for radio. And I cannot say for sure, but I am almost certain that the boy behind the mic at the college radio station had changed considerably. He was no longer using his encyclopaedic knowledge of music or suggesting songs from the forefront of the underground scene.

He lost his job.

At University we are given so much critical and intellectual power, forced to question and probe every aspect of this world. The Bachelor degree we get at the end is not so much about that fact that we covered Foucault, or were introduced to the Constitution, or could recite the scientific names of a hundred species of insect; the degree was more about how we questioned what we were taught, how we argued against the messages we were told.

And then comes the real world and suddenly we are told to obey, to not think, to not question or express opinions. We are transformed from masters of our own minds, to cogs in the machine, dog’s bodies. We become masters of the alt c, alt v world. It makes me think, why bother? Scrape through that bachelors degree, you won’t really be expected to apply your mind in the real world. At University they should merely make you arrive at nine, do some copy pasting, and then leave at five. You’ll be better equipped for the crushing drudgery of working life.

After three months at my first job I thought that I would go mad. I was completely disillusioned by the repetition and boredom of my work, which involved sending hundreds of e-mails. I had toiled through a Master’s, suffered the stress of two years, learned the entire Land Reform system inside out, battled with game theory and wrote close to fifty thousand words in the most critical and all-absorbing way, just to send e-mails. More than anything, it made me angry. Not because I felt like I deserved more, but I resented the fact that there is no space for my own creativity, that all that hard won knowledge was slowly going down the proverbial drain. And I couldn’t question it, I couldn’t speak up.

After two years I went back to the classroom. When people ask me why, I say something like, “I wanted to change my career path,” or, “I got some inheritance so thought that I would study further.” The real truth is that I was disillusioned by working, I had come to despise the money-hungry environmental sector and I really wanted to do something where I could apply my brain. It took me a few weeks to be able to really think again but it has been therapeutic to have had this year of time-out.

I used those excuses because I feel really terrible about my cynicism, which is strengthened by stories like S’s. What happened to him is indicative of the conformity and meekness that is expected of you in the working world. His experience of music mirrors that of life; radio playlists are not experimental, critical or inspiring. Popular radio stations have “the same shit, just a different day” kind of mentality which I despise.

Which is ironic really, when one looks back on where music came from. The really good music acts came from a place where they too felt despondent, where they wanted something different from life. Ozzy Osbourne, Nirvana, Metallica, even fucking U2, wanted to say something about this world. What they were fighting against, mass conformity and mendacity, is killing the very thing that they created in the first place – great music. If you want to do something, say something or play something different (real, progressive, liberated), you have to do it at university, or at an underground station.

What do you earn when you try to do something different – nothing or barely anything. No one pays for creativity. And this is the proverbial drain of the real world.

Still Young, Still Yours, at Fifty

What YourLMG did to revolutionise Cape Town music was to create a product that is tangible. It lives quite happily next to your toilet, a place where, everyone knows, strategic decisions about life are made every day. The founding father, Mike Smith, ignored advice that ‘everything is online these days’ and decided that something free, colourful and material would be healthier for local music than just another dot co dot za. He did the right thing. YourLMG is not just a product; it’s a name, with a now-familiar face and very, very good reputation. It also, by some unknown force, ends up in your handbag every time you leave the latest gig.

Who can resist supporting a local ‘zine that has propped up an army of music-industry types; including musicians, writers, photographers, music stores and music colleges? I think now of the amusing e-mail conversation I once had with Mike about some issue that I deemed important at the time. Not only did he take the time to reply, but did so in a way that left me assured of his worthiness to represent local music. These days he is looking somewhat thinner and possibly more haggard, but I put that down to aural damage caused by poor-quality live sound and too many conversations about the fate of South African music. Totally worth it, I’m sure, and today I consider him an unsung hero.

But enough about me; let’s talk about the fact that YourLMG just released its 50th issue. That’s a couple of year’s worth of magazines, sustained by an unreliable source of cash and a few die-hard types who know more about local music than local musicians themselves. I continue to envy those types; they seem to sprout out unending, intelligible and amusing stories about local artistes and their various performances. No gigs, no musicians and no bands are safe from their critical eye. These kids are in the know and YourLMG continues to be a safe and reliable source for music industry info.

So, in honour of being fifty and still nice to hold, YourLMG hosted a party, minus the cakes and candles, but with a few legendary bands for entertainment. True to YourLMG professionalism, the first band went on at exactly the time they promised. Having just got my sceptical paws on the latest Taxi Violence album, in all its acoustic glory, I was equally as impressed by the laid-back performance that night; a performance which mirrored a style that I think they should be calling home. I was practically weeping with joy when I noted that they had added another guitarist to their set and allowed myself a self-satisfied wallow in their fuller sound and perfect instrumental harmony. The acoustic sets give the guitarist, Rian, artist-licence to use large quantities of slide guitar and break out a number of bluesy solos; something I feel the music requires more of.

The crowd perked up substantially during the swinging set of Peachy Keen, who made me twitch with indescribable urges. I wanted to put on a pair of two-tones and do a jig, but held back in favour of the very serious glass of whiskey that I was holding. Although not exceptionally talented, but naturally fun and silly, this band draws heavily on 20’s indecency and double-bass to bring a music that is, at its roots, simple American-swing, but so wonderfully performed in all its red-mouthed pouting that the whole crowd got their hips moving. My devil’s advocate-type thoughts about the originality and sustainability of such a band was drowned out by my rational side, who realised that no one really cares when the music is this immodest and the performance this funky.

The darlings of the Cape Town hair-metal scene, Sabretooth, unleashed their fans and their fans onto the floor in an orgy of 80’s excess. While the cool air blew their hair back in a very flattering manner, the two guitarists, Dean and Charles, effortlessly swept their fingers up and down their fret boards in the way of lovers. All this quiet subtlety took place while the front man paced the stage in an aura of riot-ess energy. He wailed and keened and generally drove the crowd wild, even though the sound was so loud that I didn’t hear one lyric from him. It was typical Friday night gluttony for the masses of metal heads who managed to drag themselves away from their computer screens and Ibanez guitars.

Last up was the electric gig of Taxi Violence origin, but with a little more sweat, a little more heat and pants-load more energy. I placed myself at the fore of the crowd, in honour of the view of George’s groin as he gyrated at the front of the stage and braced myself for the masses of girls who generally flock to the front to get a close up of the hot bassist. I preferred the vocalist, George, in his earlier acoustic space, but have always admired his dynamic stage performance during live sets. The entire band usually gives it’s all, every time, although the drummer looked a little worse for wear after spending the previous set pounding his drums like a man possessed. Perhaps it was the low I was feeling after the last whiskey an hour before, but it seemed like the Taxi Violence set was a little faded at the edges. Or maybe the acoustic album, released barely a month ago, robbed them of any live energy.

Nonetheless, everyone looked like they had a pretty good time, including me. Yeah, so it was a typical Friday night at Mercury, perhaps with an unorthodox and mixed-bag line-up, but at least YourLMG are a few thousand rand richer and the new editor, Tecla, can go to bed tonight assured that one more issue may just have enough cash to become a real, tangible asset to the Cape Town community. Talk is of expansion, watch this space: www.yourlmg.co.za.

Notable music-related deaths

As a music fan, I have a macabre fascination with the deaths of musicians and music fans. But at the end of the day, musicians are just like normal people when it comes to facing the angel in black. With the 30th Anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination happening last week, it got me thinking about some of the more noteworthy deaths in the music industry. Some are bizarre, some are tragic and some are very closely connected to the rock and roll lifestyle. The list is inexhaustible; feel free to comment on any more that you think are significant.

Suicide

Per Yngve Ohlin (January 16, 1969 – April 8, 1991), frontman of Mayhem, a Norwegian black metal band, takes the cake for the most bizarre story of suicide. After discovering his body, with cuts to the wrist and a gunshot in the head, the members of the band took photos and later published one of them online. It is also rumoured that they made necklaces out of his skull. His band nickname was Dead! How apt.

In recent news, Charles Haddon, lead singer of the band Ou Est Le Swimming Pool, commuted suicide after a performance at Pukkelpop in Belgian. Both Haddon and a fellow band mate stage dived during their performance, seriously injuring a fan in the crowd. Apparently he feared that the fan had been crippled for life and committed suicide by jumping off a telecommunications mask at the Festival.

Just off the stage of music festival Synergy Live, Feeder also had a member commit suicide. Jon Lee (28 March 1968 – 7 January 2002), the original drummer of the band, committed suicide by hanging himself. Regarded as having a good life and successful career, the reasons why he committed suicide remain a mystery to band members and fans.

Murder

Returning to Mayhem, notorious black metal musician, Varg Vikernes, murdered his fellow Mayhem bandmate, Øystein Aarseth (March 22, 1968 – August 10, 1993) after an apparent disagreement. Aarseth, who went by the name Euronymous, was found outside his apartment with 23 stab wounds. Varg Vikernes is also famous for church burnings. He gives Norwegian Black Metal a very bad name.

Peter Tosh (19 October 1944 – 11 September 1987), one of the Wailers in Bob Marley and the Wailers, was killed in an armed robbery at his house. The three gunmen also turned on others, killing one other person.

Drug/alcohol-related deaths

John Bonham from Led Zepplin (31 May 1948 – 25 September 1980) is considered one of the best drummers in rock and roll history. He died of accidental asphyxiation from swallowing his own vomit. He had more than 40 shots of vodka on the day of his death. He is not the only musician to have died in such an undignified way.

Bradley James Nowell (February 22, 1968 – May 25, 1996), lead singer of Sublime, died of a heroine overdose while on tour with the band. He joins a growing number of musicians who died from the excesses of the rock and roll lifestyle; including Tommy Bolin (Deep purple), Tim Buckley (whose son, Jeff Buckley, drowned in a pool), Steve Clark (Led Zeppelin), Dee Dee Ramone (The Ramones), Nick Drake (possible suicide), John Entwistle (the Who) and others.

Recently, Paul Gray (April 8, 1972 – May 24, 2010), bassist from Slipknot, died in a hotel room. An autopsy revealed that he died of an overdose of morphine and fentanyl.

Fans

Dimebag Darrell. Image from theguitaraddict.blogspot.com

Meredith Hunter, a fan of the Rolling Stones, was beaten up and killed at the Altamont Free Concert by a group of Hell’s Angels. They were supposedly hired as security for the concert, which was held on the 6 December 1969. A notorious concert for death, three other deaths were reported that night, two by hit-and-run and one by drowning.

Darrell Lance Abbott (August 20, 1966 – December 8, 2004), known as Dimebag Darrell from bands Pantera and Damageplan, was shot by Nathan Gray while he was performing onstage with Damageplan. Three other people were shot by Gray that night; a fan, an employee of the nightclub and the band’s head of security.

In South Africa, I found one notable fan-related death. In August 2008, a young Slipknot fan, dressed like Joey Jordison, killed a fellow learner at Nic Diederichs Technical High School in Krugersdorp. Of course it was branded a “Satanic” murder. He used swords to do the killing.

Plane/helicopter crashes

One of the world’s most revered guitarists, Randy Rhoads (December 6, 1956 – March 19, 1982), who played with Ozzy Osbourne and Quiet Riot, died after a joy ride in a private aeroplane. Apparently Ozzy took his death very badly and never quite got over it.

The phrase, the day the music died, refers to the day when Buddy Holly and two other musos, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper, died in a plane crash (February 2, 1959). Buddy Holly was one of the pioneers of rock and roll and was merely a year and a half into his fame. Richie Valens, of La Bamba fame, was only 18.

Finally, Stevie Ray Vaughan (October 3, 1954 – August 27, 1990), arguably one of the most influential and celebrated blues guitarists of all time, died in a helicopter crash after a gig; inexplicably on the same day as his father.

The 27 Club

Five influential and iconic musicians all died at the age of 27, resulting in what is known as the 27 club. The concept of dying at 27 is now often joked about in band circles; get past 27 and you’ll be okay.

*         Janis Joplin of the Big Brother Holding Company (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970) – died from a heroine overdose

*         Brian Jones from The Rolling Stones (28 February 1942 – 3 July 1969) – drowned in a swimming pool

*         Jim Morrison from The Doors (December 8, 1943 — July 3, 1971) – died of heart failure

*         Jimi Hendrix from the Jimi Hendrix Experience (November 27, 1942 – September 18, 1970)– died of a drug overdose which lead to asphyxiation in his own vomit

*         Kurt Cobain from Nirvana (February 20, 1967 – April 5, 1994) – died after shooting himself with a shotgun

Death Metal

Ronnie James Dio. Image taken from stereogum.com

For metal fans, the most notable death in the scene is that of Ronnie James Dio (July 10, 1942 – May 16, 2010), songwriter and vocalist for many bands, including Dio. He is known for his powerful vocal style and for popularising the “devil horns”. It is appropriate that the final song he recorded was called “Metal Will Never Die”. He died from stomach cancer, a rather normal death considering the excesses of life as a metal icon.

RIP Dio \m/

South Africa

An almost forgotten death occurred in South Africa some years ago. Chas Smit, frontman of well-known South African band, Plush, was killed in September 2005 after playing a gig. He was run over by a driver who was found to be over the legal limit.

The eighth age of rock?

A while back I watched a BBC doccie called The Seven Ages of Rock. It’s not often that you see great music documentaries which are not only entertaining, but actually have something to say without making the musicians out to be complete idiots. The Seven Ages of Rock was a great exploratory work and seminal in labelling and describing the continuation and development of rock from the 60s through until today. It also managed to squeeze a whole lot of awesome into seven hour-long episodes.

The episodes track the following line of thought: age one was the Birth – beginning with Blues rock. Not much to say here, but I am rather intrigued as to why rock suddenly became “Arty” (do I hear progressive) straight after this, following the advent of the Art Rock fraternity. Nonetheless, it got pretty whack after this with the development of those crazy punks and then irked the world when heavy metal came onto the scene. It calmed down a bit with the Stadium rockers, who appealed to a mass audience (read; adult) and then went a bit whack again with the age of Alternative rock. I got stuck somewhere here, in the 90s, so I never did appreciate the final episode on the Indie Rock Scene (which I like to call The The Scene).

What did intrigue me about the final episode was just that; Indie rock is the final age in the documentary – but what comes next? According to the BBC website, there was a lot of overlap in genres, but today rock is dominated solely by indie rock. Whether I agree with this is not at issue here; the question is what sub-genre of rock will be dominating in the next few years. Taking a quick look at rock today (i.e. Wikipedia), it seems that, just as Indie made a revival after being superseded in the 80s by grunge and alternative, so too will punk and metal acts. What is different within the 2000’s rock genre, however, is the concept of Electronic Rock.

We all know that music is a subjective force, but let me put it out there, electronic rock irks me more than indie rock. The reason is simply that rock is about a group of people getting together with their respective instruments to play music which is generally driven by the that ageless instrument, the guitar, accompanied by some kind of rhythm and percussion section. Note: the musicians all play their respective instruments.

I can not reconcile the idea that a computer can become an instrument of rock when there are more unexplored avenues of music and instrument alike. Why do we have to cross over two very different (although not necessarily clashing) genres and make a new one? Why can we not just progress further in one genre? I know what any rock musician will tell me here – it’s all been done before. I understand this, having compared any number of new bands with their more established equivalents, but this does not necessarily mean that rock cannot progress even further than it already has.

Does this ranting lead to only one conclusion: that rock is reaching a pinnacle of perfection, that there are no more new ideas coming from its fraternity and that there will be no more really great rock acts that change the world? I hope not. However, I am waiting in vain for a band that grasps the world by the balls and changes the face of history. Who will be the new Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Queen or Nirvana of today?

Fools for Fire

It was there, in that closet space of sound, that I found the words to tell you how I feel; because I still wallow in the waters that doused our flame; I still rot within its despair.

She opened her song to me, her heart-shaped words making tiny in-dents into the wounds left from those weeks of hopelessness. She allowed me to grieve just that much more, bleed just a little bit longer.

For a moment, I believed that it was us against them; that I would talk and you would listen; that I would inhale and you would exhale. For a moment, I thought you were someone else.

You were not big enough for my world. You were not willing to fight for my causes. You were too grounded in your self-perpetuated insanity to fly with me. And so I broke my fists against your walls and my head against your silence.

Resistance, persistence; then demise.

No one is to blame.

“I guess I had you mistaken for someone I could admire

I guess it’s not everyone’s dream to be a fool for fire

I guess I had you mistaken for someone who could fly higher

I guess it’s not everyone’s dream to be a fool for fire”*

*Meri Kenaz – Fool for fire

Always a groupie

Ah, Live Music Society, two years on and you’re still the love affair I cannot forget. I recall an e-mail I received from its founder, Jillian Duly, who, along with a guy called Ashley Denton, created the entity called Live Music Society in 2001. It was created as a society with the intention, I suspect, of becoming a platform from which the tentacles of music could wrap themselves around unsuspecting Rhodes kids. Many years on and much had changed. I can picture those early days; when Mordor, Die Taphuis and Champs still existed and Goth Soc was a legitimate social society on campus. The venues were scarce, the university support was non-existent but the musical force was strong.

When I walked onto campus in 2003 I had never seen a live band before. I walked into a scene that was merely a handful of fledgling bands; nonetheless, there was raw energy, talent and passion. There were strange bands, rock bands, punk bands, ska bands and bands that couldn’t tell a bass from a guitar. I don’t really recall the first band that I happened to stumble upon, although I suspect it was Cypher. Now, that was a great balls-to-the-wall band, a stalwart of the time! The band was fronted by the legend, Daniel Buckland, if I recall properly, and he was certainly one for the ladies. I recall seeing them at Monkey Puzzle at one of Rhodes University’s notorious cheese and wines. I couldn’t drag myself away.

Also on the scene at the time were punk-rockers, The Bubbahoonks. On occasion, when I found myself buffeted around in a crowd full of their punk rock friends, fearing the loss of teeth, shoes or worse, I remember thinking that I had never seen anything like this before. They were crazy guys and, if you like that kind of thing, pretty awesome. There has not been anything like that since; although the raucous Monstrous Regiment slapped us hard across the face a few years later.

My ears were somewhat unaccustomed to the ingeniousness of metal/rock at the time so I quite liked Fallen. I admit, I have listened to their album again since those days and, although not really attuned to the hard rock acts of the times, they had a great boy-band thing going on. Chris de Klerk fronted the band and was always the most courteous of people.

A typical Breach gig at Champs

There were two bands that got me hooked on the scene. I don’t really recall when they existed, but I am sure it all began in 2003/4. The first hook came when I went into Champs quite unexpectedly and emerged sweaty, wide-eyed and with the words “on the eighth day the Devil came…” like a stuck record in my head. Breach remained a huge part of the band scene for years to come; through thick and thin, haters and lovers. They were pure metal; black t-shirts, long-hair and soft as kittens. Fronted by Brett, that undercover romantic and driven by Bruce (a seriously underrated pianist), whose love for metal was a constant force to be reckoned with, this band certainly had bulk and stamina.

Their brother band, taking the hardcore route, was Hollowscene. Fronted by another legend, Scott Sparrow, I followed them around like I was an addict and they were my drug. Yes, I admit to being completely in love with Scott, but it was more than that. My tastes began to change and the freedom rock gave me was addictive. This is going to sound like one big cliché, but it was here, headbanging with Trevor Johnson, that I unleashed my rage at the world. It was at a Hollowscene gig that I gained the most satisfaction; I was able to unburden myself of all my frustrations. Scott cemented my dedication to music by personally thanking me on stage and handing me their album. I did an embarrassing impersonation of one of those Beatles-mania induced screaming fits experienced by many a groupie in the sixties. Poor, Trevor; all he could do was grin at my ridiculous behaviour.

I went quickly from groupie to manager – but purely by chance – although I am still proud of my “band loyalty”. My closest friend in my second year (2004) was Richard, an aspiring drummer. He got a band together and I offered my services as manager. I had no idea what that meant, I had no idea if music was even something I could claim to know much about but it worked out just fine in the end. Phil, the tragic frontman; Mark, the quiet bassist; Matt, the blues-loving guitarist and Rich, my friend, became my greatest allies on the scene and introduced me to a musical education which I would not have received elsewhere.

Matthew from Soma

From picking the name (Soma – a drug so named in Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World), to designs and posters, to band rooms, to gigs, to recordings, from girlfriend to girlfriend, I was their most ardent supporter. I learnt about relationships in bands, the trials of musical creation, the difficulty of song writing, the petty and perverse, the frustrations of recording and the reward at the end of the day.

I also took over management of another band, although they admittedly came second to my beloved Soma, and so my horizons expanded. AKS, whose real name was Acoustic Kill Session, was made up of Matt, Gareth and Gareth. At some point, they swopped Matt for another Gareth and then things just got plain weird. Gathering my boys under my wing was an awesome feeling. I loved every gig, every house party and every night out.

Guy, skanking to one of the numerous Ska bands

It was about this time that the scene took on a rapid expansion. Although Breach continued to expand and brutalise, in other areas rock, folk, ska and funk were leaving their boot imprints and baffling us with their crazy names. Captain Kidds Adventure Galley, Polar Bear John and the Grizzlies, Bourgeois Ninja club, The Super Agents, Monstrous Regiment, Armchair Antics and on and on… When they formed, and when they disbanded, is difficult to remember. Very few bands stuck around for longer than a year and there were a lot of incestuous undertakings going on. I can’t even remember who or what they were or what they represented. Members of bands, as did bands, names and musical style, changed so rapidly in those days.

There was a general undercurrent of Ska proliferating in various practice venues (i.e. digs) across Grahamstown. Undone was the pinnacle of this and I remember clearly how bad they were when they began and how awesome they were by the time they left. This was one band that taught me a valuable lesson – you have to start somewhere. Grant was a terrible drummer; now he teaches drums; Mark was an okay bassist (later replaced with Trevor), but held his own during his years with Soma; Greg and Gush were proficient on horns, but damn awful singers. But they grew to overwhelming proportions. On every bill, in every venue, with 100s of fans who knew every lyric, they got in a lot of practise and received a lot of good words in their time. Skank pits lost their lustre after Undone finally left to become a UK band, A Tower of Sheep (with a few member changes).

Omo at the Battle of the Bands 2006

It always amused me to see how many bands erupted from the outer legions of campus whenever it came to Battle of the Bands. I was, by then, on the committee for LMS, and was on hand to coordinate the “greatest event on the live music calendar”. Traditionally held at Die Taphuis, on a random night of the week, 20 or so bands would be doing their best to win the not-too-coveted title of winner of battle of the bands. The prizes were generally quite lame, the competition poor and people had forgotten your band name long before the good feeling wore off. Nevertheless, those nights were epic. You never played as well, to as big a crowd, under the influence of so much alcohol, as what you did on a BoTB night. To top it all off, every now and then, a never before seen band would arrive on stage and blow you away. Whether this was through shear weirdness on their part (who can forget The Tygers or The Omophobes) or just because they were pretty damn good (remember Marbo and the Vibes), it didn’t really matter. And so what if they never played again – it is deeply satisfying to be part of it.

Another annual event was the Old Gaol Music Festival. This was always the most difficult event to plan; it was always a gamble to get the amount of days, times, costs and bands right. Port Elizabeth bands seemed to rock up in droves: metal, hardcore, screamo or emo kids in black t-shirts and dyed black hair. It was like a whole new world of music – if a little daunting. Regulars on the scene, Chromium, were a superbly good hardcore act from Port Elizabeth, who continue playing today, only from the crime-ridden streets of Johannesburg.

On the outer fringes of the band scene were a few individual acts that kept our fire side jams burning. Some were part of bands, Pete O’Donoghue for example, some were music students and some just did it for the love. They came and went but who can forget Paul on Penny Whistle, Neo on bass, Polar Bear Jon, ever-smiling Brett, Stones or Dave? Before I left Rhodes I was blown away by the sweet vocals of Lucy and the classical finesse of Mike.

There are a few defining moments of my LMS career that make me realise what it meant to be part of it all. One such moment was when Dave Knowles told me he had made it to the final of a national Battle of the Bands competition. The reason why it mattered was because he was the lone solo guitarist among a number of campus bands, from all over South Africa. For him to have been selected to play in front of a few thousand people says so much about his creativity and virtuosity. The other incredible part of the story was that I was given a day to find bands, had no one to ask, secured a few solo acts before the day was out, had about ten people come to watch, suffered through the humiliation and then had him selected!

Another defining moment was a day when, tired and annoyed, a bunch of the committee were sitting on the field outside the Union, bitching about how the O-week activities were so badly advertised because we had barely had any sign-ups that day. Then, looking like kids who had just spotted the candy, Rowan and Kathleen showed up at our stand. Those poor, lost souls had suddenly found a place in which to breathe. Muso kids at heart, they were so happy to find LMS kids in amongst the mundane campus stereotypes. Here, they had found a place a play – and, boy, did they play. From being sound techies, to groupies, to committee members, I loved their enthusiasm. They showed me that LMS was, for some people, a place to find themselves: it could shelter them from the ravages of jocks and their betties, it was a change from the normality of union-rat-friar tucks Friday nights and it was a place to unleash their indefinable emotions; as I had done at the feet of Hollowscene.

What has always been the defining feature of Grahamstown, and what has always made me proud, is the vibe. One night, after finishing late at work, I went to a Fokofpolisiekar gig. I was disgusted to have to pay R40 just to watch their final few songs, but when I entered the hall, that R40 was the best money ever spent. There was sweat and tears and blood and bodies flying everywhere. It was the craziest gig I have ever encountered; then and since. Those Rhodes kids sure know how to have a good time. Yeah, so half the time they are slaughtered on cheap alcohol, but they are also just up for the party. There was always a pit going on in the front, invariably blood would flow, but it was always done in the spirit of love.

I had an awesome opportunity to go on tour with Motara and Breach. Motara was the younger brother of Breach, with the added brutality of Rudi and Thorsten (two of the most respected metal guitarists I have ever encountered). Richard on vocals, Bruce on Bass, Omo on drums: those guys were Grahamstown’s answer to battle metal. They were named after the Dean of Students, Dr Motara, which just made them all the more metal. So, they touched each other too much, but they sure knew how to break down walls.

Taking time out on tour: Rudi from Motara

I went along on tour as breakfast maker, general cheerleader and video recorder. The tour was a very surreal experience for me. There were days of normalcy; cricket, riding the Anaconda at Gold Reef City, hanging out, making supper, shooting the shit. But there were also days where I almost peed myself from laughter; like the radio interview where the boys decided that making galloping and neighing sounds in the background would be hilarious. There was also the 3am dance-up at Doors. Rudi kept me in stitches with his impersonation of a beast, stalking around like a T-rex to Iron Maiden’s Fear of the Dark. I think the DJ liked us. Then there were the creepy bits, like playing a gig with Neo-Nazis, when all I could think about was “thank g-d none of these guys are gay or black”. Vanderbijlpark will never seem like an average dorpie again.

I must admit though, for a bunch of savages, these guys were the softest, kindest, most normal people. The scariest part of the whole tour was falling asleep at the wheel while driving back to Durban, not having slept the night before. Rudi had driven into the back of Richard’s car one night and I was terrified the bumper was going to fly open. I drove the whole way at 100kms/hour. After that we discovered that we had just spent the last of our money on energy drinks and couldn’t remember if there was another toll booth up ahead. However, we made it back, a few gigs under the belt, and awesome DVD of the trip and a bolstered respect for the steeeeel; also known as Motara and Breach.

LMS continued a path of growth while I was around; not all attributed to me, I must add. Things started to go right for the society, the University gave into our whims and respect was gained. Venues continued to be hard to come by, practicing involved taking on the neighbours and police, gigs were few and far between, but the talent and passion was there. The band practice room seemed to materialise out of nowhere; Luke, the sound engineer, had a great time spending our member’s money on a kick-ass sound rig (thanks to large discounts from a rad little sound shop in PE); national bands suddenly discovered that Grahamstown was a cool place to play and a few choice managers from various venues continued their long-standing support (Thanks to Die Taphuis, Champs and Old Gaol). Brian and Corrine, awesome bassist and sound lady respectively, who had done the gtown rounds for decades, were always there to offer a few kind words, a place to record or a replacement mic, and made themselves available as judge, as mentor, as friend.

During my time I saw support for LMS come and go. Countless meetings became bitch sessions about the lack of support from Grahamstown locals, venue managers and the University. We did what we could to compromise; our attempts at sound proofing were amateur for sure, but it was cheap and it worked. Our creative thinking around venues would have made any teacher proud. I did a bit of my own butt-licking: a bit of pleading, a bit of appealing to reason, making promises I knew I couldn’t keep (like keeping the pigs from our doorstep). Nonetheless, when Die Taphuis disappeared under a multi-story housing complex, Champs closed down and The Old Gaol, due to pressure from the police, had to ban gigging, we despaired. But now it seems, bands continue to make do with what they can; and it’s good to see that bands continue to play, fans continue to drink and LMS continues to rope in a whole bunch of unsuspecting first years, as well as the old[er] student crowd. Oh, and 10 Points for the Dismount continued to terrorise the town’s people.

Always the groupie

During my 3 years on LMS committee I worked my butt off behind the scenes to promote, hug, encourage, market, manage, coordinate and, yes, love all the musos that made the scene that special playground to play in. I am not sure how I managed to actually pass my subjects; but I got a better education than most. Yeah, so I loved the praise, I loved the music, but it was also occasionally overwhelming. I had to humble myself to the musical genius of a lot of the people I met, like Stu from RMR, bluff everyone into believing that I knew what I was talking about and lead a bunch of passionate, yet ultimately laid-back and docile, creatures called the LMS committee.

By my side were various people who hardly ever received the praise; people like the designers (Lolly, yours were slick and powerful posters), the noobs who roamed campus putting up posters (what a ball-ache) and the sound guys (Luke, Pete, Gush, Cath etc etc). There were also occasional band groupies, keeping the bands happy, the girlfriends, bribing their friends to come to gigs and crowd out the front row, and the roadies (usually the bands themselves – and a rather muscular me). You know who you are – so here is a long-overdue, but much deserved, thank you.

I want to dedicate this to a wonderful, sexy and alluring person, who was tragically killed in a car crash last year, 2009. I first encountered Natasha, or Tash, at a Marbo and the Vibes practice in Matt’s room. She was beautiful, likeable and talented. When she got up on stage, she was one of the most mesmerising vocalists that I have ever encountered. My last memory of her was at a “cynical dinner” at Jateen’s digs. She was trying to teach me how to shake my ass, literally. She had this beautiful big bum and she could make it shake like jelly. Alas, my tame, white ass had nothing on her.

Rest in peace, my friend. I still think of you and remember those clear, sweet blues.

 

Other bands not mentioned in text, but who will not be easily forgotten: Captain Smug and the Propagandists, Iskra, Monkeyphonics, Nia, Orangutan Bitch, Peyote, Railway Sleepers, Razzmatazz, The Pheremones and Thus Far