Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Notes on some South African bands found on the Score website

(this piece was probably written in late 2013 or early 2014)

Browsing around on the Internet, googling local bands and coming across a site called The Score that features brief biographical notes and music videos or SoundCloud clips of the featured bands. Most of these groups were totally unknown to me and this find emphasised again how easy it must be to form a band, to write en rehearse some tunes and then either make a video or just record some tracks for internet dissemination. Who needs to release CDs? Do any of these bands gig regularly, or just fool around in the lead singer's basement, or even exist for longer than the university degree courses of the band members?

I did not have the time or inclination to investigate each and every band but spent some time on a couple.

The first band was the interestingly named The Deaf Commission. They have a good number of videos and I watched the live in concert clips of "Ramblin'" and "Your Time Has Come," and the official video of "You're Gonna Lose." The gig could have been filmed with an iPhone but jerky visuals and an almost out of focus image but the true beauty of the videos lies in the shitty sound. These performances sound so much like the product of the bad sound one usually encounters at gigs of young bands in small spaces. The music is distorted and loud yet listenable while the vocals are just about unintelligible. The singer may as well be singing gibberish. Often it was the saving grace for a lot of bands. If you can't understand what the singer is singing, you won't realise how terrible some of the lyrics are.

The official video has much better sound and is therefore a neater, cleaner product that lacks some of the visceral excitement of the live clips, especially the studio sound makes the band sound like a straightforward heavy band whereas the live clips give a blues rock and punky edge to the guitars. Cleaning up is not necessarily the answer either.

The Heavy Souls, with "Run with the Hunted," is a proficient hard rock band with little to differentiate them from the rest of the local pack. They do what they do, well and yet have no apparent spark of genius or just a glimmer of that little something that will distinguish them from the many other rack bands in this country.

For my money The Cheap Bad Habits from Kwazulu Natal are the pick of this small bunch. They look like a classic Nuggets era garage band or perhaps one of the punk bands from New York in the late Seventies. The sound is more New York punk than Pacific Northwest punk, yet somewhat more deliberate and slower, so perhaps Detroit is the reference point. There is a video clip and a number of SoundCloud clips. Their big song is "Chasing Down the Devil." and it is suitably snotty and punchy and just dumb enough to be a smart take on an old trope. The video for "French Kiss" was shot on a beach full of gyrating bodies and beach babes. Car and girls and sun, sea and sand. Not exactly blissed out summer rock though. This is the band whose CD I would buy if there were such a release. Big dumb rock and roll fun is never a bad thing.

Junkyard Lipstick is an all-female thrash punk type of band from Cape Town. The photograph with the bio shows four emo/Goth/punk women in a playground and, dare one say it, there is a definite odd sexiness about them, and one would be tempted to say, I do not care what the music sounds like; I'd be prepared to pay just to see them on stage. The one clip I listened to, "Bio Terror." sounds pretty much like old school thrash to me with riffing guitars, punchy fast drumming and shouted vocals that may have deep meaning but are not quite intelligible.

Who knows whether any of these bands are currently active? I don't go to gigs and am obviously not part of the word of mouth of the young set in any of the towns in which these bands operate or used to operate. If it had not been for this fortuitous trawl through the internet I would probably never have heard of the groups. This type of find simply re-emphasises how relatively easy it is these days to record your music and even to make a video to accompany it, whether the production values are high or simply basic. There must be more money available and more facilities as well. Back in the Eighties and early Nineties, when I was young and followed local bands, hardly any of the ever released a record, or tape, much less made videos of their shows. Of course the internet was not a thing back then and neither were cheap video cameras or the smartphones with their video capabilities, most of which puts media and the outreach to an audience within the easy grasp of just about every band. Back in the day you could obviously record your rehearsals or gigs onto a reel to reel tape or maybe, once things got sophisticated, a DAT tape, and if a mate had a video camera he or she could make a movie of your rehearsal or stage show. However, there was no outlet like YouTube for your video and it must have been prohibitively expensive for most bands without proper recording contracts to book studio time, produce and master their songs and to have records and sleeves printed. Nowadays every one with a PC or laptop can run a home recording studio and the costs of fine tuning a song are much less and the costs of manufacturing CDs and the jewel cases and inserts must be reasonable and in reach of most budgets. How else do so many independent albums get released? You can sell your product at your gigs and by mail order and get onto iTunes or offer downloads through sites like Band camp. You can put your music out there on Myspace, YouTube or SoundCloud. There is no reason, except for failure to do something quite basic, why any and all bands cannot disseminate their music to everyone who may be interested. One might not make money from all of this endeavour but at least your music will have a presence and recognition that was not possible 20 or 30 years ago unless one had a recording contract or very deep pockets.

In the period 1984 to about 1994 I followed many local bands in and around the Cape Town area, and also a good number of Johannesburg bands who used to come down to Cape Town for the summer season. Some of these bands, like All Night Radio, Sweatband, The Believers, Cherryfaced Lurchers, Petit Cheval, The Genuines, The Blues Broers, Valiant Swart, Koos Kombuis, and so on, managed to release one or more records. Many more, like The Flaming Firestones, The Mavericks, Duck 4 Cover, The Tarantulas, Raissa's Farm, Shrinking Railroad, and many others whose names I don't even recall any more, did not release anything that I knew of. If there are home tapes of rehearsals or gigs, I am not aware of them and it seems nobody has made any attempt to transfer such recording to digital format to release them in any shape or form. An entire generation of local bands lived and died and left no permanent record except for the memories of those who were there, musicians and audience, and the faded newspapers in which the gigs were advertised.




No comments: