Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Possibly politically incorrect band names

Especially for the oversensitive, newly oppressed amongst (and if we’re going to split hairs, I’d like to remind you that of all the arts, music stands testimony to having no colour or creed)

  • The ancestors
  • Bed on bricks
  • Taxi violence
  • Desmond and the Tutus

eye, i, ay Cap'n

are playing at mercury tonight.

To hide the fact that they're actually from a higher realm, they're going in disguise. Come as yourself, or, if the spirit takes you (as it did yours truly who resembles a schitzoid morph of Jezebel and Michael jackson and is getting compliments from drunken bergies on sunny Woodstock street corners at 9am. don't ask what she was doing there; she had gas. i mean. she needed gas.) - ahem. yes. like i was saying, if the spirit takes you, give yourself a make over : poke out your eyes, knock out some teeth, chop off your left hand, grow a beard and embrace your inner tyrant of the open seas. Drag's covered too, so if you feel like bending genders, you'll be right home with our token cross-dresser...

beards are optional. so are boobs. i opt that girls wear the former, and boys, the latter....

har har har.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

BABU, baby!

Story time for fine jazz fusion

Take a little Hot Water, add some Restless Natives and you’ve got a stew of local jazz improv that's gone all the way to India and come black to Africa.

Fittingly, the word Babu has both great and low connotations on the continent of India (erm, it is too a continent. If you’ve been there, you’ll agree), but in Cape Town it has only one: Brilliant, which fits well with words like Kesivan, Shane, Reza, and Ronan. A standing ovation from a demanding crowd at their Armchair gig a fortnight ago is evidence. Wish you’d been there.

Jazz is juicy. Jazz is not easy. It’s an acquired taste. We know. But the abstraction in jazz‘s musical narrative can alienate uninitiated listeners. Babu takes that to heart and to the extreme by breaking the set up into intriguing installments of an epic tale told by Kesivan. It embodies the music as much as it guides your mind. Whiskey time becomes story time without a bedtime under the careful hands of fine musicians who have found their mojo together.

They play like they love each other; tight, joyfully, and full of expression. Ronan’s incredibly sensitive touch turns a Tabla into an angel’s heartbeat. Kesivan is inspired, knocking the nonsense out of noise and never letting go of the rhythm. Reza’s quiet subjugation to his guitar belies his power over it’s twitches and tones. I’ve never heard distortions like that. At the flick of a switch or the pick and warp of a string he coaxes the voice of a sitar, a banjo, and a violin out of his baby, and then returns to its traditional articulation as if nothing unusual just happened. His machine is an uber-electric goddess in his arms. And he’s happy to worship while Shane holds it together with that affable effortlessness of his, apparently dancing with his baby more than plucking emotion out of bass notes.

They have a sense of humour too. Last time , after a heady buildup, after they’d killed off the baddies, they finally joined the protagonists in unholy union, which meant, of course, that they closed with a Love song. Very well. You’d expect a saucy, spanking climax after the way they wound you up through the journey. But. They gave the love song the gospel treatment. Just because you were expecting sex. And then they gave everyone a Tantric climax. Just because we thought they’d let us down.

Big up to babu.

Subjugate yourself.

live and lovely at The Waiting Room, Thursday, 28 June 2007
info: tel 083.640.6464

Face it

(no myspace, yet, sorry; they seem to be too busy making great music...)

Monday, June 25, 2007

tonight we die_farewell gig

with two band members leaving, it was farewell Saturday night from Tonight We Die .

it was poignant. Because everything about their music says more. And now there will be no more.

it was powerful. unconsciously keeping with this weekend's spate of double bills (there was taxi and sleepers back to back friday), they did a double set of their own: acoustic and plugged. what a treat. a chance to hear both sides of their sound, and nod your head because they're good. and bow your head,because they're gone.

the music video they screened is breathtaking. a tightly edited love story that projects itself as a horror. of sorts. it works because it's simple. love stories rarely are.

this night. we cried.

(all the more reason to get out there and expose your soul to live sound. you never know when something is going to change.)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

be kind

Discourse on Criticism

Words are a mirror to the mind and spirit. If spirit is the new black, and the mirror breaks, it’s good to turn the spotlight on the critic. In fact, it always is. A recent brush with bad judgment had me questioning the role of criticism in live music, or rather, it led me to thinking about the role and performance of a ‘critic’.

Let’s face it, we’re all critics. (Or so we’d like to think.) There are enough opinions flying around to populate the Antarctic (if myspace and facebook don’t already have dibs on it). Do we care if a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable? It depends on how you use it. Do we care if critics are ‘just frustrated artists’? It depends on consensus and context. If criticism is useful to the art it speaks of or those that consume it, is it relevant that the person on the soapbox could also be reckoning with their own processes? What’s more important is the quality of the criticism itself. Everyday critics are a crime a cousin (no, no, no. not you.), but the ones whose commentary might matter are the ones that offer some sort of positive input (harsh or heavenly) to the music world.

Cut to the chase: naked judgment is not criticism. Negative verdicts that offer no positive poles do little more than stifle, depress or destroy what creativity might be present; whether flowering fully, budding a bit, or buried deep. When it comes to comparison, there will always be the invisible ideal to crucify creativity instead of encouraging its ascension or expansion or refinement, and the aims and articulation of judgement aptly achieve this. But pure criticism cites perfection as one of many reference points - not the apex of an Achilles hill (sic) - and offers alternatives rather than a dead (and depressing) end (to inspiration). The truth is that effective criticism is as contextual as the critic; and, in the constant change of a creative environment, never finds its feet for long though the critic might dig his/her (ahem - Achilles) heels in. (or put his/her foot in it!)

In its purest form, criticism is not a weapon of war; it is an instrument of evolution.

Last time I checked, music was not an instrument of torture, either.

Music critics arise within and exist outside of the music making process. (Music critics, here, are those who have something constructive to say about sound, whether for personal or professional purposes, and often for both.) Some of the best and worst criticism can come from some of a musician’s best and worst friends, fans, or fellow musos. When it comes to communicating with the public, it gets a bit trickier. Critique needs to answer the audience it’s aimed at and critics need to speak two languages at once. When you're talking shop, expressing sound in isolation is one thing, but it's not very effective if you’re talking to those who are not (yet) the converted or who don't necessarily know or understand the score . It not all semitones and solos at this point; it’s pop psych, pop culture and popcorn. There’s a tricky balance to eliciting ‘tell me more’ instead of ‘too much information’.

A developing understanding of the scene is another thing that can make things make a lot more sense to anyone who really (endeavours to) appreciate music. Denver Turner – aka Diggr Barnz the Neon Don from the Tykoon Suit / moodphase5ive / Forgotten Free-quencies - feels it too :

“music journalists need to get behind the scene a bit and find out more about the musicians and the problems they face just trying to balance a career in music and trying to make a living out of it. You will find a wealth of untapped information (there), which seriously affects the growth and the fate of most of the up-and-coming and exciting bands out there.”

Case in point : not one of the once-were-warriors (and some still are) of moodphase5ive were ever asked by the press why by they broke up. “They just made assumptions, which turned into gossip, which turned into the word of god.”

Aha. Which is the power and prowess of media. And media is a funny beast, bigger than all of us, made up of us, and consumed by us.

While a critic’s input can be entirely unnecessary in a healthy, established band/fan relationship, it can go a long way to introducing, developing or damaging the ties that bind or undo the musicians from the masses, and to offering outside insights to the sounds that emanate from within the instruments and hearts of music makers. A critic helps to forge new relationships between the music and new audiences by being a reference point, and a critic's articulation can be helpful in suggesting to bands/musos why they're not connecting with the public. Or why they are. In an increasingly networked world of compulsive communication, the personality that they lend music in its off hours also goes a long way to promoting it in a more organic and integral way. Therein lies the role and responsibility of someone arrogant enough to call themselves a critic. Like me.

Unfortunately, this raison d’être is often couched in embedded ego and ulterior motives, for it is in the shadow of our ego that we seek excellence. Good criticism offers alternatives to damning eloquence: insight, intelligent (and hopefully sensitive) feedback, increased awareness, and eventual transcendence of ego . But critics are not always good and words are not always wise. This is the power of the ab/use of opinion.

In disseminating opinion, the critic has many faces :

Critic as performer

A sincere critic has his or her own objectives, without which their work would lack integrity. That motive is to be heard, or even to make their own art. (yup, the truth that musicians have stated time and time again is true for them, too. ‘I do it for the love. I do it for myself’) The temptation to bend what is already a bent estimation of objectivity to suit these motives is huge; it’s far easier to point fingers at other creatives’ faults than challenge your own. And any wordsmith worth their words knows this. Some days are better than others. When a critic falls prey to laziness and snobbery in dull moments (it happens to the best, but more frequently to the rest) and this incurs a backlash from the brave, it’s a chance to learn, not react. And become a better critic. Not a prat.

Critic as creative

Wordsmiths share common ground with music makers, abstract as it may be. Like musicians, they love their work, they make mistakes, and they affect others through both. Unlike musicians, they draw on an existing product for their own material and are thus beholden to the layers of beauty and the badness in it. Frustrated as they may be (by their own processes or by the music!), critics put words to work for music. And that doesn’t mean being nice all the time. But it should mean being honest, and it could mean being kind.

Music is to emotion what word is to mind. For some (for me) words are an unavoidable extension and expression of self, and the self is subject to all kinds of subjectivities, red herrings and mind traps on the way to wisdom and wit. What words can do for music, however, is give it a reference point through the mind.

Critic as compatriot

Strange as it may sound, it is our enemies that we grow the most through (so choose yours wisely!). Or those we perceive as such, at least, and thereby give the role to. The dynamic tension that binds and burdens the critic in all of us with the musician in some of us can find its most positive articulation through conflict. How spare and senseless is absolute adoration when dealing with the variables that make music one of the most integral art forms in existence and its evolution one of the most valuable we can invest in? (yes, that’s just an opinion! But try answering the question.) Adoration is one thing. Growth is another.

Critic as idiot

Words are watery. In our visual and verbal cultures, they claim communication as their own and nip and tuck original meaning at whim. The fact that they make up a very small percentage of the meaning moving between all things sensory doesn’t stop them from being powerful in all things human. Or inaccurate. Sense and sentiment are prone to the particularities of time and place, the intonation of intention, and the edge of everything else that I - ahem(again) - don’t have words for. It can so happen that a shoddy statement says things it doesn’t mean to or lassoes more than its fair share into its pot bellied belier of blame. It can so happen that words reveal more than we’re willing to. But if there is no space for mistakes, there is no space for expression. And if there’s no space for expression, there’s no space for music. This is probably not important to you, but as a writer covering the abstractions of sound, it’s very important to me to remember, to heed and to avoid. And sometimes impossible.


Our mistakes can’t be unmade, but they can make a difference to our growth if we can see the soul(lessness) in them, and heed them humbly. Stitching carelessness, arrogance and insensitivity into commentary can betray its benefits. At a basic level, music writing can promote a form of entertainment that brings expression, joy and catharsis to the world and so inspire more people to really listen (and feel and be part of it). And, when it’s really good, music writing can approximate an expression of music and its world through empathic words …and so inspire more people to really listen (and feel, and be part of it). I rarely reach those heights, but I do sometimes scrape the barrel, because words are tricky, and the ego is trickier.

A friend whose life and work revolves around the live music scene made the point recently that ultimate respect goes to the artists. The rest of us, he mused, are appendages; they make the magic that we devour or despise. I agree in part. But I also feel that without an audience to seduce, a media to reach the public through, and the indifferent or disinterested ears (who help define a fan base through being its very antithesis), those magic makers would be very lonely in a noisy room.

My gratitude and awe goes to the people who give us something to listen, sing and dance to. But my ultimate respect goes to the music. Because I can’t help being human. But I can choose my music. And I can choose my words.

(And you know what? maybe I’m not yet a critic. Just a commentator. But it’s good to know that I’m in evolution along with the rest of us. I endeavour to find the compassion in honesty, and the honesty in love.)

Words can be swords. Too sharp and they slice. Too dull and they tear. Wear them carefully. Clean them often. And use them to say things like ‘sorry’, too.

P.S. Satan says "thanks for the lesson."

Monday, June 18, 2007


What’s in a word? When the same band is variously described as alt rock, progressive rock and punk metal by music critics, you’ve got to ask yourself who’s speaking to who. I’ve said it before. By nature of its wide-winged interpretation, pigeonholing genre can be a serious disservice to musicians. But perhaps not to their audiences and potential fans.


Ask people what a truck sounds like. a rare few will say something like, ‘a dinosaur with laryngitis’. Some will shrug their shoulders and maybe try to make the noise for you. And others will just say, “like a truck, haven’t you heard one?” But that’s just the point. If you haven’t heard, and you want an approximate idea of a sound, who’s going to help you? Not the dinosaur with laryngitis.

A velve (er, valve) for exasperation

Here’s an example : I recently heard what a music journalist i respect calls a mix of indie-disco, kwaito-rock and acoustic Drum & Bass. i was intrigued by the description, but not gratified by it. I couldn’t hear the disco. I couldn’t hear the kwaito. I could hear a lot of passion, and perhaps that's what all these words are trying to describe.

Untie yourself

Words cannot do music justice. But in some cases, they’re all we’ve got. Words about music need to be music to the ears. It’s an odd interface, language. We’re fluent in it, but it often betrays us. We’ve been using words since we could crawl, but sometimes, eish, they make your skin crawl. And the thing is that music was there first. We hear rhythm and rage before we ever say a word; think of heartbeats. Anguish. Crying. Mumbling. The things babies do. Well, we’re babies when words won’t work. But you try telling someone that a band sounds like another band they haven’t heard. What are they going to do? Rush out and sample it on myspace? (nope, facebook doesn’t do that. yet) No. they’re going to look at you blankly and sample something else. And by the same token, try explaining recent visitors, Evanescence – operatic emo? Gothic clit-pop-rock? Huh? Exacty, ek sê...

In with the old?

Sometimes I think we should go back to the days and ways of yore, when we had fewer genres, maybe keep three or four or five definitive groups names, and then relate that to some quintessentially human experience (preferably sensory, for absolute understanding) like seasons, or colours. It cuts down on adjectives, expletives, and might save us from reaching that critical mass that loses the point entirely. ..- sorry, what was the point again? Well, let’s just say that slimming down the genres might help The Sleepers feel less like their amazing music is creating semantic schizophrenia in the media, and rather a tempered excitement that making hard, melodic sounds with lots of light inspires. But what would we describe them as, then? Well, how about a clever bassist(and fan)'s suggestion of “dark rock”?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

why Taxi Violence rocks

It’s one thing to rip your T shirt off, fling your guitar around and sweat all over the stage, it’s another to get my vote as a great band.


there are reasons for this.

Music is a mistress with a white hot whip; she takes no prisoners. In pretty, self-conscious Cape Town, everyone (and his cousin) wants to be a ‘musician’. Few are willing to engage themselves with the committment required to pull it off. Live music is becoming increasingly popular as a social backdrop, which is great – we‘ve got a lot of sweet noise to offer our sleepy citizens - but we must remember that not all ears (and tastes) are yet delicate enough to tell the crap from the rap, or the shit from the hit - ahem - popularity and prejudice go hand in hand with ignorance and notoriety. Having thousands of friends on Myspace or fans on Facebook doesn't mean you rock. So what does?

Brilliance demands a certain something that is hard to explain and approximates angelhood. It ties the effort, the attitude, the vision, the action, and the business sense inextricably into one sublime sound. I give you Taxi Violence as my prime example.

why taxi violence rocks

It’s taken so many sizzling gigs for me to assimilate a description for the word that sums them up: synergy. Why? Well, duh. Because synergy means seamless, and to describe something, you have to pick it apart. I couldn’t pick their music apart... I had to wait for it to fill me to overflow, and it spelled itself out to me through a whiskey (e for Irish)-lubed brain at the Gecko in Hermanus last weekend. Here it is, the sound that sings in my sleep. Break it down:

In Taxi’s violence, a single element never drowns another. It might lead. It might blend. It might play alongside. But it always lends itself to a composite fusion that transcends hearing. It’s emotional. It’s powerful. It’s indescribable. ‘Overtone’ is a tongue in cheeky way to describe the way the bass and electric strings blend and bump. They underline and sometimes overtake the vocal lead’s rise and fall with a grace that leaves no space for discord. The drums hold it all together; give it its bite and its bleed. As the bloodline, they build the body, and the bass blends the rhythm. The electric guitar bends bad and bliss with feeling and finesse and a large helping of I don’t-give-a-fuckabouthis. And Solos are simply a chance for the other instruments to listen to their compatriots keenly. Solos break the beauty and rebuild it with their singular strength, but never isolate the ear from a sense of unity. It’s like you’re standing naked under a new sun. and you’re not alone. But beyond the music?

While the scene is rife with bloated ego and empty wallets and open legs, these boys are humble. They’re Serious about music, not imperious about their social status or the sweet, sexy sounds they coax out of metal, strings and throats. When it comes to good, better and best, they make no bones about appreciating others’ talents; they celebrate it. Instead of letting it fuel their egos and up their ante, they acknowledge excellence in others with a reverence that informs their musical revelations. Brilliance urges them to be better at what they do, to give more of themselves to the music so that the music can give more to you. It's a sustainable and mature attitude for boys who are going to go very, very far and still stay close to home. It’s undoubtedly a wise way to go about things. Especially creative things. Which are so difficult to regulate, anticipate, or estimate.

And in the grip of this muse, their decorum and diligence proves their dedication. They’re professional to a fault, and respectful of everyone. They’ve turned down blank contracts to be totally independent. And they can justify it with their work - it’s their own, from shitsexy music videos made on R400 budgets and/or edited in forty minutes, to the world-standard self-styled and stitched album, to the last drink at dawn before wandering back home in a swill of inspiration and exploration. They are lead by a need to express, relate and exchange. And the strength and conviction that comes of believing in what they do, being led by the muse, and bleeding for it (sometimes literally) lends their music its prowess.

So spare your loose change for Taxi Violence at Mercury on Friday 15 June 2007.

and i'm not the only one who thinks good things about taxi. but this man is far more succinct and eloquent than i manage to be:

Monday, June 4, 2007

you said it - soapbox on sound

speak up, kitlings!

some of you have some pretty interesting things to say about sound...
(i'll only tell you who they are if you pay me)

" BLK JKS need some songs, they just get on stage and jam.after 15 minutes I’m bored ."

"cabins in the forest would be good if they just shut up and played their guitars."

Friday, June 1, 2007

the sleepers are awake

The Sleepers are the hottest, darkest emerging talent in this town.

The art in their flyers carries right through to their souls. and on the way it highjacks their music and makes something sublime of it all. something strong, yet awkward. edgy, but steady. if you're sitting, it'll leave you standing. if you're standing, it'll sweep you off your feet.

you can contend my theory if you see them at Mercury tonight.