Thursday, April 17, 2008

star quality

Showbiz is hard work, for sure. Business obligations carry on way after the singing, stringing, strumming, banging and drumming have silenced. People want a piece of you if you've been on stage. All those hands grabbing your groin, cameras in your face, body parts to sign, not to mention the drinking, dancing, flirting - or should i say networking... Poor rock musicians. What a performance!

On average, I mean "performance" literally. Most performance is average. Most performance is an act. A good deal of what we see on stage is an act of sorts - an offering to the gods of the celebrity pedestal, a testament to the adoration of minion masses pulling at their panties and tugging at their already unruly hairdos. Most performance is average. Most performance is put on. This observation doesn't double as a compliment, unfortunately. For me, real star quality is about catharsis, not the catwalk, and the superficial strutting is starting to bore me.

Some souls have the solitary gift of being able to stand up on stage and exude excellence and/or eccentricity without (looking like they're) trying. Helplessly Brilliant? Yes. These are the ones who pierce your peace and leave an indelible mark on your subconscious. Think Inge. Chameleon. (and please ask them to do a duet sometime) You might never remember their names but you'll never forget their presence, musicality and demeanour. These are the ones worth watching. Actually, these are the ones you can't help watching. These are the ones that might survive themselves. With a certain naked frankness, without seeming to mind that their person is displayed for the scrutiny of all, they climb into the light and shine with an honest expression of self, soul and talent. However bizarre or unusual that might be, it comes across as indubitably authentic and essential. Picasso, not Pavlov.

By contrast, good entertainers have crafted an act that puts them on the spot in the spotlight, something they perfect and explore, nip and tuck and tailor for the benefit of their benevolent audiences. The effort is admirable, and the craft brings laughter, awe, and enjoyment to many. The more hard working and professional the approach, the more evolved the entertainment factor, but it remains an experience based on premeditated charm and simulated (sex) appeal. If you're in the audience on the receiving end, the conjuring act on stage can never be yours the way it can in the presence of greatness. It won't penetrate your psyche, it won't surface in your dreams, it wont take you home with it. Why? Because when you watch an act, you're not consuming something innate, you're swallowing a carbon copy of an approximation of authenticity. With the right lipstick and lip sync, they become something more than they are. (and, it must be said, choosing the right audience is part of the formula. Performers are not the only ones in the habit of approximating authenticity.)

The very effort that separates entertainers from the ordinary (wo)man in the street divorces them from real stars. It’s the effortless ease that separates rising stars from hard working performers. Stars are just being themselves. Most of them probably can’t help it. It makes them unbelievably irresistible.

Sure, tastes vary, and we need all kinds of entertainment to forget the unanswered questions and unmapped roads. You might have a taste for a bit of thigh, banter on the fly, you might want half a stand-up routine before the first chord is played. You’ll get that, and you’ll probably enjoy it if it’s well done. The city is filled with frustrated divas just dying to be looked at. The stars wont’ do that. Or, if they do, they won't do it for that reason. They’ll climb up on stage and sing, scream, swing their arms around, stand silently or pull faces and insult your mother because they can’t help themselves, and they don’t want to, anyway. The stage is one part of a process of becoming and embodying. They’re here because they must. And whatever it is they’re giving to you on stage is NOT a performance, it's a gift. and believe me, they need you to receive it. That doesn’t mean they can’t improve their rapport with their public, or that you shouldn't be mad when they are out of line. In fact, that's where these definitive boundaries of star and performer merge. That’s perhaps where skilled performers could give stars some quick and handy tips. Both approaches do good work, and both bugger it up, at times. A respectful exchange could make the world of difference to enthusiastic, discerning audiences everywhere.

Problem is, a true star is not going to take anyone’s word for it until s/he sees it personally. That's what makes them impossible and important. And that is why we believe in them. Because it’s real.

Some local stars : (front men and women to watch)

Sannie fox.
Mamma Know Nothing - the former Black Betty

Joshua Grierson . impassioned singer/songwriter proving that there IS a potential for audience-crossover between the Watery Front and seedy bars.

Le-Roi Nel.
Foto Na Dans forever. even if he's keeping mum at the mo.

Jaxon Rice.
Diesel Whores. first prize for being the only person I’ve heard and met who is more interesting OFF stage than on it. (and no, he's not boring on stage. he's brilliant, self-effacing and sarcastic.)

Inge Beckman.
(The former) Lark's lass, and currently planning the next big thing. Everyone has a million synonyms for Inge's on stage presence, but the truth is that there aren't any.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Why. buy . local ?

They say success depends on where you put the emphasis. I reckon the same goes for communication and creativity, and we'd be wise to think about where we put our bucks, let alone our norty bits.

so... should it read

"Why buy LOCAL?"

or ...

" Why BUY local? "


Well, I hate to labour the point, but BOTH COUNT.

Here's why:

No, wait. Devil's advocate first. Here's why not to buy local
(and up come the hackles... but hear me out)

Not because they’re your friends.
Not because it's indigenous.
Not because local is lekker.
Not because you’re proudly South African
Not because it’s cheaper
even though all those things are true. Vanity and loneliness might've made millions for the Facebook guy, but capricious slices of sentimentality just don't sell over time. When it comes to sustainable economics, you need genuine, loyal exchanges in supply and demand for more than one purchase. Those odd, impulsive decisions to buy Larry's album because you feel sorry for him are not going to get the message across to him or to the music industry. Money talks. If you love it, buy it. If you don't love it, las it. Think of it as Quality Control, as they say in corporateville where the grass is always greener (but the green is not cleaner). It's a drop in the ocean if it's an afterthought, and you know we have a lot of lovely ocean on all sides to absorb those drips. I mean drops.

Now here’s why you should buy LOCAL MUSIC:

( I said buy, not borrow, beg or steal)

APART from the fact that locally produced music is increasingly original, well-produced and globally competitive AND still relevent to SA's potjie of people, music is the blood, sweat and tears of our blood, sweat and tears. That means you, too. I’ll bet there are pieces of you in homegrown music that you didn't even know about. Go give something local a listen and tell me you don't feel a piece of yourself there. Even if its the pieces you don't like. Tried and you don't agree?Let me suggest some mp3s for you to bend your ear to. I'm so full of ammo I'm singing in the friggin streets. (and yes, I know the words; much to an 8 year old's consternation when i trala laa about naked bodies and backbones). Music connects us all, regardless of which demographics we designate it to...

Further to my argument, howeva. Music is a journey, we've heard. Music makers swear by this, and sometimes stick deathneedles in their arms and blame it, or claim to have quit the shit. For the listener, on the other hand, music is a destination. (GoogleMaps here we come). Butt sirriussly, it's a place where fully dressed people expose themselves. It’s a place where people feel themselves (and each other) without touching. In PUBLIC. It's a place you go.

Music is also emotion, bliss and catharsis cleverly couched in entertainment. You can clean up, cleanse, clear out and cut the crap while having a good time. Or you can just have a good time, and talk kak.

Music is truth. And there are many truths in its lyrics and lilts. You won’t get this kind of honesty from the press, the politicians, or your parents. It’s a head-on collision between expression and insight, and while it doesn't take any prisoners, it won't kill you, either. It'll just make you stronger.

Music is magic. Live sound moves through your skin, into your bones, and on the way it can highjack your heart, suspend your senses, and jiggle your jiggly bits. It gives us swirling nights filled with fun and friends and dance and drink. And you know what that leads to, don’t you? Lost weekends and inspiration. And more swirling nights filled with fun and friends and dance and….

Cape Town is dripping with tonal talent and audio-visual originality. And if you don’t buy local music, we lose some of the stuff that gives us Hope. Yes, whatsisname was right; Hope is a dangerous thing. So is its antigone, Apathy. And if music suffers from the former in the practise room, but the latter in the audience, all that could dwindle into mediocrity. Why?

Because bands that struggle financially often put down their instruments in favour of work that can sustain them, or are reduced to punting shallow, commercial stuff that sells. It’s a tragic irony that bands disappear less because they are crap and the public ignored them, than because they are brilliant …and the public ignored them.

On the flipside, there are those who are driven and brilliant and who do make it, and here's even more reason to buy local. When they’re famous for their contribution to culture, you’ll kick yourself for not being able to boast, ‘Remember their first EP? The one they only made two hundred copies of and goes for a thousand yanks a shot? They've gone platinum globally, and I’ve got a signed copy of it. oh yeah.” See? Emphasis counts. Especially when something's worth ten times what it originally sold for. Aint nobody gonna smile when I say 'I told you so.'

And speaking of economics, remember this sobering fact. Before anyone’s famous, they have to have the goods, and these goods don’t come free. Voice-training is an arduous, long term and expensive investment. It’s not cheap to keep a guitar stringed and singing, and if you’ve ever cracked a snare, you know it can take a quarter of a month’s salary to keep the beat banging. Musicians might do it for the Love, but musicians must eat. And drink. Make sense?

NOW go and buy local music for all the other reasons… they can't be wrong if it keeps the right music in business.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


Heavens. If you haven't heard a drunken, delirious crowd sing 'Fokofpolisiekar' word for word, you haven't heard this country sing.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Thirsty For Love

(photo by Sean Metelerkamp compliments of Rhythm Records)

Master wordsmith (Sir Ahmed) Salman Rushdie penned these thoughts in what the Times calls “the first great Rock n Roll novel in the English language”. I was struck at how applicable they are to Dutch Courage.

“It’s easy enough to hear the bitter, disabused ironies in many of Ormus’s songs. But the music he’s come up with is jauntily, almost perversely uptempo. The overall effect is oddly affirmative, even anthemic, and for many young people these jaundiced, dystopic tracks become unlikely, adult anthems of relief, a new beginning, release.”

    The Ground Beneath Her Feet

© Salman Rushdie


Vintage, Random House, London

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Taxi’s Violence’s New Bassist



A few weeks back I impulsively stood another gig up and screeched around the corner to the warp-floored Zula for my first taste of the new Taxi. I was dubious and curious, excited, and apprehensive. They were delighted, enthused and intense. The stage throbbed. The dance floor heaved. They look thrilled and sound superb. I was relieved.

So just how many roads must a man walk down before…? I don’t know. I think it's more cryptic than that – change will change you, and can’t tell the future; so you'd better trust the music.

The Violence recently shuddered under sonic shifts that transplanted original bassist, Loedi Van Renen, into northern soils. From southpaw to outlaw in a swift series of extended goodbyes; ‘Richard Gere’ is outa here and there were tears in our eyes. There were fears too, of course, as anybody with vested belief in the band would agree.

Change is terrifying when there’s a good thing going; and, boy, do Taxi have a lot of love to show for their labours. This is their first major upheaval since they started making their seamlessly sexy sound 3 years ago. Fate’s spoils have spoilt them, though, and their sudden lack came with a bit of luck. Without skipping a beat, Taxi Violence is tactfully intact with new bassist. Enter Jason Ling on the four-string.

It seems the time has come for a different kind of Violence. So here's the butterfly theory (aka Flapping Around to certain die-hard fans) :

It would be weird for a new phase in one of the most synergistic musical outfits around to take place out of context. It didn’t. While the story is still fresh from the farm, it winds back a long, long way. All the way, in fact, to the first birth. Like many babes, this new addition to Cape Town's Rock 'n Roll family is the result of a long-standing passion. (and I’m not talking about all those amorous, Titanic parodies that keep turning up on Facebook). Back at the ranch (which is our back yard and beloved, grubby watering hole); Jason has always been a fan of the band he now forms part of. “You’ve probably seen me at every Taxi gig in the last two years” he muses. Too true. (Clearly there’s more than one fanatic around here). So how did their paths first cross?

When Taxi Violence were in the early stage of their prattle and hum, they opened for Andy Lund’s Roswell Kings who sported - *kaching * – the once long-haired Ling on bass. Jason subsequently heard Devil and Pistol’ at the Levi’s Young Guns (no pun intended. really.) and did what any good baddie would do under the influence: he swooned, he fell in love, he bought the album (have you?) and then followed the band like a groupie till he found himself with his feet on the stage and his fingers in the music. All roads lead to home, after all!

I caught him off guard at The Shack one night after band practice. Say hello to the new kid on the bloc

[Jezebel wears red in this interview]

* * * *

The Low-Down On Ling:

New kid was once a little kid, né? The music had to come from somewhere - tell us about your musical background.

"My parents aren’t musical at all. In school they sat me in front of a piano and it’s still the only instrument I can read music for. I got to high school and started learning the trumpet. I taught myself guitar and played for a couple of bands and then in 2003 Andy Lund (of the former Roswell Kings) asked me to take over from Jono Brittan on bass when he went to the UK. I learnt the songs and have been playing bass since then."

Nervous now?

"I’m never nervous going on stage, no matter the size of the crowd; I’m more nervous coming OFF stage. Loedi left big shoes to fill, in a way, and the anticipation is there – what’s it gonna sound like, how’s Taxi going to continue?"

How was it so far? (3 shows together so far –one @ Stellies, one @Zula, CT, one @ Springbok, Southern Suburbs)

"It was good; on Thursday the crowd loved it. But most importantly the guys in the band said, ‘Fuck, that rocks’. Along with Sean [Wienand, Taxi’s manager and head boy at Headline Artists], these are the people and opinions that really mean the most.

On Saturday a lot of people came to see the new Taxi Violence. We rocked out; balls to the wall and when we came off everyone had some good things to say. Everything you saw on stage on Saturday - that was me. That’s how I auditioned, in a way. If I feel it and it makes me move, there’s no doubt someone in the crowd is going to move. That’s how I’ve always seen and perceived it. I can’t stand bass players that just stand there, it just bores me.”

Stupid question, now. IS a bass guitar easier to learn than a normal guitar, seeing as it has fewer strings?

“Ja, but sometimes fewer notes mean more. Bass is about taste. As soon as the bass player plays a wrong note, that’s the one note you‘re likely to pick up."

Ja, the synergy and sensitivity of a bass player is paramount to the whole sound. Bass is not a conscious sound, it blends but it also dominates in a very underhanded way.

"You gotta really listen; it’s there, but you don’t know its there. The bass makes you move. It’s the balls! A lot of bass players seem to have to put a hundred notes in, but I’m comfortable just playing a root note if it resonates, and it gives the bottom end to the song which is an essential thing. That’s my thing. Play for the song and not yourself.”

I was concerned about Taxi finding somebody who they could flow with. I knew that the person would not have as long a personal history with them (Loedi, Rian and Louis played together for 14 years). I’m really curious about the new stuff you write together.

“That’s what I was saying to the guys, you know. First of all, for me, when I watch Taxi, I can hear it in the songs, I can hear it in the style they play – it’s a band that hangs out a lot. The drums, bass and guitar section have been together for years which makes them work ‘cos they know each others' styles of playing. Along with George, we all have similar goals and tastes in music which comes through in the songs they’ve written and the songs we will write. Taxi’s music and style appeal to me cos they write as a band and everyone has a say. It just makes the whole writing process easier. As for the buddy-buddy stuff, we’re still getting to know each other properly but so far we’ve had a laugh each time we’re down at the pub."

Where’s the synergy for you?

“It’s just the style. It’s cleverly structured and George knows where, what and how to sing. It just works. I’ve been in bands where I write everything – 2 guitar parts, drum and bass parts - and try write the lyrics. I’m telling everyone what to do, it’s just them covering the songs, and they CAN’T FEEL IT. Compare that to a band that sits in a room, and jams for hours on one song. Eventually they come up with a product which is complete, and they can’t wait to play it live. And that’s the synergy that comes through on stage, that energy – everyone’s got their part.

For me Taxi is one of the tightest – if not the tightest – units that I’ve seen.

As you pointed out earlier, it’s easy for me to learn fifteen songs; I’ve done a lot of tribute shows. I basically listened to the Taxi album a couple of times learnt the whole CD backwards, but I told them straight up that, for me, the main test IS gonna be when we start writing. I’m not trying to imitate, I’m trying to bring a different energy to the band. So far our rehearsals have been focussed on getting the band tight as a unit but in-between the set we’re constantly putting new ideas out there, even if it means swapping instruments. On the whole, I’d say it’s been very productive and who knows, maybe a few songs might come out from those jams."

How do you feel about the inevitable attentions you’ll receive from women projecting their experience of the music onto you?

“Look, I’m the oldest in the band. Last year was really tough but my headspace is really clear now, I’m happy being single and rocking out on the music. That’s all I want.” (said with a smirk of a smile)"

Erm, I hate to break it to you, but you’ve just entered a five-way relationship.


This new love affair almost didn’t happen, though.

“I owe so much to Joshua Grierson [Mercurial]. Last year I came very close to hanging up everything. I was doing tribute shows and hating it. Like, 'this is what I’ve become? A has-been?' And then I saw Josh and he was the first artist in a long time that completely moved me, and I was like, ‘wow, can I play bass for you?’ and he said no.

I asked him for about two months and then he said 'Ja. Ok you can play electric guitar for me’. I brought out my whole collection, worked for about six months, and the one gig we had scheduled, the power went out. Then I heard Loedi was leaving Taxi and I thought it was just a lie. I saw George at the Shack and he said it was gonna happen so I started practising bass again.”

Besides the music, what else makes you like Taxi as a band?

"The other thing I really love about Taxi is that you can pick up from their on-stage performance that the guys are serious, they wanna be there, and the way they talk about it - they’re passionate about it. They’re prepared to put in whatever it takes to make things happen. I know what the stakes are. I love the music that they play so much that even if they were just starting out and needed a bass player, I would have auditioned just as hard and been just as committed. A lot of guys audition for the wrong reasons – a big band, whatever. I’m there because I love their attitude. I’m there because I want to be surrounded by creativity, and musicians who want to write good songs. And the sound IS gonna change. It’s getting harder and a bit heavier but still keeping the Taxi signature."

I see you strap your wrist with tape.

"I play pretty hard so my wrist tends to burn and bleed so I started strapping it. It probably comes down to poor technique."

So less blood, more violence?

“No! More blood. More violence. It’s the only way.” (laughs)

How do you feel about being called “Asian Persuasion” by George the other day?

“That’s how we joke; I get it every day, I’m so used to it – I’m Chinese but South African born and bred. If you can’t laugh at yourself, don’t laugh at all. I told George to go on stage and say 'Yeah, we just toured China and everything was so cheap there that we bought a new bass player.' "


“At the end of the day, it’s about the music.”

* * * *

The proof, of course, is in the pudding, but if Jason’s newfound punctuality is anything to go by, it seems he’s absolutely amped. “I’m normally half an hour to 40 minutes late for anything, but now with rehearsals and gigs, I’m the first there.”

With a typical excess of understatement, he puts it in a nutshell that you can crack right away; “I’m excited to part of Taxi, I really am.” (That’s childish glee couched in grown-up talk if I ever heard it.)

Our faith is intact. The music is safe. The violence continues. Turn up the volume and let’s see what they come up with…

btw, Ling's serious demeanour does not exempt him from signing boobs or wearing cool Beatles T-shirts that drunkards always try to buy or beg off him, and always fail. If you can tell me what bass guitar he plays, I'll give you a Taxi Violence badge.

clever hunting

The wwworld of the internet might have a Wealth of Wonderful Whatsgoing on in the entertainment sector, but a lot of it is a lot of tripe. User-based web 2.0 might flaunt the gauntlet in the face of the average googler by letting them have their say, but it has little power over human error and/or misrepresentation that can result from that, and nobody can be held responsible, either. (which explains gatherings of passive-aggresive, social degenerates spending their evenings 'editing' wikipedia articles).

This is especially true for live, original music events. Gig details are subject to change at the last minute, event info can be mistakenly duplicated and triplicated in error (and fornicated with by fans), and then there are the odd (both senses), self-titled 'hackers' who like to play practical jokes on the public and a struggling music industry by posting events that don't even exist. (you are Satan's porn. and nobody is wwwatching).

So check event postings for credibility if you don't want to waste your time. Word of mouth still has a lot of say - if it's a popular band, chances are you'd have heard about it from someone by now. If you're getting details off a social network (like the Face), make sure the event is posted by someone in the know - a PR representative, a venue manager, a band member, a (happy) girlfriend.. erm.. or boyfriend; or somebody likely to have invested effort and money in the initiative (that's usually a more reliable point of reference; few can afford a wasted buck or a disappointed fan.) Basically, you want the lowdown from somebody likely to tell the TRUTH about what's going down in your town.

And know thy city. Monday evening is a highly unlikely slot for übercool acts like Kidofdoom and Humanizer to play anywhere. Why? Well, most people are in front of the TV still recovering from Friday night in the City Of Sin...