Against all odds, aKING have made a kak second album and lost a former fan. I’m sure they don't care, though, because riding on the respect and attention they deservedly received for their Dutch courage debut and clinching catchy, tried-and-tested formulas in round two, they're going to be making lots of money with this abortion. I mean album. Album!
Luca Vincenzo broke it down brilliantly here but forgot only to remind us of the one thing we always knew: this was coming all along. While we somehow opted not to believe it when we were busy being seduced by ‘I Believe’ and tucking in to ‘Safe As Houses’, it was clear from the start that aKING targeted a commercial audience, and would continue to do so in their professional and personal commitment to their blossoming careers. When their music had merit, I had no issues with that - success stories are sexy. But things have changed. By their own admission, the members of the band are getting on. Babies might be made and bonds will one day want to be paid. So why on earth would they keep sleeping on people's couches as paupers? The transition from talent to tuppence is not new in our flailing (creative) economy - some of the most inspired music makers have managed to make music make money for them. After a decade of delinquent Monkipunk creativity, our own Kris Akkedis sat down with his guitar, a sweet smile and a casual suit, and bought himself a farm from singing someone else's poetry. The mantra is obvious - why starve when you can sell? My question is, can we imagine a world where we can sell (and buy) music that hasn't sold out to the aggregation of mass taste ? And do we know how we perpetuate the catch-22 that keeps commercial kak?
Beyond the bruises of a bad album (all it takes is a good one to be friends again), it's the hiatus between the media, the music and the public that I suspect encourages creeping mediocrity, extracting craft rather than creativity from the arts.
Considering the high quality and unique character of their first album (arch, accessible pop rock), and assuming they've consciously invested their musical intelligence in their second round compositions to make them even more accessible than the first's (though, yes, deeply diluted and almost without identity – perfect for high rotation), would they be focusing on the pop side of life if they could make money from the music they hear in their heads? One wonders. And while their undisclosed answer is their truth (because maybe they want to make music this way, and maybe that's great, or maybe they'll never admit how much of a motivation money is in the way they make music - though we do try ) in the absence of any answers, we turn our eyes to the System...
With its monopoly on local minds, mainstream media successfully breeds mediocrity in print, pixel and widescreen by discouraging critical content and punting PR-esque coverage to the local music it does feature (when advertisers allow). Those who try to place content about music with character or tell the hidden stories about a creative sector responsible for cultural commentary and potential cohesion are quickly and frequently shot down and shut up (and then, when they then do it independently, they are shot down again. But never shut up.).
For its part in the pie of compromise, it seems the public is not quite ready to relinquish the critical blindfold bequeathed it by a dead dictatorial regime, either (one that threatens to rise again in a new, politically correct skin. showerhead included). It refuses to think for itself, taking its cue from what it sees and reads, which is ripped from the band biog which was written by someone’s adoring girlfriend.
Continuing the conundrum, mainstream media knows almost nothing about local music, and rarely bothers to learn anything, taking its cue of cool from the SAMAs and MTVs of the world, saying ‘but our readers don’t care about music’ or ‘no, no, that band isn’t trendy enough, I don’t care if they’re changing the way Stellenbosch dresses’. Speakerbox is entirely exempt, of course. And not just because they let me use rude words.
And music, for its part, struggles and hobbles along, sometimes brilliant, sometimes bad, generally ill educated in business strategy, replete with addictions and identity crises, defiantly independent or leashed by a label, trying to make a living off itself and get its message out there. The result? No meeting of minds. No synergy. No, local is not lekker, people will say. Because they don't know. Or won't.
if media realised that local music is a cultural commodity worth generating content about,
if the public explored the love of local and discovered something new to do at the weekends,
if music had a bit more self respect, set some boundaries when it comes to gig fees and good PR and demanded decent sound rigs and sound engineers,
we might, against all odds, be able to invest in and enjoy and profit from a form of entertainment so powerful it reaches right into the South African subconscious.(or you could just blow your vuvuzela and feel part of the love)
In any case, whatever aKING does next, or music, the media or the public don’t do, we deserve a new mantra. Beware of the wolves, my baby.