Saturday, July 25, 2009


Once in a while comes a sound that dissolves the edges of everything.

It’s different for different people - different music, a different situation, a different interpretation.

But when it happens, it’s the same - time and tone meet, merge, and light pours out of the openings in your chest.

This time, it’s called Isochronous.

When they let their loose, something sacred happens inside every cell. I don’t know what it’s called, and I also don’t care. It’s been a while since I heard my own soul singing along, and even longer since sound made my heart happy.

Wake me up when the winter is over.

Friday, July 24, 2009

There’s a lesson in the Pan

[image courtesy of blk jks]

“Everything is everything
What is meant to be, will be
After winter, must come spring
Change, it comes eventually”

- Lauryn Hill

In music, the simplest components can be the most profound, or problematic. In language, too.

Short words like god and love tend to have a long list of meanings, whether they stand alone or are used with other words (like -less and tough-). They generally have even more interpretations, much like patterns in music.

“Pan” has at least 18 different uses, which seems a bit tautologous when most people just think of it as an empty container for cooking or washing. But wait – maybe there’s something singing through the semantics?

In the arts, pan is an unfavourable review or critique;

in PC talk,
PAN is an acronym for Personal Area Network;

pan is an acoustic instrument hailing from Trinidad and Tobago, aka Steelpan ;

Pan is a moon off Saturn;

pan- is a prefix for … well, everything. (so Pan-African means… well… a whole continent of lions and elephants and people running around half-dressed, I’d assume?).

But funnily enough,
Pan is also a stinky ancient Greek goatgod that takes pride of place in Tom Robbins novel Jitterbug Perfume, and most of our erotic dreams (though he’s always hidden in the guise of the desired);

and - uh oh - when you get personal about it, pan is also a biological term for a genus of apes composed of the common Chimpanzee and the Bonobo. (I’m not going to follow lingual threads here and tell you that Bonobo is also a British musician, DJ and producer whose NinjaTunes album Days To Come made waves in the west with the help of spoken word from my India-born, African-schooled, Europe-renowned, Deep South-sounding high school best friend Bajka because it’s (ostensibly) got nothing to do with my point. Which is?)

Which is that these different uses of a simple sound have something common. They underline and override many of the assumptions around the Pan African Space Station, better known by in age of ADD as PASS. In addition, they illustrate how the same root can have many shoots, depending on where you plant it. Let’s start with native soil.

Naughty, naughty Africans
With due defiance, The Pan African Space Station is an annual music festival that puts paid to the city of pretty as a post-colonial stronghold of polarised cultures and isolated pigments. Covering the Cape Town peninsula and former marshes and pans, it mixes audiences, areas and artists up in the intended understanding of pan – meaning ‘inclusive’, ‘all’, ‘everything’.

In orbit
Last year the fest bussed people back and forth from townships to town, from suburbs to shack lands, putting people in places they’d never been, including some of the country’s and the worlds best musical dissidents. The disarmingly charming and stylistically dangerous Carlo Mombelli (And The Prisoners Of Strange) got a standing ovation in the slave church, the visionary acoustic guitarist Madala Kunene gave his all in the dark, the globe trotting, genre-and-grammar-ducking blk jks did their thing their way, and the belle of them all, Cindy Blackman (great name, hey?)graced us with her good looking drum kit. PASS turned wish lists into playlists, made people listen without light, dance in the studio, and helped them discover that what’s really dark about our continent is the ignorant attitudes towards it.

Personal area network?
But it’s not all about the music. On the cutting edge of digital penetration and implicit accessibility, Pan African Space Station exploits first world technology to create a third world for entertainment– a seam between the poles of the mainstream and the underground that inspires public consumption of artistic integrity. Besides a brilliantly diverse line-up, it achieves this by broadcasting free over licensed radio (that’s not a cheap feat to pull off), offering podcasts of live performances, creating a meeting place for people of like mind and action, and making a public service announcement which reminds us of the plausible reality in Steve Biko’s promise that “in time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift - a more human face”

This year’s gifts include Malian Kora maestro Toumani DiabatĂ©; 9-piece, Chicago-based Hypnotic Brass Ensemble; Ras G and the Afrikan Space Program on location in the Western Sahara ; Cameroonian Franck Biyong and his Massak Afrolectric Orchestra; Ghanaian 'afro-pidgin-punk' Wanlov the Kubulor.

And getting back to fifty ways to leave your lover, whatever your definition of ‘good music’ is, the Pan African Space Station could broaden it, by design, and by definition, which means you only have more to enjoy. So balls to the Bauhaus; less is more no more.

Scour the site for more on this “30-day music intervention”
September 12 - October 12
on air, online and on stages around the Cape Town
Pan African Space Station? See if you can pan it.

“Everything must change
nothing stays the same
everyone will change
no one, no one stays the same”

- Nina Simone

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

name dropping and self naming

Our beautiful Bella sashays into the room looking secretly pleased with herself. She sighs, smiling dreamily.

“That was Carlo,' she swoons and flops onto the stained couch in a draft of Gucci. We pause in wonder and burst out laughing at her. She’s talking about alt jazz pioneer Carlo Mombelli (and The Prisoners Of Strange), and it's the only time i've heard ever her boasting. Given, having Carlo call your personal phone to give you compliments is something to be pleased about, but it doesn’t change the fact that name dropping is kind of corny.

In a world of busybee networking, though, name dropping has its uses, and like its mobile cousin, the jittery Twitter, it’s a promotion platform that’s here to stay. Like bread and margarine for lunch (which, according to inner city aficionados all over the franchised world, is the ‘promotional platform’ that keeps your coffees coming atcha with a friendly, paid-for smile and an obrigado).

The culture vultures of the sonic underground have also noticed that in the last while, name dropping has increasingly been taking place in non-egocentric situations. Name dropping in the literal sense, mind you, though it ironically serves professional survival and expansion.

In some cases, it's seems to be happening because IP in SA stands for a political party with Freedom taken out, not an arm of the law governing Freedom Of Expression and creative ownership. In other words, somebody forgot to Google their band name to check if it is owned by some phat company from a cultural dictator like the U, S and A, or the UK. Ask the artist formerly known as Harris Tweed. They hit a nasty snag on the security fences near the sheeplands er, Shetlands, when an international brand cried wool – ag, wolf. Think also of the spurned and augmented Love Jones whose name was stolen from them when some yankee act that had legal dibs on it discovered the Jones’ doing a doppelganger.

Other bands have edited their catchy name to something more in line with what they've been advised are the tastes of a potential foreign market, though i struggle to see what Germans will see in a pseudo-Scottish band name with South African musicians besides, well, pastiche.

The fact remains that while names are changeable or set in the stone that could sometimes sink with the songs, a name is both a banner to band's entire brand, and a subconscious, intellectual interaction between the listener and the music, so it has creative and commercial weight. It helps to get it right, then. Problem: like with love and good combinations of grapes, there is best practise but really no formula (and of course, mixing the two is the best formula, and widely practised as well).

When effective band names can become a slogan or mantra for a sub-culture or even an entire generation, the best ones have proven that they either fall easily off the tongue and carry the essence of its music, or they mean absolutely nothing. You decide which category The Beatles falls into.

So when a kind call-out from a sweet starter-upper goes out to the masses for his new artist name, Jezebel started wondering about at the art of .. well.. self naming. Sounds simple, eh? Like, just close your eyes and Bob’s Your Uncle? Sorry, it’s taken. (The Americans again) Alright, then name it after your granny? What? Gertrude Gugulethu? Maybe not, hey? (no, wait, maybe yes, especially if it’s for a solo artist. See? This is fun!)

But having sat with some such starter-uppers a little while back, and knocked words back and forth like the floppy swords that they sometimes are, I realised it can be hard to agree when there's more than one creative contributor in the band.

For those of us whose writer’s block is often our starting block, or for those who have just gone round the block trying to find inspiration (and maybe round the bend as a result), here are a few cunning (admittedly corny) cop-outs for those uncreative days when you just have to find a new band name and you simply cannot find your brain. Or a baby name, for the expectant mums reading this. Even if it doesn’t work for you, it might make you laugh, and who knows, even get your creative juices rejoicing…


*open the dictionary (/bible/yellow pages/junkmail/current novel) at random and highlight words (with your eyes closed, if you like)

*try Your Porn Name. Take your first pet’s name, and add mother’s maiden name.

* Facebook's spam check (that pops up with every link you post) offers some arbitrary and sometimes rather intriguing combinations. Add a verb. (‘fuck’is inadvisable. So is ‘kif’. I won’t even mention ‘kewl’.)

*take a line from your favourite fairytale/nursery rhyme/poem/advert.

*grab every second word in yesterday's headline. Then put them backwards.

*make an acronym from your initials, and then choose words to represent it.

*put up fridge poetry, invite your friends over, and offer shots (or whatever your cultural currency is) for every catchy combination of two or more words. If you want to be artistic, ask them to select just one word.

*don’t randomly choose character names from esteemed novels unless you understand the implications. (the artists once parodied as Peter Keating did not)

*write foreign cuss words phonetically. [“Koos Emek? Cool name. Is that like a new acoustic act from Krugersdorp or something?” ]

*if you're really pressed, go ask your baby sister for some of her old poetry. You'd be surprised what people will sing along to if it rhymes.

If you’ve tried this and your heart sank at the results, take heart. Your band name might already be written in your lyrics somewhere. (but take note: these exercises won't help applied to penning lyrics themselves. A phrase is a phrase is a phrase (this is not a phrase). Sure, you can try it, but you'll probably end up a sounding like bad a stand-up comedian on stage, rather than a rock star, though it seems the perks are much the same.

Good luck!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

niceties that mean something

Matthew Field (photo by James William King)

Aah. What better way to end another confused, not-so-winter's day that starts wet and ends dry than with a simple tune under a milky, spilling moon? And what lies there in el inbox in the invisible post-sushi slump? (Invisible because you don’t get sleepy from sushi, but you do from sa-ke. Even if you didn’t drink any and can't spell it in the first place) Nothing but the unmastered, unadulterated preproduction recordings of this little known band's tracks, “Lost In Translation" and "Recent Developments". That's what you get for being Nice, for making friends with good people, for loving life even when it doesn't love you.

I'm possibly one of fewer than eight or ten lucky pandas to have their paws on this new material, and it’s only really because Nice is a well kept secret that... well... that I just told.

The trio has gigged here and there for a bit more than a year. Between musical studies and grabbing Berkley scholarships and giving the ivory towers the stick, its boys made ripples where it’s real (as well as in some seedy bars and so forth). Both serious about their sound and light hearted about life (on the surface) , they’re also convincingly self-deprecating(on the surface), citing the ‘pop’ genre instead of going into the sort of sordidly lengthy, lyrical explanations I am guilty of. (in sushium absentium, mostly. and it could be worse. much worse.)

What their fistful of fine fans know (along with the gloating GolumGirl aka yours truly) is that they're going into studio this Friday to record their first EP. What the world doesn't yet know is that it’s been waiting for this for a very long time.

Siriyuss, you say? Who exactly is this “Nice” again? Only a most promising new outfit that's got me excited for the mainstream, the more discerning and the musicians all at once. Nice has something that will sell well but not at the price of their souls, something that will lift spirits and eyebrows alike, with smiles to support. They’re one of the few bands to be both on time for meetings and ahead of their time with their music, a touchy blend of sunny-side-up, very soft sarcasm, incredible vulnerabilty and an honesty that never abandons itself. (there? see? lengthy, lyrical description. sigh.) To be trite, and break all my own rules of not referring to the globally revered, it’s a mouthful of BoublĂ©, a gargle of Garfunkel and a sweet spoel of Mayer. It’s also its own brand entirely, with its own sound which is entirely hard to describe when you’re tired of describing sound. Luckily, they are the brand - fresh-faced, affable, and intelligent. Their music is, too. Matthew, Ross and Robin describe themselves as "decent" (in the best sense of the word), though “dapper” (in the best sense of the word) is probably more accurate. Think collars, cufflinks and coiffures, and then add a dangerously twinkling bruisedblue eye and a wink you think you imagined but can’t quite remember. Yep; they’re frost in December, they are (34 degrees south), and you'll hear it in their compositions. They’re by no means beyond a bit of subversion, either, especially when you listen to innocent|ironic lyrics like
"I get the feeling
all the words on your lips
and all your Freudian slips are just like the bones in your hips - well designed".

No, wait, you can’t, yet. But come their Spring launch, you can. In the interim, wish them luck in the studio, and

Trivia: they're into pizza and they’re not over anything except the things they never had time for in the first place, like insincerity and idiocy. Good boys, Nice. Like something sublime waiting for you at home after a very long day. Mmm.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Violence : The Truth

photo : jezebel
In a candid chat over a rock and roll milkshake, Taxi Violence’s drummer, Louis Nel, reveals al(most everything) about renewed independence, the second coming and a looming departure for northern reaches.

Taxi Violence has rocked the motherland from the far reaches of Oppikoppi to the close-knit Cape cliffs and back and forth for a while now. Not bad for four boys from the ‘burbs who swiped a sensational name from a headline that now gets them noticed every time they’re in the by-line. But then, this is the band who secured sponsorship as’s favourite and throw their weight around on stage like they’re one of the most engaging live acts in the land, (something that some of the more decent critics don’t deny.)

photo : jezebel

But here’s been some recent speculation about the future of South Africa’s independent stalwarts. It’s all very well that they’re household names on Cape Town and Jozi rock scenes, but they’ve only released one album since they first gigged in 2006 and fans want a bit more than that to take home with them. The muttering goes that while their music is highly digestible, there must be something in their freethinking formula that is blocking the flow. Is it because they turned down an open contract with a label? Or because they haven’t performed abroad yet? Whatever it is, change is on the guest list, because after ages of fanning the flames of success and not quite burning their way to worldwide renown, they’re suddenly single again sans full time manager or dedicated praise-singer, and still doing it their way. Drummer Nel and Jezebel spoke about then and now.


Jezebel : industry people are sniggering about the re-release of your debut album, Untie Yourself. Obviously you’re not doing it for them. So are you doing it for your fans?

Nel : Yeah. We sold out of copies of Untie Yourself over a year ago. We became really frustrated because nothing was done to manufacture more units. Somewhere along the line we were so sick and tired of telling someone at the show, ‘sorry we don’t have a CD to sell you’. We took it really personally. I mean, how would you feel if you saw a band live, liked it, wanted the CD afterwards and they didn’t have one for you?

Jezebel : I’d feel they didn’t really care about their public. Which you do. Or they were new. Which you aren’t. So what’s new about Untie Yourself ?

Nel: We’ve changed the packaging…but not the cover.

Jezebel: Same material?

Nel : There’s an extra track “Hold ‘Em Or Fold ‘Em” which we recorded in (bassist) Jason’s bedroom while we were doing preproduction for our upcoming release, The Turn.

Jezebel : Can you hear that it was recorded in his bedroom?

No. Because George is that good. He record and mixed it, and we had it mastered externally. It’s very lo fi; it doesn’t have as much production as you’ll find the track has on The Turn.

Jezebel : how do you feel about the new material, since Jason settled in and you started composing together?

Nel : I’m a little afraid that we might lose a few fans who love Untie Yourself. But on the other hand this is what I want to sound like. I think we’ve finally found the ‘Taxi sound’. Untie Yourself was kind of an experiment.

Jezebel : Were you aware of that at the time?

Nel : Ja. We loved the songs, and it was a very good exercise. I can’t believe it did as well as it did. I mean, a SAMA nomination? After that the first steps were taken towards the new sound. Then a new bassist, with a different style, different sound, his own way of playing.

Jezebel : And to think he once followed you around as a fan, and used to wish he could be in the band , and now he’s helping form the new sound.

photo : jezebel

Nel : He is. He’s brought a new element to the writing.

Jezebel : How does the writing work?

Nel : There isn’t a single songwriter in Taxi Violence. We write together. We’re a very democratic band. Sometimes too democratic. Sometimes we can’t make a fucking decision. I wouldn’t say that Jason has necessarily made our sound darker, coz we’ve always liked the dark element in music. But the new album is more mature. I think we’ve matured. A lot. There’s a song on the new album that borders on adult contemporary, for us. It’s a song that was written by the former bassist (in 2007, I think). Many times we tried to play the song live, but we couldn’t kick it. And then we played it for our big acoustic show (the DVD recording). We then added drums (instead of me on guitar).

Jezebel : you’ve been talking about a brand new album for a while now. You recorded in May. Why did it take so long from your first release? Did you first need to bond over a few sweaty games of squash and find out if Jason really is a great cook?

photo : jezebel

Nel : We were waiting for him to become Kulula mag’s “Hottie Of The Month”. No, seriously, this album more or less 3 years in the making. I think that’s a little too long in South Africa between releases. But a new bassist is a major change.

Jezebel : Change seems the word of the day. You've discontinued your professional relationship with your former band manager, Sean Wienand, (Headline Artists). How did you come to a decision about that?

Nel : It was hard. We’ve reached a point in our careers where we needed to get to take the next step. We rethought business plan and strategy. Our main objective was to not be dependent on a single person to do the behind-the-scenes stuff, we decided to work with people based on their strengths. On a commission basis. This way, if we make a mistake, it’s our own fault.

We’ve decided to remain self-managed for the time being. We’ve reached the stage where we can, and over time we’ve also surrounded ourselves with people who are very good at what they do.

Most bands think that they can’t do it themselves. I feel the only reason you’d need a manager is if you or any of the other member don’t have the time to run around and do things, or if you don’t have the connections to strike deals. If you’re good at networking and have a day job that allows you free time, then you can be your band’s manager. But I do think you need a good booking agency. Preferably a company who has strong ties locally and internationally.

Jezebel : Who’s handling your booking, then?

Nel : Southern Pulse. It’s made up of the founding member of Roadshock, Leon Retief (ex-drummer for Chris Chameleon’s defunct cult clan Boo!), and Oppikoppi Productions.

Jezebel : Aha. Which begs the obvious question - going overseas any time soon?

Nel : We’ll be going over with them in September / October, to Germany and Holland, and they’ll act as tour manager. When you go overseas, you’re basically starting all over again. Going over to Germany is going back to square one. The strategy with Southern Pulse is to do it country by country , a 3-tour plan (one this year, one – or two, depending – next year) . When Boo! Was still playing and touring they did something like 17 tours to Europe in all. Leon started making connections and networking, he’s a very together guy, and obviously saw a potential future in it. His ties are mainly in Holland. His perceptions are that after 3 (successful) tours , you can start to estimate your impact on the markets there.

What’s your idea of a “successful” tour?

When you get rebooked the next time, for more money, and more people attend.

Jezebel : You’re going to Germany for Popkomm? A friend from Berlin told me it is very commercial.

Nel : It’s not a music festival they way we know. It’s more a music industry gathering. People exchange music, bands play throughout Berlin. So it’s more a shmoozfest.

Jezebel : Sounds like a step in the right direction. Any parting thoughts?

Nel : In a nutshell, we’ve made some really difficult business decisions, hopefully the right ones. It’s easy to get despondent. It’s the passion and love that drives you. I just want to play.

We want this album to get what it deserves. I feel it - it’s going to be groundbreaking…for me, at least. I suppose that’s good enough.

Jezebel : What does this album deserve?

Nel : it deserves-

Jezebel (interrupting): YOU . [pan left to audience. Oh, wait, this is a blog! Well, then, alt tab to Facebook…] See if you can Untie Yourself again (available now), or take The Turn in August. Because, as lyricist and vocalist George Van Der Spuy pointedly points out, “life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived”…

photo : jezebel


On the other side of Violence, we spoke to another stick man, Leon Retief about booking agency Southern Pulse’s take on Taxi …

Jezebel : What is your vision for your partnership with Taxi Violence?

Leon: To take over the world. one Taxi at a time.

Jezebel : How is Taxi Violence being vehemently independent a positive for Southern

Leon : I come from a strong [background of] independence, I have learnt that each band and label is structured differently and need different tactics to expose and promote them.

[Jezebel’s note : Leon toured with monkipunks Boo! as drummer For many years ]

Jezebel : Any concerns about the new client? Their timing seems a bit off, and I’m
not talking about the drummer. One album in almost five years... no overseas

Leon : We start a fresh relationship irrelevant of their past. I believe Taxi will do well in Europe and I am willing to spend time on them and do my best.

Jezebel : Any idea (given your experience abroad) how their sound might go down with
diverse European audiences?

Leon : I have been playing it to a few people while currently on tour and the reaction is pretty good.
You don’t need to come from any special place to sound good. The song is King. As I think they have great songs, I don’t see any problems on this side.

photo : jezebel

Jezebel : From what you've seen, how difficult is it for an unknown act to break into an established scene in Europe?

Leon : It is hard work like anything else. You have to tour and sell yourself constantly. There is a bigger market here, so you have more work than in South Africa, where it is relatively easy.
I would like to mention that sometimes it is easier for unknown acts that are genre-related to play EU because of the circuits. In other words, a Ska band can play a full house to a new audience in Linz, Austria, not because they are good but because they played Ska. These are factors you have to calculate when arranging a tour. It is like playing to a full house of South African people in London. A lot of South African bands don’t want to play this type of show. But when you think of 15 pounds a head and 500 people in venue, things change.

Jezebel : Lastly, what do you feel is an ideal set-up for a band in an increasingly digital age and a shrinking global village - to straddle two continents? To relocate to the first world (and all its competition and infrastructure? To use international experience to create more hype at home? (tricky question. necessitates considering what success really is, also where the media, music
and the public fit in to it)

photo : jezebel

Leon : Each to his own. I believe using the international scene but always returning home is the best. But that doesn’t mean it is for everyone.

Every band in this day and age should have a MySpace account. EU promoters work solely on MySpace. Bands need to be organised and almost self-managed even with a manager. What I mean is that they should be self contained before having extra people cutting the pie. It never works when a band sits on its laurels and expects everyone else to do the work.

Taxi Violence on MySpace