Best of 2010 | Cool to be Crapby Roger Young, images by Danielle Clough / 28.12.2010
Let’s just get this out of the way shall we? Jack Parow’s major artistic theme is his (assumed) identity. This leads to him saying Jack Parow a lot. But all artists generally have one major theme they like to explore at a time. The real question about Jack Parow is: How interesting, how engaging can he make it? Or more to the point; does the persona have longevity?
If you were to judge by the young Afrikaans girls in the front row; that danced like they were giving birth, twenty years too late, to the concept of hip hop itself, then you would say that Parow is some kind of godlike innovator. Make no mistake, the man on stage is a firebrand performer, he knows how to work a crowd, even on an off day. His surefooted rhyming is clever, humorous, self-depreciating and not too hard to follow.
The album launch at the Barnyard in Bellville on Monday night starts off odd, a strange man comes on stage and threatens us with the safety regulations. There are a few sound problems. A little way in Francois Van Coke stage dives and no one tries to catch him. But when Parow shouts out “Barnyard Hoe Lyk Dit?” I’m transported to another dimension. Is he taking the piss out of the fact that we’re in the freaking Barnyard or does he actually expect his young audience to ironically engage with the “zefness” of a venue better known for tribute shows? I can’t tell you. And this is the problem with cool-to-be-crap culture; how can you tell if its crap because it’s a joke or if it’s just crap? Is exploring zef just a punch line, a laugh, to no real purpose or expression?
Maybe it’s because he’s playing to a captive audience, those that love Bellville at any cost, and playing with some of Bellville’s finest, but there is something about Jack Parow (the concept, not the performer) on stage that is strangely lacking, smug and flat. The problem seems to lie with the musicians he surrounds himself with, many of them seem to just be sucking the life out of his own onstage energy, the largely pointless drummer looks good and knows it, so much so that when Hunter Kennedy on bass struts to the drums to do a rhythm section jam he is ignored. The alleged lip syncher Pierre Greeff stalks the stage, his vocals weirdly consistent and distant. Half the time it seems like the celebrity guests are just that, there for their celebrity not for what they add to the music. I don’t really care what the people on stage have done before, I care what they are doing while they are on stage, now.
It tends to come off as a rather large circle jerk except in very few cases. JR ups Parow’s game for “Ek Wens Jy Was Myne”, and while the backing tracks don’t have half the power they do on the album, for some reason the combo of the two on stage definitely makes the other guest appearances pale. “Hier’s Hy Nou” (another Jack-Parow-is-amazing track) with Le-Roi Nel is strangely cool live, so much better than on the album. But while so many guest artists haunt the stage, the piped in chorus for “Cooler As Ekke” made me yearn for actual backing singers. Often, it seems, what happens on stage is done for textual or marketing effect without paying too much attention to execution.
And then the dreaded moment arrives, the inevitable remix of “Cooler as Ekke”, it’s become a staple at Parow performances, this repeating of material without prompting and it comes across generally as laziness. But not tonight, he is joined on stage by electro duo A.M. Stereo and together they proceed to deliver a hard clean version of the hit. Parow is on his knees shouting into the mic, it’s no longer a self congratulatory onanistic ode but an angry, full of doubt questioning, suddenly the song has meaning beyond sarcasm, suddenly Jack Parow is for a brief moment “next level”, gloriously alive and beyond any notion of crap.
The access to a captive audience can make even the greatest musician lazy and Jack Parow’s Afrikaans kid followers seem more than satisfied with the revelation he brings to them, that it’s okay to be uncool, but how long can this be enough?
Now that the first album is out of the way, now that he has told us WHAT he is, I hope Parow starts to use the cred he has built up and his burgeoning skills and steps outside his comfort zone to start talking about WHY he is. Now that we know that everyone desires him, I’d like to know what he desires. And because all the evidence is there that he is so much better than what we are actually seeing, I’d like to see Jack Parow stop merely existing and step up to being magnificently alive.
Retraction: In an earlier version of this story the writer, Roger Young, claimed that Jack Parow performed a cover of the BVK song “Wat Skop Julle?“. He was incorrect in this assertion and would like to apologise for it. It has now been removed from the article.
All images © and courtesy Danielle Clough.