Hot Box Is Deadby Roger Young, images by Kevin Goss-Ross / 28.03.2011
By the time this light reaches you the star will be dead. Hotbox Studio’s has closed its doors for a nest of complications too tangled to explain. Simply put, you cannot just go on throwing fuck off parties in a residential zone without the proper paperwork.
After months of talk and weeks of expectation for the last gasp with BLK JKS, Not My Dog and Fokofpolisiekar, it seemed like the rain was going to derail it all. Tweets become plaintive and mournful. We’re driving there from Joburg and we’re driving in a cloud, shit does not look good.
When we get there the rain is gone. Relief is scattered like a million tiny trampolines. We’re hanging at the back garden bar, with the Hotbox scramblers, the ones who are not part of the core group, the ones who would do anything to get in. Like me. I’m filled with relief, desperation and cane cream soda. There is hugging, photography and super aware “fun” posing. We’re expecting something big to happen. The wooden benches are filled with kids joyously trying to force catharsis.
There’s a table in the front parking area bar thing, Fokofpolisiekar are doing a signing session for their biography. It’s something I want to ignore because no matter how good a book it may be, a biography is like a greatest hits collection, in some way a fullstop, the last gasp. I’m in the bushes when Liam Lynch starts MC’ing. While introducing the bands he gives Fokof credit for their role in his career, it’s a gracious moment; it’s a night filled with gracious moments.
Then BLK JKS start. In a swirl of build and smoke, the riffs come tangential and clean. Standing against a tree, the observer, I have one clear thought; “is Pretoria ready for this?” One can hardly accuse the Hotbox crew of being backwardly thinking musically but they have had an audience to cater to, an audience that’s musical tastes are often mired in some kind of late nineties rock past and intermingled with an underlying conservatism. So it’s no wonder that it’s taken this long to get the JKS on the line up. The audience is scattered at first, not anticipating the breaks, expecting other breaks. A confused happy fuzz permeates throughout; kids are slowly getting into it. Four songs in and “Skeletons” solidifies the stage front crowd. Linda is the shape shifter in his floor length black dress thing, intoning: “You’re on your own” over the skank. It expands epicly, multi-voiced, into a polyrythmic rock fuck out. There is guy in plaid standing to the side of the stage air-guitaring in awe. When it breaks there is cheering in the wake of the ambush.
By the time the layers of “Molalaladi” are stacked the rest of the crowd is taken. It’s a hard rocking entropic celebration, fists are in the air, Mpumi has lost his hat, Tshepang drums Ganesh armed, the kids press forward. We move through the music box tinkles, whistles and slow discursive listing of “Tselane” at some point but I’ve lost my grasp on time. The rhythms are from beyond this immediate experience: the city, the past, the taxi, the old Mercedes, the woodsmoke, the future, post rock, prog rock, dank jazz, the chaos, the beautiful fucking chaos.
They encore with the retooled struggle chant of “Mzabalazo”. It’s like having a kitchen cupboard thrown at you and the pots landing in perfect order. It’s a high and wild moment, we’re dancing, we’re dancing and stomping and everything is possible, the universe stretches out, all forgiving, all obliterating.
I’m fucked up by this when Not My Dog come on. I can feel the crowd into it but I just can’t access them. I can feel the raw energy but there is no connection for me. They’re proficient musicians, tight and strong but the music is out of time, to me it just sounds like derivative Rage Against The Machine or Linkin Park, even though they’re progging it up, skillfully complicating it. I know they’re playing old songs, songs from nearly ten years ago and it feels like the crowd is mostly swept on a wave of skill, force and nostalgia and all of that is fine, beautiful even, but I can’t get into it. It’s reunion material and I want to hear the new songs. It’s Hotbox’s last night and I need to explore.
Explore fuck all; I’m suddenly in front of Fokof. I’m not going to lie, I missed the whole era and I have no emotional connection at all to this band. I don’t speak or understand Afrikaans all that well but I’m swept away in the force of it, I finally understand. Maybe it’s the night, the enveloping wave of something passing us by, maybe it’s the lateness of the hour and the consumptions that preceded it, but I finally get it. Francois seems a little more irritated than during a Van Coke gig but he’s still the perfect front man. Wynand and Hunter feed off each other, the opposite of rote. It’s blistering and light; it’s heavy and happy. It’s the perfect goodbye to Hotbox. By the time they end the party has lost its hinges and is flapping in the wind.
MoeJoe plays a set outside and then there are cops and then we’re dancing in the kitchen, in the bathrooms, falling on the floors, slipping through passing time. A drum ‘n bass room has broken out in Anton’s bedroom. I’m talking to someone in their car. Shoulders are being ridden on the streets, every moment is being grabbed and squeezed. The passed out are waking up and wandering the halls dazed and bleary, the sun is coming, last photographs are being desperately snatched, people are making out like the world is about to end, clutching at each other then moving on to the next one. There is dancing and crying and then dancing.
Sometimes I think we’ve inherited, on whatever diluted level, the legacy of our parent’s fear of the future and it’s hard to overcome. However at places like Cold Turkey, The Winston and Kitcheners, in music, that fear has been cast aside. Which is why it’s sad that, with the demise of Hotbox, we’re losing one of those, however nascent, free spaces. But we’re holding onto the moment. The last final burst. Like the death of a star, the energy continues outward, in the guts of those that were there.
All images © Kevin Goss-Ross.