Indie-ferenceby Andy Davis, image by Kate Davies / 01.11.2010
This started out as a review for the Lottery Tickets’ debut full length album Occupations, but it’s not really fair to use them as a crowbar to pry open the psychology that fuels the glut of Cape Town’s suburban indie rock outfits. Because Occupations is really quite a good little record and it certainly offers something fresh to a scene that is largely typified by bands that are better at emulating their heroes’ sounds than actually breaking new ground musically.
The problem, let’s start there, is that this release is stuck in a milieu. A movement emanating from the upper middle class suburbs of Cape Town, that bespeaks a cloistered reality of economic alienation and globalized media consumption. Drop the name of an indie rock band from Cape Town: The Plastics, Thieve, New Holland, aKing, Holiday Murray, The Pretty Blue Guns, The Sleepers etc. Without getting caught up in the minutiae of their differing “genres”, their “creative” output points to a global fashion dictated by the television and blogs like Pitchfork. The lyrics, the music, the whole cultural production of all these globally inspired indie imitators render themselves almost entirely irrelevant to the social moment of being alive in South Africa now. And while many of these acts might be technically sound and talented musicians, as The Lottery Tickets certainly are, their product is invariably creatively suspect and largely unimportant. It just doesn’t register. I mean what the fuck is happening that causes young, privileged white laaities to produce such generic international sounding rock? And the sick thing is they do it well. They’re good at it. It’s just lacking in originality and relevance. It’s as if these kids don’t even recognize that they’re living in Africa. They could be seemlessly transplanted to Sweden, Denmark or Melbourn. Their heroes; bands like Interpol, The National, The Pixies, The Smiths, The Killers, The Kings of Leon, REM, Dinosaur Jr and Arcade Fire. It’s as if they’ve never heard of James Phillips and the Cherry Faced Lurchers, Tananas, Sankomoto, Johannes Kerkorrel or even Johnny Clegg, the Springbok Nude Girls and the Blk Jks. Not to mention genre-shifting 80s acts like éVoid and Via Afrika. They’re all pursuing this false dream, racing down a dead-end street where the peak of their success is necessarily the brick wall of being a good, original cover band – like The Parlotones, Prime Circle and Just Jinjer.
And yes, sadly The Lottery Tickets, hailing from Somerset West, are defined in this context. Under “genre” on their Facebook page it says: “Something Bear Grylls would have on his iPod.” A statement that succinctly locates them slap bang in the middle of the DSTV belt and thankfully points towards a sense of humor. There is no doubt that they’re talented and can write songs – their sound varying between sing songy Stone Roses-like verses and Primal Scream type rock out abandon with shouty vocal choruses and anthemic rock strings. It’s good shit if all you want to do is jump around. If you’re looking for a soundtrack for getting boozed and hooking up, and you want it to sound “international” and be tight, I give you The Lottery Tickets. But if you’re looking for the anthem that defines your generation, if you’re looking for music that resonates with your life and is at once musically and lyrically engaging, if you’re looking for something more, that imprisons your zeitgeist and captures that suburban meme you’re living and motivates you to respond… well I don’t think you’re going to find it on this album. I mean, unless you’re the bassist in a Cape Town indie rock band.
What I don’t understand is why these kids don’t take their inspiration from their direct experiences. The ‘burbs in 2010 is full of fascinating subject matter, chock full of fucked up experiences. We’re literally surrounded, hemmed in on all sides and up to our neck in concepts like disparity, deprivation, white guilt, fear, electric fences, maids called Gladys, paranoia, conspicuous consumption and closet racism. We have a lineage of incredible and interesting music styles, a melting pot of influences to draw from. But this, this fixation with globo-indie-rock is stale. This love affair with mimicry, this production line of mediocrity that can only, ever be average…
Now I’m just being a poes. I really didn’t want to use this review as a platform for swinging a cricket bat at a whole scene. Especially considering that this is their debut album. It’s not fair to make The Lottery Tickets my soapbox for attacking an entire scene, especially when there are others far more complicit and worthy of this criticism, but there you go. Hopefully they’ll get better and strive for relevance in both their sound and their lyrics. Although Track 7, “Trophy”, is a keeper.
Either way, there is one example I hold dear and roll out for occasions just like this. Back in 2002, a band called New World Inside sent me a demo. It was atrocious, embarrassing. The fashion of the time was emo punk pop, and their attempt was a laughable simulacra stuck somewhere between the Offspring, Green Day and Blink 182 – but really they sounded like a luke-warm version of Tweak (remember those whiney faux-punk Joburg goofs?). New World Inside was made up of Hunter Kennedy on vocals and Francois Van Coke on bass.
A few months later they would go on to become Fokofpolisiekar and produce As Jy Met Vuur Speel an EP that would kick what we know about Afrikaans culture in the balls, and become the voice for an angry new generation and in the process spawn an entire industry. The Lottery Tickets, can rock their instruments and entertain, but do they have what it takes to be relevant and true to their social moment?
*Image © Kate Davies.