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Culture, Music

Not a Gig Review

by Max Barashenkov, images by Duran Levinson / 02.08.2010

Question: What do 95% of South African music journalists do? Answer: They assume the position, open all holes and suck that sweet band cock. The sounds of deep-throating then echo on pages and screens, echo so loud and so unanimous that they drown out the actual music. Back in the 60s and 70s music journalists were the enemy who asked the vital, now-forgotten questions: “What is this all for? Why should we listen to you? What sets you apart from the other hundreds of jerk-offs just like you?”

I quite like the idea of being the enemy, it really just means that you are doing something worthwhile, and what better place to feel so than in a club that has previously banned you for having an honest say? I stand, smug as a sneaky cunt, in the downstairs area of Mercury Live and blow smoke into the back of the owner’s bald head, he turns to me and with a blank stare tells me to take three steps back – thank Thor for persona-altering short haircuts. This could have been messy, I did, after all, “take a shit on an angel” in my last review at his venue. Waiting for Tonight We Die to mount the stage and deliver the promised epic show, I somehow already know they will not outshine the band that just finished.

We Set Sail come with a blurb of having “seven musicians and nine instruments” which only elicited the question: “Yes, but can they fill the stage?” Mercifully, the anxiety of watching another experimental band fail ebbs away as they play, and play, and play, and you are no longer in a smoked-out club, but somewhere at sea, floating with the stars and suns, thinking of things much bigger than yourself, things reserved not for reality, but for the dreams of poets. It won’t be fair to omit the faint drone element of We Set Sail, something reminiscent of Icelandic post-rock bands, but here it is masterfully meshed with infectious trumpet arrangements (not a small feat on its own as the trumpet is generally a useless instrument outside the jazz and ska worlds) and made somehow fresh and undeniably theirs. It’s hard to pick out frontmen in an instrumental band, but tonight the stage belongs to Trynity Silk, whose skill on the horn and barely concealed self-consciousness, coupled with guitarist Marne Gelderbloem’s unashamed self-enjoyment, grounds the band in something less ethereal than their music. It simply makes them feel real. We Set Sail are not perfect, they have a long way to swim, but it is safe to say that this is a great band on early, unsound footing.

It would be easy, after such an emotional high, to go down on my knees and blow Tonight We Die in the same breath – praise their energy and passion, laud Claude Barnardo’s enigmatic stage presence and impressive vocal ability, note the wild abandon of the second guitarist, his axe-in-the-air eruptions – fit for mathcore glory – and agree with the applause of the rapturous crowd. It would be easy, because if I do, maybe they’ll like me, and maybe they’ll invite me to their next show or video shoot, and maybe we’ll drink together, and maybe some of their cool will rub-off on me, and maybe those pretty girls they hang out with will sex me up, and maybe – ah fuck it. Too many have succumbed to such fantasies, or editorial pressure, or the fear of offending the sponsors or the simple subconscious human desire to go along with the herd. So many, in fact, that a lion’s share of the music pieces you read these days are just advertorials for bands, most of them not even having the decency to try cover it up with any attempt at actual writing. Damn it all to hell – I don’t fancy sleeping in an unmarked grave.

There exists an unspoken understanding that music journalists serve the bands, because, logically, if there were no bands, they would have nothing to write about. This is correct, but also leads to stagnation through the lack of real criticism, the lack of balls. I abide by a different school of thought – the bands perform for me and me alone, the rest of the people are not even here. Tonight We Die play to impress me and, sadly, under my eyes, they struggle with a dated post-hardcore sound and an audience that, though dedicated to the point of being fanatical, is quickly losing interest. Once, the name Tonight We Die roared with the might of the whole Cape Town alternative scene, today they are eclipsed by a young instrumental band, with a girl on the trumpet! At the base of it – the chord structure, and especially the timing of the strumming, sounds archaic and weird in the modern context. Down strokes like this always make me think of Fall Out Boy. Once, Tonight We Die sets were mesmerizing, today, they are just nice. Claude used to sprout funny gibberish between songs that made the set feel alive, but he’s been delivering it for years now without “making” it, what does he have to be excited about? And indeed, what do we?

All images © Duran Levinson.

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