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Culture, Music

Not a Pro Afrikaans Band

by Roger Young. Images by Sean Metelerkamp / 24.03.2010

Van Coke Kartel’s new album, Skop Skiet en Donner is having it’s first full live airing this weekend at the Toffie Pop Culture Festival. At the same festival Wynand Myburgh will be talking about how DIY marketing has been a huge part of Van Coke and Fokof’s success over the years. Here is an interview about the new album, cover versions of 80’s songs and Calvinistic indoctrination, all conducted while my accountant sat in the background complaining that “these boys swear too much“.

You use a lot of different musicians on this album but what would you define as the core of Van Coke Kartel?

Francois: From the beginning it was kinda my and Wynand’s project and the idea was always to get other people involved in the albums we gonna make. Like on the first one Hunter did a couple of tracks with us and Mike Horne played drums, and Theo Crous played guitar but the idea was always to get people involved, hence the name.

Wynand: But the core is pretty much the writing relationship between Francois and myself, because we write everything and then we’ll get other people involved, you know what I mean, to play with us and maybe come in and add a few extra things, or maybe go to them and write a song together. The core of it is the relationship Francois and myselves (sic) have as writers and then the Kartel thing is to get as many other people involved to make it sound great. But when we did the first album it was obviously the first thing we wrote together, by ourselves, in years, and so now we’ve grown little bit and we wanna try do different stuff and move forward and challenge ourselves. Which is where we are at the moment with Skop, Skiet and Donner.

Is the different direction this album has taken part of that challenge?

Wynand: Let me put it this way, when we did the first album we wanted to kinda capture the energy that Francois and myself always had with Fokofpolisiekar so the idea was to write very straight up three piece loud songs that we can go off with, screaming and going crazy, that was the whole idea. The second one, we tried to do a more rock ‘n roll thing, like with adding the upright bass, and then strings and an organ player…

Francois: I think we got to the point where we were gatvol of playing just straight up rock ‘n roll, I mean fuck dude, like for us, I mean it may not seem very challenging to other people, but for us what we did here is quite a bit outside of our comfort zone, and I’m stoked that we took a leap and did something different.

Wynand: that was the idea when we started working this album, we said to each other, we’ve done the Fokof albums and the Van Coke albums and lets just try do stuff that we’ve never done before and try different angles and different sounds and this is what we came up with.

Have you had any backlash from your hardcore fans?

Francois: Obviously there are people who are not stoked with the electro shit, they say it’s techno, or with the English songs but I skeem we knew from the beginning some people are gonna like it and some people are not going to like it. But if those people give themselves a bit of time, eventually they’ll dig it, you know? But, you know, they’re not a loss, they’re people who bought the first two albums, so it doesn’t really matter…

Wynand: The most important thing is that as an artist or a musician you are happy with the product and we are very stoked about it. It’s so diverse, the album, that we always knew there were going to be confronting energies. People were going to be for it or against it. And we kinda wanted to create that sort of thing because it makes the project so much more interesting. Like on Waaksaam en Wakker, everyone tuned the album was great but the sales weren’t great, so we’re kinda keen to let some people say “fuck we hate that ‘Maniac’ thing” but in the same breath say ““fokkit that ‘Ondier Kom’ is the best song I’ve ever heard” you know what I mean? That’s kinda the idea of the whole thing to have different people feeling different things about it and even if someone just likes one song from the album…

People seem to either love ‘Maniac’ or get really confused by it.

Francois: Ja, ja, I think it’s kinda funny, we just did a music video for it and I think people will realise now that we’re taking the piss. I really dig that song and that’s why we covered it, but it’s a fucking 80’s song it’s bound to be funny.

I know people who hate that song; it haunted them in their childhood.

Wynand: That’s the whole idea.

Francois: I only discovered this song about six months before we released the album.

Wynand: But I have to say when he came and played it to me I was also but you know fuck it dude, we’re going to cover “Cocaine” and now you’re bringing this shit to the table [sound of Francois sniggering] but okay fokkit lets try it out and see what happens.

Wynand, in terms of rhythm section, do you normally guide the drums?

Wynand: Definitely way more with other people than with Peach, like Peach is very good you know, we’ve actually played with four different drummers with Van Coke Kartel and each one has got something that’s different in style that makes them special or something that makes them kak or whatever but Peach is really talented and for the first time we actually wrote a bit and rehearsed a bit more with the drummer in the studio, you know you play something to Peach and he immediately just catches on to it and he adds the accents where it’s needed so you don’t really guide him much he kinda just catches up with it.

Francois: Well you know, he’s very obviously creative and it’s great to play with a drummer like that. Which is why there are different beats instead of just doof ka, doof ka…

The variety on the album is made up from the covers and how many new tracks?

Wynand: Seven new tracks, three covers and three reworkings of old tracks

What was the decision behind including those reworkings?

Wynand: Even during Fokofpolisiekar we were always into doing acoustic shows, in this country it’s limited, serious rock venues, you kinda have to go on the road and play the smaller acoustic sorta vibes, people sit down and whatever, so when last year started off when Waaksaam en Wakker was out, and we started getting Gerald Clark and then we did an acoustic set at Oppikoppi and people raved about it, ever since we started getting requests from people saying when are we doing an acoustic album, where can we get the tracks acoustic or whatever, so we decided lets slap some of them on the album…

Francois: When we started doing those songs acoustically we started to think fuck they sound better than the originals.

Wynand: Well we kinda just liked it to do it different

Francois: I was telling Wynand, fuck we must just be an acoustic band and rework all of our songs.

Wynand: We’re quite a loud band so it’s cool to bring something to where a lot more people can appreciate it, you know? Songs we’ve already written get kinda presented in a format where people can go fuck I actually dig that and then maybe they can like the rock stuff even a bit more, familiarize them with it and then fuck them over with the heavy stuff.

Do you find a difference in the audience between the acoustic vibes and the rock sets?

Francois: We play at different venues, we can play at Die Boer in Durbanville where like the average age is like forty, which you don’t see in clubs.

Wynand: And you definitely get a crowd, obviously your hardcore fans come and they sing along whether its rock or mellow, but it’s always at the mellow gigs where people come up and say ja, you guys are great, I love this kind of set or whatever. Especially girls, or some kind of faggy boys.

Part of the success of Van Coke and Fokof has been your guys sharp marketing skills, so what are you going to talk about at Toffee, seeing as the gap in the market that you guys exploited is pretty much filled.

Wynand: Ag you know what this is quite a new thing for me obviously, I’ve never done fucking speeches on what we’ve been doing, we’ve just been kinda doing it for seven years now. The main mission is to just inspire the people that come, I mainly just want to tell a bit of a story and how it came about and what we’ve been doing and how it worked for us. It’s very import for me, I believe that every project is different, I believe everyone should find their own niche and their own gap and fill that. To do that the most important thing is to be yourself, because that’s the most creative thing you can be. So to talk about that stuff and to talk about the Fokof and Van Coke stories and how it evolved for us. And then also to talk about the business side, when we were all sixteen seventeen and started playing an instrument, we had a dream and what we’ve realized very early in our careers was that all the preconceived ideas were bullshit, you know what I mean? To achieve that dream you have to take on some serious creative ideas and pick up some business skills to make it work. And that applies to all forms of art whether you are a writer or designer or a photographer or whatever, you’ve gotta be able to sustain that whole dream to achieve your goals. So a combination of all that stuff and I’ll be showing some nice pictures of us jumping up and down and some colorful designs and stuff, but you know, I haven’t really worked it all out…

Do you think that in South Africa, well you kinda have to market yourself anywhere but…

Wynand: Ja, another angle I’m trying to work in there is the whole DIY thing. In South Africa because the industry is so young it’s actually very important that you keep your finger on it and try do a lot of it yourself. Cause It’s not like you can walk out and hire managers with a lot of experience who come up to you and say yes! Or record labels come to your gigs and pick you up, you know, you kinda have to polish that whole product before someone really gives a fuck about what you are doing. Kinda what Die Antwoord has accomplished now with this label thing now they signed, it’s still the same principle. Same with Fokofpolisiekar, when we first got our record deal we already had an album recorded on our own budget, we already had a whole vibe and an image going. We just basically got someone involved with bucks that said here, let’s go. Someone with contacts who could help us take it to the next level. So I believe for local bands and local artists, you need a lot of that, you need to spend and you have to believe that your art is a given. You have to be the best and then you have to figure out creative ways and work your arse off to make everyone else believe that you are the best.

It used to be that people sent in demos but now if you don’t have a complete package, an album and a fan base…

Wynand: Ja no fuck it, I get endless bands that send stuff to me for instance and I’m not even involved in that side, or guys that say I wanna open for you, and we just ignore it. I don’t even respond to that, I’m not interested because if someone’s out there that I want to play with, I would have known about them by now because they would have stirred a bit of a vibe already, some waves would have been out there, talk, you know what I mean? That’s someone I’m interested in, that’s someone I’d dig to go check out and listen to, not someone that just finished recording their album in their garage, you know.

Do you think Afrikaans people support culture more and buy more products than other cultural groups?

Francois: We’ve actually seen that, people are trying to hold onto fucking Afrikaans… what is left of Afrikaans, so I skeem people support even more at the moment.

Wynand: I suppose it’s the same with other local, like Zulu and Xhosa and stuff, err, ag, there are quite a few actually, it kinda comes from here. I think the English people you know the culture is a bit different, they kinda come from all over, while if you’re Afrikaner, you’re pretty much born and bred here, you’re from South Africa, so people obviously feel more like what can you say?

Francois: Connected.

Wynand: Connected or they have to support it and especially as Francois said, being Afrikaner and the past ten years became very kinda threatened almost, people talk about will it exist in the next couple of decades? So they really hold onto it and kinda want to live forward and stuff, we’ve always been a bit against that, we’re not like a pro Afrikaans band, we’re just a band that sings in Afrikaans because that makes sense to us and I think we’re more into that vibe. But I think over the years you check it and we realized that that is where our main support comes from it’s just how it is, you know.

I’ve been doing a bit of research and a lot of the young Afrikaans kids I spoke to were horrified that I would even suggest that they would rip or file share Afrikaans music…

Francois: That’s good news but everyone rips shit.

Wynand: They’re lying to you because they’ve been taught to lie from a fucking young age, it’s just the Calvinistic thing of indoctrination, they can’t do anything wrong, you know. Their parents DO NOT copy anything, they buy it. It’s a cultural thing. It’s actually a bit of a fuck up, but I suppose it’s cool for us. They are so scared to do anything wrong, Afrikaans children, except drugs and sleep around.

Learn more about the Toffie Pop Culture Festival here.

Buy the new VCK album here.

Images © and courtesy Sean Metelerkamp.
*Sean Metelerkamp shoots stills & directs music videos, commercials & short films. He is represented by Harry & Co.

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