On the Obscene Roadsby Max Barashenkov, images by Adri Louw / 04.10.2010
Out of the black of the previous night, a single phrase drifts out – “You’re still in school? That’s ok, we’ll just do anal.” Who would say such a horrible thing? And to whom? This is definitely not the kind of behavior reserved for decent human beings, but you’ve been on the road for a few days now and all this memory elicits is a round of tired laughter. It is amazing how your body and mind can adjust, can reposition normality to a different set of values and rules – it is ok to wake up every morning turned inside out, with your lungs dragging in the dirt behind you, your throat soldered to some backstage table, it is ok to repeat some lame joke over and over again until the whole van is shaking with deranged cackles, it is ok to do a lot of things on the road. Obscene things normally swept under the carpet of your civilized persona – would you, in your everyday life, spend hours studying back issues of gay porn magazines with six other guys, comparing cock sizes, reading every erotic fiction piece and marveling at the ridiculousness of the illustrations? Probably not.
A ten day tour, over five cities, sends you into a peculiar space of duality, on one hand you exist in a hyper-reality, where everything is meaningful and everything is alive, on the other you are cut off from your real life, no Facebook, minimal cellphone reception, no familiar friends. You tread amongst other travelers, connecting for a few minutes at squatter-camp-like gas station, where your wallet is raped, your bowels are relieved and you trade flirtations with toothless sales-ladies. The stations, they are full of families, serious parents trailed by timid young girls that shoot the band meaningful glances and lick their lips, the underage nowhere nymphs, they must be dreaming of escape from whatever backwater, dust-ridden town they live in. You see exhausted long-haul truckers and realize that for every plastic spoon, for every paper clip, for every glass bottle, there must be a man behind a wheel, going on no sleep to deliver you the prosaic comforts of life.
As a music journalist, on a self-imposed exile from the indie-stagnation of Under the Mountain, the road is a unique beast – a new show every night, a multitude of bands sans pointy shoes and a chance to find a scene hung up on music rather than appearances. You see great outfits, such as the blistering speed-punk of Shots Fired, that are, sadly, too unhip to grace the Mother City shores. You witness progressive acts like Fridge Poetry who successfully bridge the indie/ska barrier, delivering music that is both imaginative and intelligent while remaining catchy and fun. On the road, you can glimpse that wondrous, almost mystical, occasion when the support band upstages the headliner, as it happens in Durban where Sibling Rivalry lay waste to the Hogs with their two-tone/hardcore/godknowswhat crossover and the insane energy of their performance (you just hope they don’t hang up their axes and keep playing, despite the rumours of their imminent break-up). You also get the chance to change your mind, expand your opinion – when Skunks open the show at Rockabilly’s in Edenvale, they are less than rubbish, then you see the positive response they get when they play (Ob)scene Fest a week later and get their rough-cut demo: sure they are young and manage to hit every cliché in the ska-punk book, but somehow the record keeps playing and you are sucked in by their rough voices, great gang vocals and unashamed pride, which borders on zealous joy, at their style.
The tour, spanning from Joburg to Potch to Pretoria to Durban to Bloem and back to CT, provides nourishment for the starved closet travel writer in you. You see the country you live in, not from the detached semi-comfort of a Kulula flight, but from the ground, eating it up with a defining turn of the wheels and the fast-dropping fuel gauge. The road from Johannesburg to Durban is straight as an arrow, littered with extortionate toll gates, and, if you look left or right as far as the eye takes, there is nothing, the vastness is overwhelming. It makes you want to run into those fields, and keep running, away from civilization, away from people, keep running like a contented fool, until you fall blissfully off the edge of the world which is surely out there somewhere. Poetic images, clumsy metaphors crawl into your head and you scribble them down – ‘Have you ever driven through fire? Not the roaring flames kind, but through that subtle engulfing of bush grass sizzle that you can’t see, because you can’t see anything through the smoke. Can you imagine the gut punch of being on a bridge, over a 100 meters off the ground, and the only thing you have are the lights of the car ahead that disappear any further than five meters away? Now substitute the smoke with wet clouds and the fire with your mind/being, and you have Durban. At least for a night.’ The road can make hopeless romantics even out of the most cynical.
Every journey has to have an end, otherwise it is just life, and the climax of these wonderings finds you on a game farm, surrounded by cows and bolting bucks, gloriously caked in dirt, feasting on the raw humanity of Bloem’s (Ob)scene Festival. No retarded haircuts here, no leather shoes, no people looped into pretzels, heads jammed up their own asses, no too-cool-for-you attitudes, just a bunch of kids so amped on and in love with music that it inspires, uplifts your soul. In size it doesn’t compare with Rocking The Daisies or Ramfest, but in its value it outweighs them combined. The organizers, manifested in the face of the dedicated Mr. Ruan Scott, couldn’t give a shit about making money, all they want is to expand the musical horizons of the Bloem scene, and with it, the rest of South Africa (kids from Durban and Joburg abound here). Hardcore punks in leather studded jackets, rude boys and girls with happy grins, skaters and surfers, scene kids in skinny jeans, serious looking metalheads, they are all here, partying and dancing hand-in-hand like they couldn’t care about the sub-culture divisions that are so enforced in the Mother City. The music scope is equally impressive – from the throat-tearing crust of Touched By Nausea, to the technically astounding deathcore riffage of Facing The Gallows and The Dead Will Tell, to the deranged blues of Black Cat Bones, to the infectious ska-punk of Hog Hoggidy Hog and Skunks, to the surf-tinged pop-rock of the City Bowl Mizers, to the truly spectacular neo-chanson of the Rambling Bones – (Ob)scene Fest caters to more variety than any other South African festival, and here, each different sound is received with the same warmth and appreciation. Next year, this event is definitely on your cards, no qualms about it.
When you are back, re-inserted painfully into the 9 to 5 society, you want to tell everyone about the road, sing its praises, urge others to get into their cars and drive off into the sunsets, but the more you phrase it, the more you struggle to define that ethereal feeling, the less and less it becomes, until it is nothing more than words on a page.
*All images © Adri Louw.