One On One | THOTSby Roger Young / Images by Kevin Goss-Ross / 16.12.2011
It was the 19th of January 2009, I was at Zack’s in Durban to review a gig for the Levi’s Online Music Magazine, a job I had only recently started. I had approached the work I had done so far with enthusiasm; I was, after all, after a long stretch of unemployablity, working again. I hid my dismay with the Durban music scene with puff pieces and hyperbole. Overall I had very little faith in the local music scene. That night THOTS, or Tree Houses On The Sea, were playing along with Avatar and Dr Fly and The Nurses. I went dutifully along.
I don’t even think there was a proper stage that night. Just a rope light circling the equipment.The other bands were good but when THOTS stepped on stage the parameters changed. In one set they changed my approach to music journalism. Their mixture of hip hop, funk, metal and jazz maybe had Rage Against The Machine leanings but there was a spirit underneath it that was different, it was celebratory without being corny, it was questioning without being offputtingly earnest or angry. They were combining styles in new and interesting ways; they were pushing themselves as musicians and as thinkers. They were, in short, a revelation.
I wrote a gushy review, I even gushed about the other bands. Looking back on that piece of writing a week or two later was embarrassing. THOTS were way better than the other bands yet it seemed I had made them equal in my praise. THOTS had given me hope for the Durban music scene, they had rekindled my optimism for South African music in general and I had done them the disservice of not differentiating properly between them and the others. I realised then that music journalism was about honesty, it was about championing the new and letting the rest know their place. It was about pushing for higher standards; no matter how many people would end up thinking I was an asshole. In less than a month Watershed would try have me fired for stating that “Indigo Girl” was a song about necrophilia.
Two months later the Levi’s Music Magazine folded and Andy Davis asked me if I would come onboard his new project Mahala. There would be less pay, but there would be more freedom to tell it like it is. Thinking of that THOTS moment, I accepted.
That THOTS feeling, a rush of awe from witnessing a combination of musical innovation and raw enthusiasm, is the yardstick I use when I review a band now, if they reach those heights they deserve to know, if they don’t, then too they deserve to know. Lately the bands that give me that feeling include The Wild Eyes, The Great Apes, The Brother Moves On, Mr Cat and The Jackal, A Skyline On Fire and Spooky Attraction From A Distance. Would THOTS come into this group now, two and a half years later? I don’t know, they’ve had some line up changes; I haven’t seen them play in a while. I hope they’re still as good. I might have to write about them soon.
*Image © Kevin Goss-Ross.
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