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Culture, Music

Stronger Originals

by Brandon Edmonds / 29.11.2010

A cash-strapped Japanese animation company put some of its minor characters on the open market recently, allowing rival outfits to buy and use them as they saw fit. Could it be the first instance of virtual slavery in the 21st Century? One of the indentured cartoons was a girl named Annlee. Imagine how she feels – if she had consciousness. A migrant worker far from home. A failure in her original context. Adrift on the open market competing with stronger, better imagery. New white South African alt.pop is a lot like Annlee. A lesser version of stronger originals. It seems borrowed, undervalued and second-hand. It can’t quite compete. Listening to it is to be haunted by other, better bands from other, richer lands. Even the Afrikaans stuff. Shit, especially the Afrikaans stuff. This music is limited in an unlimited sense. It never stops being unfulfilling. Minor. For a small coterie. Not mega. When Johnny Steinberg asked a Pollsmoor inmate why he listens to Snoop Dogg, he answered: “He’s universal. I’d die for him.” Local white stuff dreams of that kind of passionate global reach.

Let’s run through the current MK Top 10 to see if I’m wrong. We’ll go, like white people, from first to last.

First up is Zebra & Giraffe’s “The Inside” at number 1. The video sees the band performing inside the recently demolished Athlone cooling towers. Unfortunately they weren’t there for the implosion. This is not a good band. “Don’t be scared to cry,” the scrupulously groomed lead singer tells us. It’s all slipstreamed emo guitar and sub-8os synth pop produced within an inch of its life. Nothing breathes. Nothing convinces. “I’d be free tonight if I’d just trust the inside.” No you wouldn’t feller – you’d be even more vainglorious than you already are.

Aptly Prime Circle are number 2 with “Breathing”. I mean shit. Shit is what I mean. We get forced pseudo-American vocals in that straining grainy voice familiar from a bazillion stadium rock bands. They want to be Kings of Leon basically. What’s the opposite of lyrical genius? How about “stop the time, it’s always running”. Prime Circle want to like stop time. They almost do by pretending plodding 90s post-grunge earnestness still has anything new to tell us.

Thank the genes of actual talent for Taxi Violence at number 3 with “The Turn”. It’s a great video by Ryan Kruger – taking in lynch mobs, undying pensioner love and bizarro cyberpunk self-fashioning. The opening image is an old lady being run over at high speed. It fits with the song’s menacing cosmic lassitude. Anything can happen and it’ll probably be bad. This is convincingly soaring guitar pop. Bleak, clear-eyed and prophesying: “the Turn is right around the bend.” Wereld klas.

Straatligkinders (with Almarie Du Preez) go all Sonny & Cher at number 4 with “Kan Ek met Jou Dans?” It’s a self-consciously simple, safe and tastefully folksy, piano-laden ballad that doesn’t dare try for much. The video has a lovely sunkissed 70s feel. This is hipster sentimentalism. And gives us a glimpse of soulful new Afrikaaners in the woods. They’re hairy. Scruffy. Winsome. They live in the moment and value love above all things because history is so scary. They mean it with all their hearts: “ek maak foute nou / maar ek bly lief vir jou.” Aww. Who killed Biko though?

Goldfish’s awful, ersatz “Get Busy Living” is at number 5. It’s FreshlyGround run through an Ibiza logarithm. Inoffensive poolside nullity. Toe-tapping genial niceness for hairdressers and receptionists in glam design studios where everyone secretly hates themselves. Gag-reflex bourgeois muzak. I’d vote for the Party promising to put this duo to death. And film it on my phone.

Number 6 is “Los My” by Winterstasie. Genius auteur, Robert Bresson’s, advice to young film-makers was “avoid paroxysms (anger, terror etc.) which one is obliged to simulate, and in which everyone is alike.” This video is riddled with vague intensity. Energy into the void. The music never spills beyond itself into genuine terror like Throbbing Gristle’s does or The Swans. It wants to be hard but its too cautious, controlled and korrek. Let your fucking hair down boys! New Afrikaaners are hot but cold.

“Die Vloed” by Foto na Dans washes in at number 7. As our own emo Bolshevik, Max, put it: “it leaves me unmoved, it leaves me rather bored.” There’s more pretty new Afrikaaner boho scruffiness. More generic guitar. And a showy solo. There are aimless dynamics and unearned swells. It’s washover pop for exhausted networked selves. Fuzzy, restrained and tasteful. As edgeless as the sky. The photo after the dance would show a couple pretending to kiss. Utterly feigned.

Bellville, our own Bristol, our own Detroit, gifts us Jack Parow and Die Huewels Fantasies’ “Tussen Stasies” at number 8. It’s a downbeat soul searching mengsel of introspective story rap and pre-programmed soft rock. Parow is uncharacteristically downcast, on a retro Oedipal plak: “ek stap die lang pad in my pa se groot skoene”. People sit in a church. Pierre Greeff sings: “ek staan op die einde van die lang pad / dit raak swarter.” Yikes.

Swiftly on to number 9 where Die Heuwels return in a better mood alongside Thieve with “Way to Go”. The video has some white guy running. It fits this pleasantly linear dance pop. This is Coldplay basically. It wants to be The Temper Trap’s shimmering “Sweet Disposition” off the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack. It’s nowhere near, but good enough. “I’m alive! I’m ready to love!” Way to go.

And the best for last. Bittereinder’s warmly relaxed and discursively generous gem of a summer toon – “A Tale of 3 Cities”. Tumi from the Volume runs rings around Joburg: “the city is a puzzle / we make cribs out of the rubble” while Parow namechecks the Kloofnek Superette and brilliantly rhymes “nag van die lang messe” with “Klusener se sesse”! He also claims “ek’s wit maar ek’s swaart” – and it strikes me that we’re ten songs into the MK Top 10 before race appears.

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