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MK Top 10

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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RESPONSES (42)
  1. ted newsagent says:

    I thoroughly support the views expressed in this piece. It’s high time that we all took an honest and merciless view of the state of pop music in South Africa today. However, I think you’re being way too kind to Taxi Violence.

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  2. Chris Moon says:

    One step forwards two steps back, SA music has always (well, since the advent of ‘pop’) succeeded best at blatent imitation. However, I must sate, that the term ‘alternative’ has become a generic term to describe pretty much everything in pop music these days and is entirely irelevant.Good music exists in SA but as all good music it aint popular because it doesn’t condescend to current (or, rather past current) trends.

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  3. Gladys Kravitz says:

    Jolly good.

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  4. Max says:

    Bittereinder track is befok

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  5. shirley says:

    goldfish are amzing. fuck you. it sounds like you haven’t danced in decades.

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  6. Nort Shirley says:

    Goldfish are kak. Expand your horizons, you’ll see that overseas acts with their sound have been around for many, many, many years….they’re an imitation band

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  7. Max says:

    goldfish blow big time

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  8. shirley says:

    max at least i’ve moved out of home last year. goldfish are good because they give us what people want. just cool vibes and goodtimes.

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  9. Pop is always gonna be bored and uninspired.. Get over it and move on.

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  10. Ross says:

    killer brandon – spot on! and yes, it’s always been like this, it’s just better produced these days

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  11. creepy steve says:

    “glam design studios where everyone secretly hates themselves”, as i sit here in my crappy prefab cubicle in an open plan office with some ou next door busting out gospel, i secretly dream of working in a place where people are covertly self deprecating , sounds sexy but….this is how it goes, awuuu awuu awuuuuuuu

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  12. Felix says:

    @ shirley – Hahahaha. “goldfish are good because they give us what people want. just cool vibes and goodtimes.” You’re an idiot. And I hope that one day you are enlightened by music that moves you. When the strength of your argument is hinged on the statement that moving out of home before Max is some sort of achievement, I think it’s right to assume that your opinion and praise of Goldfish is not doing them any favors.

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  13. Anonymous says:

    goldfish is to music, faeces is to food.

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  14. shirley says:

    i’m just saying this writer is obviously out of it and shouldn’t be reviewing music he doesn’t understand. i’ve met the goldfish guyz and they are much more chill than this ‘writer’. so nothing he can say will make a differnce.

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  15. Roger Young says:

    @shirley

    u r totes rite the gldish guyz be the chillest. 1nce da blnd 1 evn lt me c hs comp. sowi 4 u brandon dude who tinks he evn nos shizzle.

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  16. ted newsagent says:

    @shirley. Reminds me of the story of the little girl who dissed the Swiss chocolatier ‘cos he said her favourite brand of bubblegum was crap.

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  17. brandon edmonds says:

    You’re kind of an idiot Shirley – but my kind of idiot. Thanks for reading.

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  18. Gerán Herbst says:

    Check out Straatligkinders – Jy Vermaak My Naar … They kinda did the same thing you just wrote about, but of they commercial Afrikaans music …

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  19. mick says:

    That first line, briefly coupling with the image, gently stirred an almost-tear. Dammit man and then you went and careened into blah. Not one traan pikked!

    Pop sucks big time all round. Jirre jissus just ask the Europeans – and they’ve enough of an onto-historic backbone to know better than gagging Nineties Rave and Hipp Hopp in the Twentieth..

    Seffrican Pop is a moot point. Unless of course you experience ZCC’s chorals choiring the very skies into emotion; or walk into a shebeen and do a Wayne’s World to the beat of Ngqawana’s ‘Vadzimu’ taxi-bleats shuddering to the beat of Ma BRRR..

    South Africa is yet too omni-fractured for any semblance of ‘Pop’ to emerge viable. But this means there are nocturnally-veiled other impossibilities available. Anyhoot I’m blabbing; but Mahala would do well to venture into townships and checking their Top Forty; and yay and also into Orania (just, please God don’t send Montle, amen) just for kicks.

    But seriously. And silly-romantically- the likes of yonder Open Record and African Dope and the shy currents of the likes Jaunted Haunts Press should be exhaustively prodded and quoted and provoked along with the above-implied ventures, according to Godfather of Local ‘Lectro-Punk Warrick Swinney’s observation that the future of Seffrican music is growing into being in our tattered townships, where the youths are: “Hot-wiring, patching and scraping new notions of lap-tops into being – They are programming the Future, Now.”

    [Ps: said quote is from memory, will clarify upon legal, or smily, request.]

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  20. Doctor L. says:

    Don’t really have anything to say about the article (the music is wack and uninspired, that’s it–every artist has instincts and can tell when something is shit, it’s just some are capable of bullshitting themselves with ‘referencing’ and all manner of other ‘explainable’, cerebral mechanisms/gimmicks which still don’t make you like the music. but then again, this is pop music. there’d definitely be something off-kilter about us if we produced anything other than shit in this region.)

    Anyway, Brandon, when I read comments sections about how Annelie Botes (whom, it is always mentioned, carries an accolade named after K. Sello Duiker) has the right to freedom of speech and about how what she’s saying is true, I can’t help but take recourse into irony.

    Or as Tambu would say, I “laugh bitterly at the cruel sarcasm that rules our lives”.

    I wonder what you, as someone vehemently opposed to this practice, would suggest? You call the young defeatist, but really, it seems to me that it is the old that are mean and cruel and exhausting. we only want to be able to laugh and live and they only want to hate and dominate, a residual effect of their values which are not only held to either left or right (totalitarianism) but also, to their bewilderment and subsequent desperation, find themselves more and more at loss for relevance.

    We need social fluidity–nothing we’ve built was meant to be sustainable for time immemorial. At least if we kick down the barricades now, at least if we share and love, we can all go down with some semblance of happiness.

    I don’t believe in shit that harms or excludes. I don’t believe in accumulating wealth or property. I live with an awareness that I am human being alive for the first and only time. But not only that: I am aware, too, that I am dying, as you all are. That fact puts shit in perspective for me and has taken away my idea of age. I could be 22 or 38. I am dying tomorrow and the day after that. The only difference is that with age you delude yourself into silently investing in the permanence of life; values crystallize into ‘truths’; a retreat as death grows larger behind you.

    What is the point of this?

    Just to say that in response to the masses of violent and sad people out there, who loathe me for my skin, these sad misguided fools for whom life is too large and wonderful to grasp, sometimes one has no choice but to remind oneself that everything is arbitrary. and irony is one of the more accommodating (if commercially appropriated) modes of thought when it comes to this sentiment.

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  21. Jed says:

    So on the money! Thank you for writing this!

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  22. brandon edmonds says:

    Don’t really have anything to say about your ramblings @DocL except that ‘investing in the permanence of life’ is more something kids do than adults, wouldn’t you say? Kids are great at just inhabiting themselves. Fuck time. That’s why it was always a surprise, a shock even, when my mom would call me in from playing. I think Botes is brave but vile. And I totally agree that mortality awareness ought to inform our choices a lot more. I’m more afraid of ‘not getting it’ than dying at this point.

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  23. Max says:

    Shirley, haha, how do I even respond to that?
    do u want me to piss on your back in congratulations of your moving out? Did it make you smarter? Clearly not because you still tout Goldfish as a good band. Let me guess – you went to synergy and ‘danced’ to Prime Circle with the rest of the cattle? I eagerly await multiple articles from your high roost of independent living, infused, undoubtedly, with wisdom and reason. Kisses. peace, love, bubblegum.

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  24. Nadien Theron says:

    Big misunderstanding here. Shirley defines a “good’ band as: “they give us what people want. just cool vibes and goodtimes.”

    Shirley dear is making an offensive sweeping generalisation. Saying all people want only “chill vibes and good times” from music is like saying that all Afrikaners are Biko-killers, or something. Max and Brandon might be naively yearning for “good” SA bands to actually provide something a little more than just cool vibes and good times.

    But cool vibes are cool and good times are good in their own way I guess. The definition of “good times” is also very relative, for some people it would be Goldish dead. For some people it would be Goldfish live.

    And of course the guys from Goldfish are “much more chill” than this writer. I’m assuming they have much more money to chill with than this writer in the first place. Amongst many other things they can be “chill” about like fame, international tours, CD sales…

    It’s just that I don’t think this writer intended to be chill, Shirley. Otherwise he wouldn’t have written this. He would’ve just, like, chilled.

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  25. Anonymous says:

    i disagree that pop will always be uninspired and boring.
    I agree thaat goldfish suck.
    I agree that the bittereinder song is the best track on that top 10.

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  26. Evil Ed says:

    This article is a load of shit. It is one sided. Fuck you for your poor written article and reflecting personal taste on the world. Sounds like you hate music and have never made a music video in your whole life. Douche bag journalism!!!

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  27. Anonymous says:

    also, it’s an assumption that it’s the athlone towers in the zebra and girrafe video.
    And as kak as it is: I must feel the need to point out: they have cooling towers everywhere in the world, and just cause CT lost a couple recently doesn’t make every reference one to them.
    This bothered me, and I needed to point it out.

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  28. Anonymous says:

    he speaks more about the music than the music videos.
    Oh the cast and crew of one of these low budget favour efforts is getting rowdy!

    It’s hard for people to be objective when they’re personally invested, isn’t it?
    Again, the point that most (over 80%) of SA music is boring, old, imported and stale.
    This seems to be a constant echo round these parts. Who will hear the call? Who will make a stand!

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  29. Shirley says:

    I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley

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  30. Max says:

    Modern Warfare for the win.

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  31. Charlotte says:

    Bitter, Bitter. Bitter. I think this sums up 90% of the articles on Mahala.

    SA bands may not be there yet for a myriad of reasons, but I have to say I respect them for making a success of some sort, quit their day job and get somewhere, anywhere – that is a massive achievement for any artist in SA.

    The writer, Brandon. I wonder what he has achieved in his literary career so far? Published any books Brandon? Done a book tour of the world to thousands of screaming fans Brandon?

    Thought not. Isn’t it funny how the ones who aren’t brave enough to put themselves out there and have nothing to show for themselves are the ones who are quickest to lash out from the safety of their keyboards.

    I’ll finish with this

    ‘What we criticise in others we deny most in ourselves’

    You sound like a failed musician who is now trying his hand at writing?

    Brandon should put his head down and write something tangible instead of taking the easy route as a critic. It’s EASY to write a snappy 600 word shred article for Mahala. It’s extremely HARD to scrape together money to record an album, then scrape together even more money to make a music video, that is almost guaranteed to fail for these bands because MK is the only place that will air it now that the SABC is in freefall implosion… and their disc will get downloaded and p2p’d to bits anyway. The only way our bands are ever going to get any better is with some constructive criticism and support, not this shoot from the I’m so hip kind of writing.

    Goodbye Mahala, I think I’m done with this site now. Every time I pop on here to read something thoughtful I just leave feeling a little more depressed. I might as well turn on SAFM and listen to everyone complain about how shit everything in SA is.

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  32. brandon edmonds says:

    Goodbye Charlotte.

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  33. Stephanie says:

    Charlotte you are a frickin’ legend! Done wasting my time reading the drivel that Brandon clearly deems progressive. Good luck champ.

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  34. elton yawn says:

    To Shirley, Charlotte and Stephanie, who are clearly pissed off with Brandon because he had the gall to openly criticize a band that they like and which is commercially successful. I suggest that you take a look at the state of music journalism in countries with much healthier, more lively and more profitable music industries – UK, USA, Japan, Scandinavia etc. There you will find a much more active, critical and diverse music press that is not afraid of being harshly critical towards bands on creative autopilot, even though they are commercially succesful. Consider for a moment that this criticism helps all bands and music fans to grow in their appreciation of what is available in totality and what are new and fresh ideas more ripe for expression than the hackneyed old riffs that our mainstream plodders go about retreading gig after gig. Most things in this world thrive in the face of increased diversity and choice and music scenes are no exception. I suggest that you subject your thoughts and your consciousnesses to the same before condemning someone for having a different opinion.

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  35. Anonymous says:

    it’s pretty easy to start a band and get on stage in SA.
    its pretty easy to ‘start a wave’ and people hear your name without much effort, in the ‘live music circles’.
    It’s not some holy sacred gift for the chosen golden few from the heavens that must be earned by the trails of a mans soul or some shit.

    and the bands on the list above that were under brandons scrutiny are not spending their own money.

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  36. Paul Bettany says:

    Great article.

    All those complaining, our industry will never improve if we praise mediocrity. A disease in South Africa!

    Oh, and Brandon, your writing is amazing. did you study Cultural Studies? What level did you study what you studied to? MA? I hope you don’t mind me asking. I admire your work and Mahala writers all seem super-brainy. Just want to know what it takes. Come to find out Andy Davis only employs graduate students, lol.

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  37. Greg says:

    Thanks anonymous for pointing that out… we actually shot in the Orlando Towers in Soweto but the ending was the Athlone towers in CT. With that said, please excuse me while I attempt to be more vainglorious than I already am… it’s gonna be tough though!

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  38. Missy Gouws says:

    If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Mr Edmonds is just a tad jealous that the soft cock SA rockers are making the moolah while having various minxes fawning over them. You should write about kittens rather, they’re lovely.

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  39. brandon edmonds says:

    Varsity? You must be joking Paul. I learned everything I needed to know from men’s room walls.

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  40. Isis Mongoose says:

    the cock rock phenomenon must be checked (by whatever means are necessary) to prevent south africans from becoming even lamer than they already are. you can judge a culture by its music. what does ours tell you? that we’re into vacuous, derivative drivel. where’s our Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Beatles, Nirvana…? if you think you have an answer to that i pity you. really i do. there’s nothing wrong with having a high bar. for those who’ve forgotten it’s called taste. great article brandy.

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  41. wbfb says:

    its up to the good bands to come forward and displace the ordinary . Punters wanna havea good time and unfortunately they do get fed generic unoriginal crap like PC. How that band hasn’t been found out is beyond me.

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  42. Rob says:

    As a teenager, I was always opposed to the music most everyone else listened to. It wasn’t cool to be part of the flock, and what was then off the wall stuff would upset your parents, and make the kids in the flock struggle to understand you and you could get away with anti-social behaviour, coz you were a little scary.

    Todaymost of that music has become today’s yester-year classics and that flock of now adults and parents all listen to it when they have social get togethers. And many of the tunes you forced yourself not to listen to are now on your iPod as part of your cheese collection. And rather than being dissident, you realise all you were was obtuse.

    Not all music is there to make a statement or define you. In fact, music rarely makes any worthwhile statement. It is entertainment. And what defines you is the drivel that spouts from your pen, keyboard or mouth. And the more Mahala writes about what SA artists should be doing to be successful artistsoddly tied into how they are sell outs for being “commercial” instead of appreciating the wares on offer for what they are or aren’t, the more that definition is formed…. need I spell it out?

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