Thin Skin of the Cape Town Music Industryby Max Barashenkov / 07.09.2010
From the bowels of other South African music magazines, presumably from around the vicinity of the large intestine, comes a hissing gurgling, a mantra of the hopelessly sold: “Mahala is bad for the music industry, Mahala is bad for the music industry”. Poor, blind bastards, they are so deep down the rabbit hole that they’ve forgotten the simple truth of its existence – the music industry is bad for good M-U-S-I-C. The mainstream will always tend towards mediocrity. Sure, if you want to be the same kind of suit-wearing scum that has been selling out artists since Elvis, then yes, the presence of a critical voice, not bound by the straight-jacket of media ownership and without the corporate-dollar-cock living up its ass, is indeed “bad”. As in “bad for business”. But if you have slightly more idealistic ideas about what a creative and vibrant music scene should look like, then we urge you to turn to this Cape Town music industry monstrosity, this geriatric, over-weight beast, and ask it some questions:
Where is the band variety? Why is it that eighty percent of current Mother City acts deal vaguely in the same pop-rock, post-indie realm? What ever happened to all ages shows? Oh wait, we can’t let those snotty brats actually develop their own music tastes, the travesty! Because then they won’t come to the clubs and sheep it out to the latest slab of shit being promoted. Keep them dumb and sweaty, pocket those easy Rands. Where are the punk bands? What is this – a metal scene? No, a pathetic swamp of deathcore scenesters and once-good bands now going soft and limp, chasing a non-existent audience. Why is it that when you take a deep trawl through alternative music blogs from South America, or Russia, or Europe, or anywhere else, you can find full length downloads by the dozen of bands from countries that you didn’t even know existed, but the total amount of South African bands represented is a monumental ONE? We have loadtheshow, a good effort on its own, but terribly un-supported, hosting only a few tracks by the artists. Such poverty is surely telling of the general state of affairs? Where is the understanding that bands don’t make cash from physical records? So why are they so fucking scared of giving up their material for downloads? What the hell happened to the DIY spirit from around five years back? What the fuck happened to the balls? Annoying questions, oh music industry.
Any thesis needs a narrowing of parameters to hold any credence, so yes, we are mostly dealing with the vanishing of the heavier, rougher bands here. No one is raising bayonets against the mighty jazz scene, the kwaito or the gospel. Look at how well the electro fiends are doing, but is their success and quality perhaps hinged on the fact that they do not have to rely so much on you, music industry? On the fact that they don’t have to dumb down their sound to get onto your stages, that they are just some doped-up kids in a bedroom studio making what they want to make? Why, you could say, should we give a shit about punk or metal bands? The simple thing is that a healthy punk/hardcore presence is like the immune system of the larger scene – it both educates the young, weeds out the posers and keeps an eye on the elusive concept of honesty in music. The musicians that play in metal-ish bands generally move onto something more creative, more elaborate, but in their time playing tiny venues to small crowds, they learn something, they are tempered. And now, how can we expect something new to emerge from Cape Town when the kids are just making the jump into indie-trendiness? What will they produce if that is all they are served up? Vicious circles all around. Sadly, hardcore and punk bands don’t make money, so to you, music industry, this is an unwanted train of thought, cast it out, erase, cover up with a snazzy New Holland poster.
We used to have great bands, not five years ago Cape Town boasted a decent hardcore scene, some brilliantly dirty punk bands. Bands that sang about something, that were much more about the music than gaining fans. Take Not For Sale’s “Freedom“, take the blistering crust of False Pretense’s “Leader Of The Pack“, take Sleeping At The Popes’ “Raped By The Law” which is still the most original thing to come out of the South African gutters. Have you ever been to those shows? Do you remember that drive, that over-whelming power? Have you ever seen Neshamah, whose “Weary Of Consciousness” is a hardcore tour-de-force from about 45 seconds in, annihilate their set? Have you heard Aftertaste’s “Selfless Act” and the record it comes off, which, by the way, is the best heavy album produced on these shores. Even in the now-fouled screamo genre we had the magnificent “Icarus Theory” by Armour For Nightmares and the destructively complex “The Silence That Kills Us” by ManInSuit. Where did all of that go? How did that spirit get sold? Where is the fucking music?
The problem is that bands are too far up their own asses these days, both in terms of the way they carry themselves and their music. The internet floodgates opened and with that came the quest for international sound, the dire need to be on the same level of production. This need has overshadowed the soul of the music. Bands play for a year before they gather enough cash to cut a record and, in that year, whatever was there gets fucked out of them in the chase for better venues, better appeal, better selling power. DIY is so not hip right now, and, in this town, if you aren’t hip you are as good as dead. This all leads to a rather thin skin on the Cape Town music industry, a frail and insecure creature that reacts with violence anytime any criticism surfaces. You can almost bet that there are no mirrors in its house. It’s surprising, with all the zealous international ambitions, how sensitive bands are to a few unkind words. Guess what, if you were from the States or the UK, where you all seem to want to be, you would be showered with shit on a weekly basis. How do you aim to gain respect and recognition on the world circuit when all we put out is a stream of bad photocopies? Remember that old picture: “this is a chord, this is another, now start a band, record in a garage, hang it on the web”? We need that back. We need our soul back.