Another Yahoo Reviewby Andy Davis, images by Mark Reitz / 08.09.2010
The crowd ebbs and flows on the dub bassline and precise guitar riffs. The strains of a melodica whine and ripple through the crowd like someone flapping a sheet over a bed. The air is thick with smoke, which gives the red light a kind of tangible Saturday night density. Cape Town is awash with hash and that oily, doobie smell fills the air.
When it comes to 340ml, I’m an embedded journalist. Their number 1 fan pretending to be objective. I first wrote about them in 2002 when they practiced in the pool room, amongst creepy crawly pipes and chlorine, at a WITS university residence. In the 8 years that followed I’ve been to countless shows; 206, 88, the Armchair, Oppikoppi, Carfax, Rocking the Daisies, Baseline, Assembly, Mercury, Zula. I toured with them to Sakifo in Reunion, I’ve met their parents, partners, siblings, eaten Frango Zambeziana at a Sunday braai in Pedro’s garden in Maputo and then driven through the night to Ponta Do Ouro. I know Paulo’s uncle is a famous matador, Ricardo Chibanga, google him. Hell, 340ml played at my wedding. We’re good friends. So don’t look to me for critical distance. I’m like a Fox News anchorman during Operation the Gulf War 2, a bloody yahoo in my camo flak jacket, leaning out of an armoured Humvee shouting, “USA! USA!”
I fucken love this band.
Saying that 340ml play dub, is like throwing a stone at the moon and saying that describes it. Ja, it kind of goes in that direction, but it falls far short. There’s so much more going on in their sound, it’s hard to reference. What sets these guys apart, is that there is just nothing that sounds even vaguely similar on the South African music landscape. Even Tumi and the Volume, which shares Tiago, the guitarist and Paulo, the drummer, sounds radically different. 340ml are a dub band in concept only. They play long instrumental tracks, find a groove, jam and explore, then bring it back to the hook and build. But Tiago is too musically interesting and not enough of a stoner to get stuck in a simple dub reggae rut.
On their latest album Sorry For The Delay they have a track called “Fairytales” which is an upbeat almost country-ska-two-step type number that towards the end goes totally electronic, invoking deep house dancefloor grooves. A whole bunch of people like DJ Fresh remixed it when it first came out. This for me was a major departure for 340ml. Allow me a little analogy. It was like bungee jumping from the bridge of reggae into the free open space of dub, on a bungee rope of Mozambican ska rubber kah-chang and then doing a head dip into a river of pop. Shproing! It was the Damascus moment between their breakthrough debut album Moving and that uniquely progressive and different dub pop sound that lies ahead for the Jozambicans.
If you’ve ever seen a 340ml set you’ll know that it’s a down tempo affair. A little shuffle to the beat and a chin stroke to Pedro’s thoughtful lyrics. “Who’ll set the precedent for homosexual presidents? Who’ll conquer HIV who’ll colonise the galaxy?” That kind of stuff. But increasingly you get the sense that the band appreciates the power of an upbeat stage show that gets the crowd up and dancing. Tiago and Paulo have been touring France and Europe with Tumi and the Volume for a few years now, playing that new world hip hop to big crowds. Their experience shows. On Saturday night they’re as tight and relaxed as I’ve ever seen them. It’s like they’re not playing to a set list and just picking the songs at random, in between teasing the crowd with false starts and little riffs that make them laugh. Band practice in jokes.
Then all of a sudden they drop into an up-tempo remix of “Kubrick”, one of the spaced out dub tunes on the album, with the haunting refrain, “open your eyes”. It sounds like the Klaxons mashed with Franz Ferdinand at the Club Naval in Maputo on a sweaty Saturday night. It’s a wall of house played on rock instruments. It’s roaring, upbeat shouty pop music with Pedro holding the mic on its stand over the crowd while everyone sings “open your eyes”. Heads are bouncing together, silhouetted in the smoky red light. Paulo comes in on the drums and that tips the whole thing over the edge into a framed moment of live gloriousness.
That’s what I love about this band. If they’re not comfortable playing their new material, they rework the old shit and give the audience what they deserve, something new. Much like the bossanova version of their hit “Midnight”, I think they just get bored playing their songs the way they recorded them, over and over again, gig after gig, night after night (who wouldn’t).
Later, at around 3am, there’s a party in the little backstage room. A whole bunch of Portuguese shouting mixed with the smoking, drinking and jostling for chairs. I’m trying to coax Tiago into writing something for the site. Suddenly this random chick sitting next to Craig De Sousa chimes in:
“Oh Mahala sucks! That site is just for haters!” She says emphatically. “All they do is rip everything off… and you know what the worst part is?” She asks rhetorically. “They can’t even write. I swear…”
Tiago is smiling now. She just heard the name, picked up the stompie and dived straight in. But now Tiago is egging her on, nodding, agreeing, smiling. “They’re shit huh?!” He asks. And off she goes again while Craig De Sousa smiles sheepishly at me.
All images © Mark Reitz.