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340ml

Another Yahoo Review

by 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.

340ml

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.

340ml

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.

340ml party pics

The Booth of Plenty

340ml party pics

We can't prove anything but you can just feel there's something dodgy going down

340ml party pics

We can all blame Pedro for this guy's hat

340ml party pics

what does this guy with the camera want? I dunno but I'm gonna rush him for a smoke

340ml Party Pics

Foos Girls stick together while the chump in the back looks at his hand and wonders where his R2 went

340ml party pics

The Plumstead crew would never forgive Jimmy in the middle for ruining their one chance of looking cool

340ml Party Pics

In Cape Town surfer circles facial hair is directly proportional to confidence

340ml party pics

Is it just me or is that ballerina actually a hobbit?

340ml party pics

naturally this kind of Castle Lager hook up happened at a 340ml gig

All images © Mark Reitz.

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RESPONSES (23)
  1. Rob says:

    Awesome review Andy. I am now truly devastated that I missed this gig… Listening to 340ml is like pouring sweet honey in your ears…

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  2. ubuntu bob says:

    Didn’t Gary Thomas play also? Poor Gary… a guitar wizard worthy of support and he doesn’t even rate a mention while Andy fellates the headliners.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    the poster above summed up my thoughts too.
    Nice one, clearly biased and obvious article that implies as such from the get go, sucks a whole lot of dick the whole article through, shamelessly, and then entirely neglects poor Gary. the only reason I read this article was to see how Garys new material would have translated to an assembly stage.

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  4. Andy says:

    I missed 11/12ths of Gary’s set. Walked in on the last song. What I saw I liked, but couldn’t write about it without forcing an opinion. Oh and you guys are total poephols

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  5. Andy says:

    some Gary Thomas love in case you missed it
    http://www.mahala.co.za/music/contraption-distoria/

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  6. Nobantu says:

    I love 340ml, they were the first gig I had ever watched in Cape Town at the Assembly, their perfomance was brilliant. Did they get their name from the conventional 340ml coke/coldrink can

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  7. Anonymous says:

    kak journalism. “i missed 11/12ths ” 0/12 for effort

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  8. Matthew Eriksen says:

    Why send a self-professed fan to review a show, and then glibly disclaim all objectivity, as if being upfront about it makes it okay? That’s not journalism – it’s just a self-confessed handjob.

    I haven’t been here long, but it’s increasingly obviously that Mahala is less a platform for thoughtful, even handed journalism than essentially a blog for a coterie of club-goers to wax lyrical and tell silly personal stories. It’s not quite as juvenile as the drivel they publish on Be.Collective and not everybody partakes in this sort of thing (Brandon Edmonds comes to mind as one of the better exceptions to this apparent rule.) But still.

    I’m not lumping myself in with the rabble who decry this as “only for haters,” (Lord knows, I’m all for hate, or at least hypercriticism) – I just consider this kind of writing too personalised and idiosyncratic to take seriously, or to relate to in a general way.

    More of the writing that Edmonds puts out please.

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  9. States The Obvious says:

    Ahh, the even handed non personal journalism of Edmonds, a man who only ever writes about whats in his house or on his computer screen. I bet he gets Woolworths to deliver so that he can write about the packaging.

    Anyway. Let’s not bash Edmonds. He writes superbly even if he never really leaves his house. Our other writers that do leave their houses have opinions, and it’s important to contextualise those opinions. Them writing about personal experience on the night helps you, the reader, know whether to take them seriously or not. That is the point of this style of writing.

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  10. Matthew Eriksen says:

    Touche. That’s an excellent point.

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  11. Andy says:

    Matthew stick around… you’ll get the vibe. This week has been heavily tilted towards music so far. That’s just how it goes sometimes.

    I was the only Mahala staff member at the 340ml gig and the thing about their “new direction” and increased professionalism seemed worthy of a review, especially in a music scene where so many bands just rehearse their album tracks night after night. That said I do struggle reviewing 340ml because well you know, the whole beginning of the piece. In a perfect, well-funded world, we’d have sent someone who could be distant and moved and critical, etc. But you got me instead.

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  12. No Normative Journo says:

    @Matthew Eriksen: I doubt an objective review would have given the same insight to the background of the band or the writer. If you want ‘objectivity’ go to wikipedia. If “that’s not journalism” then please grace us why subjectivity doesn’t have a place in journalism. A bold statement but your laces are undone.

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  13. Matthew Eriksen says:

    It’s about credibility. Andy admits to being personally involved with the band – friends even. How is this not intuitively problematic to you?

    What if the band decided to review itself? (Point is, WHO the critic is matters as much as the criticism.)

    That’s what I meant by objectivity. Or in Andy’s words “critical distance.”

    Subjectivity is all well and good, but not when it’s tantamount to a conflict of interest. EIther that, or don’t bother calling this a “review” (and all that that entails) and just label it a press-release.

    How are my laces now?

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  14. No Normative Journo says:

    You can pretend to be objective, but there is no such thing as the ideal ‘unbiased-truthful journalism’ you speak of (although we strive for it). Yes it is one sided, but can objectivity give equal light to all side?

    Since when do reviews have to be objective? Is a review not an individual experience of an object or event? “Point is, WHO the critic is matters as much as the criticism”- you acknowledge the individuals influence, does this influence vanish when it is written with ‘objective’ codes?

    He told us he was in it from the start, don’t get your laces in a knot.

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  15. Matthew Eriksen says:

    From “(although we strive for it)” to “since when do reviews have to be objective?” I really don’t know which one you’re arguing for.

    We’re arguing in circles. “He told us he was in it from the start.” This I know. And still think it’s silly. What’s the point of reading this piece? To paraphrase Andy’s preamble: I love this band. They’re my friends. I couldn’t possibly say anything bad about them.” If this doesn’t bother you, that’s fine too. Personally, I don’t get on Mahala to read band’s friends brazenly singing their praises (PS Andy, don’t take that the wrong way – I totally get the constraints under which you’re operating and realise YOU being the writer was a necessary evil.)

    But back to the journo-101 debate: I think unapologetic subjectivity is perfectly acceptable under circumstances like review, but with the caveat that the writer not have a PERSONAL stake or motive informing what he has to say. Being friends with the subject matter obviously fails that test.

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  16. Andy says:

    hey just because i love them and they’re my friends doesn’t mean i wouldn’t say anything bad about them… you added that in yourself. If they had a shit gig, and I thought so, I would definitely write that, and you know what? They’d probably agree. South African music is a small scene, if you report on it for a few years invariably you make friends with the artists – but that shouldn’t stop you having your say and expressing what you honestly feel about their music, performance and direction. That’s my job as a critic. The worst thing you can do is bullshit a band just because they’re your friends. I genuinely enjoyed the show. And wrote that. But if 340ml put out a new album i thought was shit, I’d write that too. Friends or not. You have my word.

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  17. Katoey says:

    Fuck the haters Andy. Love is a beautiful thing and luminescent thing. Sometimes sharing that love with strangers is precisely what a writer should do.

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  18. Louis Gusset Jr says:

    We don’t say ‘doobie’, Andy.

    I’m watching you.

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  19. DJ Bob says:

    Maybe all the mahala journo’s should write anonymously, since too many of the comments seem to be based around the writer and not the piece. It has just become too tiring to read all the commentary which eventually descends into a load of insults traded back and forth.

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  20. Storm says:

    I don’t know if I agree with you DJBob. Writing is an artform and good art should invoke some reaction. The Mahala guys are certainly making people, feel and think. I enjoy the debates almost as much as the articles (except when it degenrates into mud slinging) it broadens the perspective and you do walk away with a pretty balanced outlook.

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  21. Tim says:

    It’s time for Tim to point out the obvious again. Andy, just around a day ago you slated me for giving Samora a whipping on the Sage Francis article yet all the comments left here perfectly spell out that Mahala still attracts the ‘hater generation’. Why slate me when its people like me that are your bread and butter? Surely you enjoy the back and forth?

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  22. Tim says:

    Much love to 340ml. I was lucky enough to jam with them back in 2001. They are in Tims humble opinion the most creative band in SA – take it or leave it.

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  23. Bobby kid who shmaaks 340 stukkend says:

    love this band, love this country, love mahala. hate roger young tho. such a cock tease

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