Bigger than Belvilleby Thomas Okes / 26.01.2010
The word Bellville has lately become something of a sickening synonym for sexy, where running around in grandpa shorts, man-perms and brightly coloured horn-rims is somehow taken for a deeply retrosexual kind of cool. It clearly has a lot to do with the age group and its innate blend of precious and precocious, but wherever it comes from, this is the Belville vibe, and the queue between the haves and have-nots is as brittle as it is bitchy. It’s only when you bunch the so-called Bellville brotherhood together in one evening that you’re able to distinguish a less self-conscious response. Four bands together does not mean four groups in tandem, and the divides they inspire say much about the current state of this little nation.
Fokof themselves are beginning to feel the need for a more mindful clarity; in a rare interview on Friday with Jason Curtis for the Cape Times, Francois van Coke was at pains to shy away from any of the attention-seeking affectation around him.
“I’m a bit gatvol of the hype… bands new and not-so-new who are from there are in for a rude awakening if they think Bellville will carry them. Fokofpolisiekar has got where it is through sheer bloody-mindedness and hard work, not because of the town we lived in.”
This sort of sentiment seems to stem from a simmering alarm at the way the scene’s freedoms are becoming its burdens, or the way a space for spontaneous creativity is being permeated with a contrived and claustrophobic pressure to be someone else. Opportunites for self-expression are only new, original or exciting if they’re explored in new, original and exciting ways, and as it is the Belville rock scene is getting a little over baked.
It’s all becoming a bit too cool for school, and it’s increasingly hard to focus on where the meaning is. In that regard, this past weekend was a big help. For all of their weaknesses, the Afrikaner indie-punk crowd has grown accustomed to putting up privatised walls of concrete cynicism. They’ve learned to guard their heartspaces, having found the difference between purely partying and making an emotional investment in their art. They have been spoilt, after all. Fokofpolisiekar has always been an event which mixes real, irreverent relevance in a jol sonder einde, capturing the spirit while shocking sensibilities, forging a new height of expectation and proudly, relentlessly bearing its standard. So when the modish new bands arrive in their faux-banged multitudes and all the hipsters fall about, there’s a subtle but serious change of direction in the air.
It’s there in the space between stage and bodies while New Holland are up, in the continued conversations during Ashtray Electric’s turn, and it’s still there when aKing swing into their most together set in a while. Everyone likes New Holland: they’re a quality festival band, with all the necessarily suggestive lyrics and funky beats; they’re nice, they’re harmless, and as such they’re greeted with the kind of enthusiasm that says, I’m having fun getting drunk. In the same way, no one really dislikes Ashtray Electric: they’re earnest, inventive, sweet when they want to be, and people watching them go a dirty kind of nuts, like they’re looking to get laid. aKing can be amazing, when all the relevant sparks connect and they’re able to ratchet out of self-destruct mode, yet even at their most impressive on Friday night the rapture below them remained restrained, as though the heaving masses were awaiting a higher gear.
The shift they knew would arrive did so twice in one weekend. Driven by the same urge that has them now gathering regularly to record another full-length album, Fokof clicked into a graceful intensity on both Friday and Sunday nights, working themselves into a cohesive froth that had both crowds surging and clawing a path to the front. Of all the Bellvillains, this is the one band that has its market most in awe; when they move into position all eyes go to the front and all fingers to the sky, in the awareness that the business end of the evening has begun. Fokof get their share of hate, it’s true, but not from their crowds and not, therefore, from those who matter most to their cause; if they can keep this up, their fans will know the difference.
My girlfriend is a virtual magnet for show-thrown stuff. She had a cap and badges hurled her way at a Zebra and Giraffe gig and was pretty stoked, she grabbed Laudo’s guitar pick out of the air at an aKing show and was over it a few Jagerbombs later; but last Sunday she caught Snake’s drumstick and she’s been speechless ever since. That’s happiness from within a guarded heartspace. That’s joy you can’t buy.
All pictures by Wink*