Dead Silence Between Songsby Andrei van Wyk / Images by Paris Brummer / 19.10.2011
The City of Johannesburg is fraught with many problems: crime, teenage pregnancy and badly organized and advertised shows. Hell even William Kentridge’s Refuse the Hour, a two week programme of live performance events created by South Africa’s most famous artist, was largely ignored, perhaps because the advertising only went as far as a couple of street lamp posters. In the face of such apathy what chance did UK rockers Ulterior and Van Coke Kartel have? The kids seem to prefer spending their nights at pretentious indie rave parties dancing to anything loud and getting drunk off cheap wine.
The couches in the basement of The Alexander Theatre are warm and inviting. The two tone linoleum is stained by dirty shoes. The smell of horrible tasting foreign beer and wine fill the air as the DJ’s downstairs play shitty hard rave and electro mixed with pop. The empty lobby makes the merch stand look lonely, all those CDs and t-shirts ignored by the tattooed hipsters.
One thing I’ve learnt at the bar of The Alexander Theatre; the leather industry in South Africa is making a killing off the Goths. The majestic architectural design of the theatre stands out against the sparse crowd of prowling punks, swaggering indie kids and marauding eye-lined, pale-faced Goths. Silent clusters of cliques congregate in remote islands on the floor. South African music can be a hard and depressing place sometimes. It’s difficult to tell if this is better than sitting alone in your room and finishing a bottle of whiskey while listening to the CD.
But the noise of the first band’s set up brings relief. Tale of the Son have made relatively small waves through the Johannesburg music scene of late with a fast-paced reverb laden guitar driven sound which manages to stun with a solid attack. But they’re a band playing to the dead space in between the stage and the bar. The drunken resonance of men singing sea shanties just seems to irritate the lonely kid, abanonded by his friends, leaning against the wall with a cigarette in hand. The sound guy seems to have fallen asleep. The guitar is drowning out the drums while the thumping of the bass drum is overbearing. Their ideas, with just a guitar and drums, are inventive and in a way experimental, but the entire set doesn’t show that. The guitar, played repetitively in a high register, begins to sound like mindless feedback layered with a post-punk influenced drum beats.
This must have been a very different situation for Van Coke Kartel. Playing shows to thousands of enthusiastic music lovers is a customary practice for them, but now it is a show minus a crowd, the dead silence in between songs. They move through their sit punctuated by songs such as “Man Sonder Missie” and “September Fools” with no one to listen to them. Their leather jackets and powerful haircuts, which wave when they head bang, seem to impress no one. François runs up and down the stage with the same energy as the early Fokofpolisiekar days. Their guitars rumble with feedback in between the polished runs. Wynand’s simple but effective bass playing places a great foundation which the guitars rest on. But some of the crowd are sitting on the floor and others are resting against the bar with their backs turned. Not the Joburg music scene’s finest hour.
Ulterior, the main event, seem to bring forth a different sort of atmosphere to the floor. The industrial music pumping over the bar brings an ominous tone. A lanky Goth-kid dressed in tight leather does some sort of worm dance movement with his arms. The torn bass lines slowly float in jagged motions from the stage. After a 30 minute set up, the band takes the stage. Ulterior are a group that has come up with their own blend of Nine Inch Nails Pretty Hate Machine era synth-pop and late 1970’s post-punk, lead singer, Honey, kicks things off saying, “this is a song about drugs!” They’ve cracked their niche in the Goth scene and have a small but loyal fanbase in SA who have latched onto their dark tones and leather clad image. The electronics layered with that 70s punk guitar sound and the searing vocals tear abrasively at the deadspace between the bar and the performers. Goths sway, stomp and headbang in clumps. Finally, everyone is watching.
*All images © Paris Brummer.