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Fokof School of Rock

by Michael Joseph, images by Adriaan Louw / 07.07.2010

Walking into The Assembly on Saturday night, my expectations for the evening were admittedly low. I’m an optimistic person (at least I tell myself I am, denial runs strong in my family) but I was completely unfamiliar with the three bands that would be opening for the main act of the night – a little-known group called Fokofpolisiekar. You may have heard of them.

Now, for most people the chance to see Fokofpolisiekar alone would be enough. But you see, I’m not most people. I’m a complicated man; I have needs and desires that sometimes even I don’t understand. No, the issue for me was that I had no idea what to except from each of the three relatively unknown bands that would be playing before the “old staple” came on stage. Would they completely suck? Would my ears have to endure hours of torture on a scale that only people who have listened to a James Blunt song all the way through can truly understand? Beer can only do so much, my friends.

Putting that concern aside, another problem I had was that I’m just not a huge fan of Fokofpolisiekar.

Wait! Where are you going? Come back!

What I meant to say was, I completely understand their popularity amongst certain circles and they’re damn good at delivering the type of music their fans want from them. I’m just on the outside looking in, as it were.

The reason I’m telling you of all of this is because, despite my preconceived notions of what the evening had in store, I was absolutely blown away by the talent on display throughout the night. As each band came on stage followed by me silently groaning to myself, imagining the impending ear travesty I was about to endure, my negativity was proven unfounded again and again. Basically, it was fucking awesome.

It’s no secret that Fokofpolisiekar have a massive, cult-like following. Their punk rock stylings have helped them steadily build a rabid fanbase, who eagerly attend the band’s every gig and performance. I’ve heard their music before (at this point you’d have to actively try not to, if you’re living in South Africa) but despite many friends singing their praises for years, I’ve never given them a fair shake, always being the one guy to ask, “What do they have against police vehicles exactly?” This is usually followed by blank stares or the shaking of heads.

After Saturday night I have a more complete understanding of the phenomenon.

They played some of their more well-known tracks and some of their newer ones, such as “Antibiotika”, “Ek Skyn (Heilig)” and “Vernietig Jouself”, and the crowd ate every second of it up and asked for seconds. By the time they got to their namesake track, “Fokofpolisiekar” (for those who haven’t been paying attention), Francois – the leader singer, but you probably already knew that – didn’t even need to sing as the crowd did all his work for him, shouting every word and jumping enthusiastically to the energetic chorus.

What’s even more impressive is that lyrical lynchpin Hunter Kennedy wasn’t able to be there, so they had Jedd Kossew from Van Coke Kartel stepping in for the night. And… you wouldn’t even have known the difference.

Now here’s where things get interesting, event though we’re going back in time to before Fokofpolisiekar’s performance. The three supporting acts for the night were The Runs, Baarmoedergevoel and Wake to Wonder. These bands were personally selected to open for Fokofopoliseikar after sending in demos and band biographies as part of a special competition the band decided to run during the World Cup. Some of them have been on the scene for a while, while others are relative newcomers. Either way, they had to have some talent in order to be selected. Right?

While the name conjures up horrible, horrible images in one’s mind, The Runs got things off to a solid, rocking start. You might even say they kicked a fair amount of ass, if that’s your thing (I don’t know how you roll). The Cape Town-based band consists of lead singer and guitarist Gabriel Shmabriel (I wonder if that’s his real name), lead guitarist Andrew Esterhuizen, bassist Timmy Gaud and Nick Gordon on drums. They claim to strive for an “energetic groove-based rock sound with a punk attitude” and that’s exactly what they delivered. They almost have a distinct 70’s rock sound, with some 90’s thrown in here and there. Think of them like a more modern, South African version of The Clash. They were seriously tight and the crowd, who seemed unfamiliar with the music, got into it easily. The overall reaction was exceedingly positive, and I’d definitely listen to them again. Now they just need to do something about that name.

Next up were Baarmoedergevoel, an Afrikaans (surprise!) band hailing from Cape Town. Their music is self-described as “a blend of melodic guitars, funky bass lines and creative drumming”. Think of it like if the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kings of Leon and Foo Fighters all had sex with Jan van Riebeeck – Baarmoedergevoel would most likely be the result. I wasn’t completely sold on them, to be honest. They weren’t bad by any means, but I didn’t feel they were as tight as they could have been either. I listened to their album the day after they played, and I felt they weren’t as good live as they seem to be in a studio. Having said that, if the worst comment I can make is that they sounded better on the album, it means they do have the talent and the potential to go places. The lead singer, Dawid van Vuuren, seemed like he’d been doing it for years, coming off extremely comfortable on stage and interacting with the audience like an old pro. I almost forgot I was watching a relatively new band. The rest of the band, Jakoos Scheepers on lead guitar and backing vocals, Jaco van Niekerk on rhythm guitar, Geran Steyn on bass and backing vocals and Paul Lötter on drums, all knew what they were doing – I just think being the second band of the evening didn’t do them any favours. But hey, they handed out free albums and I’m all about the freebie (curse these Jewish genes!).

Now we come to it.

The real surprise of the evening came in the form of a band from Johannesburg called Wake to Wonder. Kak name, good band. Consisting of lead singer and guitarist Adam Boyd, guitarist and background vocalist Paul Jansen Van Vuuren, drummer Cam Gardner and bassist Werner Ainslie, Wake to Wonder came together in 2007 and from what I saw last Saturday, are well on their way to staking a claim in the South African music scene.

Of course, at the time I didn’t know any of this and when they came on stage I expected an imminent fail. I wasn’t the only one; the people next to me had dubious expressions on their faces when they came out. I think the reason for this lay in the fact that lead singer Adam Boyd is quite a small guy. I have to admit that when he came on stage I turned to my mate and said, “I didn’t know the Jonas Brothers were performing tonight.”

Like a cross between Anberlin and 30 Seconds to Mars (I know, just go with it) these guys quickly turned skepticism into immense approval, winning over the crowd with their truly excellent guitar skills, impressive bass riffs, original and intelligent lyrics and the overall confidence with which they performed. Boyd’s vocals were solid, going from soft to screaming with ease. The true testament to their talent though, came when they performed covers of Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody” and The Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling”. Now, if that sounds cringe-inducing in writing, you can imagine how many eyebrows were raised when it first became apparent what they were doing. It could have easily come across as pretentious and karaoke-like. Instead, they made the songs their own – changing enough to give it a unique, South African flavor, while keeping enough of the original in there to make the songs completely identifiable. After they pulled that off, I (and it seemed everyone around me) was sold.

Fokofpolisiekar may have been the main act of the evening, but in my opinion the night started and ended with Wake to Wonder.

All images © Adriaan Louw. See the full gallery at The Assembly.

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