Gypsy Magic and the Aggressively Romanticby Roger Young, images Rudolf Coetzer / 10.05.2011
“Thank fuck he planted that bass into the drums, I was about to vomit.” Says Yusif as he stumbles sweaty onto Zula’s balcony, followed by Nikhil Singh and his superfluous band mates. My instincts had proved correct, there are indeed only two bands in Cape Town who are raw enough to push through the shitty shitty sound at Zula. The Wild Eyes and The Great Apes.
It starts dismal. There are maybe twenty or thirty people on this Wednesday night; not including my photographer, who hasn’t pitched. For the sake of cosmic comedy there are two guys in gay versions of Dark Night Returns make up claiming to be the Wild Eyes biggest fans, but not gay. The Wild Eyes are making jokes about depth perception and I’m trying to avoid punching Kathy Berold for being so effing cute. One of the Apes suggest to the Eyes that they start the gig later. Cockcraft says, “this is pretty much it, no one else is really going to come, might as well just start now, get it done.”
The opening pulses of Dawson’s gizmos pulls the people in from the balcony but it’s never going to be full. Large gaps in front of the stage, not enough people expressing doubt as to Singh’s fashion choices. I’m talking to a girl who is saying “the most uncommunicative band ever, they never even LOOK at the crowd,” she’s obviously not getting it and the only reason I’m talking to her is to avoid my own crippling insecurities across the room. I then realise that I am not getting into it either. It’s the dead space, the lack of audience and the WTF-ness of The Wild Eyes. Round the edges the Great Apes are starting to dance and fist pump. The only person really into it is Ella Joyce Buckley, who shouts over to me, “blocks of sound. Clean Blocks of sound!” And she’s right; it’s all blocks of sound, startling and brief, feeding off each other; Dawson and Cockcraft bounce electronic percussion and vibrations back and forth while Singh handles the Soft Cell-esque key lines. The Wild Eyes are a million fucking 80’s lyrical concepts thrown in a grinder of Post Minimal Tech and parcelled out in packages of New Romanticism.
Dawson has a precise handling of bass feedback during “Chainsaw”; precision delivered with abandon as he saws at his guitar with a drumstick, his fringe flapping like a crow escaped from Nick Cave’s early years. Cockcraft backs the ranting screams of Singh “Chainsaw, in the hands of a lover” with rolling and hypnotic thrusts. The-Biggest-Wild-Eyes-Fans-Ever have vanished but a tall guy who looks like he once ran craft service on a film set decides to fill the empty space on the floor; fill it with moshing abandon. It’s still empty but it’s full for the few of us enjoying it. Singh needs to take off his James from Twin Peaks jacket and the sequence drum pad shit is melted syrup from forgotten candy floss machines and somehow, the three people in the room are missing the old days when the smoke from disgruntled punters gave the room atmosphere. Singh is screaming “Ich Liebe Dich” and Eno and JFK’s cocaine love child is rutting with Siouxsie to the fading cries of techno and witchhouse. It’s time to wonder about sweat and death. The set ends in a tumble, sporadic chanting of “more”, but the Eyes won’t have it.
The Apes take to the stage as if it needs to be beaten. Yusif is a betrayed and rabid horse; his eyes wide like he’s trying to escape the corral. The hard rhythmic rock flays the audience. A bunch of girls to the left are speculating and drooling over which Ape is hotter. Then a multi-plug on Jacques’s bass fucks out. Anger and mild shouting at technicians, Yusif tries to lighten the moment and initiate a musical interlude but the energy on stage is coiled tight. When they start up again, the blues tear through. The Apes flop and flail like penitents, it’s not long before Yusif is wailing and attacking the floor with the mic stand. The crowd draws in closer, the craft service guy can’t help himself; he too must flail. They punk rock a John Lee Hooker track and howl through their dirty basic liberating rock, Pienaar’s rhythm and Antonie’s lead guitar almost obliterating each other until the creeping riffs rip through. They’re an elongated band, they stretch rock to their height and they smash it on the floor. Like The Jesus and Mary Chain but with sped up Elvis. They play the blues like punk, their songs always on the verge of collapsing in on themselves. They shouldn’t be playing these shitty shitty gigs with these shit shitty sound rigs, but these gigs is where their righteous anger shines.
Dawson has been practically leaning against a table watching the Apes, a mixture of the ennui of the venue and awe at the force of the rock. But when a freshly cast slab of concrete riff hits, he collapses like his tendons have been cut and he folds into the mosh and throws himself against Cockcraft and the craft person. Singh is drenched in sweat and practically rolling on the floor; suddenly my favourite band is dancing to my favourite band. The riffs are building aggressive against the angry rolling drums, the dance floor is heaving, Ella shouts in my ear. “Pissed Jeans! Roger, Pissed Jeans!” But it all looks like sweat to me. The changes in the rhythm and lead are as normal as breathing, Yusif has thrown the mic stand somewhere at something and is stalking around the dancefloor, howling, flailing, ripping shit up, it’s an obliterating wall of grinding hard industrial blues fuck, The Wild Eyes are now rolling on the floor and kicking in the oblivion, sweat glistens from every human, like participants in an exorcism, and then suddenly Jacques plants his bass guitar into the drums and the music stops. Yusif looks around, says “and that’s that.” And then we’re on the balcony. The last thing I remember is Nikhil Singh wandering down Long Street in his leapord print pants, singing “Witness the spectacle! Of the tentacles!”