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The Frown, Wolves

Howl and Frown

by Matthew Partridge, images by Chris Saunders / 08.04.2011

As a cold and damp autumn has finally descended upon Jo’burg, a new indie record label is attempting to stake their claim among the detritus that is the independent SA music recording industry: can we please have three cheers for Howl Records! And what better way to celebrate this event but with the EP launch of Howl’s first signed band, non other but the electro cross-over group, The Frown.

As clouds gathered on Monday afternoon, rain threatened – who knew that all the plenitude of the highveld sky would later come to grace the event in a brief, yet unmatched torrential downpour. After picking up maverick photographer Chris Saunders (who has just returned from a years stint at Fabrica) from his mom’s house, we make our way to Wolves for the gig.

The Frown, Howl, Wolves

This is The Frowns second attempt at an EP launch. The first at The Bioscope in downtown Jozi fielded an audience of about 15 people. Speaking later to their vocalist, the ever vivacious Eve Rakow, I can’t decide whether this was due bad advertising and communication or just hipster slacking on behalf of the audience – maybe the R50 cover had something to do with it.

Nevertheless this gig promised to be better attended. Eve, known for her cunning ways of drawing a crowd, invited a field of artists to open the show with covers from their 5-track album, äˈ-mĕn. As the performers sound checked their various instruments, the gig ran late and the crowd looked a little thin. Yet as the time wore slowly on and the photographers grew gradually restless the audience swelled as the pressure from the monsoon outside forced them indoors.

Nonchalantly taking the mic to introduce the gig, front man of Desmond and the Tutus and Howl Records founder Shane Durrant, suggested that this was “just a taste of things to come.” If what followed was indeed any sign of what Howl have in store it’ll pay to keep and eye (and ear) peeled.

The Frown, Howl Records

It’s a peculiar strategy, letting performers cover songs about to be played. What if they do it better than the original? What if the original, tempered by the awesomeness of the cover, seems alien? What if they suck? Yet the novelty of this ploy worked perfectly due to the formidable standard of the line-up with each artist bringing a distinct signature to their interpretation.

Former Buckfever Underground bassist Gilad Hockman’s enchanting version of “Boowhoo” together with Fonda’s almost Thom Yorke like inspired rendition of “Rock Star” set a generous tone for what was to come. Short Straw, equipped with ukulele, crooned through a blue-grass inspired version of “Robin”, humorously adding, “we’ve never met, Robin but apparently she’s a cunt!”

But in terms of the covers, it was perhaps Rakow’s collaboration with Vampire 9000 on the track, “The National” that was the most stirring. Armed with a vintage white Macbook, electric guitar and synthed keyboard, Vampire 9000, laid down an electrical loop that popped and expanded whilst Eve filled in the lyrics as the music took centre stage. If the event was recorded this would be one to look out for!

Eve Rakow, The Frown, Howl

By now the weather outside had reached its fulcrum, The Frown took the stage. Eve, hidden under a platinum wig and transparent veil, grasping a straw wand almost conducted the audience in a trance as the strain of her voice piqued. The bands mysterious DJ and producer, Dan Apter, kitted in a Donnie Darko-esque mask danced frenetically as he lay the glitched melodies to each track whilst Max Lehr on electric drums provided a solid yet sporadically filtered percussion.

What is perhaps most surprising in this electric ensemble is the subtle presence of a cello played by Caroline Leisegang, with the acoustic quality of the instrument revealing an almost invisible wholeness to the music. Between the absence of Rakow’s lyrics, Leisegang accentuates the measured urgency of the tunes that gives a particular depth to the complicated arrangement of the songs.

Annoyingly, I have always been reminded by my father, (once a jazz drummer himself) that a band is to be judged not by the sound of their album but by how they perform on stage, how they reproduce what has been so carefully mastered in the studio. In this light The Frown almost sound better live. The album is no doubt, well produced, clean in areas and dirty when it needs to be. But it is what they give in the performance that makes the group something to see in the flesh. That their album is only 5 tracks long is something of a blow to this need to experience them. I left wanting more, not satisfied, wishing I could listen all over again.

The Frown, Wolves, Howl Records

The Frown, Wolves, Howl Records

The Frown, Wolves, Howl Records

*The Frown play Saturday Night at Town Hall in Newtown along with Desmond and the Tutus, Taxi Violence, Dance You’re on Fire and more…

**All images © Chris Saunders.

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RESPONSES (41)
  1. YsterHart says:

    Jesus, these are some painful people.

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  2. Anna says:

    Haha wrong Apter , although Dan is mysterious he is not the DJ and producer…that would be Tim

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  3. EISH says:

    so so so incredibly painful. jesus.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    @ YsterHart and EISH: yes, it must be painful to have your head up your ass. Good luck with the rest of your painful lives.

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  5. YsterHart says:

    hmmm, thanks. Pretty sure though, that wearing a crap wig, draping yourself in mosquito netting and doing an overly earnest hybrid of Joanna Newsom and the Postal Service, is pretty high up there in the head-up-assery stakes.

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  6. EISH says:

    and while we’re having a go at the hipster tugfest, why is it necessary to note that saunders has returned from a stint at fabrica? ooooh. HIP!

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  7. Webster says:

    So. Goddamned. Painful. Pretentious too.

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  8. growup says:

    Were either of you people at this gig? Are you actually being so judgemental based on photographs and a writers words? Not, for instance the actions, personalities or possibly the music of the people you’re slating?

    The only thing Eve has in common with Joanna Newsom is that they are both female, and last time I saw the frown they were the nicest most unpretentious bunch of people i’ve ever met – it’s definitely not a crime to try and put on a show thats something other than normal. The reason it’s noteworthy that Saunders just got back from Fabrica is because it’s topical to what he does for a living and his involvement in the article. I notice you strategically ignore the completely un-hip and lighthearted sentence afterwards about him being picked up from his mom’s house.

    You know what’s painful? People that only have something negative to say… You’re not offering actual criticism, or making any points to support an argument. If you guys said “You know what, I just dont like this group, I prefer x and y” then I’m pretty sure no one would take offense. But you’re either too stupid or (more likely) too immature to understand that just because you don’t like something, it doesn’t make it bad. I hope for your guys sake that you work in accounting or something, because being narrow minded like that doesn’t help in any creative fields..

    peace

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  9. GermanJames says:

    Not at this specific gig no. But have seen enough of Ms. Rakows other projects to know she follows the trends. The trends from a few years ago. Wasn’t one called Love On Rollerskates? Cute indie pop two years too late. This. Electro pop. Half assed. A few years too late. Postal Service. Architecture in Helsinki.

    No thanks.
    You are right though. Nothing in common with Joanna N.

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  10. growup says:

    maybe you should give it another chance if your references are Postal service and Architechture in helsink… the frown sounds absolutely nothing like either of those… its definitely not pop, and while it is electronic it isnt electro.

    such a pity to see this kind of response to them, because they really impressed me… joburg is chock full of boring music these days. and anyone that tries something else is labelled a hipster. sheesh.

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  11. mega-douche says:

    hmm, dunno guys…wasn’t there, but this smells like there might have been hipsters present… in which case i’d have to assume, reasonably, that it was painful. Case closed. Painful!

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  12. BM says:

    “The bands mysterious DJ and producer, Dan Apter, kitted in a Donnie Darko-esque mask danced frenetically as he lay the glitched melodies to each track”

    I’ll refrain from making a comment here on the grounds that this just says it all.

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  13. Chinless fake titted ho says:

    Well for the record I’m howling 😉 … Pain!

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  14. Anonymous says:

    “we’ve never met, Robin but apparently she’s a cunt!”

    nice use of a comma there.

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  15. Anonymous says:

    Chris Saunders learnt a lot from his one year stint, clearly.
    I like the photo of the angry looking red head at the bottom the most.
    Quality stuff.

    Oh wait…

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  16. Anonymous says:

    Wow, Chelsea Blakemore, you look so pissed.

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  17. nimble says:

    It saddens me greatly that there are people who refuse to show any respect to a group of musicians who have integrity, and a performance that is full of collaborations and effort. Perhaps it is those people (you know who you are: Eish etc..) who are making it so difficult for bands to flourish here in South Africa. Maybe you should share with us your contributions to our music industry…

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  18. Anonymous says:

    Theres a very big difference between integrity and self indulgence.
    Dressing up in mosquito nets and wearing masks and playing troubled artist who is clearly obscure and creative does not equal integrity.

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  19. growup says:

    hey anonymous, integrity is defined as soundness of moral character or honesty – i dont think it matters what they were wearing, as long as they are committed to what they are doing… self indulgence, sure, thats bad. but for gods sake, The Frown dont make self indulgent music… its actually pretty straight forward and honest. I doubt you’ve heard it.

    I’m with Nimble… what have all you haters given to this countries music industry? come on, lets put some credibility behind the negativity.

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  20. matthew says:

    you guys sum up my choice of words in the first sentence. saw double adapter over the weekend, sorry for the mix up apter brothers – you know how to put on a show!

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  21. Thought Crimes says:

    Gotto agree with EISH on plugging the infamous rogue photographer about his stint at Fabrica… like really? Talk about integrity, who seriously gives a fuck about who took the pictures at Wolves on a rainy night and where he was picked up… Is it cool to live with your mom now?

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  22. Anonymous says:

    If anything, I think the bands listed here robbed themselves of integrity with their distracting antics. It’s shifted focus from music to presentation. Is that integrity? Nope, it is not

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  23. poenbek says:

    you guys are all fags

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  24. Anonymous says:

    Musicians refer to this band as a “Lark clone band”. Nuff said.

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  25. Anonymous says:

    Yeah but Lark is a clone themselves.

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  26. nimble says:

    @anonymous: So what you are saying is that playing a gig does not include a performance to captivate an audience? Surely performance is directly linked to music. If you find yourself being distracted by props then perhaps you need to consult a physician, because there is medication to help people like you.

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  27. so boring says:

    How seriously can you take a band that sounds so much like other bands and so little like it self? it is too much (and too bad) like Lark or coco rosie, its like this or like that. But is there any Frown in the mix? ……its been a while now since The Frown are around and im still waiting to read some good or at least serious comments about their music. For now, it seems like the only ‘different’ stuff they’re bringing is their masks and wigs which have became their signature. But weren’t we talking about music?

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  28. Destrukto says:

    people, you either like it or you don’t, all music out there is a clone or a copy of something else that has come before, without the before we will not have the after and see what other peoples takes are on the now. as to writing off the frown because they are “hipsters” or pull the “hip” crowd thats just fucking childish and purile and is actually so far up its own hipster arse. personally, i think the frown are fantastic, Eve, Tim, Max and Caroline are doing their thing, they are doing it damn well. the music is well written and the songs are interesting and a GREAT deal of thought and prep goes into each performance because Eve and the crew care about putting on a show for you. eish and anonymous, if you have anything to back your dismissive bullshit then please please let us all hear it and then WE can criticize YOUR little lovechild. @germanjames, writing off eve’s new project because you have seen her previous band is dumber than dumb, think before you comment, you have just made yourself sound like a complete tosser, so yes, well done for that. i thought that the night was superb and i really enjoyed the fact that they got 5 different artists to do covers of each of the tracks was a great idea and i think you haters are just jealous that you didn’t come up with the idea and the concept yourself. maybe there’s just a bit of hating going on on Eve, Eve happens to be a lovely person who happens to be an exceptionally good friend to those that are her friends. the mean spirited remarks are in my opinion the only things that smack of self indulgence. be supportive of the independent scene people, i am, i have pushed it for many years on my radio show, i do so on my blog, on my articles, i do so in my sets. we need more bands like the frown as a healthy and brilliant alternative to the crap that pollutes our airwaves with many sa bands still thinking that nirvana circa nevermind is the cool and happening sound to go for. i will end this off by saying that ALL of the members of the frown are exceptionally awesome human beings and it is an honour to be their friend. mr saunders is also a damn fine photographer and very cool dude too.
    there my 2 cents worth….now let the haters roll in

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  29. perception says:

    entertaining, sure. but let’s not kid ourselves here, guys. the tortured soul act is just getting ridiculous. and let’s be real, if you’re going to put yourself out there, you’re going to have to toughen up as artists and embrace a bit of critique. it’s part of the game, not everyone is going to throw themselves at your feet (you can’t make every guy your gimp), and obviously there are a lot of people who are just not down with your show or approach, but who cares? if you’re fo-real, then you’ll just move the fuck on.

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  30. the yawn says:

    oh that old chestnut. it is “immature” and makes you a “hater” to have a contrary opinion. so typical. it’s not our -the audience’s- job to present a sound, articulate, substantiated point, destrukto. that should be the writer’s job. the real issue here is not being negative (ooh shame dry your eyes mate the world isnt some positivity paradise) but the fact that someone dare roll their eyes at the circle jerk scene of incestuous “creativity”. much in the same way that most of the “hater” comments arent really about the band or the music or what they are doing musically, neither is this article. and that is what is so fucking annoying. maybe if it were less about “the vintage white macbook” and quaint little anecdotes about the photographer and his moms house (the subtext being OMG. so talented, yet so humble, so REAL!)… and more about the music, the comments would have taken a different turn. maybe if the article stopped trying so desperately hard to paint this romantic picture of What The Cool Kids Are Doing and gave some engaging feedback, all those “haters” wouldn’t feel so compelled to give their nasty little two cents. perhaps, destrukto, it is you who needs to grow up and accept that not all negative reactions are borne out of personal vendettas or ‘haterism’. At the end of the day the haters are responding to something.. .and its really “immature” to assume that that something is an abstract desire to tear other people down. In short, if people find this piece annoying and shit, or the band annoying and shit, suck it up and let them say it. Oh, and dont even come with that “but i know all of them personally and they are amazing” or “but at least its different”. Neither of those opinions (yes, opinions, not facts) deny anyone’s right to thinking and expressing otherwise.

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  31. Anonymous says:

    Tim makes the amazing music (by himself I’ve heard- feel free to correct) which I personally think would be better without the vocals…or maybe it’s just Eve’s vocals. Bitchy but perhaps true.

    Sorry!

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  32. tim apter says:

    Perception – trust me, I don’t really care what the “haters” think. And I think if anyone in the music scene did, they wouldn’t keep making music. Look at the parlotones, I’d say 1 in 3 people like to say they hate them. They’ll still one of the most successful and popular bands in the country, and entirely professional and pleasant to work with. Anyway, for the record, we certainly DONT try to portray ourselves as tortured souls in The Frown… Its just a performance kids, like it or lump it.

    At The Yawn, fair enough, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. And I don’t have a problem with people disliking our work, or expressing the dislike in any public forum. This thread just gives a bit of a skewed perception of how people view the band as its taken a generally negative turn, when on other sites and mediums we’ve actually been quite overwhelmed by how many people have given really positive feedback since we started the project. Be the negative remarks because of the article, or the event, or the band, or whatever, I don’t know. I just wanted to say that basically this thread doesn’t bother me. I also think Chris Saunders is a great photographer, and really what people are bashing here is the writing and not his achievements – so Chris, you rock, and thanks so much again for shooting us.

    So Boring, well, no one has really spoken about the music, which is interesting, but again, this is an article not soundcloud.

    For the record and nothing else – the band was started as a way to write some music that wasn’t in my normal approach, (dark, low tempo, electronic music) and try merge it with traditional orchestration like strings, timpani and brass.there’s no tortured soul bullshit, theres no attempt to copy anyone, and what comes out is entirely ‘the frown’… Anyone that knows Double Adapter will know that the Frown is the polar opposite – and that was the point. Im aware of the lark comparisons, but to be honest, I dismiss them. I can tell you several reasons why we do sound a bit like lark, but twenty times as many why we don’t. The music industry is strongly fuelled by inspiration from other acts – and its always been that way. I mean, there are only 12 notes. And if you happen to write in a lot of minor keys with a female voice and a certain set of instruments, comparisons to certain bands are inevitable, as for rock bands, as for hip hop crews, etc etc.

    So thanks everyone for the feedback… And to the folks basing their negative comments on the writing not the band or its music, email me – ill send you some to listen to so you can decide based on what it sounds like, not based on a brand that a writer has portrayed us as in an atricle. Cheers! Dbladptr@gmail.com

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  33. perception says:

    perception is never perfection and sometimes leads to deception (for both the perceiver and the perceived). so just keep doing what you gotta do and keep the creative juices flowing man.

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  34. fabrica says:

    Gotta agree with EISH as well.
    “Stints at fabrica” …
    Good comment.
    “Hipster tugfest” indeed.

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  35. fabrica says:

    this shhhhhittt just looooks “sssso precious” oh fuck man… claw my heart out…

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  36. Destrukto says:

    sigh @ the yawn..point…missed…construct sentence….

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  37. the informer says:

    No, Tim does not write the music by himself Anonymous.

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  38. Ah... says:

    Good lawd what a lengthy comment thread.

    I gotta say: Chris Saunders really is a very skilled photographer… and Fabrica is not something to be scoffed at.

    Also: I think Shane is throwing his money away here. As a matter of fact, it would be better if he actually just put it in the trash. Disappointed to see him associating himself, professionally, with derivative, directionless, vacuous work.

    Tim, that no one’s talking about the music is interesting, huh? Maybe there’s not much to say. Or maybe the posturing and heavily image-centred nature of the group overrides the musical content. The only thing that jumps out at me regarding the actual music is this: Eve seems to have intonation issues, which cannot be passed off as stylistic or aesthetic choices – they’re simply not well sung (in fact, I hear harmonic slackness in the instrumental parts, too.) Generally, what I’ve heard (and I’ve made the effort to listen to what I can online) sounds like demo-quality work-in-progress material; the sort of thing that a number of producers in JHB could put together in an hour or two… It just sounds to me like The Frown isn’t really making a musical effort.

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  39. warningworder says:

    @Destrukto. Hopefully u’re right that Ms Rakow is a lovely person, at least that she has become one. Haven’t been in touch with her for years since she revealed herself as a jealous, self-centred sociopath who treated her friends emotionally and physically violently. So, ja, hope she’s turned a new leaf and that is rewarded with the goodness she’s now offering. Truth. BTW u say “a GREAT deal of thought and prep goes into each performance because Eve and the crew care about putting on a show for you”. I say “I would fucking hope so, cos they’re asking people to give them money for a show!” But, u gotta recognize that just cos they’ve thought about it and prepared for it, even a GREAT deal, doesn’t automatically mean it’s actually any good.

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  40. Anonymous says:

    “…local music industry…” LOL! Don’t know which country you think you’re living in but it clearly can’t be South Africa.

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  41. Anonymous says:

    Eeek. Don’t quit your day jobs, kids. Seriously. I’m sure you’re having fun, which is nice…for you…

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