Memories of East Texasby Roger Young / 09.11.2009
It rained in support of the music, driving us indoors to the little wooden Intimate Theatre at Michaelis for three nights in a row to get a primer in the hand made and earnest proponents of the anti-folk movement in Cape Town. Each night of the mini “festival” features a different stage set and a different artist’s work on the walls. My fears that the quirk might come on too strong were dismantled by the musical honesty, as familiar and strange as a grandmothers quilt dipped in magic mushroom tea.
To call it anti-folk is deceptive, free form acoustic might be closer to the truth. Certainly all of the bands performing are free of the typical constraints of traditional folk. But no matter what you call it, from the Martian spiralling of Guy Buttery through the guttural Gary Thomas to the pop sincere irony of Beatenburg, the real thing that binds this scene together is a desire to push the boundaries while sampling the genres they love the most.
Miss Texas 1977 skirt the line of twee, sometimes veering dangerously close to it but mostly staying on the good side of a lullaby. The awkwardness of Julia Merrett combined with the self deprecation of Gene Kierman makes for a charming enough diversion between songs, but it takes you away from the lushness of the post Mazzy Star vibes that they put out, like you want the wave of reverbed harmonies and building guitar, to carry on cresting and never break. Parts of the songs feel like they haven’t yet filled in the spaces left by a recently gone solo member, but the overall feeling that Miss Texas 1977 leaves behind is like a reversed line from an early John Prine song filtered through the smell of a coming storm.
The Frown Family Karavan are a sorta circus troupe at first coming across like some deranged theatre with a vaguely fraudulent air but after a while you realize that as affected as the wielding of gypsy accents and bandoneon is, Eve Rakow and Gustavo Fasani are also being entirely genuine about the performance, they are just that mad and have maybe watched too many Kusturica films, but they will pull you into their world with their arched eyebrows and stomping piano if you can suspend your cynicism.
Dear John Love Emma have a kind of beautiful cacophony going on, an Emmylou Harris meets an early Gypsy Kings attack. Instruments are too many to describe, drums, bass, violins, banjo, piano, voice, guitar and others, they come on like some kind of insane school play band and break off into harmonies and picking, a choral melodrama of deep seriousness that is never less than jaunty, a bit post Victorian, a bit like F Scott Fitzgerald if he’d never got bitter.
Buttery and Thomas in their psychedelic introspections function as gravitational centers to this little universe of off beat which is at once technically proficient, innocent and dark. Expect no obvious choruses and hooks, but each one of these artists are experimenting with something, creating their own little worlds, it is at once a pity and a joy that these worlds are fragile, for some of them can exist only fleetingly, and therein lies a large part of the beauty, the inability to capture them. All that can be done is to experience them.
All images © and courtesy Julia Merrett, James Seigel and Claire Homewood