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Great Apes

Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s The Great Apes

by Max Barashenkov / Images by Adam Kent Wiest / 06.12.2011

In a concrete bunker on the grounds of Valkenburg psychiatric hospital, five men make music. The committed – those deemed stable enough to wander the facility – drift in and listen to the sounds. Perhaps they feel an affinity between the bastardly noise that floods the place and their own condition? This music is, indeed, for those of the non-standard mind. The old ‘flammable materials’ room in a mental institution is the perfect space for the Great Apes to have crafted the vicious cock-slap of a record they are about to drop on the largely unsuspecting masses.

The Great Apes

They sit around a table in Hout Bay’s Workshop pub, tongues around the necks of quarts, and talk of rock ‘n roll, of the freshly cut album and of the self-admitted problems they are faced with. A peculiar cast of characters they are – from vocalist Yusif Sayigh’s paranoia over words, to lead guitarist Antonie Gunther’s Jimmy-Page-esque reservation, to bassist Jacques Stemmet’s laid-back intensity – a band that’s tied together by much more than merely music. And as they recount the recording process – the several days in Ladysmith, the frantic pace of doing a song an hour, the decision to not over-think the tracks and to record it all live with minimal overdubs – it becomes clear just how proud they are of the final product. And proud they should be. The record, when it is finally released in late December, will struggle to find a match on the local scene in terms of originality, of production quality and of capturing the frenzy of the band’s live performances. Unanimously, they attribute the album’s raw energy to the blitzkrieg-style of live recording.

“I don’t believe in tracking individually, it’s not right,” explains Gunther, “So much of the performance, of the soul, get’s lost when you dissect a song like that.”

“In a fantasy world, we would love to record an album in one take,” adds Jeakan Coetzee, the muscled stickman.

Manickly Panicky by Greatapes

Great Apes

Without doubt, a separately tracked Great Apes record would be a paler beast, a lamer version of the juggernaut they have created. As it stands now, in all its eight-song might, the album showcases a wide range of musical talent, a seamless blending of influences into something distinctly new, (“we are physically incapable of playing other people’s music,” they offer and go on to list anyone from Hendrix, Motorhead and Sabbath to the Pixies, the Sonics and Nick Cave as their inspirations) and a whole-hearted commitment to a challenging sound. The Apes have mastered a certain groove, a trademark rhythm, yet each track carries within it the unique idea upon which it was built. They have all-out punk rock cuts such as the bass-driven, drug-themed “Sunday Dress (Hail Mary)” and the politically-flavoured angular dance anthem of “Manickly Panicky”. They delve into near-sludge with “Enginehead”, a chant-like incarnation of any twenty-something’s musings over existence and higher powers, and wear their blues influences on their sleeves with a swampy cover of John Lee Hooker’s “Mad Again”. They juxtapose the broody “Brothers Rook”, which climaxes in a monstrous drum assault, with the broken, spit-through-clenched-teeth rhythm of “Human Machine, Wild Animal, Mountain”. And who can overlook the cocaine swagger of “Burning Man”, the type of song any man would want to start playing as he enters a club, so that the pussy knows what kind of animal has arrived. While the aesthetics of this self-titled debut are squarely rooted in punk, the Great Apes provide such a diversity of musical choices that the record offers something new on each consecutive listen.

Hail Mary by The Great Apes

The band now find themselves in an interesting space. Having recorded a tour de force and remaining largely unknown outside of Cape Town, they now face the challenge of taking their music to new audiences, away from the shadow of Table Mountain. The thing is, their songs, while heavy and ferocious, contain enough catchy licks, dance hooks and melodies to attract crowds from far beyond the punk/metal circuit. It won’t be an easy mountain to climb – Yusif’s vocals alone, still somewhat raw and reliant on long drawn-out notes, posing a peculiar problem to the average listener who has never before been exposed to anything even slightly experimental – but such an ascend, for the Apes, is far from impossible. The artistic balance between honest savagery and popular appeal is a fine line to walk, if only in technical terms of delivering tight, professional performances on bigger stages as opposed to sweating it out in tiny clubs. The sound issues that near-crippled their headline set at the LMG stage this past Synergy are a sign that the Apes are yet to reach their prime. And they know it.

Human Machine Wild Animal Mountain by The Great Apes

“The fuzz-laden sound has worked for us so far, playing small, punk-rock-type venues,” says Jacques, “But lately, and mostly subconsciously, we have been cleaning it up, taking a less-is-more kind of approach. You can hear it on the later tracks such as ‘Human Machine, Wild Animal, Mountain’.”

The Apes hold no illusions of surviving as musicians, with their current sound, in South Africa (“The music industry in this country is ridiculous, much like writing about it,” they jibe, “Unless you bend the knee.”) and have their eyes set on the international market, for which they most certainly have the chops. The recent European tour by Hog Hoggidy Hog and Desmond and the Tutu’s foray into Japan show that it is an achievable goal. Only time will tell how successful they are in fulfilling their ambitions; but for now, when, next year, the manic Apes circus hits your town, do yourselves a favour and get out to a show, for they are, first and foremost, a live band. Nevermind Taxi Violence, nevermind Shadowclub, nevermind all the bollocks, good sirs, here’s The Great Apes.

The Great Apes

The Great Apes

The Great Apes

The Great Apes

The Great Apes

*All images © Adam Kent Wiest.

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