Music
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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RESPONSES (28)
  1. trumpetman says:

    I think this band is pretty cool live, but these tracks really let them down. I understand what they are saying about losing the vibe of the song and not having overdubs, but if these are the final songs from their album it’d be pretty boring for me. It’s just too 2 dimensional.

    The chirp about the standard of production quality is “slightly” wrong from the author too. They (the band) basically stated that they aren’t in it for the production quality and more the rawness. To say this production is better than most and would be hard to find a match is insulting to the many bands who put in hours of recording and loads of money. It just isn’t true….. it sounds more of fanboy talk than honest unbiased writing.

    The vocals are lost and some parts just aren’t really tight, undefined and a little bit of a mess, but i guess if it’s old school punk you’re going for it’s “the vibe”. It’s just a bit of a let down from seeing them live i guess. Human Machine Wild Animal Mountain is definitely the best tracked song up here, i hope for their sake and everyone that digs the band it’s more like the rest of the album. At least it’s a foothold for their second album, which i’m sure will be better.

    Obviously i mean this all with greatest of respect to the band.

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  2. R says:

    Those damned dirty apes…

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  3. sancho says:

    Hail to the apes!

    @trumpetman – there is a difference between listening to the songs on computer speakers and a proper system. Maybe?

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  4. Luke says:

    hmmm. for all the hype those 3 tracks were pretty boring. oh well.

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  5. trumpetman says:

    haha, yeah i know. I haven’t used PC speakers for many years. If that was only the problem:) Another issue, in general here, is that most SA mixes are bass heavy and not as clear (eq) as the northern hemisphere. I really think there’s something to this idea. All music from the north has always been more based around chordal/melodic instruments while the south is always more percussive (ethnic music from way back).

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  6. Thompson says:

    Is it not a bit of a paradox to say “we are physically incapable of playing other people’s music,” but then having a swampy cover of John Lee Hooker’s “Mad Again?
    Or am I overly observant?

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  7. trumpetman says:

    ^ love how people are actually disliking fact/logic

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  8. perspective says:

    @trumpetman – let’s not descend into convenient stereotypes too quickly, shall we?

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  9. nero says:

    @trumpetman: Your statement about the North South difference in sound needs justification.

    Music from the “East” (Japan, India, China) is quite melodic. AC/DC are from the South. So is Joao Gilberto. Mbaqanga is a melodic sound. On the other hand, Kraftwerk are from Germany (not exactly “ethnic music” from way back).

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  10. pedro de pacas says:

    these guys completely stole the show at the assembly on saturday night… yusif you are a rock god

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  11. Rock 'n roll fo life says:

    They would find their match on the local scene in the form of Black Pimpin’ Jesus.

    But a loud, dirty and highly thrilling match it would be.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    Meh. I’d like to see them live. Any plans for a nationwide tour (one that includes Dirtbin…think they would go down a treat)

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  13. trumpetman says:

    @nero:

    I’m talking about how ethnic music shapes the way people experience sound. You can’t compare AC/DC to ethnic music from the east. Here is my logic: Classical/Baroque/Indian/Japanese/Chinese/North American/European Folk Music are all more melodic than they are rhythmic.

    When we compare these to Indigenous African music, South american, Australian they are all very much more rhythmic and percussion orientated (not to say that for instance Japanese music doesn’t have drums).

    All music has melody and rhythm, but some are more rooted in one or the other. that’s my argument, from my experience, the south is generally more rhythmic… historically.

    @perspective:

    Stereotypes? I was making a generalization… based on facts. I can’t stereotype the whole northern hemisphere, that’s not how a stereotype works really.

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  14. Meh says:

    @Pedro. They were pretty damn great, absolutely, but king of the show goes to Juggernaught. Big, loud, dirty! The assembly regulars about shat their pants.

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  15. Anonymous says:

    Mahala eds, take note: Why don’t you start a ‘Mahala tube’, where you can shit into your laptop and smear it into the keys and it will go through the inter-tubes and land on the head of one of your writers.

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  16. Cockhorser says:

    Great review and even greater band,they sound like a mixture of all my favourite South African bands.Cant wait to burn their album off some cunt as soon as it comes out.

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  17. Tjoppie says:

    ha ha finally. I fucken love this band and this guy who wrote the artical.

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  18. perspective says:

    “I was making a generalization… based on facts” is a bit like saying “I was indulging in wishful thinking ….based on a firmly held opinion”

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  19. the present says:

    the music’s really boring tho’

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  20. graf orlock says:

    Can some of you wankers that are whining that the Apes are ‘boring’ offer some alternatives? Like really really non-boring shit?

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  21. Mike says:

    Passion, dirty Southern (and you geographical ethno-posers need not reply cause you know what I mean) rock, sleazy cockroach-rock and the love-child of Jim Morrison and Peter Garrett on vocals.
    Max, while your attempts at telling-it-like-it-is falter a little with your fan boy delivery, let me agree with you in this: The Great Apes are one of the brighter original lights on the (local is not lekker) scene – for sure. But the debate around the limitations of Yusef’s vocals can be heard in every corner of the Shack and beyond. Granted, the music they write and the keys in which they write it challenges his every inch of his diaphragm.
    The answer? Apart from replacing him (which is not an option because he epitomises the core from which their music eminates, they have 2 options – if they desire greater success:
    1) write music that remains primarily sleazily melodic, that allow Yusef to resonate within his limitations; or
    2) re-position themselves as more punk rock than they currently do, thus rendering vocal delivery as less important than it currently is.
    Nuff said…

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  22. Urk says:

    got to have this record. got to see them live.

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  23. ladygirl says:

    This band is awesome, seeing them live compares to NO gig I’ve been to previously. They move, shake, twist sound…go out and see ‘em for yourselves, you won’t be able to not move – I double dare ya :P

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  24. Moer says:

    @Mike – Its Yusif with an I. Get your facts straight if you’re going to enter into a discussion about the quality of anything. Take this back to the Shack: the Apes don’t give a fuck about your LMG-like advice.

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  25. Anonymous says:

    As a fan of Max’s writing – which is usually always compelling and evocative – I’d like to point out that those of you who’re criticising him for being ‘sychophantically positive’ about this band are probably the same ones who call him pretentious, aloof or callous when he’s negative.

    Just enjoy Max’s talent for what it is: he aims, through the felicities of his language and through (normally quite well-chosen) cultural references, to give the reader a sense of how the music *feels* to him. As such, his pieces will always be ‘opinion-pieces’, and the fact that they usually incite quite passionate responses can only be a good thing for the Cape Town music scene… Provided, of course, they incite responses about the music, and not the even-more-insular topic of ‘how Max did this week’.

    So, to practice what I preach and to respond to the piece at hand, I’d like to say that I endorse Max’s enthusiasm for the Great Apes. The recordings aren’t very flattering, but they’re enough to give new listeners a sense of what the Apes are about: and that’s enough, for now.

    What I really don’t get is the criticism of Yusif – the guy is a fucking magic performer, and his voice (while perhaps ‘experimental’, in a conservative sense of the word) does all the work it needs to. If anything, I’d encourage the rest of the band to work harder on making space for it, as sometimes it can sound like he’s competing against them.

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  26. Guy says:

    Julle praat almal poes.

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  27. trumpetman says:

    @perspective:

    most generalizations are based on facts that do not apply to the entire group… that’s why they are general, and generally they apply to the majority. that’s why the minority get “up in arms” when it is applied to them. shame…

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  28. xdoomx says:

    I like the sound of the recording, that’s cos I’m in a phase where I’m hating over produced trickery on a cd. This sounds like what I’d hear if I watched them live. Much appreciated and loved. That takes balls.
    However I haven’t seem them live. I remember seeing people say similar things about Taxi Violence and how phenomenally jawdropping good they were live. All 3 times I’ve seen them they were mediocre and didn’t hold my attention. Looking at videos of other performances I never saw anything special there either *givesup*

    Lastly, what I’m hearing is a slightly indie-fied punk band. I’m willing to bet most of the people raving and loving this band ‘at the Assembly’ have never been to a punk gig before and are all excited about the intensity of ‘the live show’. Whereas anyone that’s been going to the Winston and/or Purple Turtle are used to seeing people walk on the ceiling when an upbeat band plays. So the band go off, big deal. Not really.

    Finally… a compliment. If I were in a band from DBN or JHB and wanted to play shows in CT, this is the band I’d probably try and hook-up with. They appear to be passionate about what they do and that is really what matters most.

    Please remember, this is just my personal opinion. If you’re a band member don’t take too much offense to my jaded and nonchalant wording.. Im a bit of a prick.

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