Objectivity and the Hipster Chick Mosh Pitby Roger Young, images Wayne Reiche / 08.04.2011
Fuck objectivity, really… is what I’m thinking standing in front of Us Kids Know. It’s basically a cop out though as I’m ill equipped to write about any of tonight’s bands; mostly because they’re all instrumental and I just don’t know enough about music to be able to come up with the prerequisite terms to describe what is happening. So I just think fuck it and start to dance.
The last time I saw Us Kids Know I was struck by the intensity of Colin Von Berg’s guitar introspection (just on the edge of wankery) and the force of Chad Polley’s drumming and little else; they didn’t seem to be anything more than two really interesting musicians working some shit out. But now with the addition of Cameron Lowry on Bass and Glockenspiel they’ve taken their shit to a new place. Veering from a contrapuntal darkpop to sped up West African rhythms and taking in a dose of chillwave along the way, Us Kids Know play like men possessed with the ghosts of forgotten French New Wave actors. Polley, with a heart shaved in his chest hair, plays drums in defiance of standard rock patterns, Von Berg ambles around the stage swirling out riffs straight from the House Of Love era and Cameron holds it all together with his jumpy basslines. Whereas before Us Kids Know seemed like two musicians who just happened to be on the same stage, now they are held together and cohesive. For the intro to “Little Sister” Cameron swaps onto drums while Chad makes spooky electro noises on the pedal array, On “Parachute Pants” Polley plays whistle as well as drums, while Cameron mbaqanga’s into Colin’s high plucky speedy and rising guitar. They end with the gloomy “Always A Dull Moment” which is mostly about Colin’s reverby cyclical guitar playing out into some kind of sunset.
Us Kids Know set the mood with a little trip through introspective, breezy and dancey, making The Assembly almost feel like a different place, smiles are wider, people seem friendlier, more willing to converse than pose. It’s like they shipped a crowd in from somewhere else.
Bateleur are a bunch of shaggy good looking geeks that instantly make me suspicious; you know that Cape Town type that are just happy to be part of all this natural beauty? The thing I hate most about Bateleur is that they make sense of that mindset through their music. They graciously strip the cynic from me with their tightly constructed organic romp. On “Twins”, a through line starts on bass and moves into the trombone, the violin, picked up on guitars, the drum signatures somewhere between jazz and prog; totally pulling, totally laid back. The guitar plucks up a sort of Django-lite balanced off by a strumming on Nic Van Reenen’s acoustic. They use vocals without words, harmonizing like a haunted shipwreck. They’re elegant and free, they’re totally into the joy of the moment. It’s many musicians playing minimally, layering into a free jazz folk jaunt of contemplative headbanging. In places they’re like a swing version of Beirut, in others they can be eerily reminiscent of a Chet Baker Trio groove. If Bateleur suffer from anything it’s the length of their set, no matter how good it is, it becomes samey by the fifth track. While each song itself is a self-contained journey, they mostly all feel like they’re travelling very similar emotional roads, noodling beautifully down a wormhole.
I’m at the bar when Popskarr start and because they are such an anomaly on this bill I totally forget that they’re even playing. Rookie error because I later hear they’ve been joined by Plastic’s drummer Sasha Righiniand that they’re tighter and fuller.
Kidofdoom start with a signature synthswelling build up of “Sweet Brother”, I’m full of trepidation, the Doomsters have seemed at the last few gigs to be emitting their last gasps. With bassist Barend leaving the band and Matthieu Auriacombe (brother of drummer Johan) stepping up to fill his shoes, the last gig at Kirstenbosch seemed sloppy and uncommitted. But now by the time the drums and guitar have kicked in it’s obvious that he has stepped up big time. Kidofdoom are back, tight and as epic as they were back in the glory days. The set is as physically dominated by Auriacombe Jnr in centre stage as it is made virgin-tight by his bass. Brokensha normally leads the Doomsters but his airpunching and conducting the audience is down to a minimum. The first quarter of the set is comprised of the darker and more orchestral deep space material from My Faith In War but the bulk of what they play is the more electro rock material from the first album. Down front, during a mid set “Ghostbusters” session, the melody going from Ryk’s guitar to Auriacombe’s bass to Brokensha’s keys, a bunch of hipster chicks, the type you normally see standing on the sidelines at the Assembly, break into a light mosh.
The audience is airpunching their way through it, a friend leans over to me and exclaims, “I love the way white people dance!” himself dancing with his shoulders and grinning like he’s discovered a new mutation of MDMA. Kidofdoom get tighter, harder and funkier as the set joyously advances, like they’re rediscovered their groove. Auriacombe Snr is still just as top heavy on the cymbals but he’s rooted by his brother, Brokensha and Ryk build up the melodies to floods of synth wave until it bursts with “Minor Disagreements”; the audience sated but still wanting. It’s a great and classic Kidofdoom set, they finally feel like a band again but with all the setbacks they’ve had over the last year and a half, one has to wonder if they’ll make up for lost time or just give up entirely.
For the second week in a row the atmosphere at The Assembly felt different, it’s friendlier, more open and the audience seems to be more engaged with the bands. The line up was well thought out and there was a distinctly lower level of stupid hipster hats. It was a sweet night, celebratory, and distinctly full of life with music that gently pushed boundaries. Sure there were no mindfuck brain melting, heart stopping moments but sometimes that’s okay too. Instrumental music can be like living in Cape Town; free of textual meaning, it can often feel surface but, when the moments of deep emotional beauty hit, you realize the joy of escaping the easily defined.
**Also drummer Polley wears his influences proudly through his music blog Sad Birthdays. They have a new EP out called Jingle Jizz and another called Jangle Jazz on it’s way all building up to a proper studio EP called Jungle Juice.
*****All images by Wayne Reiche, © The Assembly.