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Pop goes Indie

by Kavish Chetty, image by Abel Scholtz / 28.04.2010

Indie long ago feasted on its own substance and retreated into a cult of
aesthetics, and its partygoers are always as fascinating as the bands themselves. There are carrot-shaped girls in polka-dot dresses who dance like horses in heat. There are young boys with stubbly upper lips, ears punctured and studded with silver all along the helix; they jam themselves into jeans too tight for their fleshy legs. They mince too, whether with deliberate feminine artifice, or because their balls are just squeezed up into an awkard little parcel, I can’t tell.

Desmond and the Tutus are youthful and brash. Their songs are wild, exclamatory; an urgent and final paen to their youth. All this exuberance belying a certainty that they’re growing up and growing old (the sexual carnival of underage flesh at these indie concerts is already starting to pucker and blemish, grow world-weary with the weight of young adulthood). That one day they’ll have to trade in the guitars and artistry for bills, polyester suits and wives. So, their music is doubly as unhinged to balance out this eventuality.

Tonight, Shane looks like a burn-out from the 1980s. His shoulder-length hair looks like it’s been perfectly fixed to his scalp, to resist the impact of each rapid-fire headbang. There are some wispy brown bristles beneath his nose. He hops all along the stage, high-fiving his fans, energised and commanding. The guitarist may do ballerina spins in the corner of the stage, but he is living in his own head. Shane is the centerpiece of this band and he is unstoppable. Caught in the purple bath of the strobe lights, he has a rhythmic epileptic fit to the kwela bass-lines of ‘High Fives’, shaking and taken, all but foaming at the mouth. He is going apeshit in the proper primate tradition. After the song he squeals out in his typically affected voice, “I apologise if it didn’t look like we were giving it our all that time.” Quite.

Interestingly, Shane sounds more authentic when he sings live. On the record, he had a chance to perfect his vocal affectation. But this kind of music doesn’t want perfection. It wants spontaneity, roughness, sweat and haggard breath. So when his voice breaks over the edge of each stanza, his real sincerity comes out; raw, unrefined, it makes me think of Maynard James Keenan of Tool.

I’ve watched the development of indie, this half revivalist-80s culture since
about 2005. It doesn’t really change. The die-hards get older but their uniforms stay the same. Standing in line outside the Assembly, queued behind the wailing whine of American accents, I get a sense for how culturally fractured this city is. It’s chopped up and served in neat little packages. An evening in Observatory a few nights ago was a night of black lips and painful facial piercings. This evening in Harrington Street is a night of plaid shirts and spotted kerchiefs. Their fashion and dogmas conflict, but all these kids are searching out the same thing in the music: escape. Escape for three hours of hedonism, alcohol and marijuana. Suspension until 8 AM the following morning, when play-time is over, the garish get-ups are packed away in the closet and the man wakes them up for cake and sodomy.

Caveat: At the expense of sounding old and thoroughly unhip, the sound at Assembly last night would’ve benefitted from having its volume turned down a couple of notches. Some of the uniqueness of the music gets lost in the overpowering drone of bass; plus, when your heart’s vibrating with each bass line, and your eardrums feel like someone’s playing paradiddles on them with mallets, the enjoyment is lessened. Hearing aid specialists and otolaryngologists love the Assembly – it’s going to give them lots and lots of business in a couple of years’ time.

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