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Reggaetronic Psychedelia

by Andrei Van Wyk, images by Paris Brummer / 22.07.2011

I walk up the over-sized semi-winding staircase of Tanz café with little hipsters bumping into me, kids in coloured skinnys and tight shirts flicking their hair in my face. I start to believe that this gig will be like the others, driven by pretension. The tables are neatly placed over the dance floor with candles lit for another corporate performance. I walk over to the bar and wait as a group of guys walk onto the stage, nervous with the air trembling around them. My hopes are not high but once they start I experience a euphoric easiness like a gentle handshake.

The Muffinz are a relatively new band, having emerged through the usual guest spots and little bars in and around Johannesburg. Their guitars rumble under the surface with delicate notes jumping at the trough of each sound wave. Under it lies a solid bass which puts out a groove that starts my feet tapping. It’s a robust African beat which hints at the ideas which went into making such beautiful music. Their vocal arrangements are immaculate, harmonies run through the room from every direction and the solid, high pitch caress of the lead vocals jump onto the tables and transform the room. Their sound is rooted in Afrobeat, gospel and soul; executed simply with subtlety and finesse.

Soon, as they end their set, I walk over to the back and stand outside by a dying bonfire with a cigarette in hand. Joburg nights are brutal. I run back inside after three drags, and huddle in a corner to keep warm. But then I hear someone on an acoustic guitar singing “Little Room’” by The White Stripes. I sing along and revel in the music, but as he ends his set, Naming James comes across as a lonely guy on guitar with a couple songs and some lame banter, which isn’t received well by an uninterested crowd. As he closes, some kids, which I’m surprised even arrived, congregate in front of the stage and begin to jump up and down and stretch, jokingly, as they wait for the next act. They seem to be the only kids in the entire place to want something out of tonight’s music.

I’ve never been a huge reggae fan. I’ve always thought the entire genre consists of a guy in front skanking on one foot and saying “Jah man!” while the same old staccato guitar patterns play with the drums hanging on the backbeat. But Tidal Waves are something a bit different. A band I’ve never taken full notice of, the last couple gigs have stolen my attention. They come onto stage, quiet, almost timid, as they begin their soundcheck. The kids on the floor wait. They begin slowly but with an energy that gradually builds up rather than blowing out. As we delve further into the set I’m introduced to a sound characterized by choppy guitar rhythms, African polyrhythmic drumming and soulful blues solos which create a textural soundscape of reggaetronic psychedelia. The lyrics and harsh melodies run through beautifully as they sing songs praying for peace in a fucked up country. They jump through each number with tremendous power and before you know it everything goes silent and they pack up. As they leave the stage the crowd leaves the dance floor and we default back to the old Tanz tradition of sitting at your table and talking while good music plays.

Tidal Waves

Soon a weird bunch of guys come up on the stage. A strange metal looking guitarist, a pretty-boy bassist and a lanky, tattooed hip hopper on the mic. Tree houses on the Sea are band who have been making waves with their blend of experimental hip hop, jazz and alternative metal. They open with metallic and reverb-laden riffs with funk tinge to it, only to be enhanced by their solid rhythm section. The drums show are simple and with the bass drive a robust but loose pulse through the dance-floor. The dynamic rapping mixed with experimental voice looping works well. Raheem’s voice has an addictive tone. Their mixture of Mr Bungle quirkiness and Rage against the Machine proficiency lays down the blue-print for a perfect sound. Unfortunately that sound flies out the door as some of the audience leaves the venue disinterested while others just sit around having a laugh, their attention diverted elsewhere.

*All images © Paris Brummer.

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