Terms Of Engagementby Jon Monsoon / Images by Samora Chapman / 26.05.2014
Fronted by Paul Blom and his hugely attractive in a please-whip-me kinda way wife Sonja, Terminatryx have been single-handedly bearing the torch for industrial metal / electro-goth music in South Africa for the past twelve years. As they celebrated the release of a new album, I had to had them: why?
The band was borne sometime back in 2002 out of a shared desire to make music that was more interesting, outrageous, extreme and rebellious than anything else around at the time. Since then, they have played most venues and festivals across the country, supported big-name international touring bands, have played on invitation at the prestigious Popkomm festival in Berlin. They’ve graced the covers of magazines. They have a side project – The Makabra Ensemble – comprising members from much more successful and forgotten bands (Lark, for example). They have released an album, a DVD, a remix album, and now for their tens of South African fans, a brand new album as well (released digitally for their global audience of thousands). Unless you do or have at some point considered yourself to be part of the “alternative” or even “gothic” (shudder) scene, you’ve probably never heard of them. For most bands, a CV like theirs would read like the summation of a very successful career. Ask Terminatryx if they’re done yet, and they will sneer at you like a bad smell.
“When you make music, you’re never done,” corrects Paul politely. “It is a part of you, every fibre of your being exudes it. We’re far from closing the book on our to-do-list. As long as the majority of the planet is unaware of us, there is always another person to expose to our music.”
And it is exactly that attitude that has seen them sticking around so long where so many before them have wilted, grown tired and gone off in search of day jobs. So quitting is not an option.
“Of course there are [still] things that we would love to do, but it does sometimes feels as though the universe conspires against us,” laments Sonja, trying to describe why they aren’t, well, bigger. “We are proud of our accomplishments but it is very difficult to remain relevant…We do understand the pressure on, for example, festival organisers to book bands with major pulling power, but feel that this is sometimes done to the detriment of diversity.” And she makes a valid point – without bands willing to stand on the edge, the future of rock festivals is an endless line-up of Van Coke Cartel sound-alikes touting cast-off aKing riffs, Taxi Violence stage moves and ISO hair-dos.
“There is always another bridge, another horizon, something else we haven’t breached or expressed with our music,” Paul adds stoically. “And while we’re enjoying what we’re doing, there’s still quite a bit to send out there to get scrutinised.”
Nay-sayers will cast aspersions on the fact that they’re not bigger, by calling out the band’s leather-latex outfits, their trad industrial beats, their socio-conscious lyrical content, and for some, even the fact that they’re female-fronted. “We have no illusions that [our music] is not for everyone,” clarifies Paul. “If you don’t like it, cool. We won’t get hot under the collar if you think we suck. But then it is interesting to see how vocal some people can be in this age of faceless, anonymous online commentary! It’s good to know we’re affecting the haters and the fans, to equal extent! We get under your skin regardless.”
“I’m happy,” the hirsute bandman is quick to add, not one to dwell on that which they cannot change. “Happy in the sense that we can do what we want, when we want to,” he says, referring to not being beholden to a record label or a radio chart. “Basically, without having to check with the suits on whether our subject matter is puerile enough for radio, if the chorus comes in at the right prescribed moment to hook the short-attention-span kids, or to ensure that our songs are just the right lengths to be a buffer for commercials!”
“Obviously, we would want everyone on the planet to hear our music and to judge for themselves whether they like it or not, and then not because someone on a radio or TV show insists that they do (or don’t). I always maintain that I want people to like our music because they do, and for no other reason,” says Paul. “For absolute success, you need to sell your soul to the corporates who run the music industry (into the ground).”
Turning their back on the established South African commercial music industry has, if anything, galvanised them with their fans and done little to hurt their prospects overseas. “We get a lot of support from abroad; from the UK, Australia and Japan, all over Europe, Russia even,” confirms Paul. “This is an integral part of us as a band, who we are, an extension of our communal spirit and something we simply have to do. Whether we have ten, or ten million people liking our music – we’ll still create our music in our own way.”
And the music thus created in ‘their own way’, doesn’t shy from the controversial. Perhaps it’s the genre. Don’t angsty topics sound better set to a driving industrial dirge, after-all? They have a theory about this too. “Pop music has its emphasis on sex, which is also controversial, in a way,” croons Sonja, before sighing that “the profitability of the lowest common denominator is still very much a reality.” Their new album, she promises, and especially the songs she wrote, “are more emotional and less controversial.”
“Thing is, we don’t consider our subjects to be controversial, but rather a matter-of-fact,’ objects Paul. “Most bands claiming to be ‘controversial’ have a marketing plan in place behind it to back it up and all the mechanisms are in place to convince everyone that yes, this music is outrageous! Let the hype machine do the work in selling it, let it go viral online and let every media outlet get behind to push the publicity – it has become a science. We prefer real science, however,” he says. “If what we do can be considered controversial, it is a coincidence, not something we have engineered. Many people have died in order to allow us the freedom to say what’s on our minds, so we will exercise that.”
Maybe being so firmly rooted in the ‘industrial-goth/metal’ niche means they will never break out of it?
“Hey, Nickelback found their niche, and they’re riding that fucker well into the sunset!” chuckles Paul. “I hardly listen to the radio anymore, but when I do it’s quite shocking how devoid of any progress, artistic merit or basic sonic aesthetics [commercial] ‘music’ is. How much further can things regress? Short of being whittled down to a single beat and a note with a single word repeated?” he questions. “I think people are able to be conditioned a lot easier now by some of the shit they hear than ever before! Someone once had this ‘genius’ idea coming up with the line ‘put your hands up in the air, like you just don’t care!’ (or any dumb derivative thereof), and that shit is still being regurgitated to this day. Some producer hears it and emulates it, yet again. All I’m saying is… put a little thought into your music, for fuck’s sake! Have something to say instead of how cool you think you are while describing how easily won over by materialism you really are!” he rages.
“The music world has been dumbed down to within an inch of its life,” continues Paul. “The infiltration of hip hop, or hip-pop rather, has turned commercial music into this homogenous ‘look at me!’ joke. Must you repeat the mundane mantras of being ‘up in the club’ in every song just so that the morons will buy your music? Will that phrase make you a millionaire? Sad thing is, yes, it probably will! What’s sadder still, is when locals try to catch this bus and imitate it; Danny K crooning about his ‘shorty’, fuck, that’s just embarrassing!”
As for the cult of celebrity, “Personally, we don’t give a fuck what the Kardashians do, or if we can see up Miley’s colon,” says Paul. “The fact that we are even aware of these cretins, is in itself an illustration of just how deeply these public products are rammed down the world population’s throat! Too trapped in the matrix to realize they’re pawns in a consumer sausage…”
Looking at it another way, South Africa seems to be breeding very few proper alternative bands these days. Bands with any real staying power. Bands comprising tattooed kids destroying the expensive gear their parents bought them for Christmas are all over our stages in greater numbers than ever before, but they’re not sticking around for longer than it takes to upload a song to SoundCloud. Not taking anything away from the Belville massive (the Fokof famila), but still, any of the truly decent South African bands are bands from the starting era of late 90s / early 2000s, that you now only get to see via sparse ‘reunion shows’ every few years (thinking: The Awakening, Fetish, Lithium, Boo!, Sugardrive, Springbok Nude Girls…) Outside of the strictly metal genre, this makes Terminatryx one of the last bands standing. It must be frustrating? No other bands in their genre to play with, and having to rely on staging their own gigs or playing with visiting internationals to get heard?
“It all boils down to what is demanded and what is supplied,” sages Sonja. “You cannot force people into being alternative with alternative likes. It is just more natural to do what we do, and that which comes naturally. If we can appeal to more people, it is a bonus.”
“Our music is not metal enough for some full-on metalheads, who want to mosh themselves bloody from the first song to the last; we’re not industrial or goth enough for those strictly into that, so it is frustrating, as it is difficult to reach a live audience beyond these genres, but we hope that they may find something in our music that resonates with them, regardless of whatever name you happen to call the music you like!” adds Paul.
“In a condensed world where reality TV is tolerated,” he continues, “where you need to communicate in under 140 characters to have anything to say and people define their lives with hash-tags and are captivated by single-word declarations of their Zeitgeist (words like ‘swag’, ‘twerk’, ‘selfie’) – #Getthefuckout. It seems like we’re heading for a tragedy. But that’s why I’m glad there are at least bands out there that refuse to follow the dumb-trend of the moment. Sad thing is, these bands won’t necessarily be able to make a living with their music.”
Plus of course, there will always be the notion that bands from outside our shores are more worthy than the bands from our own shores.
I had to ask if they have considered that there will come a point when the husband and wife team say ‘Enough!’ and pull the plug on Terminatryx, happy to keep the name alive via albums, videos and the occasional show, just so long as anyone is willing to listen?
“Why, do you think we should pull the plug?!” chuckles Paul. “We’ve outlasted tonnes of bands, mainly because we have a clear vision of what we are and don’t have unrealistic expectations. In creating alternative music you have to do it because you love it, not because you think it will bring you fame or fortune.”
“For me, first and foremost, Terminatryx is a creative outlet,” says Sonja. “Our lives are very full and I have other priorities that also require a lot of my time; I work full-time and I study part-time, but it will take a whole lot for me to ‘pull the plug’ – there would be no reason for it.”
The new Terminatryx album Shadow (co-produced by Paul Blom & Theo Crous) is available on CD from selected local stores and via OneWorld, on CD and download from Bandcamp, and download from iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon mp3 and other reputable download stores.
New music videos are in production. Teaser of the title track’s video
Next Terminatryx live performances are:
• Bring Out Your Dead, live event – 31 May @ ROAR, Lower Main Rd, Observatory (along with Zombies Ate My Girlfriend and Thread Of Omen)
• Metal4Africa Winterfest ’14 – 02 August @Klein Libertas Theatre, Stellenbosch
• Terminatryx has been confirmed for the anticipated resurrection of Witchfest, early April 2015 (also with Paul’s other band V.O.D – Voice Of Destruction, playing a special reunion show)