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Van Coke Gone Quiet

by Thomas Okes / 26.06.2009

Van Coke Kartel unveiled a gentler side at the Zula Bar last Friday night, stripping down the clamour of their manic punkishness to the bones of an insightful, acoustic core.

At first, the idea of Van Coke Kartel toning it down seems a little strange – these are, after all, naturally raucous people, whose typical performance involves anything from fighting to vomiting. And even in the full electrical state of this three-piece side-project, Francois and Wynand always find themselves relatively constrained, the former by the responsibility of sole guitar and the latter by the cumbersome mass of a giant upright bass.
In their most standard mode, this is a band which always tries to burst out of its own seams, and so the added confines of a chair and an acoustic guitar could swing this show in one of two equally awful directions: a laboured, overly angsty session of drunken bumbling, or a disjointed exhibition of hyperactive incoherence.

In sacrificing the abrasive rawness of their chaotic sound, however, Van Coke Kartel achieved a different degree of naked though carefully polished control. What shone through most from this performance was the sheer capability of its performers: two years together on the road is clearly a long time in the South African music scene, and the Kartel have distilled their craft down to a science.

Van Coke Kartel

Francois appeared almost entirely at ease when completely in charge of his own songs, dictating the pace of proceedings and the overall tone of the vibe around him. At times, he even enjoyed the luxury of a cigarette while leaving the crowd to roar full verses of his lyrics back at him. Wynand seemed to take a similar pleasure in the laid-back approach, coupling his trademark forceful playing with a novel, deliberate attention to detail. Justin Kruger’s drums, too, were a lot less driving and far more precise: he often entered songs mid-way, latching onto and underlining the rhythm of Francois’ lead.

Stripped bare, these songs are allowed to forfeit flair and abandon commotion, and they arrive in the ear having been stemmed into starkly striking life. In the orderliness of their new format, they can become intuitive and touching. The cheerlessly introspective “Wat Het Van Ons Geword”, for instance, seems written for an unplugged stage, and the lines “daar is iets wat my vir al vir ’n tyd lank pla / ek kan net nie my vinger daarop sit nie” have never been more plaintive than when accompanied by nothing at all. “Ons Moet Hardloop” blooms here into the fullness of its reflective, dramatic force, the angry disappointment of “almal kry ’n kans om te huil / almal kry ’n kans om in die grond te vrot / ons bly te bang” stretched gorgeously taut over Justin’s measured steps.
They can also become lively and fun. Wynand twirled his enormous bass all around the tiny stage during the more animated sections of the set-list, and Francois found it difficult to remain seated when pushing the bounciness of “Buitenkant II”, or “Verdoof. Vergiftig” to its limit. The latter has been made by its audiences all over the country into a soaring anthem, and its beseeching “was dit nodig om van my ’n man te maak?” echoed out of the room as it usually does; the difference, this time, was that you could hear yourself scream along.

It is too simple to conclude that these songs sound better when they’re played quieter; instead, it appears as though Van Coke Kartel have found a very stylish, very comfortable, very advanced kind of balance.

Hier Is Ons
Raad Vanuit Twee Oorde
27 Kluisenaar
Ons Moet Hardloop
Genoeg Is Nie Genoeg Nie
Ondersteuning Geweier
Buitenkant II
Algehele Kontrole
September Fools
Wat Het Van Ons Geword?
Verdoof. Vergiftig. Verskoon My

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