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You’ll Probably Hate the Buckfever Underground

by Hagen Engler / Images by Sam Reinders / 30.05.2012

This band is so beyond the purview of conventional entertainment that anyone with mainstream expectations of what an artist should deliver is bound to be disappointed. If not disappointed, then quite possibly angered. Pissed off. “What shit is this?” is not an unheard of complaint at a Buckfever Underground show.

Thing is, the Buckfevers do a style of music fusing poetry, spoken-word, rock, funk, psychedelia and free-form jazz experimentalism that defies categorisation. So it’s hard to even say, “if you like this, you’ll probably like the Buckfevers.” They are about as far from the mainstream as it’s possible to get. Despite that, they’ve flirted with actual success. They’ve won awards for their albums, played Oppikoppi, got their vids on MK. But if, for instance you prefer your frontman actually singing, you’ll hate Buckfever Underground. If you like commercial hip hop, you’ll hate the Buckfever Underground. If you prefer short, concise songs with a verse, chorus, bridge and a planned ending, you will despise The Buckfever Underground.

But if you’re in the market for a creative take on musical expression, experimental songs in English and Afrikaans, that push the limits of stage convention, and offer visceral reflections of and on South African culture, then we might be in business. If you’re open to musical poetry, free-form improvs, jam-band freestyles, an underground, anti-supergroup, and a unique bunch of artists who are on track to become a South African institution, you want to see Buckfever Underground.

The band is fronted by bilingual poetic genius and award-winning journalist Toast Coetzer, often carrying screeds of notes, which he recites over the Grateful Dead-style jams of his collaborators. These include Stephen Timm on drums, another writer and creator of futuristic electro music in bands like Myric Ambre and Polstar. Bassist Gil Hockman is a solo artist in his own right, a neo-folk troubadour who last year was possibly the giggingest performer in the country. Buckfever’s guitarist Righard Kapp‘s style is close to the more out-there efforts of ex-Chili Pepper John Frusciante – during the heroin phase – and he has also produced some super-bizarre solo stuff, including sweet recent album Strung Like A Compound Eye. Pop genius John Savage, erstwhile frontman of Cassette, and SAMAs musical director, completes the line-up, as he has done intermittently since they were established in Grahamstown in the 90s.

It’s almost like a surrealist Wu-Tang Clan, if you think about it. The Buckfevers have been going about 15 years already. They go into hibernation as members refocus on personal projects, then reconvene to put out another album, a video, a tour. It’s low-key, DIY in a punk style, and untainted by commercialism. That said, you can buy their six albums at thebuckfeverunderground.com, or download tracks at Rhythm Records, or you can go see them live. Cos they’re in a reconvening phase, the okes. A new album is approaching completion and that should mean a few Buckfever appearances.

They’re also visually literate to say the least, which makes their videos sweet watching and their actual albums collectable artefacts.

Without many people noticing, save their passionate fans, these guys have crafted a career worthy of great respect. They do what they do, on their own terms, in a style unlike anyone else. They might not get rich off this, but whatever happens, they’ll be doing it with integrity intact.

*Check out Hagen Engler’s blog here.

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