A short, bearded American chap donning brown leather boots, tight jeans and a sweater pops up next to me and orders a tequila. His holiday swagger, order of a tequila shot before brunch and musician look, all accompanied with his American accent, strongly suggest he’s with the band. Well, that’s what I hoped for as I turned around to introduce myself.
PHOTOGRAPHY: HAYDEN PHIPPS
STORY : RUAN SCOTT
It’s 10:30 am and I’m stuck in traffic. Cars are back to back on the highway leading from the Northern Suburbs into Cape Town.
The signage on the bakkie in front of me belongs to a plumbing company. According to the signage, they “will sort your shit out”. Literally. Not very romantic. To my left is a mother. Her face says she’s seconds from turning into a monster. Her kids on the back seat, dressed in school uniforms, are restless and crying. Why are these kids so late for school? Are all these people late for work? Every different face hods the same look of rage. Fuck traffic. It’s like a disease. It knows no face, age, gender or race.
I keep my anger at bay with thoughts of sun, sea and surf. Not only am I listening to Californian retro ooh-and-aah lo-fi surf outfit Allah-Las over the car stereo, but I am actually stuck in this godless traffic because I’m on my way to go and meet the band for a surf.
The Allah-Las are in South Africa to play three shows. Put together by the lads from the Psych Night with the support of Vans and Duchie Surfboards, who have in the past brought international acts such as Night Beats and the Golden Animals to us, this one is set to be their biggest by far.
I arrive at Kloof Streets’ hippest hangout – Yours Truly cafe. I clear the floor without greeting anybody, heading straight to the coffee counter. I need my caffeine fix. A short, bearded American chap donning brown leather boots, tight jeans and a sweater pops up next to me and orders a tequila. His holiday swagger, order of a tequila shot before brunch and musician look, all accompanied with his American accent, strongly suggest he’s with the band. Well, that’s what I hoped for as I turned around to introduce myself.
“Are you here with the…?’’ I point over to the crowd sitting at a table across the way. “Yeah, man.” And then, “Hi, Matt.” He sticks his hand out for the greet. We share the obligatory “long flight”, “rough night” and “welcome to SA” stories and make our way over to the group of friends, photographers, managers and musicians.
Cars packed and people loaded, we drive over to Glenn Beach to go surfing. The waves are choppy. I mention it’s quite crowded. Robbie, the band manager who sports a classic mullet and a washed-out red pastel coloured t-shirt that’s a size too small says it’s nothing compared to the crowds back home.
We suit up our and head down the neverending steps towards the beach. Dutchie surfboards have brought along an absurd selection of surfboards (as retro as the band’s sound) for the guys to surf with.
Film and 8mm video cameras are in the hands of the band members, capturing their holiday moments. The guys seem to have a love for analogue equipment – something that’s evident in their music. They record using all-analogue studio equipment. “It’s using equipment that was invented 50 years to produce a sound reminiscent of the era we are influenced by.” says vocalist Miles. “We have tried on modern equipment, using Pro Tools and music software to record our music, but we were never happy with the results.”
The ocean, like the traffic, breaks down social norms and forces strangers to become friends. In the water we are all the same.
It’s evident that the band is into surfing. Matt is charging on a little stumpnose board resembling a bar of soap. Spencer the bassist is on something more conventional and the vocalist, Miles is out on an odd-looking rocket-shaped board, while Robbie is steering a long board. I wonder where Pedrum, the other band member, is. I peer over to the land and spot him on top the highest boulder towering over Glen Beach. Sitting cross legged, head down staring at something in his lap – an olive-skinned, sinewy monk deep in prayer.
I’ve never claimed to be good at water sports, and the waves are somewhat beyond my experience level. Needless to say, I get pounded by the surf. So much so, that I decide to head back to the beach.
Scampering up the boulders, I decide to go hang out with Pedrum, the guitarist for Allah-Las. I avoid band talk. I don’t know their music all that well. I recently got into it when I heard about their South African tour, and I am waiting to see them live before I pass my final judgement. Pedrum is reading H. G. Wells. We talk about books, girlfriends, food, history and Cape Town. Spencer and Robbie join us. The guys are laid back. I think it’s a mix of surf culture and the music they make. Conversation flows, like a bunch of old friends catching up, and I quickly forget that they are all semi-famous and in a popular international band.
The day starts turning golden. Matt is still in the water enjoying the Atlantic waves, but gets signalled in by the other guys. We all head our separate ways.
A day later it’s the official press conference. Bloggers and photographers stand around smoking cigarettes, drinking cocktails and looking cool. Questions in hand, I approach the band for an interview. I hate this. By now, we’ve spent time together in a social setting and meeting in a “professional” sense like this actually sucks. It’s the same discomfort one experiences when asking friends for money. I mention this to them and they agree. Their hanging heads and droopy eyes suggest they’re recovering from another long night of South African hospitality.
Assisting me with the interview is the beautiful and clever Kristi Vlok. Her wit carries us through the interview.
In light of their Cape Town show falling on Valentine’s Day, we chat about French kissing and which bands made them fall in love with music. “Modanna, The Clash, Oasis.” says Pedrum. As serious as he looks, he has a great sense of humour, so I don’t know if he’s joking or not. “It’s more a case of the music that’s been a part of our lives as long as we can remember.” adds Spencer.
We chat about their sound. Buzz words fly around and we settle on: “The Allah-Las are four wholesome young lads with no tattoos that make you hold their surfboards while they kiss your girlfriends. They play a timeless sound reminiscent of 70s surf rock with garage and lo-fi influences. It’s a lovely gluten and wheat-free organic sound.”
It’s Saturday night and the Allah-Las are playing at Assembly. It’s filling up fast. The crowd is older than usual. There is a cool and jovial energy among the masses. I am struggling to find a good space to watch from. The music starts and instantly the whole place is grooving to the sound in a swaying motion. Staying in rhythm with the room, I snake to the front.
They’re as good on stage as on-record. They don’t play very complex music, but they play it with style and conviction, and they look so good while doing it. Songs about girls, love, life and longing fill the air. A lot of their songs sound similar. And not knowing the music all that well, I find I can’t differentiate between every song. It’s almost like one long, lovely musical French kiss on Valentine’s Day under the moonlight. And it doesn’t end there, because the crowd keeps screaming for more.
The Allah-Las are in town for one more night. Psych Night have this great added extra they call the “Secret Show”. Tickets are limited and you’re only notified on the venue hours before the gig. It’s perfect for those who like to party at the main event, and then really just want to sit back and watch the band in a more relaxed setting.
“Hipper than every kid in Cape Town”, I decide to cycle to the Allah-Las’ secret show at the Woodstock Exchange. I also smoke weed on the way there. The strongest weed I have ever smoked, and also the first time I smoked weed in over a year. I am too high I can’t even move. I am super self-conscious and experience the biggest existential crisis of my life.
As I arrive the Allah Las take to the stage. Cool and calm, they play their beachy music. Oohs and aahs fill the air and soothe my awkwardness. Pedrum sings a harder, darker song which is different from their sound, but somehow fits in perfectly. People love it. I love it. My stoned self is feeling the Allah-Las, and after the show I walk over to the merchandise table to buy an album. I have passed my judgement…
WORSHIP THE SUN