“I was the first dude to cut up tapes and use avant-garde shit with contemporary Lee Scratch Perry studio techniques on Afrikaans radio-political-speech-crazy-ass-punk ‘do it yourself’ mentality.”
PHOTOGRAPHY: JACQUI VAN STADEN
INTERVIEW: HEIN COETZEE
ART: WARRICK SONY
RETRO ACTIVE FUTURISTIC POST APOCALYPTIC CUT AND PASTE PUNK
THE KALAHARI SURFERS’ FIRST RELEASE WAS A DOUBLE 7 INCH GATEFOLD UNDER A GERMAN LABEL IN 1982, WERE THERE ANY OTHER LABELS BEFORE SHIFTY THAT YOU WOULD’VE APPROACHED FOR A RELEASE?
I was a big fan of Mute records in the UK but primarily the avant-garde label Recommended Records, who I approached and they released all my vinyl albums from 1985-1990.
THE NAME ‘KALAHARI SURFERS’ IS QUITE A HOUSEHOLD NAME IN THE RIGHT CIRCLES AND ALSO PRESENT IN TEXT BOOKS IN MUSICAL STUDIES AT UNIVERSITY IN SA. HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE TITLE ‘KALAHARI SURFERS’?
The original Surfers band was myself along with Hamish Davidson and Brian Rath on Drums – we were at school together. Hamish and I played together a lot as kids and had the kind of a deep musical intuition that brothers often have. We often recorded ideas and stoned jams onto cassette tape. We made drum machines by recording ourselves playing percussion and ‘drummy’ things, and then we’d play it back through a VoxAC30 and jam along to that. The cassettes were all labeled with different titles. One was called ‘Hostile Giraffes’, one was called ‘Phallic Alec and the Cymbals’ – the one I sent to Germany was called Kalahari Surfers. The Dude in Germany at Pure Freude Records thought it was the band’s name and so it came to be. I got the logo by looking through the Michaelis Art School Library at Bushman art and put the surfboard onto the one I liked. The idea being juxtaposition between the extremes of minimalistic hunter-gatherer existence and the opulence of first world hi-tech fiberglass creations to ride waves with, as a recreational diversion.
YOUR MUSIC STYLE IS OFTEN REFERRED TO AS A WILLIAM BURROUGHS APPROACH TO CUTTING UP AND REARRANGING THE CONTEXT AND MEANING OF SOUND AND COMPOSITION. WOULD YOU AGREE WITH THIS STATEMENT?
Yes, I was a big fan of his technique and even wrote lyrics like that. For example, on the Beachbomb album there is the track ‘Gutted With the Glory’ which is a Burroughs cut up of the Lord’s Prayer with the SADF raid on Lesotho, in which a friend of ours was killed.
YOUR ALBUM ‘BIGGER THAN JESUS 1989’ WAS BANNED BY THE OLD GOVERNMENT AND THERE WAS A CASE WITH A PRETTY INTENSE COURT SESSION THAT LED TO THE DEFACING OF THAT PARTICULAR ALBUM. DO YOU THINK THIS ACTUALLY HELPED TO REINFORCE THE AESTHETICS OF THE ‘CUT, PASTE AND REARRANGE’ STYLE OF YOUR ARTWORK AND MUSIC?
One of my favourite artworks is Marcel Duchamps’ ‘The Large Glass’ (The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even). I liked the fact that when they smashed it by accident for an exhibition, he calmly re-assembled it and exhibited as that. Similarly, I actually thought the ‘Beachbomb’ title was better and the banning forced me to come up with it.
THE SONG ‘UNDERGROUND’ FROM THE ALBUM ‘SLEEP ARMED 1986’ IS, IN MY OPINION, STILL VERY RELEVANT IN SOUTH AFRICA TODAY. WHERE WERE YOU WHEN YOU WROTE THIS PARTICULAR POST-PUNK ANTHEM?
History repeats itself. That song is about good men who stand up to a repressive regime and are forced into secrecy and hiding to stay alive. We saw it in the 80s when I wrote this. Victor Jara had been tortured and murdered in Chile, in a football stadium. We had seen the murder of Steve Biko and the disappearances of innocent members of our society. I had worked on a documentary for the BBC and we spent an hour driving around in circles to meet ANC underground operative Trevor Manual (who later became finance minister) – he had to be careful. Our leaders had all gone underground – I wrote it from that. I lived near huge mine slag heaps and disused shafts in Johannesburg, where people often hid. The song is set in a near future with similar possibilities.
‘TEARGAS’ ON YOUR ALBUM ‘SLEEP ARMED 1986’ IS QUITE ARCANE AND TO THE NORMAL EAR IT’S ALMOST UNLISTENABLE, IS THERE A STORY BEHIND THIS SONG?
We were playing a big ECC (End Conscription Campaign) concert at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg when the police rolled canisters of teargas into the packed concert hall. The resulting pandemonium and anger found its way into this song when I got back to the studio a few hours later. I laid that vocal down with real teargas coughing. The song itself was made from a loop I’d cut together from a recording I’d done of Ian Herman warming up for a session.
YOU RECENTLY HAD A TALK AT THE SHIFTY MONTH TITLED ‘RADIO SILENCE’, WHICH DEALT WITH CENSORSHIP AND RADIO PLAY FOR ALTERNATIVE MUSICIANS. DO YOU THINK THIS IS STILL APPLICABLE ON RADIO TODAY AND ARE MUSICIANS STILL BEING SILENCED?
Yes and no. Today there are millions of radio stations all around the world. You could be being played and you don’t even know about it. There are millions more people. There are podcasters and blogs. Also, it’s relatively easy to do your own well-produced sounding song and place it on Youtube or some internet based radio or whatever. Do it yourself is more prevalent now than during punk. Radio is archaic anyway, like television. People don’t want to be dictated to, they want to choose their own entertainment streams. Who cares if you don’t get played on radio? Fuck them! Radio is for the mindless.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RELEASING A CD OR LP?
CDs were a crap idea from the start. The record companies wet their pants thinking of all the money they would make reissuing stuff on CD and when all the stuff was released they sat back in horror at the realisation that this would be their undoing. To make a vinyl record you take your track from its master and make an acetate and metal stamper, then you put your master recording back in your safe. The record is inferior to the master. The CD is your master. They were handing out all the master tapes to the world. The digital domain paved the way for piracy and the record industry invented it.
YOUR NEW ALBUM ‘TROPICAL BARBIE HAWAIIAN SURF SET’ ENCAPSULATES THE PERIOD BETWEEN 1982 UP UNTIL 1989. IN RETROSPECT, DO YOU FEEL THAT YOUR MUSIC CAN STILL INFLUENCE YOUNG ARTISTS AND MUSICIANS TODAY?
I hope young people will listen to these tunes and feel that they should follow their heat and express their feelings exactly the way they want. By tailoring your work to please some other objective, you are compromising the work and compromising your own integrity, that gets subliminally picked up by listeners.
AS MENTIONED ABOVE, YOUR NEW LP IS RELEASED ON VINYL UNDER ANGRY AFRICA RECORDS AND ROASTIN’ RECORDS. WERE YOU SURPRISED WHEN YOU WERE OFFERED THE OPPORTUNITY TO RERELEASE OLD MATERIAL, THE WAY IT WAS RELEASED IN THE 80s?
I was surprised because South Africa is a strange place. A very small market. A very small circle of like-minded individuals. For instance, Shifty Records was very eclectic. It had to be to survive. Releases covered genres from punk, jazz, folk and poetry to Worker choirs and Zulu Jive. There was always a small support base for each. My stuff had a support base of about 20 people and wasn’t what anyone had heard before. I didn’t sound like anyone else. The great thing about South Africa is that you could be the first, so Shifty had the first Afrikaans punk, the first black rock n rollers, the first African Fusion Protest Poetry and then me. I was the first dude to cut up tapes and use avant-garde shit with contemporary Lee Scratch Perry studio techniques on Afrikaans radio-political-speech-crazy-ass-punk ‘do it yourself’ mentality.
NOT MANY PEOPLE ARE FAMILIAR WITH THE COLLAGE ARTWORK THAT YOU CREATED IN THE EARLY 80s. THIS STYLE IS MAKING A COMEBACK IN ALTERNATIVE POPULAR CULTURE TODAY, ESPECIALLY IN GIG POSTERS. ARE YOU STILL AN ACTIVE COLLAGE ARTIST LIKE YOU WERE 30 YEARS BACK?
Yes – I did a recent pile of work casting my jaundiced eye across estate agents’ free magazines, which get stuffed into postboxes around the various suburban money belts. I love their language and eternally upbeat enthusiasm against all odds!
YOUR NEW ALBUM ARTWORK IS ONE OF YOUR COLLAGE WORKS CREATED IN THE EARLY 80s, WHILE YOU CREATED THIS WERE YOU CONSCIOUSLY AWARE OF THE CONCEPTUAL RELEVANCE AND DUALISM IT HAD RELATING TO THE RISE OF SUPER CONSUMERISM WITH TYRE CHANGING OF CARS AND THE BURNING OF TYRES IN TOWNSHIPS?
Artists often haven’t a clue as to what they are doing. Critics (good critics) often make sense of the works that come out of the zeitgeist, out of the soul of the times, and give the layman an inside track, an understanding where there was none. I used to have a recurring dream, from which this image sprang, but I didn’t recognise it until the work was done.
WHAT IS YOUR NEXT PROJECT, AS A MUSICIAN AND AS AN ARTIST?
There are a few things I’m busy on. I have an Ableton Live instruments online shop called ‘Smiletone’ (http://smiletone.biz/) where I make Aphex Twin type African instruments, having spotted that very lucrative gap in the market… ha ha. A new album lying in wait of great audio collage epics and a few historic lyrical narratives.
I’ve started a super-realism acoustic album of some of my previously released good tunes, using Ableton techniques and extreme computer expertise to make it sound like a real unplugged album. All acoustic stuff with a surreal edge, a sort of digital Chuck Close.
IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT MUSICIAN/S COMBINE ART AND MUSIC IN SUCH A MASTERFUL WAY THAT IT BECOMES SOMETHING ELSE ON ITS OWN AND DID THIS HAVE AN INFLUENCE ON YOU AS AN ARTIST / MUSICIAN?
The English Art Rock band ‘Henry Cow’ had a huge influence on me and I loved their record covers, they all featured the work of artist Ray Smith who made socks out of oil pain:
Beat About The Bush
Living In The Heart Of The Beast
Bigger than Jesus
Tropical Barbie Hawaiian Surf Set
Angry Africa Records / Roastin Records