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A brief history of South African Rock

A brief overview of the history of rock music in South Africa, and its various stages of development since the seventies.

For a country whose international musical reputation is founded on the bedrock of musicians performing variations of traditional African music styles, South Africa has a veritable avalanche of unheard of rock acts who are well worth a bit more notice than they currently get. Right now, you ask anyone about South African music, and they ll maybe know Miriam Makebe, Hugh Masekela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo or Vusi Mahlasela. And these are without doubt some of the top acts playing around the country today. But it s not the only thing emerging from the musical pot that is South Africa

This should come as no surprise really, considering the luminaries currently working in the international music biz who have their roots firmly planted in the South African music scene. That legendary producer Eddie Kramer, who reputedly invented Jimi Hendrix s famous wah wah sound, was originally South African. In the producer s hall of fame he is joined by Mutt Lange and Kevin Shirley, both of whom originally hailed from the tip of Africa. Yes front man and lead songwriter, Trevor Rabin, cut his teeth in a South African rock outfit call Rabbit, and even Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews band spent time growing up on these shores.

Even with these leading lights to boast of, however, the rock scene in South Africa has traditionally been a hard place to earn a living as a band. Scenes have come and gone, and even the current resurgence of interest in locally produced music, seems to be suffering from a severe case of the shakes.

In the late seventies, while the UK was in the grip of Sex Pistols fever, punk was alive and well in South Africa. As the effects of the socio-political revolution made their way south, many of the sons of ex-pat parents began to absorb the punk ethic. No-where was this more evident than the sleepy, sub-tropical coastal town of Durban, where hard-core punk acts like Power Age, and Wild Youth briefly blossomed, pushing Anarchy out into the harsh African sun. Although the punk scene as a movement with any momentum was short lived, rock was here to stay. Into the eighties, a scene began to build that used rock as a vehicle of rebellion against repressive social laws and restrictive media control. In this atmosphere the blend of traditional Zulu music and western rock forms that Johnny Clegg and Juluka invented, was born. The Asylum Kids and later Tribe After Tribe as well as acts like No Friends of Harry, The Psycho Reptiles and Penguins in Bondage continued to fly the rock banner even when most people were t oo apathetic to consider that there might be a message attached to the loud guitars and black clothes they uniformly wore.

In the last 30 years, three major uprisings of rock have taken place in South Africa. The scene has never completely died, but it certainly has seasonal fluctuations. In the seventies, bands like Rabbit, Clout and Freedom s Children ruled the roost. Once that explosion simmered down, the mid-eighties saw a major revival with bands like The Helicopters, Petit Cheval, Sterling and Tellinger ruling the roost along side the huge alternative explosion coming up from the underground. After the government in various ways actively suppressed this spurt of so-called anti-social music, things went quiet for some time. Until in the nineties bands started crawling out of the woodwork again. With the explosion of Grunge in the states, some kind of punk-like DIY ethic and willingness to try again was re-born. The result was a phalanx of new bands like Sugardrive, The Springbok Nude Girls, Nine, Squeal, Scooter s Union, Scabby Annie, Just Jinger, The Usual and too many others to mention, started suddenly to make wave s. And very good records to boot.

It s pretty hard to define the sound that unifies these South African rock bands under one banner. Perhaps there most identifying factor being their very diversity. One thing is for sure, while times may be lean, a lot of the bands are committed for the long haul. In South Africa, rock is predominantly a white orientated scene. And seeing as whites make up only a numerically insignificant percentage of the population, it is always going to be hard for these acts to make a living playing the style of music that they do. Which goes a long way to explaining the nihilistic burn and die trajectory of many of the best bands to have emerged in this country.

However, as hip-hop continues to cross-pollinate in the States, and as its influences bleed slowly and steadily into the urban areas of South Africa, a slow transition is taking place. The rock/rap cross over sound that Rage Against The Machine pioneered and that bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit now represent, means that here is at last a window out of these strict racial delineation s, where rap fans and rock fans can get to appreciate each others music. Already in South Africa there is a strong tradition of musical cross-pollination. Bright Blue and The Usual both play rock tinged with the traditional Zulu rhythms of Mbaqanqa. Johnny Clegg sings in Zulu and remains heavily influenced by traditional Zulu guitar music. Trans Sky makes extensive use of African drums and Marimba s: the pattern is already there.

The chief tragedy is that, due to the minute local sales of South African rock bands, most of their material never makes it to the outside world where it could easily stand up to the levels of the best. While we stand at the edge of the new millenium with a crop of great bands right now, we all wonder whether this is the end of another cycle like before, or the beginning of a great new thing to happen for South African rock. It s not a race thing, it s a taste thing, and we know the world has a taste for rock. Right here, we are breeding some of the best in the world, we re just waiting for you to come and get it!

Written by Dave Chislett -

History of electronica

The History of Electronic Music, the Early Years, covering the remaining genres and popular misconceptions of electronic music.

Trance relies (sometimes) solely on its harmonic structure, often limiting itself to a few chords and sounds and containing a beat only when non-intrusive to the meditative state induced by the seemingly endless repetition of those chords. Moby was the first artist to pioneer Trance music, and remains, in my opinion, the best example of said genre.

Drum and Bass can be distinguished from other divisions of Electronica by its emphasis on only rhythmic structures and bass hits; it very rarely contains any sense of melody or harmony (if it does utilize chords or melodies, they are very short motifs, repeated so as not to take away from the constantly changing beat). Additionally, Drum and Bass sometimes employs heavy Rap-style vocals or Spoken Word. Jungle is very similar to Drum and Bass in its reliance on rhythm as the main focus, except that it utilizes exceedingly fast beats often accompanied by a short, repeating melody line or sound as well as time compressed voice samples which play at an almost "Alvin and the Chipmunk`s"-like timbre. Jungle also draws from Reggae as a source for rhythmic styles and samples.

Then we have groups such as Depeche Mode, whose founder (Vince Clarke) not only pioneered early New Wave Synthpop popularity, but whose departure from the group led to two new genres. His next project, Yazoo, combined the soulful, bluesy vocals of Alison Moyet with traditional Synthpop tunes - an extremely successful, but unfortunately short-lived genre (the only example that I know of) -- which later became a source of sorts for Dance music in the 90`s. And in Clarke`s absence Depeche Mode took a new direction, heading into a more heavily sampled, moody sound that was one of the earliest examples of the Industrial style, but which found its music and band image developing into a combination of Synthpop and Industrial, often referred to as Dark Wave, or Goth.

Dance music is probably the category most often encountered by radio-listeners and club-goers today. It can be most easily described in the music of bands such as La Bouch, Quad City DJ`s, Real McCoy, 2 Unlimited, and other bands who utilize the same sampled rhythm tracks that revolve around a basic 4/4 pattern of kick drums and hi-hats. Also common to Dance music bands is a "soul" singer, usually a female vocalist, who repeats short lyrical phrases over the driving beat. Of all the categories, this is my least favorite, mostly because it seems to be the genre responsible for giving all Electronica its "push button music" association. Dance`s insistence on the simple 4/4 pattern - ubiquitous throughout all Dance music, no matter the song or the band - gives the impression that anyone can sit down at a computer (with or without other instruments) and churn out a tune in less than five minutes; and while I have no doubt that that`s exactly what some Dance bands are doing, that unfairly takes credibility away from artists who use the computer as their medium of expression. In my opinion, artists such as Vince Clarke, who has been known to spend months at a time tweaking old analogue equipment for just the right sound, or Orbital, who have been known to spend years searching for and recording / mastering just the right samples, deserve more credit than those who simply turn on a Roland TR 909 drum machine and call up the first preset pattern for use in all their songs. I don`t feel that Electronic music should be dismissed with such phrases as "Oh, that? That`s not music. The computer writes it all for them," which is often what springs to mind in the average listener when the subject is broached. They don`t seem to realize that it still takes compositional skill and talent, as well as technical chops, to write a good song. It is unfortunate to me that this ignorant view is often the first impression listeners have of electronic music, especially since Electronica has been so important to other technologi cal breakthroughs in the way we perceive music, such as music videos and MTV. Along with the popularity of artists such as Madonna, Duran Duran`s huge following in the States (as well as internationally) helped make it possible for MTV to launch in the early 1980`s. The group was well known to be one of the pioneers in exploiting music video technology to enhance their image. MTV even awarded them a "Duran Video Day" on New Year`s Eve 1982. All throughout the 80`s, MTV proved its staying power largely because it was dominated by European (and a few American) Electronica acts.

Other breakthroughs followed - consider Joy Division, the highly acclaimed UK post-punk band that was on the eve of huge international success when vocalist Ian Curtis suddenly took his life in May of 1980. After 3 successful albums (also considered precursors to the Industrial scene), Joy Division came to an abrupt end. However, the remaining band members formed New Order, and in 1982, released a more dance-oriented single, "Temptation". A year later, they released the song that would become the biggest-selling 12" single of all time -- "Blue Monday". This single paved the way to a new 12" culture, and brought a whole new perception of music to the scene in the artistry of the DJ.

Hopefully, Electronic music will continue to evolve in the 21st century, spinning off new genres and new advancements in technology until it gains back some of its (well-deserved) credibility. Maybe it will even become acceptable to the mainstream as a valid form of artistic expression. Only time will tell.

Written by Sabrina Surovec -

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