Bands From Beyond
SugarDrive (South Africa)
By: Brian Barry
In the earliest hour the jacarandas are in royal bloom illuminating the vast blue canvas that is solely the African sky. As morning approaches, the distant mountaintops relinquish their hold on the clouds and watch as they settle in the valley metropolis known as Pietermaritzburg. The double "grunt-pipe-pipe" of an invisible tree dweller and the startling "hangh-hangh!" of the meddlesome haddi-da bird call forth the most amorous of the earth's breaths to push aside the curtains, welcome my awakening, and remind me why I chose to visit this majestic land.
Oh yeah. Reality. September 18th. The article was due and I was deep in the hole of depression. Homesickness is like an ear infection - you have to wait it out and meanwhile you hear nothing, no matter how wonderful, around you. I stood out in the afternoon rain, looking deep into the darkening greyness of the sky and wondering about my life. I walked back, half soaked, and sat down to continue the thought. Alone.
There was an old man and he called me from across the room. He motioned for me to follow him and forgetting all the rules I learned as a child, I did. He held back a smile at this. WHen we were in the rainsoaked alleyway beside my apartment, he pointed at a rusted car door leaning against the alleyway fence. When I looked back at him, he was gone. I looked down at the door again and written in the condensation was the words "club" and "there". An arrow pointed down the alley and after 10 mintues, a door appeared.
The club was packed. I blinked and saw a children walking inside transparent adult bodies, reaching for the beers in the hands of their cocoons. One step towards them, the cocoons hardening visually, flesh materializing. A stage grew to my left. An outside set up with a tin roof to protect the group. I was tapped on the rearend by a beautiful pigme girl. In her hand was a message and she danced a pee-pee dance until I took it. When I did, she smiled, scurried to the wall, opened a vent, and got in, disintegrating into the darkness. THe message, (written in my own handwriting!) read, "View the band, one of South Africa's best, winners of major African awards. Album of the Year. Best South African Band. Ask for an interview." I followed my advice and after a brief yell with the engineer, an interview was granted. I sat back and watched as the equiptment was placed properly and the band took the stage. First the lead singer. Imagine Peter Garrett (Midnight Oil), only with sex appeal, a foot shorter, and hair. He carried a guitar. The guitarist. THrough the dagga mist emerged Jimmy Paige's long lost fraternal twin. The drummer. Determination, intelligence, and power began firing gunshots into his feet. Last, the bassist. Nightmares in a black satchel. THe music was on. Words came to mind- Different, wow, cool. They were different than any US band I've seen. THey were midi rock. Angst. All good. A unique style. Smashing Pumpkins, Duran Duran, Midnight Oil, REM, and a passion driven Bono at the wheel playing a concert to promote Schizophrenia in children. THe gig had life. The young men in the audience hel their penises in firm grip, wishing they were on stage and hopping to the shots that pour from the drummers hands. THe women in the audience twirled their whirly pearly hair down to their mouths and bit and held it there forever. The crowd was insatiatable. THey were romantically punished with trippy loops, industrial jazz, angst rock, darkness, happiness, emotional rollercoastering heart breaks, snakes, men, women, adam, eve, Lilith, hot, and cold until finally it smoothed down to a hum, only to be kickstarted by the pop starved animals on the sidelines. Cigarettes were dished out.
When the brouhaha settled, so did the band - near the loudest speaker in the club, on a table made of tree (it had short logs for chairs). My interview began. Paul E.Flynn, the singer, was far too busy talking to the occasional woman and weirdo to speak (besides, he was on the opposite side of the speaker and I'm half deaf). Gavin Weinand(bass) and Mike Westwood (Guitar) huddled together and chatted the entire night behind the speaker and gave the occasional cordial smile. I sat down next to Garth McLeod (drums) and his bottle of tequila. I soon became close with both. Garth loves sound. Garth loves SOuth Africa. Garth loves instrumental technology. Garth plays to a click. Garth believes that bands that don't explore sound, technology, and the entire instrument are fools. We spoke alot. Garth and I. South African politics. South African life. South Africa's future. THe future of music. TO top all of this off, no one cared to join us or the bottle of tequila. THe night was good.
Occasionally, I ventured into the urinal ( a piece of sheet metal nailed to the wall). On one occassion, I was approached by a dwarf in a white suit - one size too small (the suit). He took a quick glance at my penis and with a smirk spkoe to my chest, "This band, Sugardrive, is comparable to any middle of the road US ROck band--even better. " He zipped me up, very carefully. fully aware of my shock, washed and dried his hands, and went into the stall.
I returned to my warm log and continued my chat with Garth, occasionally glancing in the direction of the mens room. I laid off the tequila just a bit. The lyrics? THe music? Garth pointed out that they were mainly Paul's ideas (Paul looked over after the mention of his name, but continued his conversation with an elderly gentlemen next to him) but on the most part, the music is about their experiences and the atmosphere around them.
Conversations flow like water (or maybe tequila) and soon I had to use the urinal again. My little visitor was there, smoking.He took off his shoe and handed it to me. THen his cigarette. He pointed out the cigarette and written on the filter (in my handwriting) was, "THis band is going along with the inevitable evolution of rock". I dropped the shoe and the handed the cigarette to him. He hopped up to grab it and I returned to my seat.
Garth and I continued our conversation into the night, adjusting our voices and ears to the thumping pulse of the dominationg loud speaker above us. We spoke of his progress in SOuth africa . Isolation. Tequila. Their progress is great and isolation is a key factor. There aren't many rock bands in SOuth Africa and they've definitely created their own unique style. He was quick to point out that although they may be different, all of the rock bands generally stick together and have a sort of comradery that is working towards furthering South AFrican music. I thought about NYC bands and their failure to grasp this philosophy. As for record sales, Sugardrive has sold 25,000 units, which is comparable to 1 million US considering South Africa has eleven official languages. Impressive.
Now, because this is cyber cafe computer is costing me a hefty amount of money, I'm editing. Sugardrive is touring Europe and the UK on the look out for different experiences and some steller overseas promo. Check out their album of the year, "Sand.Man.Sky" at a Mom and Pop's discount CD store near a highway near you or if you can't buy a ticket to S.Africa, check out the website at http://www.sugardrive.co.za and see, first hand, the band that can easily kick your band's ass.
NOTE: (portions of this article were written under extreme stress and should be read as so). Special thanks to Iain Backeburg.