A Brief Look At South African Rock Music

Whilst I was in South Africa, I thought it would be good to sample the delights of the music scene. My first encounter was with the band, Abavuki, a traditional South African group of musicians that utilise a wide range pf hand-made percussion and key-orientated instruments, ranging from bongos and tribal drums, to giant glockenspiels and cowbells. What impressed me most about Abavuki, was how tight they were; how in time and rhythmic their performance was and how each member played such an important part in keeping the tune flowing, dropping subtle changes here and there to mutate the sound from a simple rhythm to a gigantic orchestration of sweeping percussion.

Abavuki at my cousin's wedding

The majority of music in South Africa seems aimed at the Afrikan market with acts such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo being the most popular. However, I was keen to hear what the SA rock scene was like. Stumbling into a music shop, I approached a guy named Barney and asked for some examples for fast, angry South African rock music. Barney then proceeded to fill my hands with a selection of the most popular SA rock acts. Not exactly what I asked for, but I was then permitted to listen to each cd for as long as I wanted at this hub in the middle of the shop. Here are the results:

The Dirty Skirts ”“ ‘On A Stellar Bender’

Despite their name, The Dirty Skirts sound a bit like a cleaner version of The Strokes. The car engine grease has been scrapped off and replaced with thinner, slicker oil. They even have a track called ‘Is This It?’ which raises a few eyebrows. Aside from this, The Dirty Skirts have that trashy, garage rock sound that threatens to splash too close towards NME-indie, but manages to rescue itself every time. The vocalist has an arrogant, adolescent ring to his voice which suits the fast-paced songs more so than the slower tracks and his stuttering, machine-gun splutters on ‘Stereo’ showcase The Dirty Skirts at their best. I was surprised at how much I liked this actually, but they’ve got this engaging, catchy nature within their music and I reckon they’d have the makings of a pretty tight sounding punk band if they clattered out tracks in the same vain as ‘Homewrecker’ (which sounds very ‘Lust for Life’ in places) and ‘Too Many Parties.’

Flash Republic ”“ ‘Danger

This completely misses the required demand for ‘fast angry rock music.’ I was assured that they were quite a popular band and from hearing ‘Danger’ it was easy to see why. The liberal (and boy do I mean liberal!) use of synthesisers and disco beats, juxtaposed with elements of funk (see ‘Twister’ for the elaborate and overly heavy bassline) to the electro-rap-rock mash up of ‘Outta My Head’, which is both brilliant and a complete mess (it sounds like I’ve tried to play 3 different rap songs at varying speeds all at the same time). I can see Flash Republic appealing to the Crystal Castles and new-wave demographic; whilst there’s less reliability on wacky computer game samples, their sound is focussed more on percussion and squelching keyboards and flourishing samples alongside the Kylie-pop vocal track.

The Parlotones ”“ ‘A World Next Door To Yours’

The Parlotones seem to be massive in SA. On 2 separate occasions, their album ‘A World Next Door To Yours’ was championed to me by a record store owner. I took the opportunity of purchasing said item with the last of my rand. I’m still not entirely sure about the singer’s voice, which has an incredibly fragile tone and sounds like it would shatter if dropped. I had this feeling that the Parlotones would emphasise a ‘riot’ element to their music, such is the gratuitous use of megaphones in their album art and indeed in all their promotional pictures. However, their sound is that of gentle, jangly, indie-rock, which is usually something I dismiss, but actually giving this time to sink in, The Parlotones have got a fascinatingly earnest, clear and anthemic sound to their music. ‘I’m Only Human’ is an easy standout track, employing the liberal use of keys, brass and an infectious chorus, whilst ‘Dance’ has that kind of arrogant, foot-tapping fury of early-nineties Britpop and reminds me of Pulp for some reason.

The Parlotones: not actually that noisy.

However, the last few I failed to hear as I had other things to do out in the sunshine that didn’t involve standing in some music shop wearing oversized headphones. I however, managed to hear both Prime Circle and Just Jinger when I got back to the UK. Let’s just say that the former’s piss-water Creed rock was not to my taste and the latter, whose name inexplicably reminds me of Mick Hucknall were also carefully avoided.

All in all, it’s a positive thumbs up from all the acts I managed to hear properly; with The Dirty Skirts, Flash Republic and The Parlotones being 3 acts that I’m surprised haven’t received more attention from the UK press; The ‘Skirts in particular, who I can see appealing to the non-twattish side of the indie-rock demographic.


The Dirty Skirts
Flash Republic
The Parlotones

By Ross Macdonald

Lizard Hips

Junior Vice President of Keep It Fast. In other news: I work in social media, talk about dinosaurs, run a book club and have amazing facial hair. I am also a male man who is still not dead.

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