Stereozen are an excellent example of not knowing when to stop. By all standards, a group that has negotiated the tricky live music gig-scape, neighbour after neighbour and a self-funded recording process should have played their final outro years ago, but four years later they’re still locking down the fattest basslines and going bossies at their energetic gigs. While kismet seems to have played a charming role in their timely ascent to near 12-track ‘sci-funk’ albumhood, it’s not luck that’s dropped Stereozen in the drivers seat; these guys are quite simply going all in. We catch a couple of words with the defiant progressive funk threesome at Sound and Motion studios (the home of artists such as Lark and Humanizer) and find out all about triple testicles and what Clement can do with a flute.
This is the life! It’s going pretty smoothly. Cutting our teeth. [gangster look] Sny jou tande! [laughs]
What was the last recording?
Funk Euphemisms in an Old Brothel. Today, Justin’s laying down some funky tracks.
The album. Any ideas for a title?
Nothing yet. It might be self-titled. We didn’t really release our EP so if we release anything it will be this. We’re gonna be a bit broke after this recording. Maybe we’ll get sponsors that wanna sponsor us. Any sponsors out there, Nandos?
The drunk sound we’re trying to go for here is quite big. We’re gonna get some taxi bass going. Fat, hard edgy and progressive. Funk has to take on a different form. It’ can’t always stay in the 70s. We’ve gotta kinda keep it real cos we’re the only funk band in Cape Town.
Is your music fat with an ‘f’ or phat with a ‘ph’?
Ph. For sure.
Justin: Hanson Carlo: Ah, fuck, no, dude! You and Hanson. Frank Zappa. Clem: Mars Volta, Primus. Justin: Tom Jones. Carlo: Yeah. Stuff you won’t hear on South African radio, really. Funkadelics, Prince.
You guys got quite a technical setup here. Justin, you’re two floors down…
…and we’re watching him on TV up here!
Do you feel like professional musicians? That this is something you’re working towards?
Clem: This is definitely what we want. Justin: There isn’t a huge infrastructure or market for live music, so you’ve gotta keep it as much a hobby as something you wanna do full-time. But still have fun. Carlo: You gotta get enjoyment out of just playing without making millions. Justin: The dedication comes when you keep on; when you keep on playing gigs, keep on practising. Hopefully that manifests itself into something bigger.
How long you guys been jamming together?
Five years? Four and a half? Our first gig was 2nd Feb 2004. We obviously practised before that, and had band camp for a couple of weeks.
Band camp? Did you do that thing with the flute?
Justin: Yeah , you should see what Clement can do with a flute, man. Clem: It’s not true, he’s fucking around! [to Justin] We’ve spoken about this!
Carlo:It would have been nice to be cracking two months in the studio, but we’ve got, like, three days, and the rest of the stuff we’ll do at my place. This is gonna be a fully DIY album.
After so many years, we’ve realised that if you wanna do something you gotta do it yourself. You go out there and you do it hands on. Dude, there are so many people in Cape Town talking the talk and walking the walk, but when it comes down to getting stuff down they’re not preprared to do it. There’s lots of empty promises.
“We’ve got no more money, and we’re going all in, like in a poker game. This is our hand, this is what we got. And this is what we’re going with. “
This song we’re about to record now is called Going All In. We’ve got no more money, and we’re going all in, like in a poker game. This is our hand, this is what we got. And this is what we’re going with.
There we go, put your balls on the line.
[laugh] Justin: I’ll put my balls on the line. [laugh] I’ll put all three.
Who’s who in the band?
Clem: I’m the nice guy. Cos Carlo’s not the fuckin’ nice guy.
Carlo: Sometimes I have to run it through Clement as a filter. I’ve seen things go horribly wrong in the studio. Sometimes you have to be more focused than you actually are. It’s all fun and stuff, but if you all concentrate and do it well, the result is a lot better than just fucking around.
[laughs] Justin: I plant trees! I look after bonzais. Carlo: That’s actually what we need. More people caring about the environment. Justin: Using music as a medium to raise people’s awareness about the environment. The more people who throw green concerts like Rocking the Daisies the better, cos we’re headed for some turmoil man. Keep things clean.
Keep very specific things clean…[Stereozen have a lyric which goes 'Keep your pussy clean']
Carlo: Justin convinced me to say something serious. Justin: I finally convinced him. Carlo: We’re recording it as “keep your body clean”. You know, get the message home, cos there’s people running around with herpes and syphilis. And then at the live gigs, I’ll scare you. Like really shout it at you.
The distance from the dancefloor to the stage has never been shorter for three-piece funk rock outfit Stereozen. We pick what’s left of frontman Carlo Glenn Thompson’s brain after checking them rock out the Mercury Live in Cape Town.
What’s with the tight pants?
Maybe not my pants, but tight pants-wearers of Cape Town do disturb me. I say its wack yo!
How long you been making music as an individual? And as a band?
Personally been playing for 20 years this year. Classical piano for 10 years til ’bout 16; the rest I’ve been jamming my axe on and off from ’round 18. Stereozen been jamming since 2 feb ’04
Who’s your biggest influence?
Groove bands like (old school) Chili Peppers,and Funkadelics, also Muse, The Mars Volta and Beck with a bit of The Edge.
Digital rights management is on the way out. What’s your take?
Ha? You must understand that I’ve had my head in almost every club/venue in Cape Town and haven’t really kept up with things. Own everything yourself.
If someone ripped your hard-worked album, would you beat them to death?
No, if they’ve been to five or more shows. And if them ripping our CD brings 50 more funk-hungry fans then I guess it’s alright.
Who pays/will pay for your recording?
We pay and will continue to do so we can own the material for as long as we can.
Where do you rehearse?
Underneath Paul Bothners in Claremont. It’s a shithole but it’s ours. Really, once there was actual shite in the parking lot.
What’s your ideal gig?
Any gig where there’s D&B speakers and lots of xpensive processing. At the mo we really wanna play with the New Acedemics. They Rock. I crave to play festivals ’cause the people are there to listen and party.
What do you call your music?
Progressive funk rock
Why do you make music?
Love. I’ve been playing instruments for a long time and nothing can give freedom of expression and adrenalin-filled enjoyment like playing live.They guys I’m playing with now makes writing music so effortless and thats all I ask for.
If Zen is about sitting under the Bodhi tree in absolute silence while stray dogs sniff you, count upcoming funk three-piece Stereozen alongside Kings of Leon and The Shins as one of those groups whose name means precious little. Stereozen write ass-shakers, not foot-tappers, as we discovered at the Mother City’s Groove Nation, alongside jazz/alt rockers Southpaw and spoken word songstress Blaqpearl.
Backstage, they’re fumbling about and chatting idly about the various avenues of funk yet to explore, but up in the limelight, they’re…well, drummer Justin puts it best: “I’m loving it.” Unabashed in their stage act, Stereozen save their energy for the moment. Coming in strong with a short and potent 40-minute set, Carlo Thompson, Clem and Justin Wiggett pretty much put a solid end to the rather dismal turnout at the Groove Nation.
You don’t have to look much further than the soundproof room at Paul Bothners to find Clem in his element. Poster-flapping basslines layered thick and fat assault the non-dancer like an American nuclear attack, which should happen any day now. Pedals almost outnumber guitarist Karlo’s. Who’da thought longhairs still had class…?
Karlo has enough style to openly say the p-word. Enough said. Just make sure you know the chick in the audience you’re hitting on next time, buddy. Nobody knows where surferboy Justin gets his laid-back, approachable steez offstage (that’s style with ease, chump), but he’s about ready to unleash it on the world from behind the kit. Stadium-rock, mid-tempo powerdrumming a la John Bonham and Red Hot Chili Peppers and, closer to home, Prime Circle and The Parlotones.
As underground gigs go, these guys have the type of power that upstages soccer-mom pop icons like Ike Moriz and Arno Carstens. Perhaps a little less pandering to ‘support SA music’ (I mean, honestly, how unoriginal) and a little tighter control on the volume knob will go a long way for the mal, party-hard group. Be yourselves. That’s all we want.
The band’s approach towards their future is pretty clear. We met up with all three of them separately that night, and all were on the same mission: ALBUM. You’ve seen their name on the flyer. Now get to the gig to check it out for yourself. It’s like a groin shiatsu by the Artist Formerly Known As Prince. You’ll bop, curl and get on uppa.
Drummer Justin Wiggett also does backup vocals for Stereozen.
Even four years after you’ve beheld Southpaw bassist Newton Stanford pop a super-rough demo of City of Sin into your CD player and ask what you think for the first time, there’s still something about the song that makes you wanna just sing along. Aloud. Even when the turnout is kinda dismal, the lefties get down to some tightly practised material at Mercury Live in Cape Town alongside funk threesome Stereozen and spoken word siren Blaqpearl.
Ok, I won’t mince the green beans here, I’m mates with the band and their manager. Let’s get that out the way. But let’s also take a close look at the group, and not just a glossy front-row report that you’re likely to get in some bulk email from the latest blog rocker. We’ve been covering them a lot lately. Let’s do some actual music journalism here.
Lead singer Stephan Roach – a totally Kravitz-inspired sex symbol with genuine moments of Chris Martin songwriting and a left handful of glam-pop glitterati thrown in (miss ‘COCAINE’ in gold-print on the t-shirt and you’ve had one too many). Actually, the jazzy, film-interlude-styled songwriting credit here goes to rhythm guitarist and rocksteady wingman Daniel, who pairs up with Stephan to come up with material and plays some weird chords deliberately. Left-handed.
The band is extremely marketable. There’s talk. Take a look at what Overtone has to say about this, and let’s all hold thumbs while they make the decision that’s gonna shape their careers as alternative, Generation II SA musicians. Whatever that means. We all know SA music IS already international music, and seeing as the MP3 revolution is already crossing waters, why won’t this kind of music? There’s nothing stopping the international image and sound of Southpaw from earning a following in areas like the United States, Australia and Europe when the album lands (more from Stephan about this). Or even right now.
Unless you’re Zane Henry, the tendency in this industry is to examine all the artists and praise/criticise them one by one, for their various on- and off-stage strengths, and to “please support” local music. Bollocks. Right now, this band is a bunch of amateurs, compared to where they’re going. At the risk of sounding like some lovestruck 19-year-old girl (you know who you are), Southpaw have got loads going for them. Material seems to keep coming in; they don’t seem to be one of those groups that recycles their Myspace EP for ten years. It’s good to see drummer Kurt‘s talking kak with his shirt off. Now if we could just get some more movement on stage to match the creative flow…
I’m no professional, but I think that any group with the right sound, look, vibe and determination will eventually get where they’re going. It’s inevitable. Especially when you’re practically all related and seem not to know how to do anything but luminescent songwriting that (strangely) compliments the eye candy. The girls in the front row may be getting a bass chairbuzz, but guys like me at the back are also digging the sound. Bigtime. Keep an ear out for the alien invasion…
The New Academics are aptly named. Debut album ‘City of Strange’ is an intelligent urban confession, a trip into the joys and ills of modern society, relationships and global culture. Drawing heavily on musical styles ranging from The Streets, Rage Against the Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers to the classic funk acts of yesteryear, the honesty of this album is appealing.
But there’s certainly something contemporary about this, a modish dip into musical innovation which boasts a host of genres, including metal, reggae, alternative rock, shoegaze and jazz.
Spiral is the tightest groove on the album, and a distinctly South African message echoes throughout the catchy chorus line (“We’ve got a long long way to go/and a hard hard line to tow”).
The guitar work of Dave Baudains is sublime: not too demanding or distorted, the notes fit right on every track, with special creative attention on Plastic Soul. Impressive rhythm performances by bassist Martin Labuschagne and Howie Combrink completes the instrumental act.
Cathartic sing-along Snakewoman is the group’s tribute to pop music, boasting a super-catchy repetitive tagline, “why don’t you love me, love me, love me?” Definitely a live set-opener.
However, the oft over-present rawness of emcee Joe Penn’s vocal style occasionally unties some of the album’s tightness. While known to be a talented saxophonist (as the unpretentious solos on Chromatic and Line will prove), the vocals can be somewhat jarring at times.
Perhaps, however, it’s because he has taken the bold step of not broadcasting his homegrown views in a ridiculous American accent. In fact, Penn’s grass-roots lyrical authenticity (“take a trip to the bar and get boozed”) is by far the most attractive part of this album, and a definite draw card for lovers of South African music.
Party-starter, road trip motivator and perhaps another progressive hallmark of a new generation of South African music styles, New Academics will be sure to draw the crowds with this classy contribution.
When you got the buzz, you got it, and Carpet Mafia is another tragic South African music story: all talent, and a cigarette butt of actual representation. All talent, because not even a Tuesday night crowd in Cape Town could keep quiet after listening to a loosely hammered hourish-long set from four dedicated motherf*%#ers.
Obz Theatre in Cape Town: newly revamped, and very much suited to sit-down dinners. Carpet Mafia: newly rejoined, and very much suited to pelvic freestyling. So, no surprises that the early numbers received less applause than a Pinelands dog show.
Bassist and supposed frontman Portasul, Roccamonte (keyboard, guitar, cigarettes), Don Thulioni (drums) and Jazzabezzi (lead guitar and spaceship effects) could have had ‘em eating out of their hands, as they did when I first saw ‘em back at Obz Fest, when Cool Runnings was Cool Runnings (what’s this Roots sh*t?). Tight foot-tapping funk that speaks of devotion and a beer please, barman. Now.
One or two of The Carpet Mafia’s tricks?
Portasul: “Let’s make one up” Rocco: “Pick a key, man.” Portasul: “G?” Crowd: “Yeah!” Rocco: “Let’s go.”
…followed by another epic 10-minute freewoven piece that could sound like anything from a dreadlocked Prince to a Copa Cabana fraudster. Rocco dominates both keys and the occasional guitar, while effects pedal-heavy Jazzabezzi earns his Gibson rights. Portasul indulges in a rabid fretboard-raiding or two, but keeps the rhythm for the most part, Don Thuli gets that zombie look in his eyes behind the kit: the hallmark of a metronome timekeeper. Stellar solo, too.
Loads of communication going in this dedicated band, which is…uh…the point of band music. Also watch out for creative phrasing, segued songs (ie, no break, just a mellow fade), feel-easy, persistent licks, spontaneity and an overall New York gangster vibe. Oh, Mafia. I just got it now.
Other Carpet Mafia News: back together just two months after bassist Portasul strayed back home to the USA for a five-month stint, the Mafia are knuckling down to record their first studio album. Any more news? The comments box below awaits…
Albums to date: Bootleg Uno (live), Bootleg Deuce (live).
Am I going stir-crazy, or is the broadly interlaced afro-beat/ska Cape Town scene making a musical charge? It kinda makes me wonder how aptly titled eight-piece group Alan Funk manages to convoke a single practice attended by all, let alone a tight, upbeat and fiercely indigenous self-titled debut album.
With a cascade of echoing saxophones and bold Xhosa vocals, Alan Funk‘s self-titled debut album bursts onto the Cape Town scene, bringing with it familiar yet fresh afro-funk and soul-infused melodies. If you’ve heard the likes of Freshlyground, The Rudimentals, Kolelo and the smattering of other Mother City kwassa-kwassa, ska and afro-beat pathfinders, you kinda get a quivering idea of what you’re in for.
But other than one of the acts at the Oudekraal Vodacom Joy Of Jazz Festival, who the heck are they?
“The band’s name came about by accident, says manager Stephen Charnas. “They played a house party at Alan’s (the guy with the long grey beard who is a friend of everyone in the band) house, and called themselves Island Funk. However, when it was reported in the paper the next day, the journalist who attended the party thought they were called Alan Funk, and that’s what got published.”
The octet formed two years ago, when a “highly productive jam session” between bassist Steve Funk and guitarist Dan Boschoff began attracting other members.
First was drummer Geoff Adams, then vocal duo Lwazi Manzi and Nhoza Sitsholwama. Alto saxophonist Max Starke was next, then Greg Bridges on percussion and finally, tenor sax player Victor De Freitas jumped on board. Everyone offered their own piece of the pie.
Corporate gigging seems the way to go, but after the MyCokeFest scandal – where, rumour has it, none of the local bands were paid – it seems that you gotta watch your back before you compromise your integrity as a creative unit.
“I am aware of the realities of having to compromise for the sake of making progress,” says Charnas. “Each potential interaction with the corporate world will be adressed according to its particular merits and, like all major decisions, will be decided on by the whole band.”
Mashing up Xhosa, Zulu and English, duo Lwazi and Nhoza dominate the musical proceedings on the stage with resolute vocal command, but the album (like any other) strips the performance dynamic and distributes the limelight somewhat. News is that Lwazi is leaving to begin her medical internship (yeah – a singing doctor – ‘how aaaare yoooou feeeeeeling?’), and the plan is for Nhoza to take the reins. There are reportedly some extra vocal harmonies in the pipeline.
It always seems a little pointless to rattle off lists of genres, such as “afro-funk, 70s American funk, township jive, rock and soul”, because they say very little about the musical experience. So let’s break down the 7-track album piece by piece…
Bilingual opener Running Away boasts some easily recognisable chord sequences in a slow tempo, and begins the album in a very familiar key.
Ntomb’Olahleko (Lost Girl) is laced with subtle build-ups and features some soft R&B percussive riffs and beautiful, two-tone sax harmonies. The seven-minute Wedding Song is an upbeat township jive track at number three, and boosts the gentle tone of the album somewhat. Neighbourhood Vibe is a pumping track, doused in Zulu click onomatopoeia, and classic funk guitarwork and an (almost) power-rock drumming climax.
Opening with a stylish jam sound, vocals take a back seat on Funky Daze, and serve more as instruments of melody than lyrical expression. Again, sax duo Victor De Freitas and Max Starke shine brighter than their lustrous instruments in this one, both in their brass harmonies and their solo work.
Club Blues is the closest thing the album has to a single, outlining a little about how it feels to be in the scene. A mid-song phonecall sample and a sexy, pounding slow beat makes this one a pelvic motivator. “Walk into the club, I’m all dressed up, I need to get myself together Gotta find a man…cos I don’t walk the streets.”
Album closer Tie The Dog Loose was recorded live at Zula, and was wisely left to the end. The atmosphere and cohesion of this young group can immediately be sensed through the applause of the crowd and Lwazi Manzi’s band introductions and crowd banter.
On the whole, the soft-edged tone of the album lends it an easy home-listening feel. However, like many other traditional African-influenced groups, it takes a vibrant live audience, a good sound man and a beer to appreciate Alan Funk in their definitive entirety. And, unlike the steaming heaps of transoceanic bullsh*t dumped upon us through any number of internationally obedient radio stations, this album is fighting its way into domestic consciousness with a knobkerrie, a tambourine and a saxophone or two.