Diesel Whores on Joburg's empty streets
By Robert Laing
South African radio's support of local music is so atrocious, somebody should write a song about it. Finally someone has. And the best songwriter for the job no less — the Diesel Whore's "head whore" Jaxon Rice.
Jaxon titled his song Not bad for a local DJ to return the snide compliment that commercial radio DJs invariably give on the rare occasions they lower themselves to air a South African band on prime time.
Until the Diesel Whores forthcoming album The Year of the Horse is completed, you'll need to catch them live to hear it. A state-owned national "commercial" radio station's jingle gets twisted into "5FM is not your friend" in his song. (Commercial is in quotation marks since the definition was created as a legal loophole for our state broadcaster, the SABC, to wriggle out of having to meet public radio local content quotas for 5FM and Metro among others — as if anyone audits and polices local content quotas here anyway).
Jaxon singles out 5FM since Highveld and the other regional private sector competitors created in 1996's liberalisation of the airwaves just follow the state broadcaster's example in cutting and pasting their playlists from US magazine Billboard's Hot 100.
"The purpose of giving radio stations a licence to use the airwaves and the broadband of the country — a national asset — is to represent a national culture. If you cannot represent the national culture of the place you are broadcasting from, then you have a serious problem.
"I get really frustrated that 5FM has so much power to do so much good. There are now so many local bands producing amazing albums, who are getting told their music is just not good enough."
He singled out Chris Prior as an example of how great 5FM used to be. This article is based on an interview I did with Jaxon on a midnight slot I have on community radio station 1485AM, where Chris now does an 8PM Sunday show.
"That can only lead to people switching to community stations like 1485AM. I don't want to hear inane people making wisecracks all day, playing generic Billboard music taken straight from the Billboard charts."
The name of the coming Diesel Whores album The Year of the Horse is an inhouse joke. About the only radio stations to air tracks from the Diesel Whores' debut album The Fear was Tuks FM whose mainly Afrikaans DJ's tended to call the band the Diesel 'Horse'.
"Our name does offend a lot of people. When Tuks brought out a compilation album, an uptight girl actually wrote our name as 'Diesel Horse'. So we decided we'd just use it. The album title actually means the 'Year of the Whores'. We're half-way through recording it. It's going to be our big rock album. It's our Back in Black.
The Diesel Whores play psychobilly, but Jaxon's real passion is country and western. This has lead to a side project aimed at bringing out an album titled Spook Stories in about a year.
"The Diesel Whores is a project that gets me out, gets me drunk, and occasionally gets me to go home with someone pretty. That's what rock music is all about, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar. But I'd like to leave something a little more musically serious as a legacy."
Spook Stories aims to mythologize our folk heroes by putting them into song. It's a bilingual project being done in collaboration with Fokofpolisiekar's Hunter Kennedy among others. Jaxon hopes to bring onboard the country's most talented musicians on different songs as they are needed.
"We grew up with such amazing stories: the Laingsburg floods, Boswell Wilkie Circus, the Bonny and Clyde Killers from Durban, Rageltjie de Beer, and of course the Stander gang, the Foster gang... all the great armed gangs that roamed Joburg from the early nineteen hundreds. We grew up with all these incredible stories that would normally be passed down into folklore. But because of apartheid, they didn't because we have this collective amnesia and guilt about our past."
His plan is to put these stories down as folk songs done with acoustic instruments. He hopes these will join the lexicon of traditional South African music.
The title track of The Fear is an ironic salute to those Joburgers who don't hide behind their high walls after dark, who instead jol in this city's half-dozen rock joints.
The Fear's refrain is an admonishing "Don't go out tonight" — advice paranoid Joburgers take instinctively.
"This song celebrates those people who do go out at night. Go to any bar in Joburg at night, and you tend to see the same 50 people who have broken out of the 'hiding behind high walls' mindset. Those few people who do get out of that mindset are the most amazing people."
Too Late to be Saved is an anthem for those of us who grew up in the Eighties under the shadow of PW's finger.
"I did matric in Potchefstroom in '89, in the only English boys high-school in a town that had 13 Afrikaans high-schools, three army bases, an Afrikaans university and an agricultural college. We got beaten up more often than anyone in the history of high-schools.
"I really resented everything that was going on. When I was in matric, one of my teachers who knew I was into music saved my life by taking me to see the Voelvry tour which was passing through Potch.
"It changed my life James Phillips as Bernoldus Niemand, Koos Kombuis who was still calling himself Andre le Toit, and of course the Gereformeerde Blues Band saying revolutionary stuff. It was everything I had read about rock 'n roll but hadn't experienced.
The Fear's liner notes end with this piece of advice: "Oh, and never ever date a stripper" — a reference to Jaxon's relationship with former Teazers stripper, Miss Hustler 2004, and incumbent Loslyf editor Karen Eloff.
"I'm not saying you shouldn't sleep with a stripper — they're very good in bed. I've given a lot of money to strippers in my time, I support single mothers everywhere.
His songs Digging a Hole and Jungle Song are both about Karen, who still comes to some Diesel Whores' performances.
"It is a rock singer's prerogative to write slightly funny, slightly bitter songs about ex-girlfriends, because it's the only weapon we have."
- The Weekender, 23 September 2006 — Sex, drugs and rocks rolled in a condom
- 26 May 2004, The Star - Which band gets your rocks off?
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