New Academics in a strange city
By Robert Laing
On the back of the New Academics' debut CD City of Strange is a manga-style drawing of suburbia with the Hillbrow skyline on the horizon. A straight line has been mowed through the gardens and the city.
Is this a political cartoon railing against the Gautrain?
"It totally could be. If I'd only thought of that, I'd sound so much more intelligent," says New Academics frontman Joe Penn.
He's a recent University of Cape Town economics graduate, who like many young South Africans can't land a corporate job despite his impressive tertiary education. So he's doing what he loves instead: music. Besides fronting the New Academics, he's the saxophonist for the Death Valley Blues Band (where he's known as "Lockjaw" Penn) and also does a number of jazz gigs for corporate functions.
The picture on the album's back was drawn by the New Academics' guitarist Dave Baudains who is a University of Cape Town geology graduate.
"Dave drew that with MS Paint which doesn't have an undo function, all with vectors, so you can imagine how many hours of work it took. His picture was originally going to be the album cover when it was titled Tearing down the fences. But we changed the name, so Dave's picture got relegated to the back."
The final album cover has Bauhaus looking office blocks with City of Strange written on the side in Coca-Cola font like a neon sign.
"Dave is in charge of the artwork. As a geologist, he likes blocky things."
The album's name changed to City of Strange to reflect Capetonians Joe's and Dave's impression of Johannesburg. The title comes from the lyrics of a song called Off the rails written after their original drummer moved back to Cape Town "to be closer to his mother's cooking" after six months. Meanwhile Joe and Dave had such a good time in Gauteng, they decided to soldier on.
"Joburg was a city of strange to us because it's so diverse. Cape Town is also diverse, but geographically separated. You can live in a bubble in Cape Town, whereas in Joburg you walk down a road and you are suddenly in a totally different vibe.
"You have to get used to that if you come from Cape Town, but it's really cool — it's a lot of fun."
It's pure coincidence that the New Academics title echoes Wonderboom's City of Gold. Joe wasn't aware of Wonderboom's latest CD until I told him about it. The muse to write an album about Jozie life touched two bands independently at the same time.
The original title Tearing down the fences might have been a more accurate for the New Academics album. These are white boys who clearly love black music. Not since early Red Hot Chili Peppers has a white rock band tapped so deeply into funk and rap.
The New Academics sound hip-hop to me, but Joe is wary of that description.
"I listen to a lot of Dr. Dre and love hip-hop, but I suspect true hip-hop fans would vomit if I called my music hip-hop. It's way too white boy for them."
So what's an economist's verdict on being a Joburg rock musician?
"Being in the original music scene involves massive sacrifices without much financial reward. But it's worth it, man. You only live once."
I can dig it!
Author: Breyten, 5 February 2008
Saw them for the first time at woodstock in 2006,awesome!Now i'm hearing them on the radio,radical!Still haven't seen them live again or bought the album,bumer!Where and when is the next show around joburg or pretoria guys?
Author: jo, 18 june 2009, 18 June 2009
saw them in cape town whilst on holis and loved them! ditto breyten: when's your next gig in joburg? alternatively they should definately visit grahamestown and be pleasantly surprised by the students' enthusiasm!
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