Can The Bang explode in South Africa?
By Robert Laing
The 80/20 rule applies to Johannesburg bands as it does to everything else — 80% of everything is crap. But dig around for the 20% of good stuff, and you'll find Johannesburg has a very promising crop of young up 'n coming bands right now, of which my favourite is The Bang.
Five new bands were lined up one Friday night at the Bohemian. The opening act's loud racket sent me and a professional musician friend fleeing to a pool table as far from the stage as possible.
The second band was similar to the first, but I thought the third sounded interesting. My singer-songwriter buddy switched his attention from the pool table long enough to give his verdict: "This is not a song. They're performing guitar practice scales."
But the moment final act The Bang's opening chords done on a mandolin rang out, my friend instantly abandoned the pool game and said: "These guys are good. Lets watch this band."
My local rock 'n roll hero friend gave The Bang this advice: "Your sound is way too sophisticated for this country. Get on a plane to Europe or America where you'll be appreciated."
This is sadly very pertinent advice to talented young South African musicians. Their chances of getting the mainstream media support they need to grow beyond Joburg's tiny scenester set is next to zero. This is a country where local content quotas are met via the laziest and cheapest route, by franchising reality TV shows like Idols. Incestuousness between pay-TV and print — the large press groups own the dominant pay-TV broadcaster — has transformed newspapers and magazines into nothing but hucksters for reality TV shows. As far as our big media bosses are concerned, talented original local bands draw people away from their TVs to live music venues, so they allow no space for them in our papers.
Fortunately, young South Africans see opportunity where us old cynics only see problems. The Bang's accordion player and keyboardist Gad de Combes in particular is buzzing with ideas. So The Bang's excellent debut album Shiny has been ignored by our radio stations which just play international pap? No problem, Gad plans to launch his own indie music station.
I hate peeing in energetic young people's batteries, but I pointed out this would require getting spectrum from government. For a clue on how this works, note how the least qualified bidding consortium which happened to have Shabir Shaik on board won the third cellphone licence — an event shrouded in mystery which disappointingly wasn't even touched on in Shake's fraud trial. Anyway, Primedia's 702 has already wheedled the last slot in Gauteng's FM dial from government.
Gad remained undaunted. "We'll go digital then."
The Bang's singer-songwriter Josh Gregg explained during an interview on my 1485AM radio show that childlike naivety is Shiny's central theme.
For Josh, the heart of the album is track five, Spring Song.
There's a poignant story behind this song. Josh was inspired to write it after getting dragged along by his father to play a gig for homeless kids at a bunny farm. A little girl who had been burnt to cinders in a shack fire was sitting at the back. She hardly had any facial features left, but the music seemed to be making her happy from the way she was rocking back and forth.
Spring Song had struck me as R.E.M.ish, and Josh's story reminded me of an R.E.M. song about a disabled child delighted when other children run over to play.
This observation made Josh light up. "The song you are talking about is The Wrong Child from R.E.M.'s album Green. You're the first person to catch that reference. I wrote Spring Song as a companion to The Wrong Child."
Josh has an encyclopedic knowledge about albums like Green which came out around the time he was born. This is thanks to having a father who owned Braamfontein's renowned music store Street Records.
"My father used to make mixed tapes for me when I was kid with R.E.M, Talking Heads, The Pixies... "
Josh often gravitates to horror themes in his lyrics, though the references are oblique. My favourite track Johnny's in love with you turns out to be about American serial killer John Wayne Gacy, Jr.. Not an original topic considering Sufjan Stevens wrote a song about Gacy on his album Illinois.
"His Gacy song is morbid. Mine is up-beat and fun."
Josh wanted a light, poppy song in the middle of Shiny, and making it about serial killer appealed to his sense of irony. But he isn't happy with the result: "I wish I could have got that song onto the album the way it was in my head."
The opening title track "Shiny is about waking up in the middle of the night and seeing two red eyes staring back at you. That childhood fear of the dark."
This also comes across as a fun pop song on first listening, though when redone as an orchestral version later on a track titled Bride of Shiny it sounds very sinister. Both Gad and Josh are film music enthusiasts who hope to score movies one day.
The choice of album title is partly a nod to to Grant Lee Buffalo's debut Fuzzy and its title track The Shining Hour. R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe picked Fuzzy as his album of the year in 1993. It's also from a quote at the beginning of Stephen King's novel The Shining "It'll shine when it shines...".
Josh found this a handy answer when friends and family kept asking when the album, which was produced by former EllaMental bassist Adrian Levi, would be finished.
But back to my friend, the veteran South African rock 'n roller's advice that these talented, original young musicians should get on the next plane. Josh is dismissing it for now. He plans to study at Johannesburg's Afda film school this year.
The Bang are a group of driven youngsters who deserve to go far — hopefully the land of their birth will be big enough to give them the opportunities they deserve here.
Author: Shannon Frost, 26 December 2007
WOW! I recently purchased the game Rugby 2008, and during the game, a whole selection of rock/pop music is playing on tap to listen too. My favourite was a song called 'Benny Butler' by a group called 'The Bang'... MAN ALIVE what an awmazing song! I did some research to find that the group is South African.... You bunch of legends! Consider me a fan... Im looking to buy the cd as i write this....
bang the band :D
Author: urSESSION.com/x, 17 November 2009
wow. i found a different south african artist on another site and decided to look for him on myspace, only to come across the bang. i'm really impressed, they're amazing! so much so, that i'm telling everyone i know to have a listen :D i recommend you definitely check them out.
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