Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Truth In Anger

Friday night in Witbank.  A pub called “Tin Cups” which is remembered as the place where Fokofpolisiekar’s Wynand Myburgh caused huge controversy for writing “Fok God” on a young man’s wallet after a gig.  Smoke twirls around the bar in a town that has not yet observed new smoking laws.  It’s cold outside and a bonfire has been lit in front of the stage.  It is a makeshift stage with a zinc roof.  There is a small crowd around the stage- a mash up of long haired rockers and well-built jocks.  This is Witbank. 

The stage is full of sound equipment.  A long haired man plays a few riffs on his guitar while the drummer checks his sound quality.  An overweight man with a shaved head and a goatee is screaming as if in agony.  He has studs in both ears and is wearing a black T-shirt with three quarter cargo shorts. 

He has an impressively wide range of screams.  He marches around the stage with an angry look on his face.  He is the vocalist for death metal band Maximum Carnage.

23 year old Nico Marais is one of a new breed of very open-minded young Afrikaners who want to say their say.  Nico says “metal is everywhere” and he is using this genre of music as a vehicle to give a voice to people who, like him, believe that the beauty of rainbows and butterflies aren’t accurate metaphors to depict the world we live in.  He is all about freedom of speech and likes questioning people’s preconceptions, or as he puts it, “pissing people off”.  He preaches non-conformity and “stirs shit up”.

Someone from the crowd throws a can at him.  Someone from the band kicks the can off the stage.  Once the band is happy with the equipment they gather in a circle.  Drummer Gavin Grobler forgets that Nico’s microphone is on and is heard to say, “Let’s have a good show, okes.”

Gavin taps his drumsticks together twice and mayhem ensues.

Nico looks like a raging sumo wrestler on the stage.  Four or five die hard metal fans go crazy in front of the stage.  A few people cheer after the first song.  Some joke amongst themselves about the heaviness of the songs. 

One could argue that “heaviness” is the only accurate means of describing the confusing world we live in.  Along with heaviness, Nico was attracted to death metal by “a lot of anger and freedom of speech”. 

“These pop guys and rock guys sing about a more clear side of life,” he says.  “But, like the ying and yang, every good has evil and every evil has good.  They never bring out the bad side.  Now, that’s what I like about metal.  It gives you the bad side.  It shows you that fear.   Like all of us, I have a lot of issues in my life and metal is my way of getting it out. There’s gotta be someone who’s in the same situation as me and our music tells them, “Dude, don’t give up. Don’t worry about the other fuck ups, dude. Just be yourself. You’ve got metal.  It’s the big brother.  It’s the Mom.  It’s the Dad. It’s your family, dude. And we’re a big fuckin’ family.

Nico has been a part of this family since he was a young boy. 

“When I was 6 my Dad called me and he’s like, ‘Dude! Come check this shit out.’ He played me Iron Maiden’s ‘The Trooper’ video and back then, ja, I knew it. I always wanted to do, like, Archaeology as well, but I really sucked at math.”

“We’re Maximum Carnage and we’re all the way from good old Pretoria,” says Nico to the crowd.

Some cheer.  A shaven headed man shouts “Jou ma se poes”

Nico speaks Afrikaans to all of his bandmates, although he switches comfortably to English when needed.  He grew up speaking Afrikaans to his mother, with whom he still lives.  His father, an Irishman, walked out on the family when Nico was in Grade 2.

“See, I like this language,” he says.  It’s fun to swear in this language.  But people who listen to Afrikaans music are compelled to one thing.  They’re compelled to Kurt Darren.  A guy like Kurt Darren can go use backtracks from a international band, make it Afrikaans, and sell a shit load of stuff with it.  There’s no creativity, dude.”

Nico announces the next number to the crowd.  During songs, he alternates between headbanging in front of the stage and marching between his bandmates. 

Amidst the mayhem, it is sometimes hard to make out the words to the songs, but Nico describes his lyrics as “the world through my eyes”.  His lyrics are written in neat cursive and kept in a red file.  They are full of references to South Africa. 

“The cycle devours the weak and slow.  The media feeds on the dead and departed, like vultures flock to the rot of a carcass”  

“Our lyrics are a political onslaught. We attack politics, we attack commercial music, we attack people we don’t like, we attack feelings people have… but in a positive way.  A human fears truth and we bring it out. We give them truth.  We give them war.  Those people that long for the truth can come to our shows. We will give them that truth through our perspective and then they can decide if we’re right or if we’re wrong.”

“Watch us carry our flag. Patriots of our civil rights.  Never take one step back. Armed with words we embrace the fight.”

“South Africa is the third most violent country in the world,” says Nico.  “We have the best stuff to write about. The main thing in our music for me is freedom of speech.  I really, really, really hate politics.  I like to call it politricks.”

“The walk to freedom never worked, as the rainbow bleeds blood red.”

He arches his back for certain screams and crouches down for others.  Gavin plays the drums at a furious pace.  Colin mouths the words to the songs and bends close to the ground during his favourite riffs.  Kyle is a wave of long hair as he plays the bass.  Jacques’s eyes are invisible and one wonders at how he sees his guitar with such a long fringe. 

Some heavy bands have melodic singing amongst the screaming.  Not Maximum Carnage.  A few people are headbanging right in front of the band.  They threaten to overbalance and crash into the equipment at any moment.  There is no barrier between the crowd and the speakers at the front of the stage.  The band thrives off the energy.  As Nico says, even if only two people show up, “I’m still gonna fuckin’ run around, act like a lunatic and scream on the people ‘cause those two people came to see me.” 

This is one of those nights.  The four or five enthusiastic crowd members are vastly outnumbered by the vaguely amused majority.  Approximately thirty people keep a safe distance from the moshpit. 

Nico may argue that none of the people at Tin Cups tonight, metal fans or not, actually belong in this country.

“White people in this country are the intruders,” he says, “‘cause they were here before us. Now everyone’s wearing these “100% Boer” T-shirts and stuff like that. It’s like trying to fight with the black people. Ja, they do wrong. We do wrong as well. But it’s not our place.  It’s their home.  We’re the intruders here.”

He relates most things in life back to music, as if music is his reference point to everything that happens around him.  “I fuckin’ hate that Afrikaans music condemns anything that’s not Afrikaans,” he says. To them it’s music.  Metal is a way of life to us.  You don’t just listen to it, you live it.  And, I mean, they think metal is this little thing but they’ve got another thing coming, dude. It’s fucking huge and it’s growing in this country daily dude, daily.”

After the third song some of the band members move to the side of the stage and talk amongst each other.  Are they taking a break already?

 “Apparently we have been cut because our music is too heavy,” Nico tells the crowd. 

“Who says?” shouts a crowd member. 

“What the fuck?” Colin asks the vacant crowd. 

Someone in charge at Tin Cups obviously got more than he or she bargained for with Maximum Carnage.  The day before the gig Nico had mentioned a journalist from the Rapport newspaper who wrote an article claiming that Maximum Carnage promotes violence. 

“I’m all for it, dude,” said Nico.  “I promote violence, but in a creative way. Not like going to stab the shit out of someone.” 

Nico believes there is a general misunderstanding about what their music is truly about.

“Our song “Hunger for Homicide” is, basically, at that moment you find that person cheating you, whether it’s in business or in a relationship, you have those thoughts of killing them.  Now, that song is a run through of all those thoughts you have.  It’s not physically you going to go kill that person.”

Jacques shakes his head and smiles ruefully as he turns off his amplifier. 

“The story of our country’s music industry,” Nico says, shaking his head and pacing around the stage. 

“I get into a lot of shit for this,” Nico says, “but I fuckin’ hate the commercial music industry in this country, dude.  You can’t be your own person.”
“Tell them to fuck off!” shouts one member of the crowd.

“One more!” is the general consensus of the group standing close to the stage.

No such luck.  They are cut after three songs.

Nico has spoken to his mother on the telephone after the short lived performance.

“Just living with my mom has been hard for me, you know?  My brother tried to be the fuckin’ father figure but became a alcoholic.  Coming to Colin and Gavin’s recording studio, chillin’ and making music is my way of escape, you know?  When I get home I would just chill in my room, play PC, listen to music.  I mean, I can’t see myself going a day without music.”

He now has another beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other as he walks up to the fire. 

“Dit was befok!” he smiles. 

Fokofpolisiekar made waves by questioning the Afrikaner status quo.  To rather audaciously sum up their music in one line:

Iemand moet vra hoekom

Nico is another questioner of the status quo and has picked up the torch that was lit by Fokofpolisiekar.  He isn’t the only young Afrikaner who has done this.  There is no doubt that many young Afrikaners who, while proud to be Afrikaans, are getting as far away from their time-honoured traditions as possible.  He doesn’t claim to have all of the answers, but sees his ability to question preconceived ideas as a way forward.  He is perhaps not angry for the sake of being angry, but angry about being told how to feel.