Breaking the sound barrier
Local band Foto Na Dans is striving to shift the boundaries of South African rock – visually, phonically and emotionally
FRESH from wowing the Oppikoppi music festival with a new visual component to their Sama winning songs, Bellville-born rockers Foto Na Dans return to the Cape for a rare rock gig with Chris Chameleon.
At 10.30pm on night two of Oppikoppi, sandwiched between Karen Zoid and aKing’s “James Phillips Main Stage” sets, Foto Na Dans took to the indie-aligned “Most Amazing Myn Stage”.
No matter that dub-sensation 340ml were yet to finish their set on another stage, that ragga-meets-hiphop stalwart Teba was about to start and that the goth-film-meetsconcept-score pairing of Nosferatu and Terminatryx was running at the very same time, the Bellville five-piece were eagerly awaited by a full crowd.
Initially met with raised eyebrows and uneducated comparisons to Fokofpolisiekar (Foto Na Dans also sing in Afrikaans) and Springbok Nude Girls (Foto Na Dans also have a trumpeter), the band has proved itself to be an original and invigorating rock ‘n’ roll force.
They take the quality of their shows very seriously – almost to the point of being precious – but are, at the same time, remarkably down-toearth and enthusiastic. As 2009 South African Music Award winners for Best Alternative Afrikaans, if they are a sign of things to come, then our future is secure.
“We’ve got a whole new visual set, where every single song has got a new theme,” said trumpeter and keyboardist Alex Fourie by telephone three days before the Oppikoppi set.
“It’s something that we’ve always wanted to do, but it takes such a long time.
“The designer started working four months ago and we’re only getting the finalised stuff tomorrow. It takes time, it costs a lot and it is an investment where, realistically if we look at the ceiling of returns, you could ask, ‘Is it worth it?’
“We’re not saying that we’re spending x amount of money to make y amount of money in z amount of time, but we had the cash to do it and so we did.
“I think our music is quite intricate and adding the visuals is always something that we have needed.”
It is no understatement that the music is intricate – the band has been likened to Muse, and it is a massive evolutionary step for a local band that such a comparison can be made with some confidence.
Of course, every comparison contains as much confusion as it does explanation.
“Firstly, we’re honoured by comments like that,” says guitarist and vocalist Neil Basson, “At the same time, it is not fun to be directly compared to another band, let alone another music style.
“In a South African context, though, that is where we’d like to see the rock genre moving towards.
“There are lots of rock bands here; lots of Fokofpolisiekar spinoffs with every new young band trying – you can’t mesh them any better than when you’d just written them.
“How we are trying to write now is to create 20 or 30 songs, and then select to create an album that is better amalgamated.
“You don’t want an album where you are left with a disoriented feeling of nothingness after listening to it; we are trying to create something that conveys a unity of emotion instead of just a bunch of different stuff.”
The band’s début, Intervensie, and their follow-up, Pantomime, both moved towards that sense of cohesion and purpose – arguably far more so than the albums of any of the other current South African rock bands.
Achieving that kind of tempered and considered beauty, though, is at curious odds with the reality that goes into doing it: hours spent on tour buses and cramped accommodation, away from a home base or any sort of stability.
“For me personally, that is part of the whole thing,” says drummer Dirkie Uys.
“Playing is the best part, but touring and travelling and soundchecking and meeting people goes 50-50 with that.
“It is such an experience, and such a cool vibe that it doesn’t affect me negatively at all.
“Also, the music has grown with us and changed us individually into what we have become.
“After four years of trying to figure out what our sound is, it has grown together with us on stage.
“What you see now is what we’ve been trying to get out, and all that time we’ve spent together, working on what we’re doing instrumentally, I think it shows, and I think it comes across.”
How, then, does Foto Na Dans balance their artistic need to push boundaries, while still retaining some size of audience that’s interested in coming to the shows?
“The main thing is for us just to enjoy the music we make,” says bassist Theuns Schoonwinkel.
“It makes it much more exciting to push things and, if people come to the shows too, then that is great.
Our main aim at the moment is to bring out a full CD.
“We’ll be recording for the next few months, looking to bring out a new album early next year.
“We made the decision that we need to take more time than we have been able to do before.
“The previous albums had deadlines; everything had to be done by some specific date, but this time we rather want to take our time before we put anything out.
“The past three years have given us a change to get perspective and to use that experience to make sure that we write a good album.”
Foto Na Dans appear with Chris Chameleon, back from the Mandela Day concert in New York, where he sang with Baaba Maal, among others.
Chameleon eschews his more recent Afrikaans output to return to a “classic rock” set, harking back to Boo! and Blue Chameleon material (tonight, Assembly, 61 Harrington Street, District Six, 021 426 4552, R80 at the door, R60 presale at WebTickets.co.za).
Also hear Chameleon as the featured guest for the Tygerberg Children’s Choir and South African Youth Choir fundraiser following the cancellation of the World Choir Championships in Korea because of H1N1 fears (Wednesday August 19, Cape Town City Hall, 7.30pm, R130, bookings at 021 948 4046).
ROCK ON: Neil Basson (guitar & vocals), Theuns Schoonwinkel (bass), Alex Fourie (trumpet & keyboards), LeRoi Nel (vocals & guitar) and Dirkie Uys (drums) of Foto Na Dans.