Break­ing the sound bar­rier

Lo­cal band Foto Na Dans is striv­ing to shift the bound­aries of South African rock – vis­ually, phon­i­cally and emo­tion­ally

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOOD MUSIC - EVAN MILTON

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).

PIC­TURE: METALBOX

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.

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