TESSERACT

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Contents -

Me­tal! Drink­ing! Chee­tahs! We went on the djentle­men’s tour through South Africa, tak­ing in sightseein­g, shows, and a me­tal scene that’s get­ting stronger by the day.

rom do­ing shows in Rus­sia to play­ing atop an igloo in La­p­land, tech metallers Tesseract are no strangers to globe-trot­ting, and jumped at the chance to visit South Africa. In a hugely di­verse coun­try with 11 lan­guages, me­tal is a niche scene, but it’s grow­ing; there are thriv­ing lo­cal bands, and giants like Me­tal­lica have sold out sta­di­ums. We flew out to join them for their tour through Cape Town and Jo­han­nes­burg, tak­ing in in­cred­i­ble scenery and some of the most ded­i­cated fans around.

Day One

Touch­ing down in Cape Town, the band won­der what to ex­pect. “I know sur­pris­ingly lit­tle about South Africa!” ad­mits front­man Dan. We are greeted by pro­mot­ers Dun­can Bell and Wayne Boucher, who are work­ing to raise the pro­file of South Africa’s mu­sic scene by cham­pi­oning lo­cal acts and bring­ing over in­ter­na­tional bands, and who or­gan­ise an­nual mu­sic fes­ti­val Krank’d Up.

“It’s huge to have a band like Tesseract over,” Dun­can tells us. “They’ve al­ways been an in­spi­ra­tion to a lot of the mu­si­cians in South Africa.”

“Peo­ple were freak­ing out when we an­nounced it,” adds Wayne. “I could pic­ture them cry­ing over their key­boards, typ­ing about how grate­ful they were.”

The air is thick, and a storm breaks out, with forked light­ning bi­sect­ing the skies. We drive out of the air­port and pass a shanty town, its iron sheds stud­ded with satel­lite dishes – a stark re­minder of the so­cial and eco­nomic in­equal­ity that lingers here. “It’s like Dis­trict 9,” re­marks Dan, ref­er­enc­ing Neill Blomkamp’s 2009 sci-fi al­le­gory of apartheid.

The UN classes South Africa as a de­vel­op­ing econ­omy, and the dis­tri­bu­tion of wealth dif­fers greatly. The houses get pro­gres­sively nicer as we head west.

Over lunch, Dun­can shows us that Tesseract have made the front page of the en­ter­tain­ment sec­tion in Jo­han­nes­burg news­pa­per The Star. The next stop is on­line ra­dio sta­tion The Eye, where Dan, drum­mer Jay and bassist Amos are to cu­rate a show. The me­dia ex­po­sure not only re­flects the im­por­tance of a Bri­tish band like Tesseract play­ing South Africa, but is cru­cial to boost­ing ticket sales; many fans won’t buy them un­til they know a band has landed, fear­ing they’re go­ing to can­cel. The band have sold 120 tick­ets so far, but the num­ber on the night will be 270.

At the stu­dio, the guys play tracks from pre­vi­ous tour­ing bud­dies and tell some sto­ries, mostly in­volv­ing a drunken Jay. Sta­tion founder Jon Sav­age re­veals that The Eye is about to launch a ded­i­cated me­tal show.

“Be­cause me­tal is a ma­jor­ity white thing, it re­ally has no at­ten­tion,” he ex­plains. “How­ever, part of why we’re start­ing the show is be­cause we’ve dis­cov­ered these town­ship me­tal scenes start­ing in Soweto. We said, ‘That’s news­wor­thy, let’s start with that and see where it takes us.’”

Day TwO

Today is all about tourism. The trail up loom­ing land­mark Ta­ble Moun­tain is marked by a sign read­ing: ‘By en­ter­ing this area you ac­knowl­edge and ac­cept the in­her­ent risk of dan­ger or

in­jury, se­vere in­jury, and/or death.’

Four peo­ple died and 50 were in­jured last year, but the worldly

Amos is feel­ing con­fi­dent, hav­ing re­cently vis­ited Hawaii.

“It’s noth­ing com­pared to a live vol­cano, but it de­pends… you put us to­gether, and the risk of death in any sit­u­a­tion in­creases,” he grins. “James is just go­ing to fall off walk­ing back­wards!”

Guitarist James looks wor­ried. We get a ca­ble car up in­stead, but Dan still gets “jelly legs” as the ground re­cedes.

The lush grass and blues skies are ridicu­lously beau­ti­ful. At the top, Jay is in his el­e­ment, do­ing star jumps on the edge.

Then he be­friends a dassie, one of the guinea pig-like mam­mals that roam the rocks. He christens it Rod­ney. “This is the best day of my life other than my wed­ding!” he raves. James is still wor­ried, and mum­bles how he has a high cen­tre of grav­ity.

“I have ex­tended fam­ily that I don’t know that live in this part of the world,” Dan con­tem­plates, look­ing out over the city be­low. “It’s a lit­tle bit odd to know that part of my past be­longs here.”

We make it down safely and drive east to Spice Route, a food/wine com­plex in Paarl. Today is Free­dom Day, a hol­i­day cel­e­brat­ing South Africa’s first multi-racial elec­tions in 1994, af­ter years of white mi­nor­ity rule. The place is busy, and ev­ery­one re­laxes with pints of rasp­berry beer, be­fore Jay re­alises he’s lost his glasses. Rod­ney was look­ing a bit shifty...

The next stop is a win­ery and goat farm for a tast­ing ses­sion. Amos looks like he was born with a glass in his hand, but Dan is strug­gling. “If it was ale… I could tell you ev­ery­thing. But this tastes like a £5.99 Mor­ri­son’s wine.” Oh dear. We learn the Chenin blanc is the most planted white grape in South Africa, and leave a lit­tle bit more ed­u­cated. Out­side, Dan and Jay start gig­gling like naughty school­boys. It turns out they’re tak­ing pho­tos of the goats’ bums. Time to go back to the ho­tel and get an early night…

Day Three

Jay’s glasses have been found on the floor next to the goats (“It serves me right!” he laughs.) Af­ter a morn­ing spent pen­guin-watch­ing at Boul­ders Beach, it’s time to load in for the first show, at Mer­cury Live. Dan is in a re­flec­tive mood. It’s his wife’s birth­day to­mor­row, and he’s away from her and his two young sons.

“We get to do in­cred­i­ble things, but our part­ners usu­ally stay at home as we can’t af­ford to fly them out,” he says. “Part of me doesn’t want to en­joy it, be­cause I feel guilty on some level, but she un­der­stands it’s busi­ness. When we started out, we were go­ing away and com­ing back with very lit­tle to show for it, so it’s re­as­sur­ing for fam­ily to know that things are get­ting bet­ter. The song Sur­vival ties into this topic – ‘10 years of hope have passed, you felt alone, and pic­tured life a lit­tle dif­fer­ently’. We do live very dif­fer­ent lives, the artist and the fam­ily.”

Venue owner Morne ex­plains that Cape Town’s scene is mostly in­die, and only a hand­ful of in­ter­na­tional bands visit the venue each year. Ex­citable Tesseract fans are queu­ing out­side. Shane, 21, first heard the band four years ago, and was drawn in by the com­plex­ity of their mu­sic. “I lit­er­ally feel like a kid again – I’m fuck­ing ex­cited!” he ex­claims. Mean­while, 57-year-old Peter is all about the prog me­tal.

First up are rock­ers Verona Walls, who clearly en­joy a strong lo­cal fol­low­ing. Back­stage, Amos, who cur­rently lives in Shang­hai, writes the setlist out in Man­darin. Dan gets into the right headspace with med­i­ta­tive prayer and slows his breath­ing. He shows us his wrist­band, re­veal­ing he’s man­aged to lower his pulse from 100bpm to 76bpm.

Sidestage, it’s hot­ter than the sun. Venue staff fan the band with bits of card­board, be­fore they get on­stage and launch into Phoenix. Dur­ing the line, ‘Run with the pride of a lion’, Shane raises his arms, clenches his fists, and grins like he’s in Heaven. The set is sweaty and in­tense. Guitarist Acle, the qui­etest band­mem­ber, is in his el­e­ment, eyes closed as the mu­sic pours from his fin­gers. Dur­ing Hexes, Peter grabs us by the shoulders and yells, “This is bet­ter than sex!” But the high point is Sur­vival, the room mov­ing in uni­son to its cho­rus. Af­ter­wards, au­to­graphs are signed and self­ies are taken – it’s clear the band’s pres­ence here means a lot to peo­ple.

Day FOur

Tesseract fever is still in the air as we board a plane to Jo­han­nes­burg. Some pas­sen­gers are wear­ing last night’s merch, and the band have an in­ter­view in Ku­l­ula air­lines’ in-flight mag­a­zine.

We land and drive to tonight’s venue, Ru­mours Rock City, pass­ing busi­ness parks, ware­houses and gas sta­tions. “It’s a dif­fer­ent vibe here, eh?” com­ments Dun­can. It’s all about in­dus­try in this city – mak­ing money.”

A man stands in the road hold­ing a card read­ing: ‘Please help no food to eat. No job. God bless.’ Be­hind him, bill­boards ad­ver­tise loans. Amos no­tices signs stuck to the lamp­posts, which read: ‘30 mins pain free abor­tion’ with a phone num­ber. They are ev­ery­where.

Ru­mours moved to the sub­urb of Cresta a few months ago, op­po­site a large shop­ping cen­tre, and oc­cu­pies a spa­cious build­ing that was once a bank and a casino. The band’s dress­ing room is a dis­used of­fice on the sec­ond floor, which looks like some­thing from a zom­bie apoca­lypse. Its man­agers have worked hard to make it a thriv­ing com­mu­nity hub, de­spite tak­ing a fi­nan­cial hit from a rob­bery early on. Today, an armed se­cu­rity guard is on pa­trol.

Many peo­ple we talk to know those who’ve been af­fected by vi­o­lent crime, but are keen to stress the pas­sion of the me­tal scene, and the South African peo­ple, as a coun­ter­point.

“The nick­name for Joburg is Hate City, be­cause it’s re­garded as the cap­i­tal of all the hate and ten­sion in the coun­try,” ex­plains Bran­don, front­man of sup­port band Red He­len. “But it’s also what I would con­sider to be the home of all the love in our coun­try. The peo­ple are warm and hos­pitable, and when we have to stand to­gether, we stand to­gether.”

Up­stairs, we get to read The Star’s fea­ture on Tesseract. James is quoted say­ing that Dan and Jay “are quite of­ten tak­ing pic­tures of their own poo”, while the re­porter calls him “the more re­served mem­ber of the band”.

Dan cracks up. “You’re never do­ing an­other in­ter­view again – that’s it!” he laughs.

“I don’t re­mem­ber say­ing that, but I’m quite proud of it in a way,” smiles James.

Jay is less happy, and won­ders why “re­served” James didn’t ad­mit to the time he stood in piss in a Rus­sian toi­let, or went down a chil­dren’s ice slide naked in La­p­land. James tries to look con­trite.

Show­time be­gins with Only For­ever’s chug and groove and Red He­len’s crush­ing met­al­core. Bren­don is a fear­some front­man, scream­ing: “If you think Ja­cob Zuma’s a piece of shit, put your mid­dle fin­gers up!” They’re fol­lowed by the pro­gres­sive, cos­mic rock of De­ity’s Muse, fronted by pro­moter Wayne. Then the crowd chant for Tesseract. With a big­ger stage tonight, there’s more space for them to move, and the en­ergy is electric. As the riffs en­velop the room, peo­ple climb on ta­bles, scream and cry. With fans on a high, drink­ing con­tin­ues long into the night.

Day Five

Today we visit the Rhino & Lion Na­ture Re­serve. En route, walk­ing en­cy­clopae­dia Amos in­forms us that it’s lo­cated in the Cradle Of Hu­mankind – a UNESCO world her­itage site where the fos­sils of early ho­minids were dis­cov­ered, dat­ing back be­tween 4.5 and 2.5 mil­lion years. Puffy clouds hang in the air and the vast sky ra­di­ates an un­earthly bright­ness.

Four lions are tak­ing shade un­der a big tree. Amos looks at Dan. “So when you sing ‘Run with the pride of the lions’, you mean ‘Sit in the sun and chill!’” he laughs, ref­er­enc­ing the lyrics to Phoenix.

At the an­i­mal nurs­ery, Acle and James take the op­por­tu­nity to stroke a three-year-old chee­tah named An­abel. Acle is fear­less. “I like cats – I’m a cat whis­perer!” he smiles. A keeper chucks a lump of meat to An­abel, and she devours it in sec­onds. James stretches out be­side her and she purrs. “That was in­cred­i­ble. What a fright­en­ing and won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence!” he says. “Ly­ing next to a killing ma­chine that can run at 70mph...”

And with that, the trip is over, and it’s time to fly home. Tesseract are near­ing the end of the tour­ing cy­cle for third al­bum Po­laris, and af­ter some US dates with Me­gadeth and Meshug­gah, they’ll be fo­cus­ing on the next record. Dan hints it’ll have a con­cept. Be­yond that, their am­bi­tions are as bound­less as the land­scapes they’ve just ex­pe­ri­enced.

“We’re be­ing put in new are­nas with big­ger bands, and we want to tap into their fol­low­ing,” he says. “We want to be the band that steps on­stage that no­body’s ever heard, where peo­ple go away think­ing, ‘Wow, you’ve just changed my life watch­ing that per­for­mance.’ We want to leave a last­ing im­pres­sion.” No doubt they’ve al­ready done that here.

TESSERACT PLAY ARCTANGENT FES­TI­VAL IN AU­GUST. PO­LARIS IS OUT NOW VIA KSCOPE

Ap­par­ently this thing is re­lated to an ele­phant. We’re not con­vinced Band, crew, Dun­can and Wayne and Ham­mer’s own Eleanor strike a pose to a Verona Walls play Cape Town home crowd in DAN HAS DIS­TANT FAM­ILY CON­NEC­TIONS TO SOUTH AFRICA

Tesseract’s BFG James hangs with fans af­ter the show A suc­cess­ful tour can make you feel on top of the world This is...this is just not me­tal We ain’t pulling your fin­ger, pal DI­VERSE IS BE­COM­ING MORE THE ME­TAL COM­MU­NITY Hands up, who took pho­tos...

For once, the Tesseract boys stay on the rails FEW IN­TER­NA­TIONAL ME­TAL BANDS TOUR IN SOUTH AFRICA RAAAIINS THE “I BLESS AAAAFRICAA!” DOWN IN Dan runs with the pride of a lion… and sings with the lungs of a blue whale

A young fan meets his he­roes. He’s on the right path FOR THEIR FU­TURE BIG AM­BI­TIONS TESSERACT HAVE De­spite ap­pear­ances, Tesseract are pretty fuck­ing far from blue Just like Mil­ton Keynes, eh, lads?

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