Thursday, June 19, 2014

ARVs, Anyone?

The weekly column on South African bands and live shows.
 by Omri Ismail Cassiem
This week: The Anti-Retro Vinyls

No, I’m not talking about the main ingredient to nyaope. I’m talking about the Anti-Retro Vinyls, a punk inspired indie band. It would seem by some cruel twist of fate that I have managed to stumble upon a band that encompasses both my favourite and my most loathed genres of music. Hmm, how do I start?

Their musical compositions aren’t works of technical brilliance, but then again they are inspired by ‘70s British punk music so that was expected. One thing I can say in their favour in that regard is that Greg Allen, the lead guitarist and vocalist, did play more than four chords. Trust me, I counted! For all that, they do have interesting interplays between their leading man and their rhythm section with Sarel Reynolds and Tate Sutton setting interesting rhythm paces. They also have a set list that seems to have been brilliantly designed to take you through dizzying highs and morose lows throughout the show, which is a testament to the emotional depth of the three artists on stage. Finally, some of the vocal effects that Greg is able to do with a simple mic are astounding. You get the feeling that his voice is coming from everywhere and nowhere in some songs, and in the next it feels like he is whispering into your ear from right next to you.

Let’s get to the meat of this article. Let me start by saying I find it almost impossible to think that anything recorded by these guys can even be a shadow of a cardboard cutout on the back of a cave wall to watching them live. Well, other than showing off about my knowledge of Plato’s allegory of the cave, here are my reasons: A) They make punk music. B) And this one is important, they have an otherworldly stage presence. They really don’t just use the space on the stage. When you watch them, you get the eerie feeling that the stage they are on, even though you have seen it before, appeared out of the twisting miasma of your dreams as they stepped onto it. Like somehow it wasn’t there before they set up; that the objects in space that you see before your eyes were willed into existence so that the three of them could play their music to you.

You watch Greg Allen with his voice that seems to echo into the distant recesses of your memories, his coy postures and completely androgynous appearance, and your brain struggles to understand this human being that is so far out of the ordinary that you feel these tendrils of insanity invading your psyche. The drummer (Tate Sutton) goes a bit crazy on his bass drum and he stands up to correct it after the song, and you notice that he is wearing cherry red lipstick and women’s tights. And those tendrils grasp you; it does feel like you have been using nyaope. They play their next song and you realise these people on stage have complete control over your emotions. Then they hand out piercings on stage and all of a sudden the penny drops. You realise after being bombarded for years by the likes of the Jonas Brothers and the One Directions of this world, this is what a true rock star looks like. They have this level of authenticity and a true middle finger to societal norms that, although jarring, is incredibly refreshing to see. I questioned Tate and Greg about their appearance after the show and I think they summed it up brilliantly. Greg said, “The way we dress is a big middle finger to people who want to attack you for having long hair; as they get closer they see you wearing floral tights and they really can’t anymore,” to which Tate added, “Yeah, you can’t hit someone that looks like your mother.”

Final recommendations: go watch them live. They are one of the two bands I have seen over the course of my life that have truly changed me in some way.

Follow me on twitter @Omri_Cassiem for more information on current events and bands that are interesting. I can only review one a week but there are so many talented artists in Johannesburg that I do have a bit of a backlog. I also tweet about interesting event organizers and upcoming events, so if you would like to stay abreast of the South African music scene be sure to follow me.