Just as he doesn't pay much attention to trends in his music, Piotr Bejnar doesn't stick to the usual when performing. The Polish producer and performer has stripped down his set-up to the point of working his sampler while dancing with the crowds on the dance floor. He's also been known to control his tech from his cell phone while standing at the back of the venue, enjoying the music with the fans. Piotr started his own label, Otake Records, three years ago and now has the freedom to release his stuff when and how he wants to. This single, 'Nie Ma Mateusza' (Polish for, er, No Matthew), is from a new album called Album. Interesting guy, solid music.Tweet
Tell us more about Al Bairre? We are Tessa and Julia and Kyle and Nicholas. Kyle and Nicholas first met the twins at a pre-drinks do at Plett Rage. Nicholas had been chatting up Julia the whole evening and then kissed Tessa thinking it was Julia. Julia then kissed Nic because she had already put in all the legwork. The next step was obviously to form a band. Where and when was Al Bairre’s first performance? At a restaurant called La Cabane in 2012 for a Battle of the Bands competition. We came eighth, and have been coming eighth ever since. What has been one of your biggest achievements? Our first single ‘Bungalow’ making it to number three on the 5FM Top 40 – it was pretty wild. Goals for 2016? We want to take ourselves over the Atlantic to the land of the free and home of the brave and do some ows there. Next CD details? We just released our mini-LP called Experience The Al Bairre Show With Al Bairre Experience. Caviar Dreams was like hot.com – any plans to collab with P.H.fat again? Probably not. That was a very stressful time. A great, great time. But a stressful time. Much like losing your virginity. What festival would you give every last cup of coffee to perform at? Glastonbury, every time, baby. Fave local musician? At the moment it’s Sol Gems. Those dudes are futuristic. Fave international muso? We are really loving Unknown Mortal Orchestra, William Onyeabor and Seal. Describe a day in the life of Al Bairre. We wake up. Kyle, Nicholas and our manager Jeremy meet up at the Al Bairre worldwide office. Nicholas does Al Bairre Store clothing, which is launching soon. Kyle handles the internet and Jeremy does everything we don’t wanna deal with and, gosh dammit, does he do it well too. Then Tessa goes to UCT and studies law and Julia does our accounting and taxes from her home-office table. It’s a gorgeous oak table with a lovely walnut finish. Fave vida? The one in Belvedere Square is just the best. Their burgers and salads are to die for, and you can sit outside in the courtyard, which is divine. Also the Chocolate Frios are something else. I might go there now actually. Yes, I think I’ll go there now. Why does it rock to be a vida brand ambassador? Well, whenever we enter any vida, everyone stands up and starts clapping. Also there is a vida around the corner and we are always hungry, so it’s a match made in heaven. Visit their official site for more!Tweet
Write what you know. That’s always the sage advice handed down to writers tackling a new project, but when you play in the speculative-fiction and crime genres, you’re likely to head into territory you know nothing about. Ideas can come from anywhere, as you’re about to discover, but even the most bizarre ones need to be backed up with research. Sometimes an idea can form from something as simple as driving down the road and taking in the ephemeral sights. ‘I often joke that South African tabloids are the biggest speculative-fiction publications in the country,’ says Charlie Human, whose second novel, Kill Baxter, continues the adventures of 16-year-old Baxter Zevcenko, a young man who becomes immersed in South Africa’s seedy underworld of zombies, tokoloshes, and shape shifters, and ends up at a magical training school. ‘“Tokoloshe twerking for my husband”, “Priest fights fire demons”, “Satan goes to school” – these are all real headlines, all great seeds for stories. ‘Apocalypse Now Now and Kill Baxter draw directly from this vast pool of urban myth, taking old South African mythologies and mashing them together with new urban legends,’ he says. ‘They’re a tribute to the bizarre fiction of our tabloids, revelling in the weirdest the Daily Voice and Die Son have to offer and trying to outdo them.’ Yet, for other authors, something may sit in their brains for decades before suddenly finding a place in a book. Take, for example, the following words, which were spoken more than 25 years ago by a man at the Fort England Psychiatric Hospital outside Grahamstown whose hallucinations were very real to him: ‘There’s a chain you can’t see running from my stomach to the bellies of all my brothers and sisters on other continents. We are all connected by this chain. But there is also a shark. He lives in my stomach and chews on the chain. You can hear him if you want.’ ‘These words – spoken with great conviction – prompted nine years of university study on two continents, a lifelong fascination for psychopathology, as well as my novel The Unsaid,’ says Richard de Nooy, who grew up in Johannesburg and now lives in Amsterdam. The Unsaid is a psychological thriller whose protagonist, a journalist who specialises in reporting from war zones and conflicts, is locked up in a psychiatric ward for evaluation after violently attacking people in a bar. Here, as he becomes immersed with thieves, rapists and murderers, we begin to wonder about his mental state and grasp on reality. ‘We writers are continually doing research, long before we know what we’re going to write,’ says Richard. ‘As David Grossman put it in Her Body Knows: “Telling secrets to a writer is like embracing a pickpocket.”’ Although life experiences are often very useful for a writer to pillage for stories, sometimes they still have to venture out in person to find answers to questions. ‘Normally I would just sit at my desk and consult the Internet, past experience and my imagination but, this year, Sarah and I decided to meet in Paris for a few days to find locations and scenes for our fifth S.L. Grey novel, which sees two unprepared tourists from Cape Town visit Paris in February,’ says Louis Greenberg, who collaborates with Sarah Lotz on a series of utterly chilling horror novels under the pseudonym S.L. Grey (the first of which was The Mall in 2011). ‘We found a flat that would be the ideal spot to rent for our holidaying protagonists and visited a waxworks museum, which of course could be rendered very creepily, and felt first-hand how cold the weather can be there in February. The trick was turning the very pleasant week we enjoyed into a horrifying and traumatising experience for our poor protagonists.’ He enjoyed the experience so much that he did it again: ‘I did similar site reconnaissance in Kingston upon Thames for my new solo novel, drifting around learning the streets from my agoraphobic protagonist’s compulsive perspective and finding and photographing buildings and locations for the novel’s scenes. Now I’m addicted to location scouting and hope to do it again for upcoming novels, budget allowing.’ Authors don’t always have to travel far and wide to do research but they do often have to step out of their comfort zones to find answers to key bits of information. Hawa Golakai is from Liberia but spent over a decade in Cape Town, where she trained and worked as a medical researcher in immunology. Her first novel, The Lazarus Effect, is set in Cape Town and is the story of an investigative journalist who has visions of a teenage girl that she begins to research under the pretext of working on a story. Hawa’s background enables her to pepper the plot with scientific nuggets that crime-fiction fans absolutely adore but they all require fact checking. ‘Let’s face it: writing is a job where you sit alone in a room like a hermit mouse, laptop burning into your crotch until you have a manuscript,’ Hawa says. ‘So, it’s exciting to break up the monotony with research. The Lazarus Effect featured a mummified body in a drain so I spent quite some time climbing into filthy sewage pipes and learning what a “culvert” was. I also enjoy doing autopsies any chance I get – cause of death and suspicious circumstances take on new meanings when your investigative tool is an actual corpse. One of the deaths in my new book The Score is a reimagining of an interesting case I worked on at the pathologist’s office when I lived in Botswana. The death was ruled accidental but it was fun twisting and remoulding the situation to one that fitted the plot.’ Lauren Beukes is another author who is known for doing meticulous research all over the planet (it’s partly her fault for setting her stories in cities on the other side of the world), and frequently has to set up excursions with fixers to find specific information and take reference photographs. ‘When I went to Detroit on a second research trip for my novel Broken Monsters, I hired Robert-David Jones, the hip young artist who’d showed me around the last time, to play tour guide,’ she says. ‘He’d previously taken me urban exploring in evocative abandoned places, to underground art events and backyard barbeques and Santeria shops. This time he was waiting to pick me up at the airport in a big black van – the kind serial killers use. I tried to laugh it off. 'Nice murder wagon!' I said as I hopped in, frantically calculating exactly how well I knew this guy anyway. ‘It’s not a murder wagon,' he said. 'It’s a hearse. I borrowed it from my neighbours who run a family funeral home. Sorry I was late, they had to drop off a dead old lady 20 minutes ago.'
Tropical and global bass, hip-hop, electronica and local sounds from around the world all add to the colourful mix presented by Dutch band SKIP&DIE. The party started with Cata.Pirata (born in Johannesburg as Catarina Aimée Dahms) and Utrecht producer Jori Collignon writing music together. Joined by Gino Bombrini (guitar and percussion) and Daniel Rose (guitar and exotic strings like the sitar and saz) they became an exciting live act and performed at a long list of major music festivals. Wherever they go, the band explore local music and collaborate with rising artists – from Gugulethu and Soweto for the 2012 debut album, Riot in the Jungle to this year's Cosmic Serpents with sounds from Egypt, Portugal, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil. We caught up with Cata.Pirata just before their recent visit to South Africa.
Where did you take your first steps? My first baby steps where on South African soil, my first music recording steps on the Argentinian pampas and the take-off for what was to become SKIP&DIE was launched along the canals of Amsterdam. You sing in a lot of languages. Which of them do you speak? (Almost) fluently: English, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and French. We do a lot of collaborations, and most of the time the people we collaborate with sing in their native tongues, so we get to pick up dialects and sayings from all over the globe. What was your day job before the band took off? I did a Masters in Visual Performance and Time-Based Arts, so I was focussing on my career as a visual artist - but that didn't really pay the bills, so for a while I was a full-time editor in chief for a youth magazine in Amsterdam, until we decided to put all our efforts into finalising the first SKIP&DIE album Riots in the Jungle - which luckily took off as soon as we released it in 2012. Would you say your personal style is more designer store or more thrift shop? I love working with and supporting young designers, so people who put all their passion into their dreams, like we do. But I never buy branded clothing, my style is a patchwork of thriftshop finds, unique items and gems I find while on tour in different countries. Do you have a style icon? I feel like style is a personal growth process and always in flux, so I've never had, or stuck to, one style icon. I'm constantly inspired by the diversity of people, from stuff I see on the street, to Instagram, in the arts, to ancient traditions. I do feel like Frida Kahlo's paintings embody a lot of the timeless dreamscapes that might be a great influence to my style. What piece of equipment can the band not be without? We could probably make music with anything we find lying about, ha-ha! But to feel the full SKIP&DIE vibe we'd love or need to have an Elektron Octatrack, a sitar and a few percussion instruments. What music is the band listening to at the moment? We just did a tour of Reunion Island, with a group of Creole musicians we consider family: Lindigo. We did a few shows together and their music has been stuck in our heads and hearts forever. Our favourite song currently is "Milé Sèk Milé" (traditional from Creole: "I am what I am", video here). Another song on repeat, in a completely different genre, is "Multi-Love" by Unknown Mortal Orchestra. SKIP&DIE official site
It's my lounge, but it's not. There are people here I've never met. They already feel like close friends, although they paid to be here. It's crowded, and I had no idea this many adults could be so happy sitting on cushions and blankets for so long (a lucky few got to the couch or commandeered office chairs). The biggest difference, though, is that poet-troubadour Gert Vlok Nel is playing the guitar - over near the sliding doors to the balcony - and telling stories about how he's not really a recluse, or a legend. It really is my lounge, but it really is not - and that's the sublime beauty of the new trend of home concerts and secret gigs. In 2009 three of Rihanna's American tour dates were cancelled. Not because of any diva-like behaviour from the chart-topping singer, but due to a lack of ticket pre-sales. RiRi, with her 41-million Twitter followers and 150-million albums sold, couldn't translate all that interest into booty on paid-for seats. It shows just how the music industry is struggling to cope with changes such as digital downloads, declining mega-labels and the rise of independent auteurs. The very good news for us, the listening public, is that there's a new generation of home-based shows and boutique festivals on offer. Last year, a series called Littlegig was launched, under the manifesto that big concerts are too impersonal, clubs are too cramped and dedicated music venues... well, they aren't always as pleasantly appointed as one might hope. There have been three shows so far, hosting an impressive line-up of South African legends alongside brand-new talent: maskandi master Madala Kunene and nu-folk newcomer Bongeziwe Mabandla; electro-agitators Original Swimming Party and neo-soulster Zaki Ibrahim; and South African-raised singer/songwriter Yoav, fresh from supporting Tori Amos on tour and basking in a No 1 hit in Russia. These are artists heard far too seldom in an intimate setting and with proper acoustics - if they're even heard at all. Littlegig isn't cheap: tickets have topped R500, but that included drinks, surprises like a Pieter Hugo video and a cameo by Inge Beckmann (frontwoman for Lark and Beast), and venues such as Cape Town's historic Centre For The Book. At the more affordable end of the spectrum is the City Soirée series. Started by Gerhard Maree in 2010, the series takes the crowdfunding model and applies it to live music: a musician suggests a show, usually in someone's lounge; fans pledge to see it; and when a minimum number of tickets have been sold, the show is on. Fans can also petition an artist to play a show in their area. When rising star Nakhane Mahlakahlaka Touré started his 2015 shows, it was with City Soirées. Previous gigs have ranged from acoustic guitarist Derek Gripper, presenting his transposing of works composed for the kora by Malian master Toumani Diabaté, jazz firebrand Bokani Dyer performing on the prized piano of an Atlantic Seaboard millionaire, Americans Willy Mason and Brett Newski, ethno-musicologist Dizu Plaatjies previewing some of his Carnegie Hall material - and Gert Vlok Nel on a balcony in the Bo-Kaap. In Port Elizabeth, Asanda Msaki used the platform to bypass the perils of venue management and get her music to eager ears - garnering ongoing comparisons to the soulfulness of Joan Armatrading in the process. Before jazz pianist Nduduzo Makhathini rose to wider public prominence with winning the Standard Bank Young Artist Award (2015), your best chance of hearing him outside of a jazz festival was at gigs organised by fellow jazz artists, often in restaurant gardens. Funk powerhouse Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness impressed audiences but confused bookers with their socially charged melding of Western and African forms. So they simply bypassed traditional stages and created their own shows, some of which are powerfully captured in their debut recording, Live At The Sugar Factory. And now the band is booked to tour and record in Europe. The traditional band tour has also changed. When The Postal Service singer Laura Burhenn (also co-founder of post-folk group The Mynabirds) wanted to play across South Africa, she looked to a development trust called Africa Voices and created The Songbird Tour, which saw her coaching local vocal talent for a few weeks before they joined her at shows in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and Grahamstown. She did the same with the Joint Artists and Musicians Development Trust in Knysna, and performed an outreach show in Port St Johns for the Eluxolweni Orphanage. 'I find it deeply beautiful that I will be touring from the States to South Africa before I get to Europe or the United Kingdom,' she said. So, how do you access these secret worlds? It's never been easier, since word of mouth went social: simply follow an artist's Facebook or Twitter profile. When Spoek Mathambo (twitter.com/Spoek_Mathambo) first did a national tour, it was advertised almost exclusively via social media, and each show sold out. By the simple effort of finding and 'friending' a musician, you're likely to hear about shows both public and privé. City Soirée and boutique festival Studio7 provide email updates; campus radio stations always have their ears closer to the collective ground and are an invaluable source of prepress tips (TuksFM, UJFM and MFM stand out); and SAfm's Saturday morning Lifestyle Show has a regular music slot that reveals weekly gems (@SAfmlifestyle), as does Cape Town's BushRadio.
While international filmgoers were entranced by aliens and spaceships in District 9's reimagined South Africa, we were faced with the uncomfortable truth that what was really being depicted was a clever reinterpretation of a massive issue that plagues our society: xenophobia. That's what's so enthralling to fans of speculative fiction (the umbrella term for fantasy, science fiction and horror) - the stories can be escapist and fantastical, or they can use a metaphor to explore humanity. The possibilities are endless and often highly imaginative. In South Africa speculative fiction has a long history, with authors such as JM Coetzee, Eben Venter, Karel Schoeman, and Nadine Gordimer publishing work long before the genre became popular here. Now, spurred on by successes such as District 9 and author Lauren Beukes's award-winning Zoo City, local speculative fiction, whether represented by films, novels, or comics, is gaining in popularity. But how should we define it? What is South African speculative fiction? 'I think we're still figuring out what South African speculative fiction means as both writers and readers,' says Charlie Human, whose debut novel Apocalypse Now Now (a very South African title) is set in Cape Town and features a frenetic mash-up of myths and marvels that includes zombies, magic and tokoloshes. 'For me it's writing that reflects something of the South African experience, or at least a South African experience, be it in tone, style or content.' Fantasy and horror author Nerine Dorman, who organises the 'Bloody Parchment' literary night at The Book Lounge in Cape Town each Halloween, looks to the author first and worries about content, plot and language later. 'I'd say that, as creatives, we are informed by our heritage and environment. A South African writer currently living in India and writing about a futuristic world in another solar system would still be a South African writer,' she says. Diorgo Jonkers, who writes for and publishes the comic anthologies GEP and GEP Pulp, believes that it is 'any speculative fiction created in SA'. Even though he frequently collaborates with international artists, he believes that the work is still South African, although 'some may be referred to as semi-SA or international if they were, say, written and published in SA while the art is created by an overseas artist'. 'It does get a bit tricky when it's someone who's not necessarily African writing about South Africa,' Nerine adds. Comics writer Moray Rhoda has a similar opinion. 'It might sound simplistic at face value,' he says, 'but I feel that identifying the work as South African has little to do with place, background, time or setting, and that the writer being South African is what defines the work as such, whether the story is set in Soekmekaar or on Mars.' Moray, who co-publishes the comics anthology Velocity, which exclusively features work by artists and writers in Southern Africa and Australia/New Zealand, does concede that some people, by virtue of having lived here long enough to have been 'assimilated' into our culture even if they weren't born here, can also be considered South African speculative fiction writers. A perfect example is Sarah Lotz, who grew up in the UK. Sarah collaborates with her daughter, Savannah, on a series of zombie novels for young adults and with author Louis Greenberg on a horror series. 'I consider myself a South African writer - I set most of my books here and have lived here for longer than anywhere else,' says Sarah, whose new novel, The Three, will be out in May. 'The definition of South African speculative fiction could encompass all sorts of elements, including the author's heritage, the content, the plot and the language. It's definitely on the rise, as is other genre fiction, partly because writers, such as the fabulous Ms Beukes, have shown that 'spec fic' can tackle social issues in a multitude of exciting, fun and genre-bending ways. It's also hitting the South African mainstream and being published and reviewed here. It's being taken seriously in schools and universities, where countless students are now writing theses on it.' As much as we can define anything, Lauren Beukes says, she thinks there are two distinctions here: South African speculative fiction about South Africa, and speculative fiction written by South Africans not necessarily set here. 'What makes it all South African is the perspective, and even the most raucous and wonderfully crazy stuff has a social conscience and political undercurrents (such as Charlie Human's zombie strip club frequented by dodgy politicians in Apocalypse Now Now), and I think that's uniquely South African - we can't get away from it. You can't live here and not be aware of social injustice and that becomes at least part of the background of your story.' That's why the social injustice in District 9, which manifested via the xenophobia undercurrent, was so appreciated by local audiences and why the movie felt so South African - it wasn't just because it was set here. As if to illustrate the point, when I asked the writers to imagine a future in which the zombie apocalypse has happened and to consider, in South Africa, where the survivors would regroup and who would be in charge, those very aspects that Lauren highlighted immediately came into play. 'After the initial wave of undead decimates Cape Town, survivors regroup at the Castle under the leadership of retired supercop Piet Byleveld,' says Charlie. 'Piet knows monsters, and he has a hunch about how the virus started, but this is one case he has to solve. For the sake of us all.' Sarah expects to find the survivors 'at the Woolworths cake aisle. Led by my nan, probably. She's terrifying.' Diorgio, on the other hand, places his bet on the survivors regrouping 'at one of the SAB breweries, with a corrupt politician in charge'. 'The survivors (the smart ones) will head for a place such as Robben Island as it's a well proven fact that zombies can neither swim nor operate boats,' says Moray. 'Meanwhile, all the members of the born-free generation will be gathering at the mall because, let's face it, they will only see a zombie apocalypse as a fully integrated LARPing [live-action roleplaying] situation, where they get to kill things with impunity. As for who will be in charge - it will be the people with the best weapons and most ammo.' 'I'm not particularly interested in the survivors, except for cutting them off from weapons supplies,' says Lauren. 'My zombie apocalypse strategy is to get bitten first, rise to be queen of the zombies, and pick the survivors off one by one. Brain-munching goodness.' 'I reckon we'll see some hardcore game ranger take charge,' says Nerine, 'and a game reserve or national park with good fencing will make a fantastic refuge for survivors. Okay, now you have my story seed sprouting...' That story seed, and the endless possibilities that our complicated, fascinating society offers, is exactly why South African speculative fiction - however you choose to define it - is now on the rise.
If zombies do attack, feel free to join Mandy in the safety of Nkandla. She'll be on a Lilo in the fire pool after the tuckshop provisions run out.