I first saw Black Math in 2011, at the much-missed Durban social hall, Unit 11. Their parents were there. The three gawky-looking dudes on stage looked too young to be allowed in. What they produced on that night was good. Not great, and certainly, under normal circumstances, not anything worthy of going down in rock ‘n’ roll folklore. Despite this, in their own unassuming way, Black Math slotted into the hearts of Durbanites, and ever since, we Durbanites have embraced them as a jewel in our oft-maligned scene. We all knew that they had more to offer us, and that they were destined for great things, and that was that.
It wouldn’t be right to speak of Black Math’s ‘rise’, as much as the steady consolidation of their immense talent. They’ve slowly established themselves as an un-missable act on any given line-up, as a solid, dependable, blower of minds. Not that this bothers them much. Chatting to vocalist and guitarist, Cameron Lofstrand, he tells me that they see success as simply being able to tour, and to be able to keep making music.
The three-piece band consists of Tyla Burnett-Bass on guitar, Acacia Van Wyk on the drums and Cameron on guitar and vocals. Forming back in 2010 from a close-knit group of friends that went to school together, Black Math crafted their own sound that drew on the high-energy genres of garage rock, psychedelic rock, stoner rock, punk and heavy metal. By their own description, their sound is “raw, unforgiving and will punch you in the face when you least expect it.”
By no means prolific, Black Math have nonetheless released a steady assortment of songs and short EPs, which they usually record live in a home studio. The most recent of which are two collections released at roughly the same time: Death, Existing, and other Joys of Life, and the vinyl EP Nobody Shuffles the Same. The latter released as the first edition of the Khaya Records 7″ Series.
Now they are gearing up for a new album, which they are recording at the moment, with a few singles scheduled to drop at the end of June.
On what to expect from the new work, Cam shared that they “tried to do something a bit mellower with this album, but it’s still pretty heavy. I think music just naturally comes out heavier for us. We’ve been listening to a lot of hip-hop, jazz and post-rock as well. I love experimental shit, so we’ve been getting a little experimental”.
Image by Russell Grant
I had the opportunity to listen to some of the early mixes of a few tracks, and it’s clear that some of these influences shine through (perhaps not so much the hip-hop though). It still sounds very much like Black Math, firmly rooted in the doom-metal that has informed their sound for so long. It feels, however, that they have opened up a kind of sonic portal through which a host of influences are invading their darker, heavier sensibilities; like they cracked the egg of Doom and are letting the yolk congeal wherever it may on their musical pan.
Weirdness and experimentation are the order of the day now, with odd, bouncy, angular lines of melody iced with the thick slices of riffage that we’ve come to expect from the trio. One particular track fades out into a 5-minute interlude of cow-bell, floor tom, and pedal manipulated feedback. It’s truly refreshing to witness an act become so utterly free and brave in their pursuit of what sounds good.
Cam tells me that they feel as if people appreciate them more in Cape Town than in Durban. This is disconcerting for a Durbanite, especially one who feels that Black Math’s influence here cannot be overstated. The analysis makes sense though. Cape Town, thanks to collectives like Psych Night, has fostered the kind of scene that could centre the likes of Black Math, while providing the sort of support and fan-base that’s lacking a bit in Durban, which isn’t to say there isn’t a similar scene growing here.
Cam is quick to downplay the influence Black Math has had in spawning bands like Mouse or The Myths – bands which to my mind, may not have arisen had Black Math not forged a path all those years ago.“I think it wasn’t so much us as being just a natural thing. We all come from similar backgrounds and demographics so I’d say it just happened naturally”.
Whatever the case, Black Math will forever have a place in the diverse and growing Durban music scene. Their new album is sure to be well received. Their dream of regular touring is on hold for now, as their drummer, Acacia, and their bassist, Tyla, commence their studies (Cam is just finishing up with his).
There are talks of a European tour happening in the near future, but this will have to wait until everyone in the band is free. For now, we have Black Math’s treat of sonic weirdness to look forward too, and many more years of having our minds blown.