Events, Reviews

Live Review: LimPOP

Broaden a New Sound is an event organization run by Riaan Botha. Implicit in that name is the…

Broaden a New Sound is an event organization run by Riaan Botha. Implicit in that name is the idea of exposing people to new sounds and experiences, and allowing music to hold the position of ‘the supreme being’ throughout. For years they have worked on building up the music scene, most specifically in Johannesburg, and it would be safe to say that LimPOP was a grand highpoint in what has already been a pretty incredible run. The lineup itself championed some of the biggest names in South African experimental indie music, on both an international and national scale, and it promised to not only be a fun night out, but also a celebration of all the budding talent this country holds. Despite there being a power-outage (a generator had to be installed by an electrician at the last minute) it didn’t seem to matter hugely to the crowd or the bands, all of whom were there to get down to some local music and have a good time.

It only took a matter of seconds to figure out the vibe over at Zen, the newest joint over in the creative-hub neighbourhood of Maboneng in Johannesburg. Possibly the first thing that came to mind on arrival was that it felt a lot like a smaller-scale Webster Hall in New York, where a balcony section looks down upon the ground floor and the stage. It may have just been a balcony and a great space, and the sound was alright (all electrical problems considered), but there was far more to the whole look that made it an exhilarating experience: the proximity of the crowd to the stage gave the evening an intimacy that is always well-received by fans (and, from the looks of things, by the acts themselves), and the crowd were unique in every possible way. For the first time in a very long time, there was a very profound sense of a group of people being there for the music, and the music alone – if they weren’t chattering about it, they certainly were listening and dancing to it. The electrical problems at the beginning of the evening, causing major delays and line-up changes, were hardly a topic of conversation, and didn’t seem to deter the hoards of people who entered the building to stand in front of the stage for hours and revel in the eclectic sounds of our country’s finest musicians.

First up on the bill was Motèl Mari, an experimental pop band consisting of Brooklyn-born-Berlin-raised experimental wunderkind, João Orecchia, along with Mpumelelo Mcata, and Tsephang Ramoba, both of whom are from famed South African rock outfit BLK JKS. Their rousing experimental tracks were played to a swelling crowd, whose interest grew as the band delved deeper into afro-grooves studded by thundering beats. Occasionally, their sound transformed into textural Atoms for Peace-like experimentalism, with sporadic bouts of post-rock grandeur, but not once did their vision become clouded by this dynamic array of influences, ultimately proving them to be an incredibly welcoming start to the evening. 

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FANTASMA were up next, and by this stage, the crowd’s excitement levels were through the roof as they waited to witness the very first live show by Spoek Mathambo’s latest group, consisting of band members Andre Geldenhuys, DJ Spoke and Bheki. Their matching batik-style African shirts could have been seen as slightly try-hard, but it somehow worked for them and once they started playing, it didn’t really matter. FANTASMA blew the ball out the park: there was an incredible amount of energy as jivey guitars worked against DJ Spoko’s beats, and Spoek’s rhymes bopped effortlessly over these wonderfully experimental afro-grooves. A few songs in, and there was already singing and hand-clapping coming from the crowd, which is something seldom seen when a newly formed band delivers new music. Long jamming sessions dotted throughout their set, but the diversity of their sound and the sleekness of their delivery meant that the crowd did not once lose attention, proving them to be an incredible success in the early days of their being. 

The Brother Moves On was up next, and the crowd were eager to see the famed South African band that have wowed crowds all over the country with their boundary-breaking performance art/storytelling/music acts. Many music critics have pronounced them to be one of the most pivotal bands in the ‘transitional South Africa’ we find ourselves in today, so it is only appropriate that their sound cannot be easily explained. Blending various sounds and genres (rock, jazz, folk, electronic, spoken word, dance, afro-funk), all of which inundated by a distinctly South African feel, their high-energy performance rattled throughout the room, dividing crowd members between feelings of complete fascination or utter bewilderment. But this is the nature of their music, through which they communicate thought-provoking and confrontational sociopolitical commentary and deeply personal and mutual histories, all the while wowing the crowd with their visually-stimulating and spirited delivery. They wouldn’t be the band they are today if they did not leave crowds of people in their wake asking questions and feeling slightly perplexed. It is these types of performances that bring richness and meaning to a night out, where a collective can come together and rejoice a small group of musicians who are broadening a new sound and sharing it with the world. 

However, it was with the final rousing notes of The Brother Moves On that I had to leave. Electricity problems at the beginning of the evening meant that the night had gone on for much longer than anticipated; leaving acts John Wizards and Felix Laband for the early morning slots.

John Wizards, who were next on the bill, reached serious critical acclaim last year with their debut eponymous album, John Wizards, which they released through famed London imprint, Planet Mu Records. Brimming with reggae, pop, electro, and slow-jam R&B, their sound is wonderfully eclectic and sweet, and was received well throughout their few months of touring around Europe. Speaking to Colleen Balchin about their performance, she mentioned how they “came on with just the right vibe at just the right time. The party had simmered down so there was room to breathe and focus. The sound of their debut album was ringing in our ears when they finally took to the stage, and I’d say it was everything we could have asked for. They’re a geeky, skinny bunch and it took a beat for them to find the crowd, but by their third song we were together. I looked down to a pit of bodies not bumping or watching, but dancing.” Saul Nossel spoke of how they had “amazing chemistry on stage and the fact that they have two front men creates a fun and full atmosphere.” He did, however, say that “the sound at the event did not complement the band as some of their melodies and harmonies did not cut through clearly, which was a let down from the venue and event point of view. But their adaption of album to live performance is brilliant and it’s great to see that they can adapt that album so well and give a strong and interesting performance. They were groovy, fun and really set an awesome lo–fi vibe that anyone could easily move and dance to.”

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Felix Laband, one of the more seasoned veterans in the South African electronic music scene, followed, and Colleen mentioned how “he played a really tight and fresh set unlike anything I’ve heard from him in a while. It was a warm, tech-y sound, more representative of his new material. The pitch and build were perfect for the time and place, and Felix proved once again how he manages to stay relevant all these years down the line.” 

Needless to say, LimPOP was an incredible success, despite some technical issues early on in the evening. The fact that a generator was sourced and installed in such a short space of time is a feat in itself, and the crowd and bands were clearly pleased to be able to continue with the festivities, albeit slightly later than originally planned. Of course, the lineup was first-class and merged some of the best and most interesting local musical acts around, but it also attracted one of the more attentive, friendly and diverse crowds Johannesburg nightlife has seen in a long time. The venue was something fresh for partygoers to experience, and the music heard on that evening would resonate with many for a long time to come. It’s not often that you get to see some of the best musical talent our country has to offer all in one small room over a couple of hours, but thanks to Broaden a New Sound, it came together superbly and should be seen as a great feather in their cap. 

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