Lists, Reviews

The 10 Worst (Post-2000) South African Cheap Shots

‘Exploitation films’ and their multiplicity of subgenres (blaxploitation, Nazisploitation etc) pinpoint a…


‘Exploitation films’ and their multiplicity of subgenres (blaxploitation, Nazisploitation etc) pinpoint a particular fetish or cultural nuance of a targeted demographic and exploit it, often in outlandish fashion. Despite the misleading moniker, a tacit understanding exists between viewer and filmmaker – that the former is fully aware of the artistic intention of the latter. This is crucial to the integrity of the exploitation film as no advantage is taken of the viewer. A similar notion exists in the music world. The kaleidoscopic landscape of contemporary music provides listeners with subgenres of unprecedented specificity (see, for example, ‘pornogrind’, ‘vapourwave’), meaning that the nerdish, super-refined tastes of the 21st Century internet user are too being ‘exploited’ to the best possible ends. 

There is, however, a fine line between calculated artistry and the formulaic scamming of the masses. The more malicious option in this dichotomy is based on an exploitative relationship between artist and patron. Here, the fans are exploited. This may take a multitude of shapes and forms. Some favourites include unconscionable derivation, artless cultural appropriation, pseudo-liberal wankfests and sometimes all three simultaneously. Often, we as listeners are wise enough to realise we’re being manipulated; other, times we find ourselves rapping along to ‘Same Love’. As the title suggests, the list we have compiled the ten worst cheap shots taken at us by the South African music machine since the turn of the millennium. Please note that the ‘cheap shot’ label is not a comment on whether something is good or bad – there are works of both kinds on this list. Read our rationales and judge for yourself.


10. LCNVL – Dreamcatcher

Andrew and Brian Chaplin are best remembered for the ‘Sun In My Pocket’ single that brought a South African title to the radio-centric house music that soundtracked fake-drunk lumo parties in Claremont, circa. 2010. As their sun inevitably rose, the narrow syringe that is South African music buzz struck a main vain of arrogance and artistic shallowness beneath Locnville’s beat-dropping arms. 

This cheap shot was fired from a double barrel: the trend-following omission of vowels from a name that was orthographically dubious to begin with, and LCNVL’s blatant pastiche of house music, dark-pop and electronica that is their 2013 single, ‘Dreamcatcher.’ 

The Chaplins’ belatedly cool moniker reads just like their most recent appropriation of overseas music trends – incoherent, confusing and transparent. ‘Dreamcatcher’ is but a time-saving scroll through the pop charts of past. It drops like Martin Garrix on ‘Animals’, sings like Ellie Goulding in ‘Burn’ and digresses like a distorted Katy Perry on ‘Alien’. Unconvinced? Spotting any stylistic difference between Katy Perry’s appearance in ‘Alien’ and Tailor’s role in ‘Dreamcatcher’ is no easy task. 


9. Goldfish – Perceptions of Pacha Remixed

We all know this story by now. Caught In The Loop was one of the most incredible bodies of music to be birthed by post-apartheid South Africa. However, it was before its time, resulting in Dominic and David’s seemingly necessary shift to their current commercial sound in order to pay the bills. The already 5FM-friendly Perceptions of Pacha saw them capture the hearts of the mainstream market, cashing in just in time before internet connection in South Africa could have the significant impact on CD sales that it eventually did. 

Under two years later they released Perception of Pacha Remixed. While remixing is indeed part of electronic music culture, it’s difficult to avoid the greedy cash cow factor of a whole ‘new album’, which held the lethal combination of familiarity and some ‘doef-doef’ in which the masses could indulge. 

Listen to the album here.


8. Freshlyground – Pot Belly 

Freshlyground, South Africa’s favourite Afro-jazz-lite outfit, are still any event organiser’s wet-dream for the corporate Christmas party.  “Pot Belly” may be a stark example, but they’ve always had an exploitative edge that’s been easy to digest: light, Afro-pop fusion full of mbiwa drums and violins and a racial mixing-pot worthy of a political campaign poster certainly had them in hearts of every middle-aged semi-liberal, but didn’t necessarily keep them there. 

When their infectious ‘Doo Be Doo’ had finally run its well-trodden course on the suburban mini-van radios, Freshlyground released subsequent vernacular singles with earthier and more personal tunes. Record-sales tapered off in a manner that could only be corrected by a song that was more inclusive and palatable to their listenership. ‘Pot Belly’, with frivolous lyrics like “dance with me, flirt with me” and  “a pot-belly still gives good loving ” was sure to be the perfect remedy. The video didn’t exactly need another interracial couple overcoming their (obviously) vast differences to drive the point home, but it certainly helped. It certainly got the flabby and overlooked whistling along to it and then-record company, Sony, whistling at the money it put back in their pockets. 


7. Isochronus – No Fire 

‘Iso’ are not the only band on this list who have a name-change-as-metaphor-for-career story. But while Charlie Chaplin’s twin great-nephews’ career path was transparently mapped from day one, no-one who heard Isochronous’ experimental, post-rock infused debut album could’ve predicted what happened next. Or maybe they could, and therein lies the rub. 

Lead singer Richard Brokensha’s androgynous vocals proved perfect fodder for their Two Door Cinema Club-lite reinvention, sparked by ‘No Fire”s conspicuous run atop the 5FM charts. Beyond the obvious sadness of wasted potential, the other shame is that Brokensha remains part of legendary South African post-rockers, kidofdoom. 


6. The Plastics – The Monkey Simulation 

In 2007/8 Cape Town’s ‘indie’-rock scene was lacking a sense of identity. The internet was in most places still confined to the dreaded dial-up and flashdrives were limited to 64mb, inspiration was lacking and many bands at the time could be accused of being more than influenced by their favourite bands. The Plastic’s eponymous debut EP however is the highlight of this derivative trend and why it classifies as one of our cheap shots. 

If the title of their first single isn’t enough much of the EP is indebted to The Arctic Monkeys. Jumping on the coattails of the huge explosion that was Whatever people say I am… the Plastics are guilty for riding that all the way home. 


5. Dr Victor – If You Wanna Be Happy

“If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life / never make a pretty woman your wife / so from my personal point of view / get an ugly girl to marry you”. Most listeners didn’t have the faintest idea that this was a cover (even in the loosest possible sense), meaning that Sam Cooke’s antic witticisms were attributed to none other than Victor Khojane. 

Dr Victor – assisted by his nurses of aural devastation, the Rasta Rebels – did not just butcher this classic musically, but displayed a Joseph Mengele-like dissatisfaction with mere slaughter. Instead, they managed to mummify and entomb this song in the morbid, arse-end catacombs of our memories. Buried alongside it are other consumer-entertainment travesties of the early 2000s, like MTN Gladiators and the subsequent ‘eh Nicky Boje woh woh’ chant (both of which will go down in the archives of South African shame ahead of the Immorality Act and that sign-language interpreter).


4. Youngsta – Wittebome

When creating derivative music, ensure that you take ‘inspiration’ from enough artists from your chosen genre that you can mask what you have done. When your track is completed: rinse and repeat.  

And yet, it seems that Youngsta may – in his haste – have forgotten this step. His interpretation was to find a song by a great artist, and make it ‘South African’ (though his accent wasn’t given the same treatment). Rather than attempting to camouflage his plagiarism, he changed the name from ‘Money Trees’ to ‘White Trees’, “ya bish” to “you tief” and hoped like hell that no one noticed. Well, Youngsta, we did. Everyone did.


3. Prime Circle – Hello

It is one thing to exploit a genre but it is an especially formidable feat to exploit an already exploitative genre. That is exactly what our local Carnival City-arena rockers Prime Circle managed when they took over the goateed mantle Chad Kroeger left to assume themselves as the champions of the type of sappy post-grunge rock music that worked perfectly on either Jacaranda FM or triumphant SuperSport adverts. 

Using the vocal technique of ‘yarling’ famously employed by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder – which is the throaty growl of a grown man singing like he accidently swallowed a bunch of cotton balls, Prime Circle took what started off as an outsider music genre and finessed it, via the help of soft rockers par excellence, Creed, to bring the flannel shirts to the Tiger Tiger dance-floor. Hello, to the world, indeed. 


2. Devon Marshbank – Disco Taxi 

Devon Marshbank’s ‘Disco Taxi’ is the superlative example of our country’s growing pains, and that’s putting it lightly. With the stock-standard Junior Casio keyboard backtracks, Marshbank manages to plod his way through a minefield of social no-no’s, setting off every trip-wire possible, while simultaneously ripping off Akon’s auto-tuned vocal acrobatics and winning the prize for ‘Most likely to have a tribal tattoo’. One would hope that he was merely a meme, created as a caricature but, no. He’s serious. 

‘Disco Taxi’ is a wicked concoction of Mr Bones type cultural imitation. While the bit of Zulu he includes is maybe the only thing he could use in defence, it doesn’t save the track from coming off as a privileged white kid who’s down right insensitive. The track is a cheap attempt at using the novelty of a white kid doing Kwaito who’s never listened to Kwaito – the ‘blackcent’ when speaking English as well as the ridiculous hook provide for almost five minutes of a train wreck you simply can’t not watch.  


1. ITB – Thank You Madiba

Some things speak for themselves.

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