Pretoria band Isochronous returns from touring Germany to reunite with stablemates Kidofdoom to play the first Kirstenbosch concert of February.
This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight; section on 05 – 06 February 2011.
When Pretoria four-piece Kidofdoom redefined the local rock map by making a success of a band without vocals, it highlighted the rich musical scene in the capital city. The point was underscored when a side-project of that band, Isochronous, went on to garner local critical and popular acclaim – and get itself invited on a national tour of Germany to open one of the country’s biggest rock stars. Kidofdoom are Ryk Benade on guitar and e-bow, Richard Brokensha on guitars and keyboards, Barend Pieterse on bass and theremin and Johan Auriacombe on drums. Isochronous also features Brokensha on guitar, but also on vocals, along with Alex Parker (keyboards and vocals), Franco Schoeman (bass and backing vocals), and Marko Benini (drums and production).
“When we started, people thought that the lack of vocals might be a problem, but it’s quite the opposite,” says Kidofdoom’s Benade by ‘phone between Pretoria rehearsals. “We don’t sing in a gender or a specific language so there is lots of room for people to interpret the music on their own. We never like to tell people what to make of it – and we love to hear their opinions on what a Kidofdoom song or show means. It’s opened up a lot of doors in terms of listenership – we have young and old, and people across different cultures and races. With a vocalist, a band’s songs often become centred around that – we have to make the music interesting enough to hold people’s attention with enough dynamics or melody in each song. A typical rock quartet might easily write 20 songs – but they would be 20 songs that sound the same. We take a lot of time focusing on a track to make each on interesting, and to fit them together to slowly take people on a journey of sound.”
Journeys have beginnings, of course, and Parker is happy to reflect on the origins of Isochronous. “There definitely is a Pretoria scene with a couple of good bands,” he says from his hometown, “People often forget that it started with in the late 1990s with Not My Dog and the hardcore rock scene like Thysis, and then The Narrow – those bands basically paved the way for other bands to try their luck. When Kidofdoom came out, they were very good at organising themselves and doing tours like Cape Town and Durban – places were people hadn’t seen them. They paved the way for other acts too – now you have Wrestlerish, Yesterday’s Pupil, Die Tuindwergies and more. It definitely helped us when Isochronous started. Richard was in Kidofdoom too and that helped us get decent gigs at the start, and then better gigs and then the festivals. I think Pretoria is a bit of a hotbox – there’s a student commune scene, and places like Tings & Times and other ‘old faithful’ Pretoria central dives. People are enthusiastic to watch bands and DJs – and to see artists when they come up from Cape Town. We hope there’s a little bit of hype in Cape Town too for us; these two visiting Pretoria bands.”
Curiously, when asked if they’d like to focus on anything specific outside of their music and the Kirstenbosch shows, both bands mentioned their puzzlement at rumours of rivalry – even feuding – between Kidofdoom and Isochronous. “We are all multi-instrumentalists in Kidofdoom, and we like exploring the musicality we find in each other and the band, and the stories that need to be told – without any bad vibes,” says Benade. “We hear these rumours that we don’t like Isochronous or they don’t like us, but no-one knows where they come from. People aren’t aware that not having vocals in Kidofdoom was a conscious decision – I mean we sit with a guy that has, in my opinion, one of the best voices in South Africa! When Richard started with Isochronous, I introduced him and Marco to one another and the two bands are best friends. We were so excited to hear about their tour to Germany – it’s like your little brother has excelled at something, and we were so proud. We have all grown as musicians together, doing gigs and tours as brothers side-by-side. Now to be able to share the stage with them at a venue like Kirstenbosch is going to be a really sweet occasion.”
Isochronous toured Germany as the supporting act on a countrywide tour by Marius Muller Westernhagen, a hugely popular rock artist in that country with over 15 million record sales to date, and pre-sale concert tickets topping 80 000. Westernhagen saw the band playing at Cape Town’s Zula Bar in early 2010 and described them as “fantastic musicians who produce wonderful compositions and melodies” and “the band everyone is looking for but rarely finds”. He vowed to introduce them to audiences across Germany and, in November last year, made good on the promise.
“Marius is really a mega-superstar here, you can’t really explain it,” says Parker. “He’s a ’90s artist that is pulling in over ten thousand people for a ten show tour across the country. We had a half-hour opening slot for him and, more than anything, it was just a super experience learning to handle that kind of audience. It was intimidating at first, but the crowds are so big that you can’t see anybody so it boils down to just playing to the people in the front row. You play for them, and hope it filters through.” It seems to have worked – the band have been invited to return and have recorded an album at Cape Town’s Sound and Motion Studios which they hoped to get mixed by an international producer for release in Germany – and to coincide with a South African tour.
As for the Kirstenbosch gig, both bands are excited about the opportunity. “The scenery is fantastic; the venue is perfect and we know it’s going to be a great show,” says Benade. “Kidofdoom has played with lighting every gig that we’ve done over the last five years to try and make it the best audio and visual experience possible. Now we don’t need that R10 000 lighting rig as the visuals are taken care of by Kirstenbosch and Table Mountain – and we’ll just concentrate on doing the music. We haven’t played in a while and I can’t think of a better gig – with a bunch of good mates at the perfect sundowner.”
Isochronus and Kidofdoom share the stage at the Old Mutual Summer Sunset Concert at Kirstenbosch on Sunday 6 February (Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Rhodes Ave, Newlands, 5.30 to 6.30pm, concert gates open 4pm; details Sanbi.org, tickets R50 – R75, from 021-7998782 or Webtickets.co.za). More on Isochronous.net; find Kidofdoom on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. The Summer Sunset Concert series continues in February with Zebra & Giraffe (13 February), Jesse Clegg (20 February) and Loyiso with Chad Saaiman (27 February). Isochronous also play RAMfest (4 and 5 March at Nekkies, Worcester; see RAMfest.co.za).
This column originally appeared in the Cape Argus ‘Tonight; section on 05 – 06 February 2011. Find out more on Tonight.co.za.