éVoid: Fad-gadgets reunite, bringing “Taximan” & “Shadows” back home

They invented “fad-gadgets”, caused round-the-block queues in Hillbrow and once caved in the floor of the Stellenbosch Town Hall… Then fled South Africa for London to avoid the apartheid state’s military conscription. Now, ‘80s pop-African legends éVoid reunite and return home for a nationwide tour.

éVoid, circa mid-1980s

éVoid, circa mid-1980s

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2014-08-10

Remember songs like “Shadows”, “Taximan” and “I Am A Fadget”? éVoid was named in 1982 by Lucien Windrich and Erik Windrich, with their brother Karl Windrich as manager, after gigging in a previous band formed in 1977 that cut its teeth playing eight months of gigs in the then Rhodesia. Their debut eponymous album produced a Top Ten single and established their fusion of pop, rock and African influences, which they dubbed “ethnotronic”. Despite military police arresting drummer Wayne Harker during a national tour – Danny de Wet (later of Petit Cheval and Wonderboom) – their success continued with more hits, and a follow-up album “Here Comes The Rot”. They won the “Best Arrangement and Production” and “Best Contemporary Artist” awards at the 1984 Sarie awards (a precursor, of sorts, to the current SA Music Awards). In 1985, the brothers left South Africa to avoid conscription into the Nationalist Party’s army. In London, they changed their name to The Race Of Tan, toured there and Germany and established an international following and some record company interest. Unfortunately, not enough to sustain the band, and they hang up their guitars and set about making lives for themselves and their families. Although still actively musically, 2008 marked the last real outing as éVoid, when the brothers Windrich recorded an album of new material. Now, the pair has re-formed, and drafted in South African emigré rhythm section Yoyo Buys (The Usual, Vusi Mahlasela, Bryan Adams and Mike Horne (Hog Hoggidy Hog, Flat Stanley).

“People are flying to our gigs in London to be one step ahead of their mates in South Africa before we get there… It’s a privilege that people think that way about our songs. One we are very grateful for.”

– Erik Windrich on the dedication of éVoid fans

Erik Windrich answers the ‘phone at his UK home with no discernible British accent, and sounding every bit the man who’s enjoying a pleasant English summer rather than, say, a technicoloured ethnotronic popstar who leaps about in beads and a headdress, brandishing a decorated knobkerrie. This is a man who co-wrote many of the handful of South African penned songs that penetrated the dual laager of ‘80s South Africa’s political censorship laws and our music industry’s easy-road path of merely repackaging imported European and American pop. By day, he’s now the respected Creative And Performance Manager at an English high school, although by night he’s been working hard to get éVoid stage-ready… thirty years later.

“There have been a few little spates of music here and there, with gigs we’ve done, but it’s difficult to sustain and tricky to keep a band together unless you’ve got a big audience, and the last twenty years have been more nappies and getting the kids to school than being a band,” he says matter-of-factly. “We’ve spoken about getting the band together a few times, and Lucien and I were both involved in recording the new éVoid album in 2008, but then it occurred to us that it’s thirty years since we release our debut album in 1984. Also, our parents live in Gauteng and they’re both in their 80s and we thought it would be nice for them to see us playing again so we just thought, ‘Yeah, let’s go for it.’ It’s been lovely, the amount of good vibes we’ve been getting and the animated discussions on Facebook and such. We’ve even got a couple of people who are flying to our gigs in London to be one step ahead of their mates in South Africa before we get there. We’re thinking, ‘You’re mad! Doing that, after all this time?’ But there’s something about that resonance with the music you had, maybe when you were from 15 to 17 or whatever, that you can’t let go. It’s a privilege that people think that way about our songs, and one we are very grateful for.”

éVoid, circa 2014

éVoid, circa 2014: Mike Horne (drums), Erik Windrich (keyboard, vocals), Lucien Windrich (guitar, vocals), Yoyo Buys (bass)

At this point in the interview, it would be edifying to insert words to the effect that “much has been written elsewhere about éVoid”, or “much has been written about the music of éVoid and its place in South African cultural history” but, damnably, they are as undocumented as any collective of artists from that dark time. But this is not an essay of history, it’s an interview about a band that are coming back to the country they once called home. That said, please indulge in some nimble search engine jockeying to reveal what you missed if you don’t know éVoid, or to remind you of the hits you danced to (or tried to record on a TDK-60 off Radio5) or recorded tape-to-tape for a road-trip (or as a heartfelt plea to a hoped-for Valentine).

“The ‘80s was a really tough dark time… I’m happy that South Africa changed and I can just feel that I contributed, even in the small way of not being active in the way the government wanted me to be active.”

– Erik Windrich, éVoid

“When we moved, it was difficult,” acknowledges Windrich. “We knew it was going to be difficult, and we knew we were coming from such a high in South Africa. But the military wanted to conscript me, and I wasn’t going to do that. I was 25, not a 17-year old kid that might be able to say he was duped. There was a culture shock, but we knew we couldn’t become just another English band – you have to go with the influences you feel. We gigged a bit and we toured Germany and there was lots of interest. But you try, and you plug it and if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work. That’s life. It’s about timing for any band, and for any creative industry, and if you’re lucky you get a break. The ‘80s was a tough time for us, socio-politically – a really tough dark time, and it was difficult for us to adjust to being away from that. I’m happy that South Africa changed and I can just feel that I contributed, even in the small way of not being active in the way the government wanted me to be active.”

“Although we’re mixed race – my father is Indonesian, my mother is Dutch – we were still perceived as white, and there wasn’t a lot of space where an international audience could appreciate that a white artist could play African sounds, or even that our sympathies might lie with anyone other than the white rulers,” recalls Windrich. “. It’s not easy for people overseas to view you as an “enlightened outsider” – it’s a lot lot easier to label you as foreigner. Musically, when Paul Simon came out with ‘Graceland’ in 1985, he was such a big global artist that it was difficult for anyone else to make a dent any sort of dent with any African sound. But there were such great artists on the album – Bakhiti Khumalo on bass, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo: it was great to see they were doing well. Very rewarding.”

That éVoid is African is evidenced again in 2014 with the band’s choice of touring rhythm section. “When we recorded in 2008, we worked with Yoyo Buys, and Lucien has jammed with him on other things – so that’s a great, stable way to start the band again. Then we found Mike Horne, who happens to have come over to the UK in the last few years, and that’s great. It’s quite difficult for English drummers to get a handle on the South African feel; that African lilt. If they’ve been exposed to reggae, it’s easier, but if not there’s something about the mbaqanga jive or that kwela sound – the up-beat – and it can catch a drummer who doesn’t have a feeling for where the fills should go, or how to groove it. If you have to try and explain that, or show it – that’s hard. It’s much easier for someone who just knows – they latch on and understand.”

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2014-08-10

éVoid play Cape Town with the Lancaster Band on Monday 25 August (Barnyard Theatre, Willowbridge, Shop F09, Willowbridge Lifestyle Centre, 39 Carl Cronje Ave, Tygervalley, 021-914 8898; details willowbridge@barnyardtheatres.co.za) after shows at Barnyard Theatres across the country with Wong Kong (original éVoid drummer Danny de Wet’s new band), at Emperor’s Palace (Wednesday 20 August), Rivonia (Thursday 21 August), Parkview (Friday 22 August), Cresta Barnyard (Saturday 23 August) and then on to Gateway in Durban (Tuesday 26 August) and Cresta again (Wednesday 27 August). Tickets are R180 from BarnyardTheatres.co.za; shows start 8pm.

éVoid, circa 2014

éVoid, circa 2014: Yoyo Buys (bass), Lucien Windrich (guitar, vocals), Erik Windrich (keyboard, vocals), Mike Horne (drums)

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