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The Music Room in the House Of Horrors

Love comes in spurts and Trike pulls no punches

Piet Pompies

Two years ago the legendary Abelarde Sanction, Brixton’s counterculture club, gave up the ghost. From the 1990s and into the new millennium it served as bohemian redoubt and launching pad for a colourful variety of musicians. In its final years the club nurtured a slew of emerging Afrikaans rock and folk artists like Brixton Moord & Roof and Plank.

Drikus Barnard is Brixton of Brixton Moord & Roof and also the leader of Plank, a subversive, confrontational rock band in the tradition of the Velvets. His partner and female vocalist of Plank is the Sinead look-alike Esmé Eva Kwaad. The name is a pun on Esmé Euvrard, the famous Afrikaans radio personality of the 1960s and 1970s, a ubiquitous voice on Springbok Radio in that bygone era. Unlike the amiable Tannie Esmé, this bald chick spits venom in both Plank and Trike, a duo of which the other half is Drikus.

They teamed up with Paul Riekert, South Africa’s industrial music pioneer and the man behind Battery 9. The spawn of this union is a hauntingly beautiful and groundbreaking album of nightmarish imagery wrapped in addictive melodies. To the one who said comparisons are odious: Screw you! Think of Lou Reed’s Berlin or Nick Drake’s Black Eyed Dog or Swans in their Filth phase and you’ll get an approximate idea of the joys and horrors of this mind-fucking music.

But no, you won’t. In texture it’s rather more like Babble, the 1979 collaboration between the British singer/social worker Kevin Coyne and the German chanteuse Dagmar Krause on that rare and obscure album about the Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Enough of comparisons already …

The dead mouse on the CD cover of Volle Militêre Eerbetoon is a not-so-veiled warning of the album’s contents. One could be forgiven for thinking “Sly & Robbie” when the lilting reggae rhythm of “Luislang” opens the work, a lament carried by Drikus’s dark voice before Esmé Eva Kwaad joins him in a running commentary on the sorry state of the world. It also sets a pattern of references to other musicians, in this case Bon Scott and Jimi Hendrix: “Tot jy soos Jimi Hendrix of Bon Scott/ in jou eie kots verstik”. It’s a song about ordinary people playing power games, fucking up their neighbours, abusing their friends. The sad conclusion is: “Goeie mense kom altyd laaste.”

In a recent interview, that eminence grise of French philosophers Andre Glucksmann commented thus on the Zeitgeist of the early 21st century:

There is a kind of nihilism at large in the world now, which ranges from the murderous nihilism of the terrorists to the comic, domestic nihilism of [those] who have only the power to block and destroy, and they use it.

In reporting this nihilism, Trike (like Plank) is refreshingly unconstrained by political correctness and pulls no punches when pointing the finger.

But there’s also nostalgia. “Dit Was Die Wes-Rand” is a jazzy rap with a skittering beat where Drikus demonstrates the evocative power of the Afrikaans language in lines like: “Dit was die Wes-Rand/ Sy skole en kerke/ Mense wat treine moes vat na kak werke” and “Moet net nie dink/ Was ons skool se leuse” as Eva Kwaad seconds him in harmony. The references here are to Nick Cave and Black Sabbath: “Sondagaand het gekom soos Black Sabbath/ Met klokke, depressie en dominee se lessie” and there’s mention of Cave’s “sad, sad songs”.

The subversive organ melody of “Rachel” belies its theme of child abuse, paedophilia and suicide, the horrific subject matter made palatable by Barnard’s exquisite poetics. The surviving victim remembers Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” playing on the radio and she remains “tearless” throughout. Rather like EBTG’s “The Night I Heard Caruso Sing”, where the singer who is overwhelmed by fear and loathing finds relief in the voice of the great Enrico Caruso: “Then someone set me down last night/ And I heard Caruso sing/ He’s almost as good as Presley …”

A moving elegy to the Abelarde, “Brixton Shebeen” has wistful acoustic guitar and the two weaving voices reminiscing about the last days of this underground club and the pain of separation of our expats and the ones they left behind. Lou Reed and Nico are the po-mo references here: “Vir ’n oomblik was ek Lou Reed, Esmé Nico beslis …” sings Drikus with great poignancy. Those who remember Plank’s magical performances will concur.

The closest to a love song here is “Rede 93”, where the melody floats in on a beautiful solitary synth before the lyrics unfold their regret and despair: “Wens ek was daar voor die monster/ Wens ek was daar voor swart aande/ Wens ek was daar voor sy sonde/ Jou so seer en hard gemaak het.”

An album of this nature would be incomplete without at least one song about racial oppression and police brutality; this is “Johannes Die Stoker”, an acoustic track not devoid of humour. It speaks of police batons and bloody noses, Alsatians “that are not there to bark” and someone who dreams about his little spot in the “permanent shebeen” (in the sky, I suppose).

Sometimes a song reminds one of a painting - in this case the esoteric artist Wilfried Satty’s eerie “Child And Signs In The Sky”. The title is “Trein Na Bitterfontein”, an acoustic ditty that mentions “children of the corn/ waiting for a sign” with surrealistic images of childhood, the loss of innocence and drug abuse. Here the voice of the maledicted Esmé Eva Kwaad really shines, especially when she sings “Tel my op ek is eroties.”

From the sublime to the corporeal, “Torings” is a song about lust, sweat and alcohol addiction.

The catchy tune and ebullient rhythm of “Swart” unfortunately do not obscure the fact that it deals with baby rape: “Die baba is gekraak/ Kan iemand nog ’n mens sien tussen al daai bloed en braak?” (“The baby is cracked/ Can someone still see a human being through all that blood and puke?”). Alas, this is not the redeeming crack of Leonard Cohen’s immortal lines, “There’s a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.” No, the only thing the victim can expect is making news headlines posthumously.

As witnesses to this atrocity we can only wail in despair with Trike in a hideously disfigured mockery of the old children’s prayer, “When I lay me down to sleep/ I pray the Lord my soul to keep”: “As ek vanaand my neerlê/ Bid ek nie vir vrede/ Of ’n toekoms vir my kind/ Bid ek net die aarde/ Die twee van ons verslind.”

The bouncy “Meranti” with its catchy tune and lovely synth deals with creativity, its companion oversensitivity and the precarious balance between them, warning “daar’s ’n dun lyn tussen genius en fokop”; whilst the atmospheric “Sand”, a funky rap with muted samples and gently swaying dub-reggae rhythms reminiscent of Bill Laswell, gives a snapshot of the band Plank, and the recording process of this album, and comes replete with reverberating shouts of “Jou Ma …”

There’s not a single dud amongst these thirteen captivating tracks. All words and music (except “Sand” - music composed by Paul Riekert) are by Drikus Barnard, who also contributes acoustic and bass guitar. In addition to his splendid production, Paul Riekert is responsible for organ and programming, Jamie Hendrikse contributes a guitar solo on “Sand”, Elton Bong does a bagpipe somewhere and the Bullebak Blaasorkes provides the brass on “Wes-Rand”.

A word to the squeamish: if you can’t stand the screams, don’t enter the house of horrors. Over to Trike for the last word:

Jou mamma is op valium, jou pa is opgestook
Wat de fok het jou besiel om die CD te koop?
Daai drie is van die duiwel, hul sal jou nooit laat rus
Mamma bring die haelgeweer, hier kom die Antichris.
Sit jou hande in die lug asof jy nie omgee
Koop hierdie CD dat ons kan aftree.



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