All words: Caitlin Louise
Photographs: Alan Phair from It’s Not Phair Photography
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South Africa is most certainly an incredibly fertile breeding ground for creative expression. We are rich in ideas, rooted deeply in our multitude of identities and saturated in an abundance of diverse experiences. We have no limitations and the creative work that is produced on our soil is evidence of that.
My favourite of such work is that which remains South African at all levels; not only in its origin but also in its audience. Created by South Africans for South Africans, as they say. Because if art is a way to communicate, and music is a way to tell a story, then we surely have a lot to talk about amongst ourselves.
One particular artist who always used to fall into this group of mine is electronic musician Felix Laband. Very recently though, to my absolute delight, he proved that even after all this time he still belongs to this collective.
It has been nine years since the release of Dark Days Exit whose title, in retrospect, seems eerily apt after Laband disappeared from the music scene shortly afterwards in a self-proclaimed ‘fall from grace’. Yet despite his withdrawal, his music never ceased to occupy the minds and imaginations of those who heard and continued to love it. He became a household name in absentia and a point of pride to many, many young South Africans.
The turn-out at his latest performance at Fiction in Cape Town is unquestionable proof of this. In the queue I listened to people discussing him, his work (and lack of work) and how pleased they were with his reappearance and (hopefully) soon to be released fourth album entitled Deaf Safari. Once inside it was even more obvious how much support Laband had.
Young Supreme, WiLDEBEATS and Christian Tiger School played to a steadily amassing crowd who was not the least perturbed by the cold, rain or the unusually high door price (which was still only a measly R40/50). By the time Felix started setting up though, it had become almost impossible to move through the venue. A heady mood of tangible excitement could be felt rolling through the room of bodies pressed on bodies. Everyone steadily jostled to catch a glimpse of a DJ who had existed in their minds as little more than faint nostalgia for most of their young adult lives.
A similarly jammed dance floor to any other music would’ve resulted in carnage. Moving to the sounds of Felix though, it was a surging well of happiness and ear to ear grins. To many, it felt like we were finally coming home. Raised hands lifted a stage diver to the rafters and the fruity aroma of ganja could be smelt in waves of exhalation.
Laband opened with brand new tracks which, with their organic samples, local voice clips and unique dream-like feel, were immediately recognisable as his own work. Familiar, otherworldly tones of flutes and xylophones hung high above swaying melodies and the warm sounds of African instruments. However, there was also a new-found deepness, a weight – a feeling of ‘groundedness’ – that his older beats, in their rudimentary surrealism, never really had. There was a sense of settling; again, the sensation of arriving home. Of course favourites like Donkey Rattle and Whistling in Tongues were also played which happily swept us all down our stream of collective memory.
As with his latest visual art (which had been filmed and was displayed by a projector while he played), Laband’s music is homage to the art of collage. The juxtaposition of internal feelings with external news, the match of porn with National Geographic, the mix of earthy, local sounds with the ethereal spirit of dreams: all of it told stories, asked questions and left room for answers. His intensely focused stage presence (no fist pumping for this man) left his art to tell not just his stories, but ours as well as we drew our own lines and meaning between his images and his audio.
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For many, I think the true talent and artistic genius of Felix’s seamless performance may have unfortunately washed like blue smoke over their heads as they vied for the best spot on the dance floor. For others however, the throng of people could not distract us from hearing all that Felix had to say to us. As fellow South Africans, he holds a revered and beloved place in our minds and our hearts will always be open to hear what he has to say to us.
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