Unfortunately, it was during apartheid. The very society they were rebelling against was, ironically, blocking them from the outside world where Depeche Mode and the Pretenders were performing themselves into the history books. That wasn’t the world for a white, South African band. No big budgets meant no big marketing campaign could pave a road to classic stardom. Favourites of mine, such as Squeal and No Friends of Harry, are destined to be memories in a select few…and probably die with us.
That brings me to an old review i did for a compilation by Fresh Music that, thankfully, preserves their unfilled music careers a bit longer. You can buy it here.
Rocking Against The System is an important compilation because it preserves the South Africa’s Eighties’ culture that was disappearing into the clouds of post-apartheid. The genre is difficult to label because it made the airwaves yet most was unlike pop anywhere in the world. Some was as alternate as Siouxie and the Banshees versus Simply Red yet sounded nothing like the former. Bands such as eVOID, VIA AFRIKA and BRIGHT BLUE mixed ethnic elements with rock and dance. The PSYCHO REPTILES threw punk into the mix whilst THE SPECTRES made macabre pop. FALLING CHEMIST combined folkesque vocals, melody and meaningful lyrics into something beautiful yet wholely indescribable. Are you getting the wide-angled picture? Many of South Africa’s successful bands wore “identity” as a badge.
And those that experimented less were by no means lesser bands ’cause their hits could’ve competed on international charts. Durban’s CELTIC RUMOURS were a melodic Simple Minds and ELEMENTAL (with Heather Mac on vox) were akin to the Eurthymics. PETIT CHEVAL neighboured Eurasia.
Whilst my youth was a procession of liquor and ragged, black clothing, my friends and i listened to The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, The Mission and NO FRIENDS OF HARRY. NO FRIENDS OF HARRY are a gothic great and they were a class act that represented musical independence and our disillusionment. Their ‘Competition Rules’ is a joint favourite with the amazing TRIBE AFTER TRIBE’s Bob Dylan cover, ‘Damsel’. A close follow-up is Wendy Oldfield’s THE SWEATBAND beginning with ‘This Boy’.
Rocking Against the System is a trip into a past that must become a fun present and a lesson to our artists of the future. Bought it yet?.