Full-blown Fetish

2012-03-30 10:03

There was a time in the late 1990s and early 2000s when Michelle Breeze’s voice was everywhere, whether you liked it or not.

I should immediately declare a dearth of journalistic objectivity in this regard: I liked it. Breeze’s voice – and the sinuous, strange-fine musical world her band mates in Fetish created to showcase it – was easily the most exciting thing I’d ever heard.

As a rock-mad teenager growing up in 1990s South Africa, Fetish was at the forefront of my musical awakening, along with bands such as the Springbok Nude Girls, Squeal, Sugardrive, Lithium, Boo!, The Awakening and The LED.

With the doe-eyed Breeze leading the way – first as a shy frontwoman hiding behind a curtain of hair and then as a confident chanteuse snarling her way through assured warm-up sets for major international acts – the band seemed to be going places.

In 2001, the journey ended. Breeze and Dominic Forrest, the band’s guitarist, both decided to move to London.

Bassist Jeremy Daniel moved to New York to attend film school, while keyboardist David Fiene wanted to finish his law degree and Ross Campbell, the drummer, wanted to concentrate on his family life.

There was one more album, Remains, which was recorded first as a series of demos at studios in Cape Town and then reworked by Forrest and Christopher Tuck, the man who produced the band’s 1999 So Many Prophets album.

The band played one last South African gig – at the Gallery in Cape Town in late 2001 – and held their swan song at a London venue call the Borderline.

And that was the end of Fetish. Fans mourned. South Africa’s market for alternative music at
the beginning of the last decade simply wasn’t big enough, and this reality had claimed an excellent band.

Then came February 2012, and Breeze posted three Facebook statuses in the space of a few days that stunned and delighted Fetish fans: the band would be reforming to play two South African gigs in April.

The five had also booked time in Cape Town’s Digital Forest Studio and were planning to record new material.

Breeze, who has lived in London since 2001, admits she’s been “surprised by the warmth of the reception” since the band announced its temporary return.

“The whole trip has been a bit of a logistical nightmare for us and knowing that there is support from our fans has been hugely encouraging,” she says in an email interview a few days before returning to South Africa.

Campbell and Daniel live in Cape Town, Fiene is based in Europe and Forrest lives in
the UK.

Still, Breeze says, the logistics are worth it when they see the kind of buzz their comeback is generating on Twitter and Facebook.

“Social media gives a kind of feedback that we never had back in the ’90s when the whole band shared one cellphone,” Breeze remarks.

Their physical parting, by necessity, meant the end of Fetish. But Breeze says she believes that the band had “started to unravel before that”.

“We were incredibly frustrated with the limitations of the music industry in South Africa. The market for alternative music just was not big enough.”

Ten years on, not much has changed as far as this listener can tell. South Africa boasts excellent alternative bands, but it’s still pop, a smattering of electro, kwaito, gospel and Afrikaans music that sells.

So why would Fetish give it another go now?

Breeze says: “My assumption is that the market for that kind of music is still not that big or lucrative, so investment into alternative is small. There also doesn’t seem to be much of a tradition in this kind of music. The scene is still young and does not have the musical history that Europe or the US have.

“South Africa is very insular. You don’t have much crossover of alternative music into the surrounding areas. Europe has an enormous network of festivals, indie labels, blogs and alternative music fans. So you have a market for all these niche bands.”

Campbell enters the conversation. He has remained active on the local music scene for the past decade – mostly with his band, Benguela, but also with artists such as Simon van Gend and Farryl Purkiss.

“Even though more local bands such as Dear Reader (formerly Harris Tweed), Spoek Mathambo, BLK JKS and now The Frown, which are more indie, are being recognised internationally, it’s all really happened via the internet and not as a result of them being particularly big locally,” Campbell says.

Whether or not Fetish is back for good remains to be seen. Breeze says they’ve talked about reforming occasionally over the past decade “but it never seemed to be a good time”.

“I don’t think we could commit to any long-term plan at this point, but writing together again has been a revelation and incredibly satisfying, so personally I would want to continue writing and recording in some capacity as Fetish,” she says.

She and Forrest have already been writing “intensely for a few months”, and did some studio sessions in London to prepare for recording with Daniel, Fiene
and Campbell.

“The songs are taking shape and I think the new material is very strong, but I can’t wait to hear what the rest of the guys will add.”

For the gigs, Breeze says, the focus is very much on what the fans want.

“We may throw in one or two new tracks, but we want to respect what the fans would want, so mostly it’ll be a trip down memory lane.”

» Fetish will perform at Cape Town’s Mercury Live on April 13 and at Joburg’s Tanz Cafe on April 14

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