Pushing the boundaries of the local music scene

2012-02-10 00:00

IT’S a typically warm Durban day as I sit down to speak to the four members of Gangs of Ballet, not long after listening to their song, which has been playing on the car radio. “I’m so excited the sun has come out for us ...” echoes the opening line, and I can’t help but appreciate the understatement, sitting in this heat. We meet at the Market, a favourite Durban dining spot, and our table is littered with Cola tonics and fruit cocktails.

New bands are often sprouting up, but bands that stick around for a long time are rare — particularly in KwaZulu-Natal. And so I am interested in what the focus of Gangs is.

The first thing to note with these four is that, while the Gangs entity might be new, the musicians themselves are no strangers to the music industry. Three of them have studied music at tertiary level, and the experience they have gained with the various other acts has been harnessed to produce a number of successes in Gangs of Ballet’s short six-month existence. The band’s debut single Breaking The Silence — a cross-genre of indie, rock, alternative and dance — entered into the 5fm Top 40 in November 2011, and is still on rotation, and the song is now being used in CellC’s TV ad campaign “Be”.

Given their collective history, the achievements seem to have been a long-time coming. “A lot of bands — bands that we have been a part of — graft and graft, and you never see any fruit,” says frontperson Brad Klynsmith. “We’re just happy to be putting in the hours — we’re not half-assing it — and we’re seeing some kind of fruit from our labour. There’s nothing worse than graft, graft, graft ... for nothing.”

Klynsmith and his younger brother Josh, along with keyboardist Jonathan Rich and bassist Hardus de Beer, seem to be going about it the right way.

“We’ve tried to be very strategic about where we play,” says Josh. “We don’t just overgig ourselves.” In the process of not overdoing it, they have shared the stage with aKing and Civil Twilight.

The process of only gigging in particular places with particular crowds isn’t as easy as it sounds — most bands will gig at any opportunity presented, just to be heard. But in the case of Gangs of Ballet, being selective seems to have worked. “Before we started,” Josh says, “we wanted to craft a set and make sure that the songs were up to a certain standard, something that we’d be really proud of. We want every show to be an experience.”

A lot of hard work is required to make this happen, and success — as any of these musicians know — is elusive. And yet, there’s a 5fm single, there’s a TV campaign ... things seem to be happening.

“We do want our lyrics to have some sort of substance to them,” says Brad. “The thing that we’ve tried with Gangs is not to be a one-hit wonder and write about something that’s gonna sell. We’ve deliberately pulled tracks off our EP that we know are stronger than the other songs, but that don’t have as much substance. We’re trying to have as much artistic integrity as we can, so we spend time on the lyrics and the music. We hope that the lyrics will affect people. We like to write songs that people will attach memories to.”

The aim, he says, is to make the music personal to its audiences. So where is it all heading?

“I, personally, would love to be playing at big venues, and headlining them,” he says. “There are bands in South Africa that are playing to the thousands, and I think once you hit that stage, you’re getting there.”

In the course of the conversation, the word “stadium” comes up. The band and I joke about the prospects — imagine selling out a stadium as a South African band?

“There’s something amazing about gathering a stadium of people,” Brad points out, “no matter what it’s for.”

“To me, a band that has made it is a band that is dominating the world,” elaborates Josh. “Wherever you go, you’re selling out stadia, you’re selling out to the thousands.”

Time will tell, and as the band progresses, there’s a lot to look out for: an EP launch early in March, as well as the release of the band’s new music video for the song Hello Sweet World, directed by Salomon Ligthelm.

Sitting here talking with these four, I get the sense of an underlying optimism, which they want to impart at this particular juncture. “Music gives young people an identity, and we’d like to be a part of that,” says Brad. “Our identity is just more positive than emo.”

And God knows we’d all be better off if that mentality crept onto the airwaves a bit more.


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