Ruff Majik – Facebook / Bandcamp
Mad God – Facebook / Bandcamp
Savage Lucy – Facebook / Bandcamp
Venue: New Moon Pub, Corner of 33rd Avenue & Nico Smith Street, 0186 Pretoria, South Africa
Date: July 29th 2017
A sketchy pub in peri-urban Pretoria, flanked by a filling station and a liquor store: not the most welcoming venue for a Saturday night gig, but I was willing to look beyond the slot machines and rugby memorabilia as I threaded my way past walls clad in reeds for a safari-chic ambience. Past the single pool table, out into the open air, to the semi-covered back area that counts for a stage at the New Moon Pub. There, barely visible through a haze of vape smoke and beards, three scruffy musicians are playing their hearts out, filling the late winter air with syrupy tones of fuzz-laden bass-led bluesy doom. The musicians are Ruff Majik, and they’re only the support act – and a great herald of things to come.
The youngsters responsible for the sludgy tones filling the air blend blues, prog and doom in a
rough, raw sound that is oddly suited to the DIY aesthetic of the venue. Their energy makes up for the lack of acoustics, however, as their bassist leaps across the barrier to play right in the midst of the crowd, while the guitarist/vocalist exhorts the punters to buy him beer, as their stage rider obviously ran out way too quickly. What the show lacks in professionalism, it more than makes up for in nostalgia though – not only in its obvious 70s roots combining psychedelia and the obvious Black Sabbath influences, but also in recalling the mid-90s, the last golden age of Pretoria’s rock scene. A time when every weekend offered up at least four different live acts to choose between, running the gamut from thrash cover bands to experimental industrial to indie rock – none of whom harboured any illusions about ‘making it big’, but all playing for the sheer joy of musical creation. Ruff Majik would have fit right in on any one of these nights with their raw, original vibes.
The second band of the evening, Mad God, have been on my radar for a while. Their straight-up
doom approach makes them a South African version of Electric Wizard in terms of sound, but the
less obvious presence of the Horned Lord in their subject matter is more in keeping with Orange Goblin or Ufomammut. Tonight was the Pretoria leg of their album launch mini-tour, for their Tales of a Sightless City CD. Sadly, despite putting on a great show, the trio seemed plagued by sound problems for the first third of their performance, and the latter two thirds came across as too polished and practised (especially for someone in Conan’s ‘Caveman Battle Doom’ t-shirt) in comparison to prior shows I’ve had the pleasure of attending. The sludge factor just wasn’t as filthy as I wanted. It didn’t stop me from buying their album, though.
Savage Lucy, the last band (and also a trio, coincidentally) shifted matters in an entirely different musical direction: while maintaining the psychedelic atmosphere Ruff Majik had begun and Mad God had built up, this instrumental-progressive- jazz-rock outfit brought a very intellectual flavour to proceedings that had, up until then bordered on the proto-punk. Their intricate, layered compositions, which they describe as “dynamic movements of melodic phrasing in elegant cadences over eccentric rhythms, shadowed by darkly textured breakdowns” are something to experience. While not everybody’s cup of tea, their shifting, jazzy musical journeys should be right up the alley of fans of Tool, Opeth or Animals As Leaders – all bands appreciated, but easily overlooked by the predominantly death metal scene in South Africa. This esoteric, left-field lineup is probably the contributing factor to a disappointingly low turn-out for what was a great showcase for diversity within local rock – despite regular calls to a ‘metal brotherhood’ to support the local scene wherever possible. Actions, as usual, speak louder than words and the non-thrash, non-death bands in South Africa are marginalised by their potential fanbase. Apart from that, cheap drinks and great proximity to my house (the majority of good shows happen in Johannesburg rather than Pretoria) made for a really enjoyable night out.
The progression of acts, whether intended or incidental, was possibly the best by-product of the
line-up: Ruff Majik are entirely rooted in the 1970s, sonically and aesthetically. Mad God then pay homage to this era with their stoner vibe, while Savage Lucy kick the psychedelics into high gear with a deeply considered evolution of this sound.