Back into the light
How Shadowclub returned from the dead to record one of the finest South African rock albums of 2011.
For many bands in South Africa, a slot on the bill of South Africa’s most infamous music festival, Oppikoppi, is a coveted accolade—a great show on one of the festival’s stages can do wonders for a band’s career, winning them tons of new fans and plenty of column centimetres from the music media gathered on the dusty, thorn-ridden farm.
However, for Johannesburg’s dirty blues-rock band Shadowclub, it was the moment that everything fell apart.
Their set didn’t offer any clues to the impending doom—the band was on top form that fateful Sunday lunchtime in 2009 when Shadowclub took to the Most Amazing Myn Stage. The band had a new bassist, Liale Francis, who had joined a few months earlier after the departure of Alex Hing, who had left for New York after winning a green card in the lottery.
Francis was dressed in black pants, a white shirt and black braces, with a fedora on his head. He looked particularly suave for a member of a dirty rock ‘n roll band.
Front man Jacques Moolman strutted on to stage wearing tight black jeans and a brown plaid shirt, with the beginnings of a goatee sprouting from his chin.
As they powered through a set loaded with all-too-familiar tunes such as Good Morning Killer, Lucy and Cabin in the Woods, the Oppikoppi crowd responded with howls and applause. Shadowclub were making a statement.
But Oppikoppi would be this line-up of Shadowclub’s final show—Francis would quit the band shortly afterwards—and for a while it seemed as if Shadowclub were done for good; they just disappeared off the gigging circuit.
“I was in shock. I went into at least six months of heavy depression,” says Moolman candidly, sitting two years later in a coffee shop in Rosebank.
“This had happened to us before,” says Isaac Klawansky, referring to a previous band that Moolman and he had been part of, Airship Orange, which also broke up on the verge
of making the leap to being a national band.
“I kept asking myself, ‘Are we the stupidest people in the world?’?” says Klawansky.
“I had my tail between my legs,” says Moolman.
“Isaac and I have stuck it out through some really hard times.”
A dangerous position
As Moolman and Klawansky detail the falling apart of their band, my eyes drift to new bassist Louis Roux, who has filled the void left by Francis now that Shadowclub are a going concern again.
Isn’t he reluctant to play bass in a band that keeps losing bassists? I ask.
Moolman and Klawansky burst into laughter as Roux replies: “No.” Moolman pipes up: “I would have been.”
“I was a huge fan of the band,” says Roux. “I saw the last gig at Oppikoppi and it was an amazing show. I was depressed when they broke up. I just wanted to audition for the band when Liale left.”
But according to Moolman and Klawansky, the members of Shadowclub needed to do some serious soul-searching before they could get the band back on the road.
So how did Shadowclub rise like a phoenix from the ashes of its previous incarnation?
“I was backpacking around Israel with my brother,” says Klawansky, “and then I called Jacques out of the blue.”
Moolman picks up the story: “I said to him, ‘Come on, let’s do it again. We’ve been given an opportunity to record an album by Southern Pulse. Let’s do it.”
Working it out
So Shadowclub were back together and soon auditioning bass players. Roux made the cut and Shadowclub were a three-piece again.
The recording stint at the Get Phat Studios organised by Southern Pulse was a failure, but the band was gigging again and soon enough had hooked up with a local independent record label, Just Music.
The result is the official debut studio album of Shadowclub, Guns and Money (Just Music), which was produced and mixed by Matthew Fink of Jim Neversink and Black Hotels fame and mastered by Brian Lucey, who mastered the Black Keys’ recent smash-hit album, Brothers.
“It is such a weird feeling,” says Moolman, holding a copy of their as yet unreleased album. “It’s such a relief that this album exists now, even though this is just the beginning. This is real now. This is what we have been working towards for so long.”
So what can you expect?
Guns and Money is a high-energy slab of dirty, sexy rock ‘n roll that doesn’t let up for all of its 47 minutes. All the familiar tunes Shadowclub fans have grown to love are there and sounding better than ever.
But it’s the new songs that shine a spotlight on just how talented these three are and where they could be heading with their sound.
Set to dominate
Lead single and title track Guns and Money opens with a gritty guitar riff and evolves into one of the finest slices of indie rock ‘n roll South Africa has produced. If this song doesn’t dominate radio in South Africa for the next year, there is no justice in this world.
Another new song off the album—and my favourite—is the Doors-influenced Block 16, which shows a different side of Shadowclub, a groovier, more subdued blues side that is no less infectious than their riff-heavy anthems.
Then there is the Strokesesque You Do It Alone, which gives the album some nice diversity and is one of the tracks that shows the band beginning to experiment with backing vocals—a welcome addition.
All up, you get 12 powerhouse tracks and one killer album. Shadowclub may have taken the long road to get here, but they got here all the same.
Shadowclub’s debut album, Guns and Money, will be available in stores from Monday July 11. You can catch Shadowclub live at Kitchener’s in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, on July 23, at the Bohemian in Richmond, Johannesburg, on July 28, and they will be performing on MK Studio 1, Dstv on July 29