Underground improvisation

“Beer, freedom. In that order, please, and form a line while you’re at it.” That is the last message scrawled on the bottom of the liner notes on the new Buckfever Underground album.

Sitting at a wooden table at Oppikoppi with half of the Buckfever Underground, while drunken revellers stagger around us, it seems like a perfect sentiment.

I had just been handed a finished copy of The Buckfever Underground Saves (Lank), the band’s third studio album.
Rumours of this release had filtered along the grapevine for almost a year, but it remained an elusive beast.

Fitting, then, that the first copies were distributed at Oppikoppi this year—an event Gil Hockman, the band’s bassist, refers to as the Buckfever Underground’s annual general meeting.

“It’s not our usual style,” says the band’s vocalist, Toast Coetzee. “We recorded it in three days, which is more like our usual style, but then, because of various reasons, it took forever to bring it out.”

Hockman adds: “We were doing really well until we hit October last year and then it just seemed like [there were] never-ending delays.”

Says Coetzee: “We were in a state of denial; everyone in the band thought someone else would get the shit done. “We started pointing fingers, like, ‘It’s your fault, it’s my fault’; at some point in time everybody was in charge of getting it done.

He jokes: “Righard [Kapp] is the boss now, although he might be fired because he didn’t make this interview.”

The band’s casual approach to getting their album out is indicative of their approach to music and gigging. A Buckfever Underground gig is a rare and treasured event. The band have been going through changes in the past few years, which could explain the lack of live shows.

“We went from the period where we were post-students and had a lot of plans [and] we had a lot of things going on in our lives that were actually quite demanding,” says Hockman.

There have also been some line-up changes, with Buckfever’s keyboardist, Jon Savage, moving to Johannesburg to form Cassette, which left the band in a quandary about their live shows.

“I don’t think Jon is going to be a big part of our live performances because he has another band,” says Hockman. “But as far as recording goes, he brings a lot of structure; we don’t want to let him out of that and he is part of the band.”

Realising that they needed to add something new to their sonic palette, the band approached Cape Town’s guitar virtuoso and noise terrorist Righard Kapp to join the fray.

“We needed a new sound in the band because Jon moved to Jo’burg,” says Coetzee. “We needed to flesh out our live sound and Righard had built up a name for himself and he was keen to give it a try. It was very interesting because Righard brings something very particular to the band. I don’t think he would fit into any other band.”

When I catch up with Kapp later in the day he tells me it was difficult to integrate with the band at first. “Lots of fistfights, backchats and sheer incomprehension,” is his description of the process. “We are finally sort of settling into this groove of sounding sort of Ry Cooder-ish, with the occasional blast of white noise.”

“It was difficult,” admits Coetzee. “There are still creative struggles within the band, but it’s made the live performances better because of that friction.”

Having seen this latest line-up of the Buckfever Underground live, I can vouch for Coetzee’s summation—their performance is incendiary; it’s like watching a bunch of musicians at war with each other.

“Generally the band simply plays and I just put words to it, which means there is no hope in hell that any two shows could be the same,” says Coetzee.

“It’s a full-on democracy,” says Hockman. “The unspoken rule is you can’t tell anyone what to play, but in particular situations you are following someone else’s lead.”

The band’s improvisational nature makes them a perfect fit for a guitarist like Kapp, who loves to explore the unpredictable.

“I am a firm believer in the idea that something accidental or improvised can be much more beautiful than anything that can be mapped out beforehand,” he says. “Part of me wants us to be the biggest Afrikaans band on the planet, although I don’t necessarily see that happening. I think we are still in a space of consolidating what we’ve got at the moment.

“I do believe that in some sense, and this has got a lot to do with Toast’s writing, that this band is making music that might be folk songs for future generations.”

I share Kapp’s sentiments. If there were any justice in the South African music scene, the Buckfever Underground would be huge.

Since 1998 they have consistently produced albums of stark originality that make the majority of their peers look like half-arsed chancers and The Buckfever Underground Saves is yet another impressive chapter in this band’s career.

Lloyd Gedye

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