Allow me to blaspheme to the high heavens by quoting Strauss, who said that “a musical creator is a being comparable to the gods.”
The past sixty decades has seen the rise of none other than the rock god and South Africa has more than a few of its own. Amongst these deities of rock is Taxi Violence, a band who will leave an impression on you, whether on stage or off. While we sacrifice our inhibitions on the altar of their performance, for the purpose of the interview the atmosphere is more staid, relegated to that of a classroom. For the sake of clarity, we’re at their rehearsal space, Kill City Blues, in Woodstock, and not in an actual classroom. But as I sit perched on a little chair, with the band sitting at my feet, they remark on my semblance of a teacher. However, they are the ones teaching the lessons. Having been on the music scene for almost 10 years, their success is not only due to their continued presence on the live scene or the fact that they have four studio albums under their belts.
For the unenlightened, Taxi Violence started out in 2004 and is made up of George van der Spuy (vocals), Rian Zietsman (guitar), Louis Nel (drums) and Jason Ling (bass). Their success is fuelled by a realistic appraisal of making a living as a musician. “You have to be in it for the right reasons…You gotta love what you do and not be in it for the money.” They’ve forged ahead, despite the ascension of new genres and styles in music, never changing their tune. Our current social milieu may be based on immediacy and novelty, but these aren’t, and never have been, the key to longevity. The partner to motivation is focus and they contribute their accomplishments to “not being gimmicky and not trying to stay with fads…[in the beginning] you become really popular and get a following…It’s hard work when you’re not new anymore…Staying current and in the public eye becomes more challenging and more costly.” This involves “touring more, buying better instruments and making music videos” – none of which is cheap or easy. The fact that they have lasted this long is testimony to their talent and their commitment. “To sustain it becomes hard…but it’s 10 years down the line and we’re still here.”
As can be excepted they have toured all over South Africa, as well as abroad, supporting the likes of Billy Talent, Rage Against the Machine and Seether. It comes as no surprise that Germany was one of their destinations. Germany and music have become synonymous and this includes a fondness for South African talent. “They’re curious,” the band explains, “and they like it loud.” Whilst they agree that “playing overseas is great” they warn that the “grass is not always greener on the other side. For every band there are a 1000 others doing the same thing.” As for their own influences, these include Queens of the Stone Age, Radiohead and Nirvana. “Basically all the grunge stuff in the 90s,” Louis says. George mentions Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder. “I used to try to sing like Eddie and then I realised I sound stupid…then I found my own voice” This remark prompts Jason to coax a rendition of Vedder out of George and his precision is eerie. But listening to and watching other bands is more than just emulation or inspiration. “If you see a band it influences you, whether it’s good or bad…you pick up stuff just by watching…it also shows you what not to do.”
Having been on the SA music scene for this long, it is inevitable that they have had an impact on other local bands. They mull this over and throw out names like Woodstock Mafia and Shadow Club, “but that’s just us guessing.” However, they recollect Red Huxley citing them as an influence. Twenty years ago the music scene in South Africa started an inevitable shift. This transition period is starting again as a new generation hits the scene, both as musicians and as listeners. The cancellation of MK as a music channel cemented this fact and they lament its end. “It’s a pity that MK isn’t around anymore, because it influences the [rock] scene.” The reaction to their latest album though is indicative of a thirst for the raw energy that rock delivers and I remark on the presence of several younger people at their launch. “It’s a good sign,” says Rian. “The ceiling’s a little higher than we thought.”
Rock still has a lot to give and one of the definitive lessons lies in performance. As Taxi Violence demonstrate so well with their live acts, it’s about involving the crowds and making them part of the music. “We know people are paying good money to watch, so we have to make it worth it…we put our all into it…[and] people are hungry for that kind of thing.” It’s been a long road, but they take in their stride, even handling odd encounters – from disconcerting stares and wacky ladies handing them oranges – with the nonchalance only a rock god can pull off. The easy banter between the members is indicative of years working and playing together, which they affirm themselves. “We’re friends first,” Jason says. “Everyone has friends and they go to the pub and have a drink. We just play music together as well.”