Naysayers have predicted the death of the local rock scene for over a decade now. Is the South African Rock Scene Dead?
Despite the constant rumbles, lingering fears and ominous threats, the resilient scene survived and rebelled, in the true spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. However, the tough economic times of late have delivered a staggering blow to the scene. The diminishing venues, lack of airplay, fading audiences and the decline incredible music media outlets don’t bode too well, but does this mean the local rock scene is dead?
Gigging to the grave
“There’s definitely a decline in support for bands performing a ‘newer’ style of rock. A lot of bands are jumping on the old-school rock bus, and bigger festivals are eating these acts up. In that sense, these bands are very much alive,” says Adam Boyd, vocalist/guitarist for Johannesburg band Wake to Wonder. “This does leave ‘newer’ rock bands without bigger festival appearances, and essentially kills off a lot of these bands performing this style. You either have to chew your tongue and stick to your guns, or change your style. We are lucky to have venues where all types of rock music is appreciated and promoted. However, this support needs to leak further through to the bigger festivals, in order for the newer breed of rock bands to grow.”
With venues being scarcer than an honest politician, musicians need to be more calculating about the shows they play and not oversaturate their market. Boyd provides a useful alternative to bashing your head against a brick wall and hoping for a different outcome. “There needs to be a shift in mentality from playing shows every month to promoting an online presence. Getting 100 people to see your band every week is a tall task that takes a huge amount of planning. Rather put out an interesting music video and let 100 people from across the world view that video on a weekly basis. Once you’ve built up some hype around your band, it becomes a lot easier to pull people into shows and venues.”
It’s a valid point, but aren’t local bands also guilty of being too expectant of success landing in their laps? Too often, local bands expect to be on line-ups and the adulation of thousands when they have the likability of a marmite cake. Even more worrying, many bands have been around for over a decade, yet haven’t even toured outside of their province before. Naturally, the venue debate comes up again. “There just aren’t enough venues in the country to sustain a tour these days; neither are there enough festivals willing to take a risk on many bands,” Boyd explains. “That being said, bands need to evolve to putting on their own shows with an interesting twist. This could be in someone’s lounge, a parking lot, a school, a pool party or an abandoned house. People love novelty; even if your music is not novel, the venue in which you play that music in can be.”
How do you find the capital for these interesting shows, though, if your albums aren’t selling and the venues are disappearing quicker than our tax money? Are streaming services a viable monetary source? “We haven’t seen a massive return from these sites in terms of monetary value. But I will continue to promote our music through these sites and any new platforms, in order for our music to be heard by a bigger audience. I think it is worth it; it just takes one person to stumble across your music for it to have an impact and possible domino effect. However, if our music does ever get to the level of a multi-million rand selling status, then I may have an opinion around YouTube and Deezer. But where we are now, we are just happy that there is a platform for us to put our music onto.”
Where to now?
Perhaps the biggest failing of the local rock scene is the distinct lack of community at the moment. In times such as these, there’s a need to band together and find solace in music. Yet, we still find chumps chasing their own tails, stabbing others in the back, being one-band-armies, but no one is making any headway.
While Boyd believes the music industry is generally a take-and-take business with many individuals not reciprocating favours, he agrees that the answer to most of the problems lies in the strength of community. “Make your friends, make new friends, make some more friends and help each other climb this treacherous ladder. One hand washes the other,” he says.
So, back to our original question: is the local rock scene dead? Probably not, and it’ll probably never die either. However, it does require a swift kick up the ass to get back on track.