Blk Jks - After Robots

2009-12-17 14:35
 
After Robots
 

His words echo the philosophies that underpinned the quantum jazz cacophony of John Coltrane's Interstellar Space (1967) and Miles Davis' miasmic voodoo funk-jazz hybrid, Bitches Brew (1970). Of course, the relationship between Hendrix and Miles ran deeper than just music. The pair seriously considered making an album together. That never happened. By September 1970 Hendrix was dead.

Today, the question of what might have transpired had they shared a studio together remains one of music's most pervasive, vexing mysteries. The mystery runs deeper than just what funky hybrids two of the 60's hippest cats might have cooked up. The real mystery is wondering how far outside things can go. It’s about blowing boundaries, shaking, rattling, and rolling borders. It's about improvisation, intimacy, playfulness, camaraderie, trans-Atlantic Afro-centric routes and root-revelations; stretching sound into something too polymorphously perverse to be contained by consumer signifiers like "rock", "jazz", "funk", "soul" or even "the body".

It's this mystery that lies at the heart of what makes the Blk Jks South Africa’s hottest new musical adventure. Critics have labelled their sound everything from dub-metal to art-rock, indie-township, reggae-rock and afro-free-jazz. The only thing most write-ups have in common is a pervasive over use of hy-phe-nation, syl-lab-i-fication, compound modifiers, slashes, dashes, semi-colon, prefixes and suffixes.

Seems there are no quick fixes when it comes to rhapsodising about the Jks. For Mpumi Mcata (guitar), Tshepang Ramoba (drums), Molefi Makananise (bass) and Linda Buthelezi (vocals, lead) that's the point. Their sound is the search to unravel a mystery - that mystery. It’s a search that’s lead them from the kasi streets of Soweto, to the hippest clubs in America and Europe. Along the way they’ve landed features in the New York Times, NME and Dazed and Confused; airplay in Japan; a super-stylish double page spread in Vogue Magazine; a deal with hipster indie label Secretly Canadian and more booty babes than James Brown can shake a stick at.

And it's a search that's found voice in their long awaited debut, After Robots. It's a shape shifting architecture of intuitively juxtaposed genres, long-lasting grooves and unabashed immersion in the semantics of pure sound itself. Where else will you find a rhythm section capable of live beat-mixing metal malignancy with coy kwaai-toed bounce, deep reggae-nomics and shebeen dub delirium? And feverishly haunted vocals that throw up more questions than answers? A guitarist who struts from kwela-punk-funk to freewheeling wah-wah riffs that coil and bristle like Miles Davis on a coke binge?

The same Miles, who infamously once told Rolling Stone magazine, "White groups don't reach me. I can tell a white group just from the sound, don't have to see them." Yes, it's the kind of statement Julius Malema probably wishes he'd come up with. But relax. Don't try and decode whether this is just an empty racist polemical rant. When it comes to the JKS, there's no mystery here. From the opening chords of the title track's polyrhythmic Afrobeat drum 'n brass rallying cry, their psyched up kasi-reggae rock resurrection of first single "Lakeside" and the bitching Afro-rock brew of "Banna Ba Modimo" to the cosmic Mars Volta trip of "Kwa Nqingetje" and the hauntingly soulful re-imagining of traditional African acoustic folk ballad "Tselane", you can hear it - these boys are black.

Maybe it's simply got something to do with the fact that they remember that rock's roots will always be in the spiritual swamps of the blues. Or that they realise sex without swing just isn’t sexy. Or that they're not afraid to shatter rock’s played out rules by unleashing unusual tempo changes, passing chords and scattered, improvised torrents of freakadelic riffs right in the middle of verses. Or maybe it's simply as Makananise told Hype Magazine simply, "from the first time we played together, I thought that Blk Jks could be like unexplored territory…some totally different kind of music."

Whatever the case After Robots is rock as you don't normally hear it – swinging and cerebral; meditative and enraged; avant-garde and Afro; freaky and funky; bathed in ancestry but strikingly fresh. Imagine the Mars Volta jamming with legendary SA axeman, Dr Philip Tabane at a maskandi seance hosted by Madala Kunene, while mainlining Miles' Bitches-era electro-jazz line of flight and the Afrobeaten fire of Fela Kuti and you're nearly there. As Miles might have said, "They swing their asses off. No bullshit."


"Something new has to come. I want a big band full of competent musicians... and with music we will paint pictures of Earth and space so that the listener can be taken somewhere" said Jimi Hendrix shortly before he died in 1970.

What to read next: Kalahari
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slydo 2009/07/01 1:35 PM
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I just wanna say big up, i like your style guys.
slydo 2009/07/01 1:35 PM
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I just wanna say big up, i like your style guys.
K 2009/07/09 8:32 AM
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Watched these guys a few years ago at the Apartheid Museum, they are AMAZING and I'm so glad to hear they're doing so well for themselves!
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