Felix Laband and the Impossible Day.
When I call Felix Laband up I have no idea what to expect. It’s been six wide years since ‘Dark Days Exit’, Laband’s high watermark following on cult favourites ‘Thin shoes in June’ and ‘4/4 Down the stairs’, the latter two albums having already re-sculpted dance-floor soundtracks throughout Cape Town, and brought him to the attention of hip German Electronica and Acid-Jazz label Compost.
‘Dark Days Exit’, widely and wildly lauded by critics throughout the hipper corners of the globe, introduced a more pensive aspect of Laband’s musicality. Its moods shifted from prettily haunted to vaguely ominous – its beauty was carved in twilight spaces, its beats shuffling in shadow. It was a great record, and – by his own admission – was created in a period of inspired productivity.
Following the clamor of praise and applause, Laband opted to withdraw from the adoring crowds. Then seemed to fall away from the earth itself.. leaving, in his stead, the usual proliferation of whispers and rumours that tend to accompany such sudden and sustained disappearances.
I’m surprised at the relaxed voice on the other side of the phone, inviting me to his studio in Rosebank. When my editor asked me to interview Laband at his new spot in Jo’burg, I calmly assured him that Laband was very much Cape-centric, and that his ‘new spot in Jo’burg’ was probably just another snippet of ficticious rumour. Several days later – more than a little disbelievingly – I found myself driving up a typically pretty, leaf-twirling Rosebank street.
Stepping into Laband’s home is like stepping into a living Felix Laband album cover, in 3D. The cozy, calm space of trees and geriatric-friendly gardens outside are replaced by Laband’s signature cheeky, unsettling manipulations of found images –
Here’s Barack Obama’s face blooming Ziggy Stardust tattoos; there’s Mugabe poking his newly mandible-fanged head through an ANC poster; here’s a cute huddle of Pornettes being penetrated by lucky skeletons; there a sweaty babe being ruptured by weird technologies.
Some of the collisions/collages bear the legend ‘Deaf Safari’..
‘And that shit’s happening right now..’
Laband and longstanding girlfriend Lauren have to pop out to a friend’s place (I’m a tad early), and instead of asking me to take a drive and come back later, or wait outside, Felix says I can chill in their lounge, “We’ll just be 15 minutes..”
From whichever perspective you view it, this is a very prettily ribboned gift for any journo or fan to receive – 15 minutes of unselfconscious exploration.. of inspecting the periphera, the creative traces of an artist’s living space. I flip through two boxes of records, which, along with the room-lining cd collection (hopping from book-shelves to cardboard box to cardboard boxes to crates and back) is mostly, and surprisingly, generic. No Steve Hofmeyr though. A handful of dvd’s scattered about are more intriguing – some dark and experimental titles wink at me.
When they return (“Feel free to read some books..” Laband mentioned before leaving) I’m paging through an occult pulp novel by Ira Levin (author of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’.) “You should check these out; insane stuff. Important,” he says while scooping up a selection. Then he pops off to make some coffee (“Do you take milk?”)
Felix Laband has been reading. A lot. The tumble of books he hands me are mostly non-fiction, “this guy missioned right into Sierra Leone, amazing shit.” Rwanda’s RPF; psychopathic child gangs in Sierra Leone; political analyses of corrupt regimes; the behind-the-hush cesspool of what SA troops did and experienced at the border in those sinister Eighties; ANC rebels being taught the primal power of necklacing in Angola. “These kids (in Sierra Leone) basically waltzed into the capital and hacked off everybody’s limbs. Everybody’s.”
Heavy stuff, and one can see it in Felix’s eyes, in his gait, the heaviness. It takes something out of you exploring the dark – it claims its pound of flesh. Africa, that is Laband’s new mission – the Africa behind the scenes, behind the screens, behind the vaulted walls of fearful rich white/black folk soothing Africa’s reality away with the salve of money. Money has become the ultimate security system – the metaphorical distance that turns tragedy into comedy, or at least into something inoffensive. Whatever’s been in his veins before, Laband is mainlining harsh reality, “It just freaks me out that this shit (the Rwandan genocide and ongoing nightmares in Sierra Leone) went down while we were teens. It makes you realize that some people exist in a living hell, while others party next door.”
Laband is tired of the hip crowds, the self-congratulatory throngs of Capetonian Hipsters, with their jaded wit – with their comforting distance from hacked-off limbs and prepubescent children torturing people for kicks. “It makes you realize we’re all flesh,” he says, in reference to some deeply disturbing Sierra Leone footage he’d seen.
Laband is meaning to inject some reality into his music too. That, and some Jozi. I ask him about his move to Johannesburg. The answer is simple – he wants to mix with new artists, new rhythms; he wants to move new crowds.
One of the tracks he plays me off the long-pending new album ‘Deaf Safari’, is neck-deep in Kwaito.. but a tweaked Kwaito – bounce-heavy, yet Alien.. Another track snakes ingeniously around the rhythmic rants of some North African evangelist. Said track freshly reveals the inherent musicality of African sermons – music is Everywhere, in prayer and damnation alike.
It’s an interesting approach, ‘Deaf Safari’: Get people boogying to get them thinking. Listening to the ‘Deaf Safari’ tunes I sense Laband’s got his approach down.. The familiar motifs still pop up here and there – tinkling vibraphones, prettily looped acoustic guitars – but there’s a new edge here: Dark Funk – Phosphorescent beauty which can only be appreciated in shadow..
“People can talk all they want, and I guess I’ve kinda lived up to all the rumours… but when ‘Deaf Safari’ drops I want it to hit. I want it to mean something.”
Laband started off as a teen punk – ‘Incurable’ when he was in Standard 7, later ‘Fingerhead’. It was listening to electro-Goth and Industrial groups (Alien Sex Fiend, Skinny Puppy) that got Laband interested in programming (their latter outfit utilized a drum machine).
That spirit – adolescent, hungry – is still there, waiting to pounce.
Felix Laband is revisiting his live band days – ‘Deaf Safari’ will be the first Laband album to feature his own vocals, own lyrics. “I’m at a place where I have something to say..” From what I’ve heard, it’s going to be something of an onslaught.
Check one. Check 1-2-3.
First published in BPM Magazine.