Entertainment Music Teaching Afrikaans as a Foreign Language

Teaching Afrikaans as a Foreign Language

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Cape Town Today chats to The Buckfever Underground band members Toast, Jon, Stephen and Gil about their new album "TAFL" and what it's like being rock stars.

How did you come up with the names Buckfever Underground and TAFL?

Toast: We wanted a name with three parts, The Something Something. Like The Stone Roses, which was already taken, apparently. 'Buckfever' is a great word and an even greater experience. When you have it, you realize how exciting killing can be, so you have to force yourself to suppress that feeling and undo the excitement. Because killing is bad. 'Buckfever' is a curiously alarming thing. The 'Underground' bit was added because it was better than 'Underpants'. 'The' is just 'The'.
TAFL, because a) it's funny and b) that's exactly what all sorts of South African travelers abroad are doing. they're teaching Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho etc. They're exporting who and what we are to everywhere from Mexico to England to Japan. They don't always paint a pretty picture of South Africa as they travel, and many are sorry ambassadors for us, but it's a start. South Africans live in the world now, and it's time to stop feeling sorry about it. Oh ja, one more thing, just make sure you come back and do something useful with your life.
Jon: I didnt. whats tafl?
Stephen: Tafl is actually named after Tafel beer (nambian). If it wasn't for the love of beer (and that one particularly - god bless the free democracy of Nambia) our latest record would never have been completed. Oh yah and we changed it to "Tafl" cos we didn't want to get the pants sued off us, so don't believe the hype about it standing for any acronym, alright.
Gil: When we first started out we weren't really much to look at so we figured that the most important things was to have a cool name (after all, you don't know what kind of band you're in until you know what your name is). It was important to have 'The' in our name because most of the great bands have 'The' in their name: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Bob Dylan, The REM, The Radiohead. Then Toast came up with Buckfever which is simply an unbelievably brilliant word even though it's not in the dictionary unless you're Afrikaans. Finally we put 'The' and 'Buckfever' next to each other on a piece of paper and began searching for a third word. As you know, two is a company, and we're not a company. Eventually after some linguistic fiddling a voice called out from the heavens and said "hey, do you guys need any help?" and we were like, "no thanks, we'd rather talk to the guy who stays underground".
TAFL is because Toast is off in Korea spreading the western cultural hegemony.

Your music has a unique sound to it – how did you guys arrive at it?

Toast: By casual accident, general restrictions on resources and beer.
Jon: About 6 years of experimentation later, we finally found a musical element that was actually musical. it was a very strange thing. we played a gig once where there was a piano on the stage and we just decided that I was going to play it. It was one of our best gigs ever  and we decided that piano was going to be the new instrument for the band. The rest is history. Except for one bit which I won't mention.
Stephen: We all under went massive breakdowns. I in fact have experienced several such. You find this with a lot of creative-types. That and we couldn't be bothered to mimic other bands. Actually we suck at covers -- we tried for a while to sound like a mix between Fred Astaire and Nirvana but it didn't come off very well... You could say that's how I got the job playing for the Bucks. I’m afraid it's quite classified, but they killed the drummer. But don't mention this point when you publish this or we'll break your freaking nose OKAY! (Oops... Ed Note.)
Gil: We all drive to Stephens house. Most of the time we find it in his lounge.

Listening to your “sound” and the content of your lyrics, you just don’t seem like a regular band. What is Buckfever Underground all about?

Toast: TBU is in the first place about having a good time with some friends, because this isn't a band, it's a group of friends who happen to make music together. We started off with a motto of 'Beer and Freedom' and it hasn't let us down yet. TBU is about what you make of it.
Jon: Its about 3 guys who really enjoying having a good time, improvising and jamming no matter what musical direction we go in, and one fu@king brilliant genius poet. I don't know what his problem is though.
Stephen: We actually always wanted to be a regular band like Bon Jovi, Creed or Johannes Kerkorrel even (he's sort of like our hero) but we sucked so badly. We couldn't even make up our minds on who would play what instruments. I suppose u could say we stopped caring. That's about where we're at. It's sort of like a Buddhist mantra. The first song - "Who Cares" is actually about a buddhist-type experience Toast goes through every day of his life. Except that he's too cool to be any kind of sage or mantra-meditating freak, if you get my thang.
Gil: The Buckfever Underground is about the total freedom of human emotion. It is freedom more often found by drinking beer and having a good time but we thought it would be fun to do that and let people watch us and maybe inspire them to do the same. We're not so much a band as a really good idea.

Who is your audience?

Toast: We are really big among high school girls in Pretoria at the moment. Our audience is sporadic and unpredictable, they match no target group. Old people have wept at our concerts, though that might've been because of the smoke. Some people hate us too, it's a common reaction to our music. We constantly get emails from friends around the world saying 'hey, I just bumped into someone in a backpackers in Indonesia playing your CD'. Who goes to Indonesia? Who are these people? Currently, here in Korea, about 10 Koreans are fans of our music. The rest just haven't heard about it yet.
Jon: That's what I love about this band. The audience is us! This has been the most fun band ever and no matter how hard we haven't tried, its kept going strong. I think its finally in our blood and we realise its going to be around for ever whether anyone likes or not. And people do.
Stephen: After the other drummer left or was fired or had a family crisis or whatever..get my point, the band started taking on major audiences (South African terms = 10 people + !). The band was ecstatic. I mean there was a time when we had to sneak out the back door, because we couldn't pay for the PA and all, but today, today we get free bar tabs and mooi vroumense.
Gil: Officially, we have thirteen confirmed fans. Three of them are really famous. Two own live music venues in Cape Town. Three live in The States and one lives in the middle of nowhere. We don't know who the others are.
You mention a heck of a lot of product names in “Who cares”. Why did you do that? Discovered a new way of making money out of music?
Toast: I can't say I recall a heck of a lot of product names in 'Who Cares'. I can't really ever remember the lyrics. We'd like free product from Lifebuoy though, we really love their soap. I wash all the time just to smell it. As to the second part of your question, we have found NO way of making money out of music yet.
Jon: Yes, we got R50 and they chipped in for a case of beer for every brand that we mentioned. And that's for EVERY gig we play. I think we really scored.
Stephen: Sh@t how did you know? Don't tell anyone but that's how we funded the album. (small audience = small door money see)
Gil: An interesting question which can only be answered by saying: we mention a lot of product names every day but do we discover a way to make money out of being alive?
Your lyrics seem more a kind of social commentary than the usual crap about unrequited love. Where/how do you come up with them? Do you look at certain issues and then decide to write about it?
Toast: Like the news, our songs just come. We don't know what's going to happen. Sometimes it's a war, sometimes it's a biltong festival. At the basic level, it's about stuff that happens to us or our friends or in the world around us. Much of it is inspired by the classic Colin Fluxman Police File quote "Keep 'em peeled". There's some love in there too, but it's not unrequited at all. Because we are handsome people (except for Stephen), we just have love, no unrequitedness, which is really just a crap excuse. We really, really, LOVE love.
Jon: See Toast's answer. It really is quite a weird thing, we don't listen to Toast at all (usually the pa system is so bad we can't hear him). He listens to the vibe that we are in and chooses a poem that fits. For some reason it works. And sometimes it doesn't. And when he decides to get hectic, we go there with him. Eventually we seem to synergise. But that's what's so cool. It's kind of like punk jazz.
Stephen: What u mean. The whole sub-text is unrequited.. It's not just love, it's everything. Unrequited is what we are in the world today. Usually we look at the western-american-loving white-ruling media and think "Sh@t - you could write 20 albums on the material there".. most bands have nothing to say.. We just say what is already there.. Just highlighting it, you could say.
Gil: I’ll leave that to Toast. We never really get to hear Toast’s lyrics. That’s why we record albums, so that we can actually find out just what it is we’re doing. I remember once we practiced and Toast had a mic. It was quite cool but I think that was the only time we did it.

Describe the process you use in compiling your music?
Toast: Gil, Stephen and Jon come up with the music. I wouldn't know how to put it together if it came like a Lego-leaflet. The musicians in the band (ie, not me, them) are rare geniuses. I am but a pawn.
Jon: Haha. We get together. We play. Nothing is planned. After one gig someone compared us to Nine Inch Nails. Another like Coldplay.  And another someone I'd never heard of. We get drunk and decide on some chords and depending on how we feel determines the direction. Except for Steve, he does whatever we tell him to do.
Stephen: We just walk in and then start f@cking around. About ten minutes into all this (we're having fun and all) Toast struts in. He doesn't often get mad, but this is about the time he usually lets rip into his Commandant impersonation and everyone falls in line. One time I remember, Gil tried to be clever but Toast threw him on the side of the face with a tambourine (Toast was playing it at the time cause he doesn't know how to play anything else, but don't tell him I said that).
Gil: Me, Jon and Steve work out a couple idea's before each gig. We never used to practice at all but last year we made a decision to practice once before every time we played live because for the first time we had two musical instruments in the band. Actually, there is not much difference between when we practice and when we play live (other than the fact that we are sober when we practice and are usually falling over drunk by the time we get on stage). We just work through different idea's until we've exhausted them and that’s the end of the song. Toast doesn't do much when we practice, he usually just reads to himself but when we play live he'll tell us what kind of song we are going to do and we pull out something appropriate. Eventually some of the tunes and words start to stick together, but it's not essential.

What do the different band members do by day?
Toast: I am currently in Seoul, teaching by day and writing by night. I am writing a book called 'Ek & Die Braai', which is about fishing, brotherhood, love, world politics, Charelize Theron, metamorphosis, celebrity, the end of the world and braaiing. On weekends I 'meet new people', ride trains and find exciting things to eat with my beer: pickled quail eggs, raw baby octopus, rooster feet and silkworm larvae.
Jon: Something somewhere in the arts or something.
Stephen: Count the dollars and cents in a locked up room. They only let me out when I'm done.
Gil: Walk the fine line between freedom and destitution.

Who have been your musical influences, if any?

Toast: Battery 9, Portishead, The Notwist, Live Jimi Presley, Godessa, Watkin Tudor Jones jr, The Originz, EL-P, The Beta Band, Bran van 3000, Valiant Swart, REM, Dorp, Sugardrive, 12Hz, Die Pienk Prinsessie, Plank, Brixton Moord & Roof orkes, Felix Laband, Jim White, The Dolly Rockers, Vusi Mahlasela, Joe Blu, Howlin Wolf, Massive Attack, Saul Williams, vdWant & Letcher, Lesego Rampolokeng, Saamrou, Skwatta Kamp, The Kalahari Surfers, Sigur Ros, Bill Evans, Benguela, Oliver Mtukudzi, Radiohead, Wilco, Neil Young, The White Stripes, Ivanhoe, Argo, Albert Frost, Ready D, Prophets of da City, SNG, SOT, Amersham, Gurka, The Blasting Scones, Lewis Parker, Arab Strap, Weezer, Princess Superstar, Lightnin Hopkins, Kombuis, Kramer, (James) Phillips, Kerkorrel and about 10 000 other bands and musicians.
Jon: I'd actually love to read Gil's answer on this one. I think he is more a musical force in the band. He determines the direction more than anyone else because he has such a unique taste in music. I'm from like your cheesy rock g-d long haired freak type musical background. Gil likes weird stuff and that's cool.
Stephen: I listen to tons of music. I get bored easily. I listen to traffic noises, the sound of police sirens as they screech out above all the quiet suburban wastelands. I hate rock music. After a few drummers, Toast is a phenomenal influence on me.
Gil: I totally feel under pressure. You want a list? The big ones are are REM, The Sex Pistols, The Stone Roses and Branvan 3000 closely followed by Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Supergrass, Oasis, Amersham, The Chemical Brothers, Bob Dylan, The Clash, Vd Want and Letcher, Sugardrive, Weezer, Ivy, DJ Punk Roc, Neil Young...this is going to on forever. They’re not  really musical influences though, more like life influences. Generally either bands with a strong social conscience or those that have managed to break out of a single pigeon hole. I think I'm more influenced my movements then by individuals or bands. The Madchester scene and punk being big ones.  I guess some of the musical influences around the time of making  TAFL where Jurassic 5, Primal Scream,  Breakbeat Era, Talking Heads, Jim White and Aim.

Where can people get your album?
Toast: Gil, you answer this one.
Jon: Speak to our manager. 4 beers to the stage or money to the store.
Gil: At the moment it is available from www.oneworld.co.za but will be in shops nation wide in August. We also have two other releases ‘Jou Mede Mens is Dood’  which is in the shops and ‘Survival is Personal’ which is only available from the band.

What are your plans for the future?

Toast: We'd like to keep doing what we're doing until it ceases to make sense. We'd like to slowly get better at what we're doing with every album. We'd like to make at least twenty albums. We'd like to have 1000 fans, all in all.
Jon: Do an unforgettable performance at Oppikoppi and then Wembley Stadium. Like I said earlier, one thing we've learnt: You cant kill this band. so Toast is away. We all know it doesn't really matter. This band will be around for a very, very, very long time. No apologies.
Stephen: To play a gig at Parliament and shake hands with Frene Ginwala (in that order).. Also to do a short tour of all the dorpies in Karoo and Northern Cape - around De Aar and Matjiesfontein. We're a lot more comfortable with small towns (small towns = small audiences alright).
Gil: Because Toast is away we might play a few gigs with Zubz from the hip hop group The Originz. We also might do a couple instrumental gigs for kicks. We've got a new guitarist so we have to spend some time breaking him in. When Toast gets back in the new year we'll go into studio again and we should have another album out by this time next year.