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BLK JKS: We're Not Fucking Guns n'Roses, OK?

POSTED: By Bongani Madondo

Notes from the Frontline of Rock'n Roll's Last Frontier

     
BLK JKS: We're Not Fucking Guns n'Roses, OK?
Photo by Ross Garret

It is just shy of the winter of the year 2005 AD. A country now known as Mzansi is on a knife's edge. Looking at its past 100 years, it's really never strayed far from that. The knife's edge. Bone-throwers and critics are stumbling over themselves to compose epitaphs for the born free's sonic rebellion: kwaito. But kwaito is not actually dead. It will find its nirvana in the form of Durban's dirty South boys, and not only that. Some of its belligerent hustle and fuck-you attitude will germinate in the most unlikely of places: South Africa's black punk rock.

2005 is also the year that terms such as "coconut" make back-door entry into the country's lexicon, just as "funky" loses its filthy soot, gaining a clean-cut new life as a by-word for "urban" in marketing lingo. After 10 years of freedom, a decade of self-congratulatory victory, pantomimed new BlackConsciousness (Biko's T-shirts catching up with Che's sexy tees and those Free Tibet stickers) and countless tales of white men grabbing the loudspeakers and recalling their trips to meet the ANC in Lusaka, black youths in the townships are finally saying, "Fuck all that!" Not only are they saying suck my Dickies and Converse, but as a demographic they are re-staking the right to just be. Can we youth be loud and careless again? And oh, by the ways, we are not all poor with bad teeth and terrible education, is that OK with you? From streets to the media, the picture turns multiple shades of blackness.

The loudest voices shout up and their urgency is clear: "We are tired of struggle talk." They want to be carefree, bang their heads against the walls; while others just want to blow cash, write poetry, be fly, blow some blow, be famous and so on. Word is clear: we've had enough with the past.

Almost in step with their suburban brethren, most of whom they share nothing with, other than the art or raging against the Rainbow's slow lulling machine, these ghetto teens are the first to sound it out loud and clear: that teen spirits don't quite smell the same.

Where kwaito used to be the all-defining term for rebellion, alien sub-cultures keep creeping up in the belly of the night.

As pre-teen fiends with microphones morph into poets for hire, shouting "faya!", and backpacker MCs from outer space – beyond the Parental Advisory borders – mix Pharoahe Monch with Frantz Fanon metaphors, an even stranger beast is rearing. In the limbo left by kwaito's premature death, a band of four young bucks hardly out of puberty is fiddling with electric instruments. They have no inkling that they will one day stride indie rock'n'roll capitals as Africa's belated answers to The Clash, The Smiths, The Cure or whoever. In no time, they will be proclaimed the "beautiful ones" that rock'n'roll has been waiting for since The Doors' demise or since Tricky blessed the sinful earth with Maxinquaye. But I'm jumping the gun.

Back then, in 2005, in a Spruitview garage, east of Johannesburg, all these boys aimed for was to have some fun. They called themselves the BLK JKS. Like all game-changing arts and artists in life, they started out really kak, their music an exploding Molotov of ambition and terrible craftsmanship. But it wasn't long before they would change rock'n'roll forever.

 

 

This is an excerpt of the cover story from the July 2012 issue of Rolling Stone South Africa. To read the rest of this story, subscribe to the magazine here.

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