Watch Felix Laband’s brilliant set at the 2015 Cape Town Electronic Music Festival on 8 February (click the hyperlink – the darn embed function doesn’t seem to work properly on WordPress).
Felix opens this particular “Deaf Safari” with a dodgy old recording (that I think I actually gave him!), of Marais and Miranda entertaining a frightfully colonial white 1950s audience with their “knowledge” of “Hottentot” and “Zooloo” linguistics. With a subversive stammer, it segues into an hour-long journey of cut-up sounds and visuals.
Laband displays fluent familiarity with and yet alienation from spectacular capitalist consumer tropes. The oversaturated bricolage of radio preachers, politicians, porn, pulp cinema, big game and exoticised cultural representations is absurd and defaced: eyeless, toothless, festering with skulls. Sound and visuals work in counterpoint: horny assemblages dripping blood and infection; a snatch of Cat Power’s languid “Satisfaction”. His work foregrounds our mindless addiction to and manipulation by these fragments bouncing off the walls onto one another, their banality dismembered, dislocated, demented, discordant, decaying.
A voice in Queen’s English: “I was wondering what it is that you don’t want to remember so badly… To put it another way, what are you trying to forget?”
The response, implied in the guitar run sampled from Nico’s “These Days”: “Please don’t confront me with my failures… I had not forgotten them.”
Felix forces us to examine ourselves honestly. This I love most deeply about what he does: he will not allow us to forget, nor feign ignorance. There are naive melodies, but there is no innocence, no deafness nor blindness. We are taken through his cabinet of jabbering apparitions, racist, patriarchal horror haunting every suburban corner, lullabies, toyi-toyi chants… The valley of the shadow of death… We are not tourists. This is our own back yard. We stare the nightmares down, bopping in slo-mo. The voices persist, demand acknowledgement until they dissolve. It’s a kind of exorcism.
And beyond that, always, despite all the schizophrenic folly and sadness, hope and jubilation live on in the unfinished refrains of blues ghosts captured long ago on wax… Vera Hall, Stack O’Lee, prisoners and murderers alike now free… and there is space to breathe, place to be here now, without judgement… we are bathed in grace and exquisite melody. This is strong muti for South Africans’ sickness.
I can’t wait for his new album, and I highly recommend that you see him live if you get the chance: he’s on form like never before and it’s a profound trip.
P.S. Read Sean O’Toole’s great interview piece for Mahala on Felix’s return (his new album, Deaf Safari, is set for release next month, after an almost decade-long gestation).