- Date of event: 15 August 2013
- Original publication date: 19 August 2013
There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned ‘battle of the bands’ to bring out the best in burgeoning local talent, and the final round of the Rolling Stone South Africa Rockstarter search at Mercury Live on Thursday 15th August 2013 saw some fascinating performances from the last two gladiators left in the arena. But the added ‘battle of the sexes’ element ramped up the high-stakes pursuit of the lucrative grand prize.
The first competitors were the feisty femme fatales of Cortina Whiplash, a Gauteng-based rock outfit that brought showmanship equally matched with substance. Whilst donning Venetian masks and dousing lead singer & bassist Loandi Boersma in gold paint, their aggressive metal-tinged attack flirted with elusive reggae ramblings, backed by the strong, sultry vocals of Boersma.
Opening with a slow-burning cover of Radiohead’s ‘Climbing Up The Walls’, the ladies’ confidence soared throughout the set, imbued with a distinctly ‘girl power’ humour. This was especially evident in guitarist Tessa Lilly’s admission “there’s nothing worse than trying to headbang with an ill-fitting bra” – a refreshingly female take on stage banter. Not even a lengthy break in between songs for complex tunings could dampen the girls’ spirit; what it did was show their willingness for experimentation with an energetic and exciting formula.
The boys from the appropriately-named Ballistic Blues were next into the arena, and got off to a rollicking start, forging their blues-based salvos with an upbeat, rock ‘n roll rhythm.
The Cape Town-based band’s earnestness and chemistry were clearly on display: lead guitarist Tyan Odendal playfully interacting with drummer Francois Keyser’s kit mid-song, as well as each member exuberantly singing along to lead singer Nick Forbe’s howling tales of “sleeping in other peoples’ beds” and “Oppikoppi, and all the dust that gets up your bum”. Beneath that mountain of frizzy hair emanates a gravelly, nuanced voice that deftly carries hits like ‘No Harm’ and ‘Roll Along’ from their self-titled EP. Shuffle-blues is another potent weapon in the Blues’ arsenal, slowing down the tempo, but never sacrificing the intensity and sexual energy of their impressive musicianship.
The Black Cat Bones
The dust had barely settled before the more senior headliners for the evening, The Black Cat Bones, took to the stage, whilst behind the scenes, representatives of Rolling Stone South Africa, The Kraken Rum, and VH Music & Publishing deliberated over the final decision. This allowed for lead singer Kobus de Kock Jr. to hold court over the Mercury crowd, his throaty vocals smoking under the riff-based melting pot of blues rock, causing a delirious deluge of dancing. The Bones’ structures are tight and simple, but win one over with sheer force of will, as they delve deep into the heart of blues.
Midway through The Black Cat Bones’ barnstorming set, the four-month long nationwide search culminated with an unprecedented result: both groups would share the honours, and with it, a feature in Rolling Stone South Africa, an album recording at VH Music & Publishing, as well as the opportunity to serve as worthy ambassadors of The Kraken Rum for a year.
There was much to celebrate, and both bands joined the Bones onstage for an impromptu collaboration to cap off their hard-earned shared victory. Whilst lead singers Forbes and Boersma danced and sang alongside the irrepressible de Kock Jr., the young Odendal precociously duelled with Bones guitarist Andre Kriel during some rousing Zeppelin-esque stompers, capably keeping up with the powerful rhythm section.
When one witnesses the confidence and talent of these two groups in a live setting, any hesitance in picking just one winner is justified.
Two gladiators entered the arena that night, and two left it victorious.