Live Jimi Presley's album comes 26 years after they first set fire to SA stages

24 April 2016 - 02:00 By Lloyd Gedye


Dadaism was alive and well in Johannesburg in the late 1980s and early '90s. Picture the scene.A band is thrashing out a rhythm on various home-made metal percussion instruments.One is operating an angle grinder.The object of the showering sparks is a gimp, a volunteer from the audience, naked, except for a wrapping of see-through plastic, a mask and chains.Petrol is on fire at the audience's feet. Some of them land punches and kicks on the gimp.Band members brandish guns on stage, firing blanks at random.Its dada rock'n'roll and the band on stage is Live Jimi Presley."For us, art is not an end in itself ... but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in," wrote Hugo Ball, the author of the 1916 Dada Manifesto.Dada was born out of reactions to the horrors of World War 1 by a group of left-wing anarchist artists and poets. It emerged from the nightclub Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, co-founded by Ball.Dada rejected reason and logic, prizing nonsense, irrationality and intuition. In the late '60s Dada's influence could be heard in the work of the Beatles, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and Can.In the late '70s and early '80s, its influence could be heard in the work of bands now termed industrial. Bands such as Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubauten.It was the early records from these artists that would light a dada revolution in Johannesburg.story_article_right1In 1986 Neil Goedhals and Marcel van Heerden formed the band Koos. The same year, a band formed by ex-Rhodes students took the name Vader Jakob.In the liner notes to the 2007 reissue of Koos's The Black Tape album Fred de Vries wrote, "Koos was a highly personal reaction to the chaos and despair that had engulfed the country in the mid-eighties. States of emergency, murder bomb attacks and people who 'fell from the window' of a police station or 'slipped on a piece of soap', that was the subject matter Koos sang about."Their music was an angular anti-rock that embraced noise, sound effects, poetry and theatre.Koos broke up in 1990, the year that the ex-Rhodes students changed their name to Live Jimi Presley. They would soon relocate to Johannesburg to see Nelson Mandela released from jail and by 1992 they were strutting stages everywhere. They quickly earned themselves a reputation for a great live show, due to the costumes, pyrotechnics and anarchic behaviour of the band.The Johannesburg underground reflected the violence and chaos in South Africa at the time. Through their live performances, Live Jimi Presley were at the forefront of that chaos.Their live show was the stuff of legend, involving an assault of metal percussion, angle grinders, violence, gimps, guns, chains, masks, strobes, movie projections and lots of fire."I remember them," an older colleague offered. "They used to blow our minds."More a gang than a band, they couldn't afford instruments, so they bought scrap metal to play."We borrowed the bashing bits of metal idea from European bands like Einstürzende Neubauten," recalls bassist Derek Davey.He recalls driving their empty car to the scrap metal merchants, having it weighed, and driving it out full of things like "car suspension springs and metal petrol tanks"."The car would be weighed once again and payment made for the difference in weight," he says. "Then we would cut the metal up and weld it together to create musical instruments or stands on which the metal could be bashed.""We would link bits of metal to car batteries so when they were played with iron 'spring sticks' they would give off sparks."mini_story_image_vleft1At Nel of early bands Breinskade and Battery 9, both founded by Paul Riekert, remembers sharing many stages with the band.Breinskade also used metal percussion and an early track from their 1994 Bierbaard cassette, titled Corrugated Sheetmetal Handshake, is a perfect document.What you get when you mix Einstürzende Neubauten and Gabba Techno from Rotterdam.In the liner notes to the Breinskade compilation Permanent Skade (1994-2005) released in 2009, Riekert writes about Breinskade's music being instinctive and not trying to say anything."They did that metal percussion thing a lot better than me," says Nel about Live Jimi Presley, recalling those chaotic days.Other peers of Live Jimi Presley were the group Mud Ensemble, founded by Van Heerden and Juliana Venter in 1993. In fact Venter collaborated with Live Jimi Presley on the song Mobile Home.Davey says the early '90s were crazy times and the problem with Live Jimi Presley was that the band sought to get ever more extreme."The final Presley gig in 1997 ended when a woman named Jackie blew fire with petrol instead of paraffin and set herself alight," says Davey. "A member of the audience managed to smother the flames with his jacket but she had to undergo plastic surgery to minimise her facial scars."Live Jimi Presley existed for seven chaotic years and never released a recorded document, although a handful of songs on compilations of the time exist.Koos's The Black Tape was reissued in 2007. Breinskade's output was reissued in 2009 with the 18 -track Permanent Skade (1994-2005) and the Mud Ensemble's compilation Mud Ensemble (1993-1999) was released on April Fool's Day in 2011. But Live Jimi Presley up until now has remained undocumented in terms of a collection of recordings.The band has decided to rectify that by launching a compilation of recordings from back in the day.Live Jimi Presley were Marc Presley, Derek Davey, Chris Lebert, Tilo von Brandis, Kenny Marshall, James Donaldson, Jeremy Franklin, Leon Retief and a host of guest artists.Order the album from Derek Davey (psychaderek@yahoo.co.in). The Live Jimi Presley launch takes place at Amuse Cafe in Linden, Joburg (cnr 5th Street and 4th Avenue) on April 28 at 7pm. CDs will be on sale and the documentary 'Further' will be screened.

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