Sunday, May 24, 2009

BLK JKS: From South Africa with riffs

It was globe-hopping DJ Diplo who first alerted me to South African band BLK JKS back in February 2008. He described the band as akin to “an African TV on the Radio,” fully aware of the statement’s irony.

Listening to the act's debut EP "Mystery," it’s easy to understand the TVOTR reference. Opening track “Lakeside” rides a ghostly vocal melody peppered with falsetto in a style ripped straight from the TVOTR playbook. But dig a little deeper, and a myriad of sounds and influences fly out in a fast and furious fashion. From random bursts of Afro-pop rhythms to simmering reggae rhythms, the band's sound incorporates all of it in seemingly effortless fashion.

Despite much Internet attention, the Echo was less than packed for the band’s L.A. club debut (it performed at the Natural History Museum with Fool’s Gold back in March). But those that did catch the band bore witness to one of the most explosive and genuinely thrilling shows L.A. has seen in a very long time.

What’s most readily apparent about BLK JKS is that these guys can really play. The taut four-piece is led by singer/guitarist Lindani “Linda” Buthelezi and backed by guitarist Mpumi Mcata, who trade blistering but abstract leads between washes of tuneful noise reminiscent of ‘90s U.K. dream-pop pioneers A.R. Kane. But it’s the ferocious rhythm section of bassist Molefi Makananise and Tshepang Ramoba that stole the show. They somehow maintain a groove while whipping through rapid-fire tempo and time signature changes, showing a raw musical dexterity rarely seen at indie rock shows.

The appreciative crowd soaked up the band’s energy, as the group veered from expansive, dubby instrumental passages into dense, menacing riffs like a new-school Bad Brains. As the performers wrapped up the hourlong set with a spirited run through “Summertime," the audience’s applause lasted long after the band members had disappeared into the backstage area.

Hey, Paul Tollett, I’ve got the perfect band for Coachella 2010....

(Originally published in L.A. Times)