Images by Ravi Panchia
I am the only person in South Africa who doesn’t like Isochronous. Fact.
When I interview artists, I try to ask them what they’re listening to – who could have a more reliable musical shit detector than a person who makes music for a living? These people have to know their stuff, surely.
For the first half of last year, the answer was consistent: folk blues singer Joshua Grierson, every time.
Then the winds changed, and every South African artist I interviewed (whether blues, rock, pop or heavier, students or signed bands, even singer songwriters) had one thing to say: Isochronous is the shit.
So when I heard they were launching their live DVD on Friday night at Fourways’ Tanz Café, I was there like a bear in despair over Cher. (I’ve been trying to be less of a crotchety misanthrope, and more like one of those open-minded people one reads about.)
And after Friday, I have concluded: If every single person in this country is in love with Isochronous, I am the fucking 1%.
The set was intercut with projected clips of their Live in Germany DVD, and the vocals showed impressive range, but confirmed within seconds what their YouTube videos vaguely indicted: that insipid, feigned American accent that sounds like it’s being squeezed out of an ovary and into the microphone.
It’s not the accent, specifically, that grates – it’s the affectation. No American person in the world sounds as American as a person who is desperately attempting that accent. It’s like being given a horrifying artificial juice concentrate instead of fruit juice.
Every time the line “We’ll neverr win this worrr” came around (which was about 18 times in the first song), it was like a tiny dagger taken to the part of the brain that holds reason. The same applied for the mantra “You arr a cinemaar; I could watch you forevurrr” later in the set. Let’s move on.
Before Friday, I’d read some fairly accusatory comparisons between Gauteng’s Isochronous and Copenhagen’s Mew and, as a huge Mew fan, I tried extra hard to give our highvelders the benefit of the doubt.
I’ll allow that there are some structural similarities, especially between songs like Isochronous’s Oxygen and Mew’s Special. They’re clearly aiming for something Mew-esque in theory, but in execution, it plays out more like some terrifying Death Cab for Coldplay mashup.
Emo-pop messiah Ben Gibbard arrived, took that wordy pop rock sound as far as it’ll go, then a bit further, and now it’s over. Let it lie. No one takes bands seriously when they use words like “refrain” as a verb in their lyrics non-ironically, and no one fucking should.
And the theatrics. Oh, the theatrics. I might sound terminally anhedonic here, unhappy no matter what (I do whinge when people stand immobile on stage, and also when they’re melodramatic). But maybe don’t end every pop rock song you play with a grand, choreographed, band-wide collapse, like puppets whose strings have suddenly been cut. Maybe also don’t act like you’re shredding a face melting guitar solo when you’re playing mild, moderate harmonies. It’s a gig, not a fucking pantomime.
All affectations aside, I did very much enjoy the reliably fuzzy bass and tight piano components, and the random, spontaneous jam bits were really entertaining and well-executed. Oxygen was a setlist stand-out and is clearly their strongest piece. There is the sense that there’s a good band in here, but you have to peel away layer after layer of farce to find them and I can’t imagine who would have the inclination.
Oh, wait. Yes I can. The Youths.
I am definitely in the minority with my complaints; by midway through their set the band had drawn a thicket of earnest little headbangers who were reacting to Isochronous like they were Turbonegro.
Louis CK has this stand-up bit where he says that people use the word ‘hilarious’ to describe things that are fairly pedestrian, which means they’ll have no vocabulary left for things that are truly hilarious.
This is how I feel about Isochronous fans.
If you’re going this spare over this band, what’s going to happen when you hear something that’s actually heavy? If you’re moshing this maniacally over a keyboard-driven Pretoria outfit, you’ll likely unhinge your jaw and haemmorhage your lungs all over the dancefloor when Danzig comes on.
My favourite of the fans was a girl we called the One Woman Party. No one will ever break it down to Isochronous as seriously as this girl did. It was an almost athletic dedication. She knew every word, jogging on the spot, air-drumming and dancing kabuki-style alone in front of the stage so aggressively that I spent at least one song writing a short story about her in my head. This was a lot more entertaining than the whining on stage.
Later, her male doppelganger walked in and also broke it down, wantonly and alone on the other side of the crowd, but they never saw each other. I got to write a love interest into her story in my head. That was, for me, the highlight of the gig.
I just can’t explain all the hearty, countrywide recommendations from people much cleverer than me. I don’t know if it’s an Emperor’s New Clothes thing, or if there really is something wonderful I’m just not getting. It wouldn’t be the first time. Here’s what I know: I’m not being willful and stubborn. Isochronous are not a great band. And I am the 1%.
For the rest of you, Isochronous will be promoting their Live in Germany DVD here:
27 June 2012 | Atterbury Theatre, Pretoria | R80 pre-sold and R100 after | 19h30
30 June 2012 | Live, Durban | R60 | 21h00
In the vacuum between dark and light, Siouxsie Sioux and Emmylou Harris, Amelie and Travis Bickle, Huntress Thompson is an idiot lost, and reporting from the field. If you’re after irrational, impassioned rants about cupcakes and Johnny Cash (and you probably aren’t), she’s grumpy, but she’s your girl.