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‘Mafia’ hit men muscle in on rock genre

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TO Woodstock Mafia_6715

Ross Jansen

HEAVY HITTERS: from left, Owen Ingarfield, Nick van Rensburg, Ryan Matthews and Joe Theron.

Woodstock Mafia are proud of their achievements attained last year. Their hit song Electric Light, off their debut album Defiance, was playlisted on 5FM, they were nominated for two MK Awards and played the main stages at all the rock music festivals around the country.

The Cape Town quartet have enjoyed a series of unplugged gigs including at Aces ’n’ Spades, a cool over-25 rock club in the Cape Town CBD.

When I arrived for the interview I was immediately taken by the venue. It’s kinda like grunge meets a 1930s dive with songs by Iggy Pop and Jane’s Addiction on the speakers. The floor is black-and-white checks with a faded Persian carpet in the band room. There are leather seats, leather walls and stained glass skull windows.

Vocalist Joey Theron, who is a sound engineer by day, is setting up the sound. The band members all have day jobs, a rare occurrence in the lazy world of the average South African rock musician.

“We had such a cool gig in Stellenbosch last night,” Theron grins. “It was unplugged, but by the end we invited the audience to party on stage with us for the last song. We’re all pretty much hung over after the red wine we drank.”

Guitarist Nick van Rensburg and drummer Owen Ingarfield agree to do the interview while Theron sets up the equipment.

The band members played for various groups including 7th Son and Tailor before meeting with the specific purpose of setting up a band. That was in late 2010 and they played their first gig the next year.

“We had a similar vision creatively,” says Ingarfield. “But we weren’t formed organically like other bands. This isn’t the ’70s where three friends can become successful overnight. And we did not form this band to get stoned and get chicks. By the time we got together we’d already had our spirits crushed by experiences in the music industry.”

Van Rensburg is the main songwriter and brought 10 songs to the table. Their first recorded song was Electric Light which created a lot of hype for the band, combined with the fact that they also marketed themselves well. They used their debut EP as a business card and gave it out free at festivals. This ensured that 450 people were at their launch at Zula Bar in Cape Town.

The video for Electric Light also received thousands of views on YouTube. That song was also transferred on to their debut full album, Defiance. However, the album has not yet enjoyed the success the band had hoped for.

“Our genre is not exactly flavour- of-the-month,” reasons Van Rensburg. “We don’t intentionally write radio songs. We do it for the love of music and not because we need the money. We all have day jobs. A certain amount of romance is gone if you do it for the money. I will never write a song that I don’t like.”

“We grew up in the ’90s listening to classic rock,” says Ingarfield. “Which band nowadays do you know that has a hidden track?”

Woodstock Mafia clearly do.

“We have always been proud of the ’90s influence in our music. It has defined our sound and that means we are not a trendy genre.”

The CD sales have ensured, however, that the band have broken even when it comes to the expense of recording Defiance.

Their plan, say Woodstock Mafia, is to grow musically and in their live performances.

“As soon as we reach that point we pack it in,” suggests Van Rensburg with a smile.

“This is a very intense hobby at the moment,” ends Ingarfield.

Bassist Ryan Matthews arrives, complaining of being hung over, and then disappears for a quick dinner. On his return the soundcheck is well under way. Theron and Van Rensburg’s voices complement each other over the pretty acoustic guitars. In fact, Theron’s voice works better live than on the album. It has a richer tone which is not quite captured on the recording.

Then it is time for the photoshoot which at one point has the four of them on the bar counter posing between the low lights held up by thick rope. A cool rock star moment.

While the immediate success of their first single is still at the back of their minds, it does not appear as if Woodstock Mafia will be one-hit wonders.


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