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On Saturday night Pestroy play their last gig ever at Ramfest. Therese Owen recalls a 16-year career of heavy, heavy music and lots of fun.
It’s been 16 years of Pestroy rock ’n’ roll and this weekend at Ramfest they are finally calling it quits.
Their CV includes six albums, nine guitarists, seven drummers, thousands of gigs, four people the smallest show they have played, 65 000 the biggest gig they played and two “the number of times the f***ing cops have shut us down while playing”.
That is because they are one of the loudest metal bands in the land.
Having met them about two years into their young career, I would never have guessed they would still be hammering at it so many years later. Shane Forbes and lead singer Craig Hawkins were the original members and still in their teens. They say they have spent half their lives playing in Pestroy.
My very first memory of them was a gig at Roxy’s in Melville and thinking, ‘wow! These boys are so big’. They were like rugby giants, but that’s where any comparison to jockdom ended. Hawkins had these flying dreadlocks. Forbes’ spiky hair and good looks meant he was a favourite with the girls. But he could also play the bass. There was testosterone and guitar distortion flying off that stage. It was very sexy.
Their Jozi gigs would always end up with us rocking it back at a mutual decadent friend’s blue house with a coffin as a part of the furniture. The friend was the lead singer of the Diesel Whores and knew how to throw a grand party till the wee hours.
It was there that they became friends with their heroes of the time – Fuzigish, Plum and Odball. Pestroy being a good five years younger than those guys, they were, in the beginning, a bit like groupies. However, their impressive playing soon made them peers in the rock music circle. Plus, they became known as quite the wild children of the scene, having been banned from a club in Durban because of their mischievous behaviour. They were also shut down while playing at the former Woodstock Festival after the police arrived – their music was too loud.
While, naturally, they never received much radio play on mainstream South African stations, they had a strong following among alternative rockers throughout the country.
They say one of their highlights was opening for Metallica last year. The promoters, Big Concerts, decided that for the privilege of opening for Metallica the lucky band must be chosen by public vote. Pestroy say they were surprised when they found out. But if you think about it, they are the only band who have paid their dues and are qualified to do it.
“We were nervous in the beginning because there were so many people, but we got into it after the first song,” says Forbes.
“Yeah, I think it was one of our best gigs,” agrees Hawkins.
Forbes says: “We have always had a DIY way of doing everything, from the design of the album to the recording and producing.”
He is responsible for the visuals and now works in advertising while Hawkins, who owns his own music production company, has always produced the albums.
They recently released their final album, Speed of Dark. However, both are at pains to say the band’s life is not over, they are just taking a hiatus. At age 30-ish, the two say other things are becoming more important which in turn is putting pressure on the band as a secondary stake in their lives.
However, they agree that Speed of Dark is their heaviest and best album yet. Pestroy started in the days of Deftones and the nu-metal scene. Forbes says his proudest moment in Pestroy was when the lead singer of Deftones, Chino Moreno, wore a Pestroy T-shirt when they played South Africa.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” he smiles. “When we started at school we were like, ‘wow, imagine if we could play Roxy’s’, and then we did. And then it was ‘imagine if we could play Oppikoppi’s main stage’, and we did that, too. Then it was ‘imagine if we could tour Europe’, and we did. Then we also got to play with some of our favourite international bands like Inflames, Every Time I Die and Rise Against.”
The problem with band changes came when they released their second album, Counterattack, which saw two band members leave to concentrate on a side project called Wickhead. This left Forbes and Hawkins with no chance to play gigs to promote the album. With metal bands in particular it is essential that they play live as there is very little chance of radio or TV play. However, they soon recovered because of their determination, hot music and musicianship being that good. Plus, they have one of the most adrenalin-pumping shows on circuit.
In fact, their contribution to South African music is that they have raised the bar in terms of professionalism. They were always tight and always strived for good sound and lighting.
So for Ramfest expect an all-out power show filled with emotion. They are one of the best reasons to attend the festival. Oh, and bring extra bucks because Speed of Dark is a must-buy.