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Mielies and mines. No matter from which direction you approach Klerksdorp, the road always looks the same – mielies and mines.
Before I suggest to Star photographer Antoine de Ras that we play car cricket to stop the boredom from crushing my skull, I lock eyes with the orange Jägermeister deer and its shining orange cross. It is staring at us from the back of the matt-black tour van that belongs to Fokofpolisiekar. It is reminding us of better things to come – a live performance by Fokofpolisiekar in Klerksdorp.
And, as has been well-documented over the past decade, there is nothing boring about Fokofpolisiekar. Klerksdorp’s Rio Casino is the first stop on their tour, aptly called En Nou’s Dit 10 Jaar. The band have also not played here since 2005, although their offspring – Die Heuwels Fantasties, aKING and Van Coke Kartel – have.
Again, the mammoth success of the spawn of Fokofpolisiekar has been well documented over the years, with Die Heuwels, aKING and Van Coke Kartel dominating the music scene.
In fact, Hunter Kennedy, Francois van Coke, Wynand Myburg, Snakes and Johnny de Ridder are the most documented musicians in the history of South African rock.
From a popular documentary to a book to videos, features, tours and more tours to their various side projects, which grew to become household names, Fokofpolisiekar have been the biggest contributor to the growth of South African music, in both English and Afrikaans, and the media and their fans have loved every second of it.
They started off as the bad boys of rock, what with Van Coke regularly vomiting on stage. They refused to sing in anything but their mother tongue. They challenged the conservative tradition that is their mother tongue. So who are they now 10 years down the line? Are they still relevant? Do they even care? Can they still rock the party like only Fokof could? And have the people in Klerksdorp become used to the fact that there is a wild rock band who sing in Afrikaans and whose name contains a swear word?
The last question is answered as we drive into Rio Casino: a poster at the entrance reading “Tonight – FOKOFpolisiekar” – gamblers and guests welcome.
They’ve come a long way, baby.
The band arrive backstage and the five members busy themselves with unloading – there’s not a roadie in sight.
You’re so famous and so successful yet you still unload your own gear?
Van Coke looks at me like I’m stupid and continues with what he is doing.
Soon it is soundcheck time, the bane of every musician’s life.
Kennedy is strumming his acoustic guitar, oblivious to Snakes smacking the drums, cigarette dangling from his mouth.
Myburg is testing the height of the chairs for their acoustic set, the idea of the tour being that they play an acoustic set, have an interval and then klap a full-on set.
Really, guys, Fokofpolisiekar have an interval during their show?
Well, they have also found women who will marry them. The tight jeans are still there, though.
Kennedy is chubbier, but still pretty. De Ridder still looks 19 and still has that distraught rock ’n’ roll aura. For the past five months Van Coke and Myburg have swopped alcohol for Red Bull.
“I do it to the extreme,” explained Van Coke, his intense green eyes explaining a lot more than the sentence ever will.
Myburg plugs in his bass and there is another hint of what is to come. The venue consists of tables and chairs, suggesting a sit-down affair. Doubtful. There appears to be good lighting on the ample stage, but the soundcheck is going horribly wrong. Seems the sound engineer is running late from Parys so he has sent a buddy to cover for him. Only the buddy is floundering in an aural sea of ignorance.
“We sound like a ’90s f****** band,” exclaims Snakes.
Myburg, forever the leader, is trying to sort it out and also keep his temper. The others move outside to chill. The setting sun does not make the summer highveld air any cooler.
So, are they still relevant?
“Were we ever?” snorts Snakes.
“The spirit is still there,” says De Ridder.
Van Coke, who is relaxing next to De Ridder, says: “The spirit of Fokof. The kids still go crazy. Johnny says you must always have friends younger than yourself. They are my friends.”
He looks a bit nervous and then pre-gig anxiety kicks in: “Yeah, just now we say they go crazy and then no one comes.”
It’s so cool to see the jitters are still there after all these years.
Van Coke gets up to go on stage and then turns around and looks at me: “Please excuse me.”
De Ridder smiles. “We don’t have after-parties now. We have after-dinners.”
Two and a half hours later, the crowd outside is singing the fans’ anthem: “Fokofpolisiekaarrr, fokof!”
The bad sound has finally been fixed and the fans stream into the venue.
The band begin playing within 10 minutes of the doors opening.
“We’re gonna play a few acoustic tunes,” announces Van Coke. De Ridder strikes a guitar chord, Van Coke jumps his famous leg splits and so begins their acoustic set. Kennedy is the only one playing an acoustic instrument.
Within two songs, people have left their seats and a stage invasion seems imminent. Towards the back, two blondes cling to each other, singing the words to every song. On stage, Van Coke raises his hands in his now characteristic Jesus Christ pose, then points his mic, encouraging crowd participation. So, this is Fokof unplugged.
The interval has fans pouring backstage, the band sweetly obliging with photos and autographs.
They soon return to the stage and my questions are answered: Yes, they play to sell-out crowds. Yes, the fans adore them. Yes, they are still the kings of rock ’n’ roll. They leave the stage with Van Coke’s message: “Dankie. Jy het definitief die Fokof spirit vanaand.”
And, yes after the gig, the guys have an after-dinner instead of an after-party.
Over breakfast the next morning I am curious about that Fokof spirit. The discussion reveals how close the five band members are off stage, there is a genuine friendship. They are such individual strong, crazy rock star characters that it is no wonder they were destined for bigger things.
They say it all started as a joke.
“In the beginning it was about liberating ourselves,” explains De Ridder. “The idea was about doing three-chord pop/punk music in Afrikaans. We wanted to tour all these Afrikaans towns and we thought: ‘How funny.’ But from the first rehearsal we knew we wanted to do rock.”
Myburg takes up the explanation: “In general, Afrikaans society was way more uptight than it is now. We wanted to liberate ourselves from our Calvinistic upbringing and Afrikaans stereotypes.
“At that stage, starting a rock band, doing it full-time, was non-existent in our society. We were told it was a bad career move.
“We thought: ‘F*** all of them, we’re going to show them.’ We wanted to make music for our friends and those who were displaced because they were not Christians anymore and were wondering: ‘Now what?’”
What is always fascinating is how much Fokof fans relate to the lyrics.
“As the lyricist Hunter has always been good at observing,” says Van Coke. “There were never any lessons in the songs. Hunter writes about reflections, not life lessons.”
“We were at the right place at the right time,” states Kennedy. “You’ll be mindf***** by interpretations of our lyrics and who we are. We are just a vehicle.”
Van Coke adds his timeous cliché: “A vehicle of radness.”
Snakes looks down for a while and says quietly: “It’s about friendship and we are the best of friends.”
• For more info on En Nou’s Dit 10 Jaar, go to Fokofpolisiekar’s facebook page.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY ...
Jack Parow (above): We were friends from school days because we all come from Bellville. But we were into different music. I only listened to rap until I was about 22. In fact, I only discovered Bob Dylan when I was 21. I went to their launch, but it took me much longer to get into their music. I am definitely a late bloomer, but the other day I went out and bought the whole catalogue.
What is really cool about them is that we were on the same path in terms of making Afrikaans cool. Fokofpolisiekar opened the door for me and many other alternative Afrikaans artists and for that I will always be grateful. We are also great tjommies and go to each others’ birthdays and weddings.
Stephan Potgieter – content executive for MK: When MK first started there was no content. Fokofpolisiekar saw the benefit of creating content for MK. There was a positive consulting process between the channel and the boys.
They are so innovative and proved that you can have a rock band and not make rock music in English, that you aren’t just restricted to Afrikaans pop.
We started on July 5, 2005 and the first song we playlisted of theirs was Tieneraksie Einde at the end of 2006.
The channel has been associated with them from the beginning. This was even when the people of Oudtshoorn did not want them to perform in their town for the KKNK and they had to play outside the town.
They never went out there to shock. They just went out to play good music.
Valiant Swart (above): Fokofpolisiekar are one of the most important Afrikaans phenomena of all time. They are right up there with Breyten Breytenbach in the 1960s, Anton Goosen in the 1970s and the Voelvry tour in the late 1980s.
As clichéd as it sounds they were behind a renewal and mindshift of popular culture and are the voice of a generation. They are more than the music. I remember my son and I having a conversation about their music when he was in high school. He said that while he knew I was the real deal and a rock ’n’ roller and a poet, he could relate to what Fokof were saying. He said: “You are not one of those guys who appeal to me and my generation, you are the dad of that generation.” They helped me understand my kid better.
Franie Kotze – Clear Entertainment Management: I was managing the Springbok Nude Girls when Fokofpolisiekar started and there were always comparisons in the beginning. Fokof were the Sex Pistols in Afrikaans rock ’n’ roll. The Nudies were only referred to as an Afrikaans band by surfers in Durban. Fokof became the young politicians of the South African Afrikaans youth.
At one stage they became so powerful they thought they were above making statements about God, which didn’t go down very well in the Afrikaans community. What they did have in common with the Nudies were their Bellville origins.
If you look at the national success of Cape Town rock ’n’ roll acts only the Nudies and Fokof made it. That is because they have a work ethic. They toured with risk at the beginning of their careers.
Bellville is considered a working-class suburb and inferior to the northern suburbs of Cape Town. Bellville people understand hard work because they come from a working-class background and have a sense of community. While the Nudies had export potential, Fokof had limits. However live, Fokof can perform anywhere in the world.
Carel Hoffman – Head of Oppikoppi: Next year Oppikoppi will be 20 years old which was about five years after the Voëlvry Movement started. At that time there was a socio-political vacuum and we got away with things as a festival. The festival stood for rock ’n’ roll hedonism and we weren’t trying to make a political statement. It was flat-out alternative rock ’n’ roll.
Fokof played within that ecosystem and were anti-establishment with no political statements. The killer thing about this band is that their songs are unbelievable. I still listen to AC/DC albums and Fokof albums are also still a work of art.
In the past 10 years no one else has achieved what they have achieved and reached people’s hearts through their lyrics. The songs grab you and run away with you.
We had them at Oppikoppi last year, nine years into their careers, and it was the set of the festival. It was amazing to see them still kill it nine years later.
Theo Crous – founder member of Springbok Nude Girls and rock producer (below): They made it cool to listen to alternative rock music in Afrikaans. They have played a big role in how big our industry has become.
Since they started 10 years ago we have 100 times more bands than what we had then. They influenced young kids who just wanted to get away and let their hair down.
Before them what did Afrikaans music have in that style? Yes, there was Karen Zoid and the Voëlvry, but there wasn’t a place for that new age punk thing to happen in Afrikaans.
They started a new space in the industry that wasn’t there before and a whole generation of bands followed. They made the music cool to listen to in their own language. No one had done it before, not on that scale.