Tag Archives: history

2. Who Am I?

Depending on how you found out about this blog, you either:

  • know who I am, my background, musical preferences, etc
  • know who I am, and have little to no idea about my interests in music
  • don’t know me at all, so we have a blank slate to work with.

Wherever you find yourself in that spectrum of knowledge, it’s no big deal. I’ll give you a relevant rundown anyway…

My name is Kurt, and I am currently a 22-year-old student at the University of Cape Town, studying Construction Studies and working towards becoming a professional Quantity Surveyor (no need to ask what that is, laypeople, we can move on). I grew up in the green valleys of KwaZulu Natal in Kloof and Hillcrest, and was educated at Kearsney College in Botha’s Hill for high school. I now live in Cape Town pretty much permanently, visiting my family back in KZN when my schedule allows.

Throughout my life, music has played an incredibly important role in how I view the world around me. At various stages, I have responded in different ways to its magic, but overall it has always been intriniscally linked with my character, despite me not being a ‘gifted’ musician by any means at all.

As a toddler, I was a big fan of Winnie The Pooh, and my parents told me that I used to jump up and down and dance in front of the TV every time the theme song started playing for the TV show! Like most children, I had a healthy knowledge of nursery rhymes (and video evidence of me singing them too!). The fact that I had a slight problem pronouncing my K’s and C’s made it hilarious for my audiences.

The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh – my favourite TV show as a kid

Throughout pre-primary and primary schools, I was keenly aware of songs on the radio or TV, and have vivid memories of being caught up in Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears mania in the late 90’s. Music historians would be correct if they had to say that the furore around the Spice Girls was equivalent to Beatlemania in the 60’s. I was enamoured with them as a whole – knew every lyric, had some merchandise, the ‘Spiceworld’ movie, everything! But during that same period, memories of other contemporary artists still remain, such as Oasis’s second, chart-topping album ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’ (the one with ‘Wonderwall‘, ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ and ‘Champagne Supernova’), Robbie Williams new-found solo career and some artists other than bubblegum pop, which are quite difficult to remember now. Anything that was a hit on the charts was usually being played over and over by yours truly – this wasn’t an era of experimentation; just whatever you were exposed to as a 7/8/9-year old child.

Spice Girls – yes, I was a fan…

The music of my parents, who were still stuck in the cheesy 70’s and 80’s era, also shaped my upbringing somewhat. My mom and dad weren’t ever big music fans, but they liked what they liked, so I had exposure to a disjointed catalogue of: Bon Jovi, U2, Aerosmith, the soundtrack from the Rocky Horror Picture Show (???)  and an assortment of ‘pub favourites’ that were played at braais and get-togethers they had, as the adults steadily consumed more and more alcoholic beverages. There was very little to no formal instruction about the real rock gods, such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin or The Who. And speaking of religion, I was also exposed to contemporary Christian music at our family’s church, which thankfully didn’t play stuffy old hymns, and attempted to bring a more modern flavour to the proceedings.

A profound change in taste came about in the latter stages of senior primary and the beginnings of high school: pop-punk (which it was), or punk rock (what we thought it was). I had a friend named Clive who had an older brother about 3 or 4 years older than us. Infinitely cool with his hardcore computer system, he guided us away from the pop-landscape into the realms of adolescent angst and rebellion. Bands like Blink-182, Sum 41, Alien Ant Farm, Green Day and The Offspring became the order of the day. Linkin Park also released their debut album in Grade 6, and you literally HAD to either have it, or know its contents intimately to be seen as ‘cool’ amongst the guys at school, otherwise you were just left behind.

Linkin Park – the epitome of cool for a 12 year old boy

All these changes were pretty much that era and our maturity’s zeitgeist. As a teenager, I was stuck in that phase of music for a very long time, as I struggled to find myself, and adapt to the changes that were happening to me physically, emotionally and socially at high school. Much of those genres speak directly to the issues teenagers face, whether the themes are bleak, angsty and angry, or more rebellious and fun. And I fitted into that target market just perfectly.

The Offspring – ‘Americana’. Was as a big fan of this one

Fast-forward to between September and December 2004, when I went on international school exchange to Nashville, Tennessee in the USA. Never had I experienced a more drastic culture-clash, despite having visited the USA and Canada twice before on family holidays. Nashville is known as a musical hotspot in the States, and although it does fit in with the stereotype of the love-it-or-hate-it country music and Bible-Belt conservatism, the people there have a deep appreciation for music in general. And there I went in, guns a-blazing with my one-track-minded attitude of rock music as seen through a primitive 15-year-old’s eyes. And at the time, it did not sit at all well with the people I met there, especially with my two host families’s sons, who both had far more expansive and interesting musical palettes for boys that age. On one awkward occasion, my host lost his temper and we nearly came to blows!

Blink-182 – the catalyst of my intercontinental culture-clash

That trip was a watershed moment in my life. Although I didn’t realise it whilst I was in the Deep South, I had been exposed to a culture that appreciated the greats of the past in a way that I had never seen before, and whose roots of inspiration and influence spiralled out in directions that my immature mind had never thought would be possible (or interesting and fun). From my Grade 11 year onwards, I slowly began to appreciate artists and bands that weren’t just the standard fare I was used to, and called upon my experience in learning to play the drums in Grade 10 (and 2 years of childhood piano lessons) to start making a concerted effort to focus on the music and lyrics of what I was listening to in a deeper way. Whether anyone or everyone liked it or not made no difference to me. It also helped that I brought back an iPod from the USA, which people in South Africa hadn’t even heard of at the time.

And this attitude adjustment blew open vaults of the past (and present) that I never thought existed. And since then, I haven’t stopped. With a mind like a sponge, I have voraciously soaked up nearly everything I can get my hands (and ears) on. I wholeheartedly believe that an open, receptive approach, laden with chance introductions from whatever source, can and will broaden your horizons musically.

Nowadays, after 4 magnificent years at varsity (where I definitely grew the most in my musical tastes), I struggle to define exactly what I listen to. At the core, I would have to say that the generic term ‘rock’ finds an eternal place, whether it’s mainstream, indie, alternative or more mellow styles. Bands I have a particular affinity are Bloc Party, The Strokes, Kings Of Leon, Oasis, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Queens Of The Stone Age, The Killers, Muse, 30 Seconds To Mars, Snow Patrol and many more of that ilk and status. I also have a heavy classic rock interest, with The Beatles having a profound influence on me after watching the 2008 musical ‘Across The Universe’. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Rolling Stones, U2, Queen and other past legends also feature many a time on my life’s playlist.

Being proudly South African, I am a fan of many talented musicians that our nation has produced. Fokofpolisiekar, aKING, Die Heuwels Fantasties, Zebra & Giraffe, The Dirty Skirts, Goldfish and 340ml are some of my reasons to be very proud of our local music scene.

I have an unshamed pop addiction too (although in sporadic amounts), and count Lady Gaga as one of my favourite artists. But for the past 3-4 years, I have found a genre that appeals to me immensely: hip-hop. Initially turned off by the commercial ‘bling-bling’ rubbish played on the radio (a curse for most music that has radio airplay), I discovered intelligent, fresh, articulate and interesting artists from the present and past, such as Kanye West, Immortal Technique, Eminem, Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Gym Class Heroes (some of their earlier stuff), The Wu-Tang Clan and The Roots: performers with lyrics, flow and beats that just blew me away. Old school really seems to be the way forward with this genre.

Added to these genres are ones such as dubstep, electro, trance, blues, jazz, but they’re not enough to warrant serious consideration. Name it, and I’m game to try it. Take one example of this: the infamous hardcore heavy metal band Slipknot. I absolutely love about 3 or 4 of their songs, but just cannot get into the rest of their catalogue. I suppose every person has their own limits of interest…

So that’s my musical journey so far in a nutshell. At least for now you have the foundations of what appeals to me musically. Maybe you went through the same stages that I did growing up. Maybe you had parents or an older sibling that dedicated quality time to playing what interested them to you? Maybe you learnt a musical instrument from a young age? Or maybe your mother blasted Pink Floyd loudly whilst you were in her womb? Who knows? Our upbringings can definitely influence how varied and colourful our musical palettes are. We can’t do much about the past, therefore I want to make sure now that mine is a rainbow of influences, getting more and more colourful everyday.

Until the next one,

Kurt

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