Gangs of Ballet find themselves forced into a new creative corner after the departure of bass guitarist, Hardus de Beer, inspiring a new movement
There’s an age-old Japanese tradition called kintsukuroi. A bowl is smashed into pieces on the ground and then reconstructed into its original form by puzzle-piece sticking each fragment together with gold. In many ways, Gangs of Ballet losing its bass guitarist, Hardus de Beer – fondly known to the band members as the H of Bass – was a breaking point for them. But there was a golden lining yet – and it produced a new whole new Gangs of Ballet era.
“With H leaving the band, it was kind of like a reinvention time for us – we were forced to rethink how we do stuff,” lead vocalist, Brad Klynsmith tells me. His recent discovery of the Bauhaus movement set the now trio Gangs of Ballet on a new course – one in which form follows function. While illustrating their new approach to music, he is caught by the intriguing design of a glass table in our corner of the reception floor at the Upper Eastside Hotel in Cape Town. “This is a great example – super functional but it’s also beautiful. And that was kind of what we were going through as a band – work out how to do it, how to make it functional and how to make it beautiful.”
While band member exits are characteristically messy, there seemed to be a natural progression ease about H’s departure. “I think traditionally when someone leaves a band, you hear horror stories. I’ve had friends who take each other to court – it’s horrible,” Brad reflects. “But it was kinda like a—I mean I don’t wanna say a ‘meant to be’-type situation but it was almost though it was.” H hanged up his bass guitar to pursue a career in chiropractic. Looking at it in hindsight, Brad’s only regret is losing the companionship of an old pal. “It was a positive experience for us because it forced us into a creative corner that we needed to get out of. It forced us to write songs differently, get gear and choose our sound differently. I can’t think of one negative point outside of not having a friend on the road.”
While each of the remaining members’ roles have remained the same, two of them have had to pick up some new responsibilities to fill a very apparent gap. Keyboardist, Jono Rich, once again takes credit for the album art design which has gone on to influence the band’s new concert costumes. Additionally, part of his new responsibilities include bass for the most part, with Brad filling in where he can.
H’s exit into the chiropractic world was licence enough to have him replaced. Except, he wasn’t replaced. “It’s a few reasons – one of which is he’s really, really good at what he does; it’s hard to replace. It’s hard to replace a good bass player who’s actually a good person. Majority of bass people are just absolute idiots,” Brad jokes, making clear to note that he is.
But it’s more than that. Admitting that “I probably see these guys more than I see my wife” is not a string of words any man would ever want to utter but this is the reality of band life. As Brad insinuates, your bandmates become like a second family – and it helps if you like your family. So introducing a new member to the family “wouldn’t add to the band, it would take away – putting another element, another ingredient in”. So, so far, so good? “We just love the idea of sticking with the ingredients that are here already and just working around it,” Brad says. “It does feel like we’ve pulled it off which is quite cool. It doesn’t feel like we’ve lost volume or it doesn’t feel like we’ve lost substance in the music.”
What’s come out of the post-H, Gangs of Ballet era is a new three-part project. The first in the series is an EP inspired and titled after the key concept of the Bauhaus movement, Form and Function. Over the next 18 months – give or take – the Durban pop-rock trio is taking its time to figure out how to make a livelihood out of music in the face of the 2-Minute Noodle generation syndrome of responding to high volumes of content by consuming it a la carté. “It’s even just a thing of staying current in an age where people are literally just flicking through things, literally just listening to 30 seconds of a song, and just moving on to another song if they don’t like it,” Brad contemplates. “Having old material doesn’t really work in your favour.”
Other than practical, business of music reasons, there are creative motivations for this unorthodox production process too. “When you work on something, it’s current for where you are in that point in time,” Jono motivates. “I think it happens a lot, especially in creative things. Although for someone hearing it for the first time it’s fresh and brand new, for us, that’s not quite where we are anymore. And not to say it’s a bad song or not to say we discredit it; just to say that we’ve moved on musically and the things that we are interested in and working on have changed.”
The classic 80s and 90s A&R models of releasing music have struggled and continue to struggle to keep face with the advent of the Internet age where consumers are no longer passive gobblers of what the media machine tells them they should be. They want to engage, interact, talk back and decide, forcing modern artists to forge their own creative ways of dealing with it all. “What we’re trying to do with this is adapt a little bit to how the industry is changing. So doing three albums, what we doing is writing for each release, which means we always getting new stuff, and hopefully the more we write and record the better we gonna be getting,” Brad reveals. In sentence, as Jono puts it, “We saying, for the next three years, that’s who we are.”
While it’s the beginning of new era without H, it seems he will always be a Ganger. “We’ve still got an official Gangs WhatsApp group. He’s still in that,” drummer, Josh Klynsmith reveals. “The single will come out and every time he hears it on the radio he’ll say he likes the song or ‘very stoked for you guys’ and that kind of stuff,” enthuses Jono. And they still hang out when they can too. Brad caught up with him at his house two weeks before their sit down with me. “He was in shorts and a South African rugby shirt braaing a fillet because he entered a braai competition the week before which he came second in,” Brad explains while Josh breaks into nostalgic laughter. “And then he cut up all these herbs and spices and salts and he put them into a weird paste on the board and you slice [a piece off the fillet] and you dip it in and it was amazing!”
There’s more than just a triptych new wave of music to expect over the next coming years. The band is heading out on its first international tour when they take Dubai in late November. But their sights are set on the States and although nothing is as yet confirmed, Brad will have you know that it’s “pencilled in the diary” in a “dark, dark pencil”. Having seemingly found the golden lining to reconstruct their broken kintsukuroi band puzzle via a new creative process, it’s safe to say that Gangs of Ballet has proven to be an impenetrable force.
Take a look at the Form and Function tracklist below and be sure to purchase your copy of the new Gangs of Ballet EP now.
4. I Can Hear You