Feature Interview

Livingston: At Their Purest

Livingston is a UK-based, South African-fronted band that are on their imminent way to South Africa to play Oppikoppi, as well as perform a number of club gigs post-festival, for the first time. I caught up with frontman Beukes Willemse last week and discovered that writing is his favourite part of the job, that Livingston has just produced their purest work yet and that we grew up pretty much next door to each other.

The four-piece alt-rock outfit is comprised of two South Africans, Beukes Willemse (vox) and Chris Van Niekerk (keys and guitar), German Jakob Nebel (percussion and guitar) and Brit Phil Magee (bass), and this conglomerate of nations and backgrounds gives Livingston a massive well to draw from lyrically and musically. Willemse explains that the only way that works, is in a completely equal set-up, where everyone’s voice is heard: “Everyone in the band writes, and it’s a perfect democratic process.”

Returning home for the first time in almost 9 years, Willemse and Van Niekerk cannot wait to set foot on our shores. Nebel is married to a South African who happened to grow up on a farm 50kms from Willemse. My curiosity got the better of me so I asked him where that was, hearing the subtle but undeniable Afrikaans accent over the phone, and as small worlds go, found that we’re from the same valley around the border of KZN and the Free State. After spending a good ten minutes talking about which schools we went to and the towns we grew up in, I steered our interview back to the music, feeling now like I was chatting to an old friend.

As is the case with many bands, Willemse is both the main vocalist and lyricist. “What’s the saying? Some people are more equal than others?” he says laughing. “It’s a little bit like that because we all have very specific roles that we have established over the years. I’m the lyricist of the band because I have to sing all the lyrics. I have the overriding say when it comes to that. But it’s the same with Phil – he’s the finance minister so anything financial needs to go through him first. We each have our roles and we carry the responsibility that comes with them.” Believing in every word he sings is incredibly important to him, and as such he takes precious time to craft lyrics that are both meaningful and poetic.

In one of the press releases I received leading up to this, someone described their latest album ‘Animal’ as “Livingston at their purest” and Willemse explained why this was so true, and so liberating. “With the last album we were signed to Universal and their hand in that album was quite dominant. They were even in the studio suggesting lyrics and choruses and shit like that, which is of course very frustrating. So when we were finished with that and with Universal we moved on to SPV it was very clear, and we were all really adamant that we had to make this album completely just us, no one else,” he admits.

The band took that “just us” notion very seriously, with everything from the recording, to the production and mastering, and even the album artwork done 100% in house, with not a single outsider, including their management team, hearing or seeing any of their work until it was completed. Everything was done in a cabin in the woods just outside Berlin. With enough beer and meat to “barbecue” (we’ll have to remind him that it’s called a braai when they’re here) to last them weeks, they worked on it day and night. “It was immensely liberating from a creative side.” The “purity” of this work was further reserved by only listening to what they were working on while in the house. “The isolation forced us to not look at other things for inspiration. We had a rule that we would not listen to any music other than what we were writing and creating,” he admits.

Having been birthed in nature, Willemse hopes that that earthiness will translate to the listeners. He envisions fans listening to it, “anywhere away from the constraints of society. Away from buildings, anywhere green with trees and grass outside in nature. That’s where the album makes sense. It’s almost like the crickets in the background should have been mixed in as well.”

Well, Oppikoppi may not be green per say, but it sure is nature, and I cannot think of a more suitable place to enjoy this album, live. I’ll see you in the dust.

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Check out Livingston at one of these dates below.

8 August – Oppikoppi The Fantastic Mr. VosVos

14 August – Arcade Empire, Pretoria.
15 August – Rumours Lounge, Johannesburg
22 August – The Music Kitchen, Port Elizabeth

27 August – Aces & Spades, Cape Town.