There are hundreds of bands in South Africa, many of whom I’ve seen perform live and many more whom I’ve never been exposed to.
And many bands, especially within genres like psych and surf-rock sound so similar that, with my eyes closed, I can barely tell them apart.
MARENE neither sound like, nor do they look or perform like anyone else on the scene right now — their ability to stand out is their super power.
I’d barely turned the corner on my way to Roxy’s, one of my favourite watering holes in Cape Town, when flashes of colour, glitter, makeup, and teased mane demanded my attention. Sat around a table not ten metres ahead of me were four of the five members of 80s-inspired flash-rockers MARENE, in all their sparkling splendour, ready to have a chat with and drop some knowledge on me.
I introduce myself by my street name, Big Gay Al, and ask each member to do the same.
Top to toe in purple, Tyler Duggan goes first, “Alright I am Tyler, you can call me Ty, and I am the front man, lead singer and rhythm guitarist for MARENE.”
With his face painted blood-red and his matching t-shirt, Ozzey Padayachee follows, “You can call me Oz, and I am the bassist, and also the other lead vocalist for MARENE.
Ear lobes heavy with shiny black stretchers and torso covered in green, Shane Carew takes his turn, “My friends call me Smash and that’s because I’m a Neanderthal and I beat the shit outta my kit — I’m the drummer, and a backing vocalist for MARENE”
Draped in beads and bright yellow, they’ve saved Robin Procter, the fairest of the lot, for last, “They just call me Robs. I play keys, arrange harmonies and do backing vocals for the band.”
I waste no time in applauding the fact that the band has four singers but Ozzey corrects me, “Actually five people, our lead guitarist also sings,” before Tyler interrupts, “It’s a triple threat really ‘cause you have to play, sing and dance at the same time. If you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time, you’re gonna get an accidental guitar to the face,” he laughs.
They each have between 13 and 20 years of experience in their respective instruments and genres, ranging from classical to metal to jazz — an interesting combination of flavours that they mix and blend to form their signature style of flash rock. But they’d prefer not to define the genre.
Formed in 2017, they’ve spent the past three years creating music that pays homage to the music of the 80s, drawing from influences like Van Halen, Motley Crue, and KISS.
Tyler tells me about the warehouse they rehearse in, in order to properly rehearse the full show, “Everything from the stage talk to the dance moves and the harmonies… If we were just getting together in a small practice room we wouldn’t be as proficient on stage as what we are,” he explains. “‘Cause really MARENE is all about putting on the biggest show possible. We wanted to be so entertaining that even if you’re deaf you can come and enjoy us,” he states matter-of-factly.
For them it isn’t about playing gigs but rather about staging the kind of performances that make them instantly recognizable and, subsequently, unforgettable.
I steer the conversation more in the direction of the actual music and ask what they think sets it apart from the rest of the scene. Shane jumps to take this one, “Not to blow smoke up the band’s ass but I think we really write some really catchy music. Our choruses are super catchy. Every time you hear one of the hooks, that’s you for the rest of the day,” he says with a wide, very chuffed grin.
Someone makes a joke about fitting in and Robin, self-proclaimed band mom, says, “We really don’t [fit in] but people love us, which is really cool.”
Ozzey confesses that, when they were starting out, they weren’t all that well-received, “For the most part, the bands in South Africa all wear black shirts and jeans. Not us. When we first started playing like Mercury, everybody was like, ‘What is this Power Ranger shit,’ but it’s something they find just as funny now as they did, then.
MARENE have played a number of successful big shows in their time, giving them the confidence to completely back themselves, and it shows on stage, “If I look at how Grahamstown (2018) received us, if I look at how Winter Fest received us, I’m not scared of anything! When people ask me before a show if I’m nervous, I’m like, ‘I’m not nervous. I know what you’re gonna get. You should be nervous!’”
RAMfest 2020 is next up on their agenda to conquer and, come the 13th of March, they’ve vowed to bring the hottest, hardest, most polished show they’ve ever performed to Hillcrest Quarry.
May the best-dressed band win!
Check out Facebook for more information and the full RAMFEST Cape Town line-up.
Photography courtesy of David Devo Oosthuizen Devographic.