Ruff Majik talk the success of their latest album as they continue to revamp their sound as one of SA’s rock giants

Hailing from Pretoria, and before that, the small mining town of Lydenburg in Mpumalanga, Ruff Majik have certainly come a long way from their quaint beginnings. Today they’re better known as one of SA’s finest sludge-rock bands, making a name for themselves on both local and international stages as menacing aficionados of fuzz.

Their latest album, The Devil’s Cattle, entered the scene late last year to rave reviews, selling out in vinyl within the first three weeks of its release, and as you’d expect, it’s properly wild.

Droning guitars sound out their manic urgency, while high-pitched vocals temper their screeching pace, however what stands out most on The Devil’s Cattle is the scope of genres – one that sees the band branch out into a wider range of sounds than they ever have before.

“I got bored playing the same old thing every time,” says frontman Johni Holiday over a phone call with me. He’s sitting in the studio beneath his house with Evert Snyman next to him, the latest addition to the band. I can hear a guitar being tuned somewhere in the background, chiming its way through the microphone. They’re actually getting ready to record music for their next album, which is already in the works – proof that these guys are on a non-stop path to total sludge-domination.

Johni Holiday

“If I want to have a death metal song and a jazz song on the same album I’ll do that,” continues Johni, “and you’re going to hear that even more prominently on the next album.”

I ask what it is that’s changed to lead them to this new found liberty, to which Evert and Johni both laughingly reply, “Well, we started using a metronome to record the drums, so we’re actually playing in time for once, and that makes a big difference.”

Evert carries on by telling me that the drums do pretty much 90% of the work on this album, admitting, “I know it’s not the kind of answer you’re looking for – it’s nothing about how interesting the process was or how inspiring the food was that we were eating – but it’s the truth. That and the fact that we finally got our piano tuned, so we could actually use it.”

Evert Snyman

I can’t help but laugh at their nonchalance, but only because it’s so endearing. If anything, it goes to show just how simple their approach is to the whole process, making the final result seem all the more intricate, and strangely inexplicable.

I go on to ask about the track “God Knows”, a dazzling standout on the album, led by a brut piano progression on three chords and Johni’s stoic voice. “You know we almost didn’t put that one on the record,” chuckles Evert, saying, “we actually just needed a filler, but looking back it really seemed to work.”

It’s beautifully cathartic, before journeying into the album’s final track, “Hymn #5”, a dark and sensual assault driven by the band’s hallmark fuzz sound. Yet even on a track as true to style as this one, Johni and co. have still managed to somehow revamp their approach, bringing in snippets of ’80s goth-rock, a touch of the post-punk as well, and above all else, a confidence that goes a long way.

“Listen, we’re not hippies or anything, but it’s like we’re channelling this inner-energy and we don’t know where the music is coming from,” says Evert, whilst Johni adds, “plus, we aren’t very good at playing the guitar. Together, the two us make one half of a good guitar player, but it’s that style and that melody that makes us sound unique.”

Luckily the band managed to finish recording the album before SA went into its first lockdown in March last year, because had they not, it would have presented a whole bunch of unwanted challenges. The main being that much of The Devil’s Cattle was made in collaboration with a rotating cast of local musicians and producers, an aspect of the whole process Johni says was particularly instrumental to the album’s final sound, and one he couldn’t have done without.

“It was quite comfortable recording in that way,” says Johni, going on to tell me of Evert’s addition to the band, who was finally brought on as a permanent member after many years of helping out with production and lending a hand on guitar. “It really creates for an interesting result,” says Johni, “and why it works is because the basis for the songs are always there. I know where they’re headed – everyone else just kind of spices them up a bit.”

Hoping to tour the record as soon as they can, Johni expects to play a few local shows before the end of the year, and while cautious of the way things can change, he says an international tour might be on the cards for next year. And while we sit longing for the day we can once again jam out, wild as ever, to Ruff Majik’s on-stage grace, The Devil’s Cattle will surely remedy the wait.