Three months after South Africa’s lockdown came into effect, we reflect on Peasant and the band’s journey to RAMfest 2020, the nature of hardcore and why it might grow in relevance post-Covid.
Friday, March 13, 2020: RAMfest
The start of the covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented times, but the couple of thousand metalheads congregated for Cape Town’s edition of RAMfest 2020 are not yet ready for social distancing. Some might have thought we were playing with fire, and certainly there is a headiness to the whole experience: RAMfest is a cauldron of good feelings despite what the outside world might think. It is not that the audience want to play unruly law-breakers, but with a lineup including US-based heavy metal gods, The Black Dahlia Murder, this is not something we want to miss.
I reach the quarry in time to hear Peasant’s evening set echoing off the sandstone ridges surrounding the main stage. Peasant occupies a unique place in the Cape Town music scene, It is considered one of the few hardcore bands left. However, in recent times, their sound has veered towards it’s metallic influences.
Peasant has always held a special interest to me, not least because the band is extremely good live. The band has also had a good run of things of late, with 2019 involving a tour overseas and the release of Eternal Unrest, Peasant‘s first full length album. And now, band members have received a serious nod to their talents as they play the highly coveted sunset slot at RAMfest.
I push my way to the front to get a better sense of their set. I know Peasant well enough to know when its members are on top form and when they’re faking it. Tonight they are going above and beyond; the entire artillery out. This is probably the best I have ever seen them.
Looking back, I remember this day as a kind-of twilight zone. So much has changed that even how we speak about music has changed. There was then and, three month’s later, there is now – and these feel like two different lifetimes. This is a reflection on conversations with Pieter Jordaan from Peasant through the lens of hardcore, and what the genre could come to represent as we enter a new world.
Peasant: a pinnacle attained
RAMfest 2020 is a special moment for this band in two ways. It is, quite incredibly, their first time playing the festival, which closed its doors in 2014 (the same year that Peasant was forming). Moreover, I am stunned to learn it is the bands hundredth show. What a feat!
Peasant doesn’t just stand out because of what they play, but also because of how they play it. Their live shows are infectious. Some would even argue they’re one of the best alternative bands in South Africa at the moment. They have managed to create a slick formula for their music which brings people straight into the pits. Not one of their live shows has resulted in anything less than pure mayhem.
They have always had a strong fanbase, which can probably be attributed to more than just their songwriting. As Peasant were beginning to write their “crustier, dirtier version of hardcore that was probably more punk than metal”, as Pieter describes it, many other hardcore bands were falling away.
Before Peasant, and especially in Johannesburg, the hardcore scene was dominated by Christian bands: “Christcore” as it was known. Peasant was one the first HxC bands to reject religion as a basis for their music. They were also playing more mixed-genre gigs, which brought more punk kids and metalheads to their shows.
Peasant members come from different parts of South Africa: Durban, Bloemfontein, Pretoria and Johannesburg. Both the original band members and those that came after have found each other as migrants in Cape Town. Sharing mutual friends, the Peasant of 2014 came from some respected pedigree; not least Pieter himself who was part of the mighty Conqueror, the Johannesburg-based hardcore band that epitomized the scene until their breakup in July 2016. A friend who knows the hardcore scene well believes the demise of Conqueror was the demise of hardcore in South Africa.
Pieter agrees that hardcore took a serious dive in recent years. As he tells me, “It was quite a challenge, a lot of the scene had quietened down.” They had to work hard to get people to shows and it was almost impossible to put on hardcore-only shows.
Despite this, 2019 was the year they really came into their own. They finally toured Europe in an “epic thirteen-day blitz”, as M4A refers to it, supporting Sweden’s hardcore band Prescriptiondeath. Inevitably, like other bands which have toured Europe, its members came to understand a different aesthetic about audience participation.
“Even the shitty shows with, like, 20 people were fun for us. We noticed pretty quickly that people arrive because they want to watch the music….They care so much about it. They care about the quality of the performance. It’s daunting in the beginning, but once you get used to it, it is actually very exciting.” ~ Pieter Jordaan
Unrest eternal: Hardcore meets metal
Last year brought a fresh round of music from Peasant via the aforementioned album, Unrest Eternal. Following a number of EPs released over the years, their debut is influenced by the new members; which includes Pieter’s brother, Adri, on vocals, and a new guitarist. The songs are mixed-length and heavy. The blast-beat dominated “Sirens” is a mere one minute 23 seconds long. But the band’s roots have been heavily influenced by old metal bands like Sepultura and Entombed – which is where the band’s emerging sound sits now.
When asked about the metal sound, Pieter seems almost tired out by the comparisons between genres. He has “no problem with the inter-relationship between hardcore and metal…hardcore is a combination of punk and metal.”
He acknowledges the amazing support the metal scene has always provided. “To be honest, we are making ridiculous music on the arse end of Africa, so whoever is willing to come out and have a good time to the music, that’s cool.”
The lyric writer for the band is brother Adri, although Pieter still plays a part in this aspect of the band. However, he reserves a great deal of respect for his brother’s mind.
“Adri has more of a prophetic approach to writing his lyrics. With the previous record there was more of the, you know, looking into the future and feeling bummed out about where we are at and where we are going. He is good at putting together this sense of a fucked up world.” ~ Pieter Jordaan
While this way of looking at life may have seemed passé just a year ago, the heaviness of our current situation sits at the forefront of my mind. Bands that write about the “state of the world” are probably on heavy rotation throughout the world with the rediscovery of the seers in the musical fraternity.
This is not new to us, of course. But, more and more, it is surprising how much of the lyrical content of a few decades ago, songs written in times of war for example, have matured in recent times, even if the “enemy” is different. Genres like metal and hardcore allow us the space to entertain these dark thoughts. We can move beyond what we can see, to what we could know. This is why these genres, together with hip hop, feel like the most relevant music for this age.
I turn to Adri to understand the new lyrical direction of Peasant.
“‘Unrest Eternal’ is the only album I have written lyrics for in Peasant at the moment. The theme, in my eyes, is mainly based on how the world is changing, and how a lot of us are stuck in a digital realm as figures of power; having ‘followers’ and living in a state of dangerous vanity. The world we live in is so fragile, and everything we know in the physical can change so quickly. Most of society has become so accustomed to living in a space of comfort that I think most of us are not emotionally prepared for possible life threatening changes to the way we live in our current day.” ~ Adri Jordaan (Vocals)
A cruel twist of fate
If hardcore is a mirror we can hold up to our society and, as Adri says, the emotional state we find ourselves in, then I believe that the messages of hardcore and its ilk are optimally poised right now. It is a pity that two ongoing processes are presently cutting the heart out of hardcore. One is the dissipation of the scene. From a very narrow view of hardcore, it is barely breathing at the moment; at least in Cape Town where Peasant calls home. The other process is, of course, a virus raging through the world and turning life on its head.
Several shows that Pieter has been working on for this year cannot go ahead. He is frustrated by the failure to keep the momentum going.
“It’s a weird feeling because we have done everything we have wanted to in the last year or so and now we have basically come to a total halt in terms of practicing and playing shows because of this virus. We are very lucky to have done what we have gotten to do, but we will have to wait and see.” –PIETER JORDAAN
Sunday, June 28: Just another day
Huddled at home, feeling the withdrawal symptoms from our previous lives, none of us really know what the future brings. Three months after talking to Pieter about his band, I can still hear the sound of disappointment in his words. Although the band is stuck in a similar rut to thousands of others, I think is is important that Peasant’s journey continues more strongly than before.
Over the past few months, music has been constantly playing through my headphones. I am listening to anything from my childhood singer-songwriter companions to Code Orange‘s Underneath. Through the exploration of hardcore’s social and political value systems, I am reminded of music’s purpose. What is unexpected is how much I have come to rely on heavier music during this time. As my anxiety pushes forward, so I serve myself heavier and heavier music.
Adri is right – this world we live in is so fragile and so we seek what makes us stronger.
Hardcore: relevance post-covid-19
As the pandemic has eked on, with no end in sight, I have witnessed a wave of people realizing what it is we no longer need – authoritarian government, capitalism, and a military that beats a man to death over a beer. Hardcore may be the one genre of music that we could turn to for answers to the restlessness we feel.
Inherent to hardcore are the things we will need: loud voices, a sense of community, an anti-authoritarian message. People willing to venture into the darkness, to return with a prophecy for the future. People willing to stand in solidarity with the marginalised and unloved. Hardcore has been seeing a growth in popularity of late – or at least bands that are “hardcore-adjacent”, as Billboard calls it (much like Peasant is). Even if we cannot visit it in its physical form, it is a constant and empowering friend.
A feature of the hardcore community is the helping hand it provides to its members. Economies all over the world are plunging. People around us are being laid off. We have a serious struggle ahead of us. Peasant are known as the band that speaks political, and we’re not talking party politics. We’re talking supporting #BlackLivesMatter and raising money for charities. Despite their incredible momentum being cut to shreds, their relevance is undeniable.
With a recent number of articles speculating what will happen to live shows, some claiming we will only see the return of the live show in late-2021, we have a long way to go before the live scene can recover. For extreme forms of music, being in the crowd is what brings the ultimate sense of freedom! Until then, I wait with bated breath to see how our scene will survive this. My hope is more hardcore, more community, more charity, more relevance and more goddamn loud voices.