Finally its available again: the long lost album of the legendary South African band Koos, which, at the time, was only released as a limited edition black tape, packed in a brown paper bag. It became known as "The Black Tape."
Forget about Johannes Kerkorrel and his buddies, KOOS were the truly innovative band whose music defined and reflected South Africa’s increasingly dark eighties. The band was formed in 1986 by conceptual artist Neil Goedhals and actor Marcel Van Heerden, who were joined by Gys de Villiers, Megan Kruskal, Velile Nxazonke and Kendell Geers. The country’s original punk poet Johan van Wyk wrote some of the lyrics.
KOOS was a highly personal reaction to the chaos and despair that had engulfed the country in the mid-eighties. States of emergency, burning townships, murder, bomb attacks and people who “fell from the window” of a police station or “slipped on a piece of soap.” That was the subject matter KOOS sang about in songs like Sing jy van Bomme, Tsafendas and the menacing Die Suid Afrikaanse Herfs, which referenced the German terrorists of the Rote Armee Faktion.
Musically they were miles ahead of the 12 bar blues and folk that had inspired their alternative Afrikaner contemporaries. Their sound was artful anti-rock, fuelled by the noises that had reached Johannesburg from Berlin, Sheffield, Melbourne and Cologne: the metallic motorik and madness of Einstürzende Neubauten, Cabaret Voltaire, Birthday Party and Can, but all done in a unique style that has aged surprisingly well and would now probably be called post-punk. Van Heerden sang, spat and whispered. Sometimes he used pebbles to distort his voice, while Goedhals punished his guitar.
KOOS disbanded in 1990. They had lived through the states of emergency of 1985 and 1986, they had been attacked, their name had partly been appropriated by Andre Letoit who became Koos Kombuis, but they had survived; battered, but unbowed. Then, in 1990, around the time of the release of Nelson Mandela, the group imploded. The country was going through monumental changes. Goedhals didn’t want to perform anymore. There was no big fight, no drama, together they decided to call it a day. Theraison d’être was gone. The band had made its statement: that one black tape, wrapped in a brown paper bag to accentuate its illicit content – a nod to the way the American bum must drink his alcohol.
Later that same year, on the 16th of August, on Elvis Presley’s dying-day, Goedhals jumped to his death from the sixth floor of a flat in Yeoville. A few days later came the news that the Johannesburg Art Gallery had bought some of his works. It sounded like a Goedhals prank.
The legend of KOOS wouldn’t rest though. First, Dutch journalist Fred de Vries immortalised them in his well received 80s underground book Club Risiko (Nijgh & Van Ditmar, 2006), where they share pages with international luminaries such as Sonic Youth, Laibach and Einstürzende Neubauten. Second, American underground label, S-S Records, intends to release some of Goedhals’s experimental pre-KOOS recordings later this year.
But most important: here’s the re-mastered version of that legendary collector’s item that Shifty Records released twenty years ago.
—Fred De Vries
KOOS:1986 - 1990
"Ek en Gys en Megan en Christo het van die teater af gekom. Neil en Kendall was kunstenaars. Velile was sy eie man. Ons wou hé dat die digters se woorde gehoor moet word en daarom het ons so 'n helse lawaai gemaak. Ons wou nie rock nie. Ons wou moord pleeg, bewusteloos wees. Verkieslik kaal. Die wereld aan die brand steek met woorde. Dit was dringend. Dit was belangriker as enigiets anders. Ons het nooit politiek gepraat nie. Die politiek was obvious, maar mense moes wonder wie hierrdie kinders is wat so raas en so huil en so sing en wat praat met 'n vlam op die tong. Ons wou nie met hulle redeneer nie, ons wou dans in 'n skewe lyn."
All music by KOOS, except 'Delilah' by Les Reed & Barry Mason
Thank you to / dankie aan:
Die skrywers vir die woorde.
Warrick Sony and Lloyd loss of Shifty Records for recording us.
Fred de Vries for saving us from obscurity.
Ernesto Garcia Marques, for releasing The Walkman Tapes
Wayne Oosthuizen for his photographs.
One F Music.
Louw Venter en sy vriende vir daardie KOOS bannier by Houtstok.
Warren Siebrits for producing this CD
Klankrestourasie: Paul Riekert
Propaganda: Clair Cantrell
Front Cover and all portrait photography by Wayne Oosthuizen
Back cover photogrpahy: Rodney Barnett
Package design: Righard Kapp
Producer: Warren Siebrits
The original issue of this album was released on a limited edition casette tape. The CD reissue is itself limited to 500 numbered copies. Thanks to Warren Siebrits for making this CD reissue available to me.