Atom Band – made up of Vasane Sinatra (vocals), John Shepherd (guitars), Ryan di Domenico (bass), Riaan Nirhoo (guitars) and JP de Reuck (drums) — manage to bring a heartfelt empathy embedded in noise-layered melodies to Jo’burg’s genre revival front. Loosely defined as no wave and post punk, they are transcribing the sound of the late ’70s post-revolution spirit to South Africa — where this spirit still prevails. After the release of new tracks ‘The Panic in Needle Park’ and ‘Flies in the Marketplace’, we got to know them a little better, and talked band history, travelling ideals and losing music in a sea of instability.   

Image: Zak Smith's Illustrations of Gravity's Rainbow

Image: Zak Smith’s Illustrations of Gravity’s Rainbow

How did the formation of Atom Band come about?

Vasane: John and I, out of mutual love of The Clash and art punk bands like Talking Heads, joined up with the goal to create something rougher in SA music — not so sterile and polished.
Then my brother Riaan joined, and when Ryan (our bassist) joined he brought the Jah Wobble element and we were almost fully formed. After a series of drummers we settled on JP because he had the right balance of pop sensibility and punk ethos.

Can you explain why you describe your band as ‘craptastic’? Does it require a lot of effort to be/sound ‘craptastic’?

Vasane: That’s a little Frank Zappa moment with us. Me personally, I love Zappa and the grotesque elements. Someone once said we sounded ‘craptastic’ as an insult and we switched it around like a badge of honour.

What would you like to achieve with your music? Do you want your listeners to feel a certain way when they hear it?

Ryan: We’d like to achieve a certain melancholy with everything we do, not necessarily weepy, but all our best stuff — though punk — has either a melancholic or darker edge.

Image: Jessica Hannah

Image: Jessica Hannah

In your Facebook description it says that your ‘strange, sometimes noisy and uniquely dark material also draws influence from literature, film, art, anarchy as well as social, political and economic injustice’. Can you give me an example for each?

Vasane: Well literature — I can say lots of our lyrics come from William S. Burroughs‘ cut-up technique. In ‘Betsy’, the lyric, ‘is it a rabbit?/is it a trap?’, is a line from a comic book on Wittgenstein. Also, in regards to socio-political and economic injustice — well, ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ is kinda a song about car guards and guilt — Riaan wrote that one but that’s how I interpret it.

Phew, two down…uhm…art — yes art! We’re really involved in our own artwork in the packaging. We’re working on an EP and the album cover will blow people’s minds — watch out for it!

Ryan: One to go — anarchy — okay this is easy, there’s that element of D.I.Y. to our recording style and also in the manner we shove originally unrelated sections of songs together — ‘Paranoid Android’ style.

Then film — hmm, I see another question coming up on that so we’ll kill two birds with one stone.

Image: Jessica Hannah

Image: Jessica Hannah

Your genre description includes ‘post punk’ and you list UK bands who were active in the late ‘70s such as Joy Division and Wire as your influences. Are you fascinated by that scene and why? How can it translate to 2013 and South Africa?

John: We’re fascinated by the late ’70s scene of post punk because it’s a time directly after a revolution. After punk, people were saying, ‘what now?’ We can’t go back to prog excess. And so art punk or post punk was born — this meant that the aggressive economising of aesthetics was still held at utmost importance, yet people weren’t afraid to get more literate, more philosophical, artier — intelligence didn’t have to be a dirty word in rock ‘n’ roll. A fusion of the aggression and stripped down nature of punk with that of atmospherics and philosophical lyrics created post punk. This totally translates in current SA with the end of a revolution and a sense of where to go now. Punk and post punk need not be shackled to its cultural signifiers; hairstyles, races, accents etc. Although these were important to those respected bands, post punk is a manifesto to take back to whichever country you’re from and to fuse it with your own situation. Didn’t Che Guevara’s ideals travel to other countries, into Africa even?

What is punk if not, what Kurt Cobain says, but freedom? It gives you freedom.

‘The Panic in Needle Park’ is also the name of a 1971 movie by Jerry Schatzberg. No music was used in the film. Is your song an expression of a wish to change that?

John: No it was not meant to be a soundtrack idea, the song was inspired by the events depicted in the film, which we felt is an accurate portrait of a drug addicts downward spiral. The movie also has a humanist slant — drug addicts are not just statistics but living breathing people and we wanted that to carry through to the song’s meaning. There’s a line in the song we take directly from Al Pacino’s character’s mouth, which is ‘I’m not hooked/I’m just tripping’.

Image: Jessica Hannah

Image: Jessica Hannah

Do you prefer digital releases to hardcopy releases? Would you say there are advantages to releasing tracks on vinyl now-a-days?

Ryan: We like the advantages of digital releases distribution-wise but we always have a soft spot for vinyl, owning the physical object.

The advantage of releasing something on vinyl is that it can solidify the artefact at a point in time — I like that. Whereas the internet is just a sea of instability.

What sort of things can we expect in the future? Albums? Tours?

Ryan: You can expect albums, I guess. We’re working on recording an album/EP in our home studio at John’s house. We want total control over the recording, mixing and mastering process. Lots of gigging too, in the Jo’burg area for now.

Interview by Christine Hogg

Images by Jessica Hannah and Zak Smith’s Illustrations of Gravity’s Rainbow