If District 9 wasn’t enough to make South Africa seem like the world’s new connection to the future, along comes Johannesburg quartet BLK JKS, which embraces an electrically unpredictable cross-cultural fusion of music on its new, and appropriately titled debut full-length, After Robots. Though the band has been together half a decade, they’re just now starting to make waves in the American music press. Robots avoids easy genre tags, snaking through kwaito, progressive, post-punk, and psychedelic rock. There’s much to decipher here: radiant guitars; stirring calls delivered in English, Zulu, and other South African tongues; ballistic drum lines, and smears of forceful brass. Before its show at Emo’s tonight, bassist Molefi Makananise talked to The A.V. Club about spontaneity, snow, and BLK JKS’ ever-changing style.
The A.V. Club: Does the music you imagine always come out the way you’d like it to on the bass?
Molefi Makananise: It comes out in the way we all hear it when we make a song. When we make a song, we give ourselves space to agree or disagree. We argue a lot about certain things, but we argue towards the making of a song. When I play something and somebody plays something, we try to combine that. In this band, no one calls the shots. We are all equal so we give each other space to shine and combine all that: my light, his light, everybody’s light. When all that comes together, it makes one beautiful thing. Our live shows are never the same as what you hear on the CD. We give being spontaneous a chance, which is quite special to us. At the moment, what you feel is what you want to let out.
AVC: What was it was like recording After Robots in Bloomington, Indiana?
MM: When we came to Indiana, we were already prepared mentally, spiritually, and otherwise. The only thing [of note] that happened was that it went from summer directly into snow. We don’t have snow in South Africa. We learned why kids play in the snow, why they throw snowballs, and build snowmen. The recording process was easy, but not easy. We had to be in the studio for 12 hours every day but because we were so prepared and going it into full force, the process was easy because you are not holding yourself back.
AVC: Do you typically edit the songs a lot as you go along or do you keep the first draft?
MM: Anything is possible. A song is like a child: A human grows from childhood to adulthood, and a song can have a second life. In the EP, “Lakeside” was a little different from what it sounds like now. A song can live forever therefore you can change it as much as you like.
AVC: Why do you combine different languages in songs?
MM: When a melody comes to us, it comes in different ways. Sometimes, you find that the melody works well with English but at the same time you want to mix two languages. It’s easy for us to do that because in South Africa, we have, like, 11 languages. The four of us are from different cultural backgrounds. We can all speak different languages and switch as much as we want. Hence, [the language we play in] means the “ghetto language,” mixing all of these languages at once. Making a song like that is not that difficult for us.
AVC: What do you want the band to do with its music that it hasn’t already?
MM: The music that we play says it all: we don’t like to put ourselves in a box. We like the freedom of doing whatever we want to in the future. Tomorrow, we might wake up and say, “We’re going to record this album but we’re not going to have a bass guitar. Maybe we’re just going to play percussion and put this wild-sounding rock guitar on top.” It’s always nice to surprise people. By doing that, you don’t put yourself in a little corner you won’t be able to come out from.