Images & text by Alex Schuchmann
“We were running around trying to find out where we belong.”
It's the end of January, the temperature is just perfect, and we’re dancing. The sun set behind the Old Biscuit Mill and as the night is taking over, its mild air pushes fresh oxygen into our fast-breathing lungs. The flashing lights dazzle our eyes. The music gets louder and faster, we slowly fall into trance. And then the electricity turns off…again. Welcome to Cape Town.
We rented a holiday house with a few friends outside of town but Eric and I were eager to discover what the city was like. Fortunately, we were introduced to a world that was vibrant, real, and full of inspiration, not even in my dreams could I have imagined such a place. The music scene, which we were about to explore a little better, felt like a very new and fresh movement to me that was just beginning to make a name for itself. Gigs could be attended every day of the week. From Camps Bay to Muizenberg, back to Gardens and Bree Street. The city was full of music. Jazz, Rap, Rock, Techno, Pop, and Soul. And people came from all over the world to enjoy it.
But none of the artists we met had such a sustainable impression on us as the Johannesburg-based music-duo Club Valley consisting of Nigel and Jason. Two people who each in their own way radiated an impressive aura and could hardly be more unique. They were pre-act for Alice Phoebe Lou at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock when they caught our attention. A sound that was raw and psychedelic in our ears, but also romantic and engaging emerged from the speakers. The stage clearly was their habitat, the showtime was just their time. And when load shedding kicked, and the generator didn't start in time, they did not stop playing.
“And if the world ends, tomorrow, tell my friends I really love ‘em.”
The sound of Club Valley is challenging to describe. As they use only two instruments, the drums, and the guitar, and Nigel's voice, sometimes Jason’s, it is reminiscent of garage punk rock, that two friends started back in Highschool. But it goes much deeper than this. The lyrics are intriguing, religious, and spiritual almost, but not cheesy. They are candid and relatable. Even the two themselves are failing to find an expression for their music that stays within the limitation of one word. During a video chat a few weeks after the shoot for their music video “Ilah’s Dream” they kept paraphrasing their music with expressions like “Jozi gaze surf rock”, “Hypertech punk pop jazz” and “the new club valley wave”. But I believe that's also one of the reasons, why we resonate so much with their music. Every song feels different, it feels intuitive and dense, even though it's just the two of them performing together, with no bass guitar. It's a movie-like atmosphere, or as Nigel calls it: “It’s our perception of the world. Where we stemming from. We are just two African dudes, you know from the southern end of the world. But we can see everything. We're in tune with the world.”
Nigel started making music after a long-lasting period of sickness he spent in the hospital. A bacterial infection screwed up his nervous system and forced him down. He was gifted a guitar when he was released and started practicing for months. He taught himself to play the guitar, as there was no youtube and no internet in the house at the time. “It's a string instrument, it makes sounds. If you stare at it for a long time you kind of get an idea what was happening. I just started fucking around with the guitar. It wasn't even in tune. The whole process was like skateboarding to me. Sometimes you just drop in and it becomes a natural thing.” remembers Nigel.
One day after releasing a few solo pieces under his own name, he was searching for a drummer, and Jason, whom he knew from SoundCloud, was happy to join the project. Jason was in touch with the instrument all his life but never felt like he was practicing enough. He actually almost stopped playing the drums and already shifted to making beats, when Nigel hit him up.
“It opened up a new world to me,” says Jason, and soon they became friends and explored what was within them. Their first EP CLUB VALLEY I was released in 2021 and featured two of my favorite songs “LISTEN” and “TANGERINE”. EPII and III followed in the months after which gained them a small but consistently growing following all over South Africa.
A few days after their concert at the Old Biscuit Mill, Nigel and Jason sent us a folder with 5 songs.
1. 1989 The Torment (Master V2 - No Talking)
2. Ilah's Dream (Master V1)
3. Maboneng (Master V1)
4. Rough Hands (Master V1)
5. Untitled (Master V1)
We wrapped up a job in Cape Town and as soon as we were on the road outside of town, we began listening to the EP in the car. The vibe was dreamy and Lo-Fi with brutally honest lyrics. A steep dramatic arch unleashed the instruments to their full potential. In loudness and emotion. But one song of the five above stood out. “Ilah’s Dream” is about a girl Nigel used to know and to date. It starts with pure guitar playing with soft physical touch and fading between notes, then the drums join rhythmically before the lyrics set in.
“It was more than a dream, it was more than a touch.”
The words sound as if they were haunting Nigel long before he wrote them down on paper. In an almost angellike voice, he reconnects with his feelings and brings a beautiful long intro together with a strong screaming hook, that gave us goosebumps while steering through nowhere.
„Because in your sacred mind, you wrote me off. And in your sacred heart, you wrote me off.“
Nigel didn’t reveal what the story with the girl is about, Jason said it was a “strange, strange time.” One can only grasp where its inspiration comes from but what's for sure is that the name “Ilah” is not her real name, but her name is spelled backward.
For our music video, we found beauty in a spot outside of Cape Town you would probably consider rather fucked up. We planned to stage the guys with their instruments in front of a backdrop of burnt bushes. So they would separate from it through their appearance but still have their music originate from that destruction of that like wildfire. The angelic singing in “Ilah’s Dream” and the high frequency of cymbal sounds kind of make your sense of balance slowly cease to function, which is why we decided to shoot a lot of the scenes in slow motion or in slow shutter effect.
Two friends Steffen Gregorowius and Sophie Maus came to help organize stuff on set. The friendly family around Alison Gedult from Scarborough helped us out to get a drum kit very last minute before the shoot and Marius Waries and John Pluim had an eye on us while we shot in their neighborhood. Many scenes that ended up in the film like the participation of the kids running through the frame came up spontaneously. They were around because we shot close to their neighborhood and they wanted to see what was going on in their garden. They also took some of the pictures you can find in this blog post. Unfortunately, we had only 4 hours of shooting time, as Jason’s job demanded his presence in Johannesburg. So after wrapping our shoot on the beach of Scarborough, the two drove all night long, slept at a gas station for a few hours, and continued their journey to make it back on Tuesday for work.
And I think that's quite a challenge for all of us artists. How do we keep our headspace free for creative thinking and other projects? Between making a living and actually enjoying our lives. “We are just purely doing this off of that feeling that we’ve had since we started Club Valley. But right now there is no such thing as a place where everything is just everything together. We're in a constant fight against ourselves. As everything outside ourselves.” reflects Jason before Nigel interrupts him “Yeah, it's us against the natural world, or the unnatural world. I could have done something else, but I have chosen to be a musician.”
Acceptance and joy are what you feel in the whole project of Club Valley. Life is their playground and daily obstacles transform into inspiration for songs. “Life as you know it, the best of luck and the worst of times.” which is the new EP’s name, sums it up pretty well. Don't get frustrated on the way to becoming, keep going and smile sometimes. That's definitely the way how I will remember Nigel and Jason and I can say with certainty that they inspired me to believe in my own work and don't get set back by financial situations or a lack of time.
Soon they would move to Cape Town. Leaving Johannesburg behind for now. We are excited to see what's coming next. Dear reader, enjoy “Ilah’s Dream”, enjoy the New Club Valley wave, and let us know what you think about this little essay and the video we have shot. We plan to do that much more often now, so feedback is more than welcome.