Latest release: The Devil’s Cattle (Mongrel)Website: www.ruffmajik.com
South Africa is probably foreign musical territory even for the most dedicated aficionados. Nevertheless, there is a pretty thriving local rock scene in the country and one of the acts making their presence felt of late is Pretoria’s Ruff Majik, a fuzzed-out stoner garage rock and roll explosion. With a string of EPs and digital singles behind them, the band released their full-length statement The Devil’s Cattle in October, and we caught up with frontman Johni Holiday to find out some more about them, and SA’s rock scene in general.
Hey Johni, let’s start with a little rundown on Ruff Majik as I’m guessing there will be some reading this who have not come across your band before.
Ruff Majik is a rock and roll band from South Africa. We have a bunch of different influences in our music. Genrewise, we have a lot to offer. We straddle between stoner rock and sludge, I guess, and sometimes there’s jazzy moments and plain old rock and roll. We basically do what we want.
We’ve been going for a while, but we’ve only really been getting into it since 2015. That’s when we released our first EP, which was a really garage type of vibe. But the band has been officially together since 2013, so it’s been a while. Since 2015 to now we’ve made a lot of headway. I feel like we’re really getting into the swing of things now.
I have literally no idea about the music scene in South Africa at all outside of a death metal band from the 90s called Groinchurn and that Seether came from there. So what is it like for the rock scene there?
It’s a really cool scene in the sense that there’s a lot of cool bands from a lot of genres, but the scene itself isn’t so good for big shows and touring. So it’s not the best scene to play, but the musicians are amazing and the bands range through everything from black metal and death metal to stoner rock and bands playing jazz – it’s all over the place, and everybody kind of intermingles as well. So that is quite cool, and I think that has an influence on why we play a bunch of different sounding things.
For a reference point, you should check out a band called Vulvodynia. They are quite big at the moment, and they do slam death. They were in Australia recently, and they are doing quite well for themselves. But there’s a lot of bands to check out.
It’s never seemed to be a place where a lot of bands go to tour either. Does that rub off on the local scene, that need to be self-reliant because you’re so separated from the rest of the world? Is it a very individual-sounding scene?
Well I guess we do adapt because it’s hard for us to get much attention from anywhere else. But musically, but hasn’t really impacted all that much because of the internet, we’re always hearing what’s happening internationally, anyway. We’re just not getting to see the bands actually touring. Which is a bummer sometimes! We played a couple of tours in Europe now, and that was really cool. It’s just a really long way to travel for us. But then you get to see all the bands you like, because they actually play in Europe. I guess if you grew up in Europe or the US, we might have had different influences or we might have gotten going sooner. I’m really not sure how it’s impacted us, because this is all I know.
So apart from getting to see all the other bands, what was it like for you to go to Europe and play?
It was very cool, man. Just seeing what things are like in Europe, to begin with. It’s an entirely different world for us. Even just general living over there is a far cry from what we have in SA. We’re not used to taking trains to places. That’s not a thing we get [to do here], so that was mindboggling. Playing the shows, of course, was great for us, specifically because Europe has so many well-developed scenes, even if it is full of sub-genres. For stoner rock, it’s a well-developed scene. Everywhere you play, you play to a big crowd at a nice-sized festival, or whatever. Whereas in SA, the sub-genres fandoms aren’t really well developed. So it’s not as big over here. So that was just a fun time, getting to play in front of a couple thousand people and them being really into the music, instead of, like, a couple hundred people!
Did you getting treated like you were a bit of a novelty, because you were from South Africa, or was it no big deal?
No, definitely there was a novelty aspect, I guess. A lot of people were very surprised we were from SA, and they would frequently bring it up. I think, really, some of the festivals we played, they only booked us because we were South African. It was like, ‘What? South African band playing stone rock? Cool!’ But I’m not complaining!
It was very much the same thing for Australian bands when they were breaking out 40 years ago too. Was there any expectation for Ruff Majick to sound a certain way – did they think you might have some kind of political bent, being a band coming out of South Africa?
Yes they did. There’s still a lot of expectations, and I get that question a lot, after they see us live for the first time. For two separate reasons – one, people are often expecting to hear the African drums and choirs in our music, and I’m just like, ‘Why would that happen? It’s a stoner rock band! That doesn’t make any sense’. And the other reason is because our bass player is a man of colour, we get the thing where they say, ‘Oh you guys are obviously making a political statement on SA’. No, we’re not – we just play the music that we like and we’re just all mates. People really want it to some political statement because there’s different people together in a band, but they’re not going to get that from us.
I would assume that’s what people would think, but at the same time – it’s rock and roll. That’s enough of a statement in itself.
I guess it is a political statement in and of itself, but we’re just playing this music.
Obviously there’s not much chance of getting out on tour now, but if you could go out on tour tomorrow, what would your plans be?
Well we had plans – before the world ended, obviously – we were making plans to go to Europe again. I think we were going on a summer festival run, but obviously that came and went in May and June. We don’t really plan any further than that, because that was the plan. Later in the year, we were having chats with people in the US to maybe look at going over there, but none of those conversations came to fruition because we kind of got stuck. And now we’re just waiting. Even our booking agent, everything’s on the back burner. We really want to get to Australia. We just need to find a good booker who’s willing to take us on for a tour when the world’s back to normal.
Johni sent us a great list of other South African bands to check out. Look them up when you get a chance:
Vulvodynia (slam metal), Mad God (doom metal/stoner rock), The Tazers (psych rock), T.C.I.Y.F. (punk), Deadline (trad heavy metal), Caution Boy (garage Punk/grunge), Them Dirty Shrikes (blues/heavy rock), Retro Dizzy (psych rock), Yndian Mynah (shoegaze), Medicine Boy (shoegaze/dream pop), Medicine Dolls (post punk), Make – Overs (post punk), Crow Black Sky (black metal), Demogoroth Satanum (black metal), Peasant (hardcore /thrash crossover), The Klubs (post punk), Double Sun (psych Rock), Acid Magus (stoner/surf), Black Pistol (rock ‘n roll), Ma- At (stoner doom), Boargazm (pig metal)