If you’re at all familiar with the South African metal scene, you have undoubtedly heard of Metal 4 Africa and Patrick Davidson. Patrick Davidson is the axeman for South African melodic death metallers Mind Assault and a major figure in the South African metal scene. In 2006 he founded Metal 4 Africa, a website devoted to African metal. Metal 4 Africa also hosts the annual Metal 4 Africa Summerfest, South Africa’s biggest yearly metal festival. With Metal 4 Africa Summerfest just around the corner on February 3rd, we asked Patrick some questions about Metal 4 Africa, his band, and the African metal scene. Enjoy the Interview
Audioinferno: So, you’re playing Metal4Africa this year. This isn’t the first time for you. How many other times have you been in the lineup and what years?
Patrick Davidson of Metal4Africa:
Mind Assault is not actually playing SummerFest’18, although we are earmarked for an appearance as soon as we’ve completed our next full-length album. We’re pushing hard that this can be ready before WinterFest’18 in July.
Mind Assault performed at the first two M4A shows, in 2007 and 2008 respectively. The 2007 show didn’t have the festival character and vision of a bi-annual event yet, and was simply planned as a once-off gig called “A Showcase of African Metal – presented by www.metal4africa.com“. Following it’s surprising success, it was decided that something more consistent could be built on that foundation. So on 02 February 2008, SummerFest’08 introduced the event series as it is known today and Mind Assault was fortunate enough to be able to launch our debut album ‘Stigma’ at that monumental show.
Since then we have also performed SummerFest’09, WinterFest’10, WinterFest’12 and WinterFest’15. The gaps of time have grown larger over the years, but that is indicative of the growth we’ve seen in the number of metal bands active in South Africa and the event not becoming too entrenched in habit or favoritism. M4A shows have evolved to include rules such as no consecutive year-on-year bookings for the same bands. It keeps the thing fresh, and builds trust within the community. People don’t want to support something that doesn’t support them back.
Audioinferno: Metal4Africa was established in 2009. Tell us a little bit about how it materialized and its primary purpose.
It’s actually even older. As a brand, metal4africa first appeared into the public space in 2006. We had very little vision for it in those days, but we knew that we needed to do something about the situation that we as a metal community were facing in South Africa at the time. For years already, the national broadcasting network was clamping down harshly on the type of content available on the airwaves. Mostly, it was – and still is – a political situation, but that’s a whole conversation for another day. Keep in mind that the internet here in South Africa was also not yet a very consumer-friendly service back then. It was slow and very expensive! Radio was still what most people were relying on for information about music and entertainment. But for us metalheads, radio had already become a lost cause.Anyhow, our purpose for the brand at that time was to become a courier for information about metal; simply just carrying from metalhead-to-metalhead. The most effective tools for this at that time was Myspace (for those lucky enough to have internet at home), and printed materials. Myspace was a very different animal, and highly useful for exploring music and bands. This was pre-Facebook, of course! But with Myspace I started a hunt for every African metal band I could find and basically just using the social network of people I could find at that time to do so. Social networking was still new to us back then, so it didn’t seem like anybody was doing this kind of work yet. It needed to be done. Then we’d follow what gigs were happening and actually go and print flyers with all the shows listed on it, and go spread those around in the city. We were rebuilding a scene that we felt had been abandoned after the collapse of traditional methods.There was a natural evolution for this to follow, obviously. Sooner or later, we were going to end up hosting an event of our own, and this came sooner in 2007. Then, as internet access at people’s homes grew into something more ordinary, the brand had to evolve from metal4africa into www.metal4africa.com which happened in 2009. The fundamental purpose is still the same. We distribute information about our scene. The SummerFest and WinterFest shows are really just a bonus that we as a community get to enjoy every six months.
Audioinferno: For those unfamiliar with the band, how would you describe your sound? Who are your influences?
You know, we used to talk about this a lot with each other, our fans, and whoever wanted to know. These days we don’t so much anymore. We’ve realized that it’s an exercise in futility to try to sum it up to satisfaction. See, as a band, we didn’t form up as a bunch of guys who were into a specific sub-genre or band’s style. In 2003 when we started jamming together we were all such different people; not just musically, but culturally too. Half the band was English and the other half Afrikaans. We were the kinds of people who, as kids, used to clash at school. But we lived in what used to be a small town and we needed each other as a metalhead family because we had nobody else. So there was a mad mix-up of influences. On the one hand you had our vocalist Jacques who was a big fan of technical death metal, and he had already started writing with Francois who, as a guitarist, was very much into old-school heavy metal and power metal kind of stuff. Then there was myself on guitar and Donovan on bass; although we were good friends, we simply. could. not. jam together. My taste in music was gothic/doom metal, and he was into all this funky stuff like Korn and Primus. It was only when the two of us had an opportunity to jam on some neutral ground with people into different stuff again that we were willing to compromise for each other. Silly!Then our drummer and composer, Andries, joined in 2007 with his love for black metal and film scores. Needless to say, how we describe ourselves has changed a lot over the years. For a while we thought we were thrash. Then we thought, no, we must be melodic death metal. No, we must be thrashy melodic death metal. No. We actually don’t know, because thrash and melodic death metal don’t generally have big epic orchestral accompaniments. But we’re definitely not a symphonic metal band; not in the sense that the world of metal identifies. So we don’t try to define it anymore and rather let the fans call it what they want.But to this very day, Mind Assault is the only musical common ground any of us truly shares. The sound which has come from it is definitely on the more extreme end of the metal spectrum, but not too strongly so. We’re not trying to compete with who is the fastest or most brutal. It’s about making something we can enjoy together with our metal friends and express ourselves in a non-harmful way. We’ve also gradually shifted from being a very rhythm-oriented band to a more melody-oriented band. Weird. But we’re still growing as individuals and that is probably manifest in how we our music continues to develop.
Audioinferno: You released your sole full-length, Stigma, in 2008, are there plans for releasing another full-length in the near future?
Definitely! We’ve been at work on recording for the last year already, believe it or not. However, Mind Assault does not consist of the same carefree 20-somethings from fifteen years ago, and life has definitely not got easier. The economy since the last release has been brutal, and we’ve entered that age class where our financial responsibilities have grown tremendously. Taking care of kids, or parents, or trying to grow businesses or advance careers just to keep putting food on the table; these are all battles that go hand-in-hand with living up to the public expectation of not just a good album, but one that is better in every way than the last one. We’ve been demoted from the band which rehearsed three nights a week to the one which has to manage its time very, very carefully indeed, and so it’s taken this long.But the great news is that we’re in the final phases of this process and are getting ready for the stage again as well. We’d like to stand tall in 2018 again.
Audioinferno: Metal4Africa is the biggest metal fest in Africa, and has been going strong since 2009. South Africa by far has the biggest metal scene. Do you find that Metal4Africa has played a part in the wider acceptance of metal in South Africa in comparison to other African countries?
I don’t think that we can take credit for being the biggest. Or even the oldest. But what we definitely can take credit for is being the longest uninterrupted on a consistent basis. Even when our regular venue was destroyed by fire six weeks before our WinterFest’15 date, we were able to come through at an alternative location with an equally impressive production. And that is not my talent that pulled us through; it was the power of community!However, what I believe has created the misconception that we are the biggest is probably because of our focus. We focus exclusively on metal, and metal from Africa. So in terms of local-only and metal-only content, yes, we are the biggest and the oldest; but we’re still talking attendance in hundreds rather than in thousands.In terms of wider acceptance, I don’t think we can claim any bragging rights here either. We’ve not been growing the scene so much as making metal a bit friendlier as a sub-culture, so that people from outside don’t mind interacting with a bit more. It’s up to the artists to make it acceptable by creating music and ideas that people gravitate closer to. Our work is more on providing a great platform – the best available – for local metal musicians to showcase their art in a professional production environment, on a bigger and better equipped stage than any other local-only shows can offer them, and to as many people as we can manage to put in front of them. We have seen over the years that a lot of people from outside the immediate community do come though. It’s kind of cool to often see families of band members coming to M4A shows; because it’ll be a sort of highlight event for the band to show themselves off to family, colleagues, and other non-metal friends because of the inviting environment, great production and friendly atmosphere. I’m not saying you don’t get these things at regular club gigs, but it’s rare to get them all so nicely rolled up into one delightful headbanging package.
Audioinferno: What is the scope of Metal4Africa’s draw in terms of attendance? Is it mostly South African nationals? Or do you find lots of metalheads from neighboring nations? Or do you perhaps even see metalheads from other continents fly in for the show?
As mentioned before, we’re certainly not the biggest if compared with the likes of Krank’d Up, for example. Attendance usually hovers at around 600 or so people, and the venue is a great size for that to remain comfortable. But we’re focusing exclusively on African talent, so we’re not in the same league or competing with promoters like Turning Tricks Entertainment and Witchdoctor Productions which are bringing some beautiful metal experiences to our shores. For all-local-talent, 600 people in the place is pretty great though. Other metal shows in our region are considered extraordinary if they bring even half of that amount of people together.Yes, it’s mostly South Africans attending. I think also because of our location being Cape Town – which is geographically actually pretty isolated – travel for many African dwellers is tough on expenses. It’s no secret that we’re not exactly a rich continent in monetary terms, and regional transport infrastructure is still not really that well developed for Average Joe Headbanger to zip about from country to country. We get a few travelers from within South Africa, but I’m not aware of many from other African nations as of yet. For shows in Johannesburg, yes, but not so much down here. However, we have noticed that we’re getting more and more visitors from other continents; people with foreign currency and a taste for adventure. As a key tourist city, Cape Town is much more easily accessible to Europe than it is to other parts of Africa because of that. We’re talking just a trickle of metal tourists for sure, but we can usually spot them out and often they’ll interact with us online beforehand, so we try to make them feel really at home. That aspect is definitely growing though. I think that we’re an old brand now – a proven brand – helps a lot. People know that they can depend on the shows happening around a predictable date year-on-year and can plan accordingly.
Audioinferno: And likewise, what about the lineups – has it been mostly South African bands, local bands, and bands from neighboring countries, or global?
Bringing global acts would be cool, and many metalheads try to encourage that we should do that. But we think doing an all-African event is just as cool! We enjoy our focus on being community-centric and, frankly, there are enough promoters in South Africa doing great work on shows with popular international bands and what-not. We feel that having ourselves entering that space would just make it more cluttered and difficult for everybody. Besides, our home-grown talent also enjoys being declared “headliners” at a big show. We’re here for them; and I say so because as a performing artist myself, it is what I also dream about.As for visitors from neighbouring states we do the best that we can, but there is also the reality of economics, sadly. It’s not very ‘Metal’ to talk about money and ‘The Man’, but at the end of the day our secret to long life has been fiscal discipline. Costs of everything has climbed ridiculously in the years since we started and it’s proven very, very difficult to keep up with standards, let alone our ambitions to raise the bar too. Therefore, we’ve not not been able to bring as many bands from other African states as we’d like to. I’ve taken many risks as a working-class income person and I cannot afford to absorb a financial failure; so we never make a promise or a deal that we cannot keep. My favourite risk so far was in 2010 when we brought our first guests from Botswana; Wrust. They drove the 350 kilometers from Gaborone to Johannesburg and I could book their flights for the 1600 kilometer trip to Cape Town using a retail shopping card. Good times! Sadly, the cost of domestic flights – or rather, the airport taxes – has killed this as a possibility since. We need to see a turn of the economy before we can make a regular habit of more African visitors. Until then, we’ll take each case on a needs-be basis when bands contact us and can work out some kind of compromise. We’ve had other visitors from Namibia and Botswana since, but it always costs them something as well, which is not ideal and we’re not happy about. But for bands traveling from other South African cities is also not easy.
Audioinferno: And speaking of international gigging, have you often played outside of South Africa’s borders?
Mind Assault has been lucky enough to play in Namibia and in Romania. It’s something we’d also love to do more of, but again, costs dictate. I can say that each of those have been very rewarding experiences. The band has enjoyed some great popularity here in South Africa with many highlights over the years, so it is kind of nerve-wrecking when facing a far-from-home audience and wondering if you will deliver to expectation; or if the audiences there will receive you as warmly. It is with a smile on my face that I can say that neither ourselves or those audiences have come away feeling disappointed!
Audioinferno: What big bands have you shared the stage with, national or international?
Again, we’ve been very fortunate in this regard; or, at least we have worked very hard in order to deserve some of the experiences we’ve enjoyed. The big one worth mentioning was joining the South African leg of Lamb Of God’s massive Resolution tour as it was coming to a close in 2014. We got to play both South African cities with them and it was beyond magical. Apart from that, most of the bands touring to here have started coming after that date, and we’ve been slowing down our activity since then. But we did get to play Witchfest 2015 where we were the last local band to play immediately before the power line-up of Aborted (Belgium), Belphegor (Austria), Kataklysm (Canada), and the mighty Cannibal Corpse (USA). I think the largest audience we’ve ever played to must have been RAMfest 2013 in Johannesburg where we performed on the main stage in the lead-up to UK’s Bring Me The Horizon. It was that time of day where it was just becoming night and the lights started working, and the people were coming out in their thousands from the tented areas to see what was happening and clearly enjoying what they had never seen before. I struggle to find the same happiness as remembered in moments just like that.
Audioinferno: What are your plans for the rest of 2018?
For Mind Assault, 2018 is about getting back into the trenches. That album desperately wants to breath the living air. All effort is going into wrapping that up and getting it out there. We made a deal at the end of 2016 that we’d do no more shows until we finished recording. So we’re really hungry to get on stage again. We’ll probably be back in the live circuit by May or so.