Psych rock’s hypnotic duo

By Dave Mann

The South African music scene can be relatively insular and slow moving at times. When the psych rock scene started, with its laid back folk and psychedelic rock fusion shows, it was a change of pace from the hard and fast, high energy sound that most other local genres assume. Cape Town-based psych duo ‘Medicine Boy’ are proving that the genre is quickly making a name for itself all over the country, and they’ve certainly started a psych following in Grahamstown if their show here was anything to go by.

Medicine Boy is the latest project of Lucy Kruger and Andre Leo, who are also part of ‘The Very Wicked’ and ‘Lucy Kruger and the Lost Boys’ who were in Grahamstown not too long ago performing at the National Arts Festival.  Vastly different from their previous bands, Medicine Boy is a dark, tense, and almost hypnotic sound created through minimal drum beats, harmonised vocals, gritty guitar feedback, and the haunting drones of an electronic organ.

The two explain that the new band allows them to experiment with a different sound that they can develop whilst travelling, which is key to the size of the group. “It was born out of a need to travel more. Logistically, a bigger band is hard to tour with, especially in SA. It’s always nice to take on a new challenge. And it is pretty challenging, but very rewarding.”

With Grahamstown being the second last stop on their ‘More Knives’ EP tour, the duo have travelled to cities all around SA, showcasing their distinct sound in quiet café gigs to crowded club venues.

“We’ve enjoyed every Medicine Boy show on this tour – the gentle and the rowdy” say Leo and Kruger. “We believe very strongly in the music and if the audience is there with us, that’s wonderful, but we’re there regardless. The attitude and energy is quite contagious though.”

Their Grahamstown show saw them play every song on their EP as well as two encore tracks to quell the crowd at Champs Action Bar.  For such a stripped down, minimal sound, Medicine Boy’s performance is deceptively technical. Working with the typically cramped karaoke style stage, Kruger and Leo navigated their entire set comprising guitar, two stand-up drums, a tambourine, electric organ, foot pedals, and drum machine with flawless precision. It makes sense when you see the connection between the two, who communicate complex musical cues through nothing more than a quick glance to one another.

“We’ve been working together for a while now. That kind of connection that develops over time is not something you can really cheat. It feels very natural to us,” they explain. “We’d like to take this band overseas at some point. We’re also not set in keeping it a two piece forever. The idea is to be able to play as a two piece or a twenty-two piece. We’ll see where it goes.”

A crowd favourite seemed to be their dark and haunting track ‘The Strange in Me’ which leads in with delicate strings and vocals, before introducing a howling guitar solo piercing through heavy distortion. Their macabre love song, ‘Gimme Ya Love’ was another highlight with its spellbinding, blues style melodies.

Before the release of the ‘More Knives’ EP, Medicine Boy opened for American psych rock group, ‘Golden Animals’ and have played with a number of local bands with a similar sound. Their last stop on the tour saw them take the stage at The Assembly in Cape Town, performing alongside bands such as Grassy Spark, Feverstone, and Shout Hey.

Keep up to date with Medicine Boy via their Facebook page.

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