In the early nineties “grunge” took off worldwide and a wave of Seattle grunge culture swept across the world. South Africa was no exception. Sanctions were lifted and South African youngsters (who had the means) had unfettered access to international alternative and grunge music – mostly through imports. In the suburbs, garages were full of wannabe Kurt Cobain teens screaming angst-ridden lyrics accompanied by raw grunge riffs and apocalyptic drum solos. Yup, I was one of them. Alternative rock bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, R.E.M. and Violent Femmes were just as popular. Although grunge was right in front leading the charge, you had a myriad of bands blending genres and somehow “alternative” music , as we referred to it, became cool and mainstream. But South Africans had limited choices when it came to South African alternative and grunge bands.
In 1993 to 1994 – Springbok Nude Girls was still pretty much a garage band and Sugardrive had not yet even reached the pinnacle of their success. These were the days when bands like Squeal, Urban Creep,Valiant Swart, Koos Kombuis, Nine, Saron Gas (now Seether) and a bunch of crazy funk-rockers named B-World were rocking free South Africa. Rock music became less political after the first free and fair elections and of course Madiba’s inauguration. You could literally count on one hand the South African bands who made the kind of music that Generation X kids could identify with. The kind of music we would go and listen to on a Friday night with our a-political, nihilistic, long-haired, Nirvana t-shirt wearing,flannel shirt around the waist, Zamalek inebriated,cheap cigarette smoking, Doc Martens on sweaty stinky feet, daggakop friends. Man, when we had the money for it, we had a great time at live gigs. But it was also a time when we had limited options in getting our hands on great music to listen to at home. Most bands sold poor quality cassette tapes at live gigs, vinyl was something you sold for next to nothing in order to buy more CD’s, the Internet was something computer nerds talked about in secret and if you asked someone for an MP3 they would probably have thought it’s some new drug.
Fast forward (through two decades) to last year and I volunteered to create a playlist for our twenty year high school reunion. One of the songs I wanted on the playlist was B-World’s ‘Rain’.
In 1993 to 1994 everyone was talking about B-World and the song was extremely popular. They opened for Jethro Tull during the band’s 25th Anniversary Tour at the Standard Bank Arena in Joburg (I was lucky enough to be there) and they were on the same bill as Midnight Oil and Sting during 5FM’s 19th Birthday Bash at Ellis Park – also in 1994. But the most memorable gig for me was during our Matric holiday in Hermanus in December 1994 at a wooden beach bar – right on the beach. The only way I can describe them 20 years on is : energetic funk-an-angst ridden rock. They played music that up to that point we’ve only heard overseas bands playing. It was a hybrid kind of sound mixing grunge with funk rock. B-World received lots of airplay and then for some reason they just disappeared, leaving fans in the dark. There was no media release that I could remember giving us a heads up. I guess the youth moves on quickly…….but I always had their music at the back of my mind.
After scouring the internet I found the song Rain on some MP3 cellphone app, would you believe? And a week or so before the reunion I played it to a muso friend of mine, PH Steyn (also a B-World fan), who knows Sean Kenselaar. PH hooked us up on Facebook and Sean shared B-World’s demos with me. After a discussion with Sean over lunch I had no doubt that I had to publish something about this band! And what’s more is you can’t find anything substantial on the internet about their history. So for me, this is more than an interview – it fills a void and it’s really a peek into a long forgotten part of South African rock history. Sean gave me all the guys’ contact details – they’re scattered all over the country – and all still successful artists in their own right. Their difference in perspective is extremely interesting and younger artists can most certainly learn from their wisdom. Benjy Mudie, the record producer who signed them to Tusk Music, also provided some insights from his own perspective. But without further a due I present to you – a blast from the rock and roll fucking past – for the first time in over 20 years – ladies and gentlemen……B-WORLD!!!:
RR: Thanks guys for agreeing to do this interview. Everyone’s probably thinking….WTF? But in my view, B-World was a huge part of the evolution of South African rock music during the nineties and, however brief the history, your story should be told. So let’s kick off at the beginning. How did it all start back then? How did you guys meet?
Sean: Sherid and Rob were on tour with Anton Goosen, whose regular drummer couldn’t make the Cape Town to Pretoria leg. I bumped into them at a club called Cherries Two in Pretoria and became the drummer for that leg of the tour. When the tour was finished Rob, Sherid and myself, through various twists, decided to continue as our own band. One of them, I’m not sure who (maybe Rob) knew Marc and B-World was born. I moved to Johannesburg and we started rehearsing and writing.
Sherid: It’s going to take a lot of brain power to try and remember all this again:) Rob, Sean & myself met whilst on tour with Anton Goosen. We decided to put something together once we were done touring. Rob had seen Marc playing around Joburg with another band, so we approached him to see if he would be interested.
Marc: There was a small scene in JHB all around the Yeoville area. Rob and Sherid approached me when I was in a band called Gringolean. I had joined them as a new vocalist. It was very much part time but we were writing original material and that’s basically all we wanted to do. Sherid and Rob were in much the same head space of going for it, writing material and working solely as musicians.
Rob: Sherid, Sean and I had worked together previously and Marc was on our radar. I knew of him, from the scene. He had, in my view, the sensibilities of a great lyricist/frontman. That turned out to be true.
Sean: I think Marc came up with the name. As far as I could understand in that vague, distant time, it meant not A 🙂 ….
As in B – movies, B- grade : B – World…
Sherid: Initially we were all doing music full-time so, needless to say, we had a few hours of downtime to kill. We all seem to gravitate toward the offbeat or ‘B’ movies and came up with the idea whilst sitting around the kitchen table. The kitchen table where most of our brainstorming happened. We also considered ourselves not to be living in the A-world, like Hollywood, so I guess it came from a combination of those ideas.
Marc: It is the concept of the second class world as in B-movie, B team kind of thing. My thought was that the A-World doesn’t really exist and we all actually live in the real world. The A-World is bullshit.
Rob: Not A.
RR: The only information I could find on the net about the band members are your names basically: Marc Rowlston,Rob Nel, Sean Kenselaar and Sherid van Rooyen. Please give the readers a more accurate description who B-World was and their roles in the band.
Marc – vocals, Rob – bass, Sherid – Guitar, Me on Drums
Marc on vocals, Rob on bass, Me on guitar, Sean on drums. Marc wrote most of the lyrics. We all chipped in for the music. I remember phoning around for gigs all the time, but I guess we all chipped in there too. There wasn’t much of a process at the time, so we just went from month to month trying to grind out as many gigs as we could.
Marc: I was the vocalist and carried speakers (roadie).
Rob: A less obvious role was our collective drive to change the way the local gigging scene worked. When we first started booking gigs, there were only two venues in the country that we were able to play all original music, Wings Beat Bar in Braamfontein and Ruby
In The Dust in Observatory, Cape Town. Everywhere else wanted three or four sets of covers with one or two originals if we insisted. We said we do two sets and we have two covers. Take it or leave it.
RR: I listened to the B-World demos over and over again. Apart from the sound quality of some of the demos, there is no doubt in my mind that B-World was onto something and there is some real gems there. The songs ‘Something Real’ and ‘Swell’ are two of my favourites. Considering what was happening in the music industry at the time, locally, it was distinctly different from other bands on the scene. Did all of you feel the same way about B-world’s music back then?
Sean: Those are two of my favorites too. I can’t speak for anyone else really, but my view on what B-World was producing at that time was exactly that – something different. To paraphrase Marc: “something real”. And at the same time appealing and really fucking awesome. We were doing and writing shit that no-one else in South Africa was doing at that time and we were taking it on the road and burning up stage after stage. I totally believed, and still do, that B-World was on the brink of great things, we had an energy that flowed between us and came out as this amazing, electric and intense music that people wanted more of and were totally attracted to. I’m pretty sure it would’ve translated well internationally too, as was Tusk Music.
Sherid: I think we were trying to write things that were unusual and original and kind of live up to the ethos of not being mainstream, and because we had a great connection to this idea there never seemed to be any limits to what we tried. I don’t think any of us were particularly good songwriters, but once any of us had an idea we would bounce it around the jam room in all sorts of directions to see where it stuck. I guess great taste in music helped guide that process.
Marc: We were still finding our way in many respects. If I listen to the demos now it feels like we didn’t really know how to edit ourselves. Most of the songs are too long. More of a live to tape sound. Back then nobody was really capable of taking our live energy into the studio and polishing the songs into proper album material. We simply didn’t know how. We were very green and just wanted to play our music. I think the first demo sounds more polished. The songs are more solid. We played that stuff hundreds of times at gigs and whittled them into good material. The second demo was more experimental.
Rob: Yes. We worked hard. We did about two months of Monday to Friday rehearsals refining our material before we set foot on a stage. Musically, I think our process only left room for honesty. When music is honest it translates. Honest music doesn’t care if it’s ‘local’.
Benjy: We basically cut the band`s entire output at Chris Manolitsis’ studio and released the three track E.P. and the full track list on cassette (both collectors items these days) . I loved Rain and thought it was a potential hit but I needed an edit so much, to Sherid`s horror, I edited the guitar solo out. I convinced him that it would be a hit…and it was. Number one across the land! Still sounds good today.
RR: When listening to the demos one can hear you experimented with lighter funky rock sounds in the beginning (songs like Rain for instance) to more heavier grunge during the later demos (for instance ‘Weird’). Kind of Red Hot Chili Peppers meets grunge but with a local twist. Who wrote the music and lyrics and how did you get to that specific sound?
Sean: We were growing at a phenomenal rate. What you hear on the first demo are some songs that were brought in by people as an almost finished product and some that were put together in the rehearsal room from kind of pre-existing ideas and riffs as well as some that originated in rehearsal. We had only been together about three months, I think, when we went into studio for that demo. When the second demo (not even a year later) rolled around we were much more comfortable with each other, we had gelled as a band and we were listening to more music together. We played each other stuff that we were interested in and we were experimenting in the rehearsal room with different rhythms and sounds. Usually Marc was the lyricist but he was not averse to a suggestion or two. I think Sherid wrote most of Rain’s lyrics and music. Otherwise the later ideas started in the rehearsal room, someone would come up with something or come to rehearsal with an idea and we would all start getting involved in fleshing it out and turning it into a B-World song.
Sherid: Rain came from a song I wrote with a blues band I was with a few years before, called Shrinking Railroad. Other than that one all the songs came out of ideas each of us had, which we then brought to the practice room and hashed out. Some ideas were more formed before they arrived at practice and others were born right there in practice. Other than Rain, Marc wrote all the lyrics and the music came from all of us.
Marc: I wrote a lot of the lyrics and Sherid also wrote some of the tracks. We also wrote a lot of the music and compositions together with all the members. I guess we found the sound through just playing together.
Rob: Sherid had written and performed ‘Rain’ with a previous band (Shrinking Railroad) in Cape Town. He also co-wrote the lyrics to ‘Swell’ with Marc. There were probably other co-written lyrics but it’s all a little hazy. It was the 90’s, goddamn! Marc was responsible for most of the lyrics though. He had that wonderful ability to write ambiguous yet familiar lyrics that meant three different things to three different people, let alone what the song was really about. We all collaborated with the writing and arranging of the songs. Our sound was what is referred to as chemistry. Our specific influences and tonal preferences all mixed up into B-World.
RR: A friend of mine asked one of the members in 1994 right after the Hermanus gig who your influences were. Can’ t remember who answered though. I’m going to ask the question in 2015. Please don’t say Jesus Christ again. LOL!
Sean: That’s a difficult question to answer. None of us intentionally thought of our musical or any other influences when putting B-World songs together, we just experimented and tried things and what we liked stayed. I do know we were listening to a wide variety of music that ranged from acid jazz to funk to grunge to just about anything: from Mother Earth to Ozric Tentacles to Cypress Hill (Rob was very keen on them as I recall), to Soundgarden, to Rage Against the Machine, to Primus to the Peppers. And all sorts of other shit in-between! Rob was always playing us interesting music, he always seemed to be able to find some very different and off the beaten path kind of stuff. Marc was a movie buff and I’m sure that had some influence on what he wrote as well as some social commentary. I’m sure also that our lives influenced what we wrote, what we were going through and had been through as human beings.
Sherid: Mine are Hendrix, Rage Against the Machine, Jeff Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers…to name a few.
Marc: We had a variety influences. From Hendrix to Rage Against The Machine.
Rob: I still need to respond as of 1994 for the answer to be relevant. Back then it was all Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Rage Against The Machine, Fishbone, Pixies, Jane’s Addiction, Living Colour, Public Enemy, Snoop Dogg, Alice In Chains, Nine Inch Nails, The Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, etc….the list is long.
RR: How did B-World get the breakthrough to be signed to Tusk Music?
Sean: At our very first gig as B-World Benjy Mudie from Tusk was in the audience. Sherid (I think) had managed to get us a gig at the relatively new Joburg Arts Alive festival and when we finished our set, Benjy came up to us and raved about the band. I think he even made us the offer of the development deal after that gig. He was really crazy about the band.
Sherid: Benjy Mudie was at our very first gig and liked what he saw. We signed a development deal with them.
Marc: At our first gig Benjy Mudie was one of about 10 people in the audience. He offered us sweeties.
Rob: Benjy Mudie handed us a card after our very first gig.
Benjy: In the mid-nineties I was bored shitless with the demos and bands that came across my desk day in and day out. I wanted to sign a dirty rock & roll band with attitude and cool tunes, at that time ‘Bloodsugarsexmagic’ was rarely off my player. I went to a ‘Battle of the Bands’ event, I think down in Newtown, and sat through band after band, all of whom were boring as hell. Then B-World came on and in their short but explosive set really set the place alight. I was so blown away that I made the decision to sign them (I also signed Blue Chameleon at the same gig). B-World hadn’t been together for too long so I made a decision to do a development deal first leading to a bigger agreement later.
RR: B-World released a 10 track cassette album and then a 3-track CD Single? I know it got airplay on some of the songs because we listened to it back in the day hanging out and partying. What was the overall response to the music you released? Was there any international interest in your music?
Sean: People loved the band! It was new, fresh and exciting.
And yes, there was international interest, Tusk was in the middle of organising an overseas tour when we broke up.
Sherid: I guess it was pretty good locally, but we were just getting started to be fair. There was some interest abroad, but I don’t remember anything coming of it before the break up.
Marc: People seemed to like our vibe. We were committed and I think people responded to that.
Benjy: The band hit the road doing the clubs and basically anything they could find. The idea was to road test the new songs they were writing and then record them as demos in prep for a full album. I went to the UK bearing the E.P. and cassette and got a lot of interest from the labels there. When I got back B-World basically split up and that was that! I kinda remember it this way but time has eroded my memory a little bit so there may be different perspectives on the time line and sequence of events. Like I said, so much potential.
RR: Every Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane is releasing some kind of terrible locally produced CD these days. So let’s forget about fly by night musos whose claim to fame is hilarious Youtube videos. Twenty years later and being a professional muso in South Africa is no longer such an impossible feat. Was that part of the B-World plan? To become professional musos and “B-World” full time? Or did any of you have a day job back then with other prospects? Was it difficult to become a professional muso twenty years ago?
Sean: None of us had day jobs as far as I can recall. I had studied music at Pretoria Technikon (now TUT), but I know I wasn’t thinking : ‘I’m gonna make this my career’. All I knew was that I wanted to play music and I was having a helluva good time in an amazing band doing exactly that, full time. And we were getting somewhere, things were happening. Tusk Music gave us our own rehearsal space in downtown JHB, we were there pretty much everyday jamming and rehearsing and composing… Having Paprika Slap Chips for lunch 🙂 Good memories.
Sherid: I think we were already professionals at the time, but what that meant back then was very different to today. We pretty much scraped through from month to month as far as livelihood goes. We were stubborn enough to think we could do original music for a living back then. We did have the likes of Barney Simon who gave us a platform to go out and do our thing, but it was small pickings for us most of the time. Having said that we did have a few good months toward the end:)
Marc: As I said we were committed. I really wanted it bad. The music life. It did seem possible. We didn’t make any kind of living though. It was like being a student, hand to mouth. We slept on concrete floors a few times. A lot of people were very kind to us on the road. It was fine in our twenties but I am glad that there is scope now for artists to really do well. Here and internationally.
Rob: It was extremely difficult. As it still is. I had already been working as a full time musician for five years before B-World. I worked with bands like The Backwater Blues Band, Jack Hammer and Anton Goosen. After a particularly poor earning tour with another artist, Sherid and I decided we would rather do poor earning tours playing music we created ourselves and believed in. So we started B-World. Of course, if all went according to our dreams we’d have got terribly successful and I’d be answering this question from my chateau in the South of France or something. With gig fees the way they were back then and the amount of driving around the country we did and the state we did it in, I’m surprised we
survived. The infrastructure has evolved in the last two decades but so has the amount of quality musicians. It’s always going to be tough.
RR: How many of you are still in the music industry? For those of you still in the music industry – how would you say the music industry has changed over the past twenty years? Is it easier or more difficult now to make it as a rock band in SA?
Sean: I’m still in the industry. It’s changed in that it’s opened up, become more international and more professional. Wouldn’t say its easier or harder to make it as a rock band, just different. More opportunity but many more good bands.
Sherid: Just by the fact that we were pre-internet. Downloads makes this whole business a very different ball game these days. Also by the fact that we still had to go into a studio to record, which isn’t a must anymore. You can have the Abbey Roads Studio on your laptop, which has made people think they can produce like George Martin & Quincy Jones. So I guess that’s why we have so many fly by nights:) I’m still playing in and around the Eastern Cape. Not as much as I’d like though. I have a three piece I bring out every couple of months. I’ve been threatening to release some new material for a while now, but it takes a back seat to all the other stuff going on.
Marc: Everything has changed in the last twenty years! The world is much smaller. We can access anything at any time. I am not sure if it’s easier for a rock band here. The local stuff I hear now is great. The scene has matured. Your music HAS to be played on the radio. We don’t have the same inferiority complex about what we can create these days. The most satisfying thing for me about B-World is that we made a real contribution towards what exists today in the music scene. I feel happy that we did our little bit.
Rob: Still in it. Still hustling. Still difficult. So much has developed and so much is still painfully the same. The challenge is to remain relevant. Some things only a twenty-something-year-old
should be doing. In other matters those twenty-something-year-olds need to learn from us.
RR: During the B-World days, were you all good friends and did you get along?
Sean: We got along. Not all of us were great friends, but I think there was a mutual respect for each other. We all had a similar goal at that time and that I think was the glue that held B-World together… There was some tension, not a serious kind, but enough that I think it may have helped contribute to the bands energy and vibe in that we let that energy out when we played.
Sherid: I think we all got on pretty well considering the pressures we put ourselves under. We were all a bit mad for it back then, so to say that we overindulged would be an understatement…LOL!
Marc: Friends……it was a marriage really.
Rob: Yes, we were great friends. We obviously had our moments but friendship was key.
RR: If any of you can remember at all….LOL! Do you have any crazy and fond memories of the days when you were in the band and touring the country?
Sean : Not all of my good memories are about crazy things! I remember often leaving a gig at Wings Beat Bar (our JHB regular) in Braamfontein and hitting the road for Cape Town and gigging there that night. I remember a great gig on the beach at Hermanus, loved the tours down the coast, getting on stage was the most awesome thing for me. We did ‘Live on 5’ which was great.. We also had some really good times and met great people in Bloem and the Grahamstown Art Festival – I remember warming up in Grahamstown with the chakras – Marc assigned a note to each chakra and we sang those notes and really pumped that energy. Some awesome memories of Rustler’s Valley – I remember two really stand out gigs there, there was a great energy in that place. I remember a sun rise there sitting with the guys putting together a song acoustically. Great memories of Durban and meeting good people there. Another highlight was a New Year’s Bash at the River Club in Observatory in Cape Town. And of course our Cape Town regular at Ruby in the Dust, also in Obs. Lots of really good memories and good people…
Sherid: Jeezy did we have a great time! If you take out the fact that we were always on the bones of our arses, I would have to say that it was the most fun I’ve had in a band. I don’t think my body could take it now though 🙂 The Rustler’s Valley gigs were particularly fun and New Years ’93/94 in Cape Town, musically, were the best. Oh and what about Rocky Street, Yeoville…crazy days 🙂
Marc: That’s another conversation. A lot of good memories. There is a freedom you allow yourself when you take on the roll of a musician. You need to live in the moment for the music to be any good, hence the fun times.
Rob: Too many to mention.
RR: A couple of the demo songs I got from Sean was recorded with a view to releasing a full album as I understand it. I’m building up to the ultimate question : Why was the album never released and why did B-World break up?
Sean: B-World broke up before it was even decided where or when the album would be recorded! We broke up while on a tour in SA, with an international tour in the pipeline. We were in the Knysna area when the chat happened. I can’t pretend to know the exact reasons, but Marc and Rob had reached a point where they no longer wanted to continue with B-World. Sherid and I tried to talk to them but it was obvious they had discussed it and were no longer keen. Perhaps their focus had shifted, perhaps they didn’t enjoy playing in B-World for some reason anymore. Whatever it was, they obviously had very strong reasons for leaving since they left at a time when B-World was on the verge of major success. Or perhaps they view that time differently. I just remember feeling like a spectator, watching it all crumble around me in dazed disbelief.
Sherid: We broke up before we got to record any of the songs on the demo, so I guess that’s why the album never happened. I think we all got to a boiling point in ’94 and decided to call it as no-one seemed to be able to control all the characters involved. We did try and take on some management, but unfortunately that didn’t work. I think we were all a bit jaded from constantly having to tour for sixteen months.
Marc: Bands break up. Shit happens.
Rob: We split before the album got released. Let’s just say irrefutable differences. I think the root problem was earnings. For over a year we gigged and toured and made barely made enough to survive. That alone strains any relationship. I think if B-World formed now, we’d stand a much better chance of survival. Mainly due to the infrastructure the industry has now.
BB: Do any of you love to listen to South African artists these days? And who do you listen to? Please don’t say Steve Hofmeyr..
Sean: I listen to some… Civil Twilight has a really cool song called ‘Letters from the Sky’. aKING has some good songs. Lira is great. Auriol Hays. Wonderboom has great live shows, I remember doing a few gigs with them when they were still 8 legged groove machine. Still like the old Tree63. Marcus Wyatt. Couple of others, there are some great new SA bands that I catch on Tuks FM.
Sherid: I’ve been listening to a bit of Jeremy Loops lately and really enjoyed Gangs of Ballet live.
Marc: BLK JKS have a great sound. Committed musos. Zebra and Giraffe write great songs. A lot of new talent on the scene now I think.
Rob: One of my favourite bands is Beatenberg. I’m also their live engineer. But they were on top of my list way before I worked with them. Others include Lucy Kruger, Melanie Scholtz, Shane Cooper, Bokani Dyer, Gerald Clark, Sannie Fox, Kyle Sheppard, Isochronous, The Little Kings, The Rudimentals, Marcus Wyatt, Siya Makuzeni and so many more. I’ll probably have a different list every week. BTW anyone who listens to Steve Hofmeyr (and including Steve Hofmeyr) needs some serious introspection.
RR: Do you still have contact with each other? Here comes the cliched question.Would you ever consider a B-World reunion?
Sean: No, I don’t really have much contact with the rest of the guys. I bump into them on Facebook every now and then. Not sure what the point of a reunion would be… perhaps just to have a fun gig…. maybe, I would consider it. But its highly doubtful that it would ever happen, we’re all on opposite ends of the country.
Sherid: I always try to see Rob when I’m in Cape Town, but don’t have too much contact with Marc & Sean as I don’t travel that way much. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in that reunion jam with my funky brothers.
Marc: Haven’t seen the guys in the flesh for years. We were actually approached to tour with the Nude girls (or Arno Carstens) a couple of years back but I couldn’t see myself trying on a stage with twenty year old material. Maybe……
Rob: Well, there’s Facebook. If not real contact with one another, we at least know what everyone would like everyone else to see. I do see Sherid from time to time. B-World reunion? That’s a bit like asking someone if they would like to get back together with their
first girlfriend or partner.
RRP: Thanks for taking the time guys, for me this was much more than an interview. There was a massive void in terms of the history of B-World. I couldn’t find anything substantial about B-World on the Internet before. I think we changed that! Keep on rollin’!!