“We have never made money off of albums” – An interview with SA rockers Fokofpolisiekar

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In 2003 just outside Cape Town in the sleepy, conservative town of Bellville a band was formed.

That band would come to be known as Fokofpolisiekar or “polisiekar” for the radio presenters too timid to say the words “fokof” on air.

Beyond a band name that told the police exactly which direction to move in, the five piece band from the Cape quickly became a sensation in South Africa’s rock scene thanks to its well written lyrics, soaring compositions and a live performance that would leave punters caked in sweat.

The band released two full length albums in 2004 (Lugsteuring) and 2006 (Swanesang) and four EP’s including the Antibiotika EP in 2008, the last recorded work from the band.

The band has been on hiatus since the release of that EP with the members all focused on their own projects (Van Coke Cartel, aKing, Heuwels Fantasties among others) at least that was until March 2017.

The band launched a crowdfunding campaign on local platform Thundafund earlier this year with a view to getting R500 000 to record a new album.

Today that goal has been surpassed and the band currently has R725 000 in pledges for their next album.

We had a chance to chat to Fokof’s rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist Hunter Kennedy about the band’s crowdfunding campaign and what it’s like being a rockstar in an age of technology.

htxt.africa The original goal of R500 000 has been surpassed and now sits at over R700 000, how does that feel?

Hunter Kennedy: It feels unreal. The meaning of these kind of things tend to come to me in hindsight. In an environment where there are people complaining about the health of our local music industry, this feels like a valuable lesson though.

htxt.africa Many people have said “but Fokof is such a big band, why do they need crowdfunding” what do you say to that?

HK: I guess that’s a valid question and maybe there are some things that need to be clarified.

Crowdfunding isn’t just a straight begging vibe. Whether it’s your name engraved on the microchip of a new experimental gaming system or Amanda Palmer sleeping on your couch, you are generally rewarded for your pledge with the option to donate above the price of the item if you so feel like it.

We have basically used the Thundafund platform as a e-commerce/retail space where we do pre-orders for the new album as well as creating exclusive once-off products for sale to our core fanbase. They range from our old guitars to branded watches.

We did brand collaborations with SMEG and Jägermeister, Converse and Rayban. Except for the great platform, the Thundafund campaign has also doubled-up as our pre-‘roll out’ marketing campaign.

Another consideration was surveying whether our fans would be interested in a traditional full-length album at all. We could for instance have done a song every month for a year or something like that. We could’ve funded this project ourselves, but this is a better way to do it.

htxt.africa This is the band’s first album since 2006’s Swanesang. In that time you have all started your own bands and tried out solo careers, why the return to the studio as Fokof?

HK: I don’t know! Hahaha. We have been discussing a new album every year since then and it just never worked out. Now it just feels right.

htxt.africa Were you afraid that folks wouldn’t contribute to the campaign at all?

HK: I wouldn’t say ‘Afraid’. If it didn’t work out we would’ve rethought our strategy.

htxt.africa When Fokof broke onto the SA music scene digital music was only just starting to gain popularity. Now we’ve progressed to an age where everything has gone digital. Given your experience in this industry has technology helped or hindered the band.

HK: I think technology helps. We have never made money off of albums so I don’t expect to really ever see anything in my pocket directly from album sales. It’s a bonus.

It’s a business though as well and obviously better to have a profit margin on your biggest capital investment. For a while we were talking about albums being like flyers.

Some guys in the band might differ from my stance, but I stream and my favorite part of it is the discovery.

I think tech is better. Thundafund is a tech-product and that has, at least this time around, helped us to solve an issue a lot of labels are struggling with.

Fokofpolisiekar from left Jaco S. Venter, Francois van Coke, Wynand Myburgh, Hunter Kennedy, Johnny de Ridder.

htxt.africa Services like Deezer, Apple Music and Google Play Music have become increasingly popular. Do SA bands such as yourselves see returns from these services?

HK: Very little. I think it’s less than a cent a stream. The promise is that in the long run, you will make more from streaming than the once off album purchase. To me it seems like the fat-cats are just fucking the artist harder, I think there is better royalty-model, but let’s see.

htxt.africa You mention that this album will be a feedback loop, what exactly do you mean by that?

HK: By involving the core fans from the beginning the communication feels a lot stronger to me. They are invested now.

We will hopefully be seeding the pledgers with exclusive content and keep a communication flow. Maybe like a guitar’s feedback loop the constant communication will reach a fever pitch.
htxt.africa Finally, have you seen any increase in your music being played on SABC radio stations since Hlaudi Motsoeneng instituted the 90% missive or are folks still scared to say Fokof on radio?
HK: Haven’t seen an increase, no. Not a lot of SABC stations play Afrikaans music.
Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.