Thursday, October 11, 2012

RARE! Samantha Interviews Michael Flek

Michael Flek was the first image I associated with the South African punk movement.  Sitting in Keith Jones’ loft near Letenske Namesti (one of the many Arts Districts in Prague) we drank port and listened to music from Ghana as well as Cote De Ivoire and reviewed materials for the Punk in Africa documentary. 

The first visual that Jones’ showed me was an album cover from a band called “Wild Youth.”

Wild Youth's "A Leopard Never Changes Her Spots" LP
Michael (or as I know him now as Mick) was a young punk rocker that resembled Billy Idol. It has been well over 20 years since Wild Youth made their way into the South African punk rock scene and now we can cut the bullshit and get into an interview that I wanted to be as creative and avant garde as Wild Youth was.

Wild Youth made history by opening a world up to the notions rebellion, courage and anarchy-this band made history and helped form a musical movement that continues to shape the culture and society of South African youth.  In this interview; my questions are a little more creative because I know that Michael will be receptive to them and have a blast answering them. Michael is fun and witty, he brings an energy and an ambiance to music and at the end of the day Michael Fleck makes me smile.

ST: Which South African president do you respect and why?

Nelson Mandela.   He had the conviction to spend 27 years of his life in prison because of his beliefs.  He is a highly intelligent and reasonable man who ensured that the transition period at the end of apartheid was relatively peaceful.  He bears no grudges.

ST: Who influenced the sound of Wild Youth the most?

We listened to a lot of music, and were influenced by a lot of different musicians.  Some of the influence was subliminal.  Even today I will hear a song from back in the day and recognize an influence, often unintentional.  The biggest influence on our music though was the Stooges.  One has to look at them in context.   The Stooges were not a popular band, and the amount of press on them was minimal.  There were very few pictures of them around and the pre-punk generation regarded them with derision.  I was impressed by the primal nature of their music and performance and their nihilism and sexuality.   They were wild.   Raw Power in particular, even the production which was regarded as terrible by the critics.  The lyrics and guitar on that album represented the future.   The Sex Pistols were the band that clinched the deal.  They were even more basic and low budget and made it seem possible to do it oneself.

ST: What was it like playing punk rock in South Africa when Wild Youth emerged?

At the beginning it was relatively easy but it became more difficult as the scene progressed.  The early bands and audiences had a real camaraderie and the gigs had an amazing vibe.

ST: You are living in the UK now, do you still play music? Can you describe what you are working on now?

I continually write music and do the occasional performance.  I am currently working on new recordings with the Gay Marines.

Gay Marines: From left, Michael Flek, Stephen Thompson and Franco Rogantin
(From Flek's personal collection, used with permission)

ST: If you could deliver a message to artistic/musically inclined youth today what would that message be?

Be true to yourself and don’t let other people’s opinion influence you.

ST: In your opinion how can musicians inspire and influence future generations of tomorrow?

The past will always influence the future.   The question can be interpreted in many ways.  If you mean musically, great art is often influenced by obscurities from the past found in the bargain bins or second hand shops or youtube and blended together into something new and original.  I do not think that following what is currently popular will do you much good as an artist.   A lot of money is put into corporate music and the record company wants to ensure that they get a return on their investment so no risks are taken and the production is so slick that for me there is nothing there.   Part of the problem is that today it has mostly all been done before whereas back then  it was all new and everyone was experimenting and feeding ideas off each other.  Stylistically I think musicians have a lot of influence on the youth though, but that is more fashion.

In today’s political climate it has become more risky.   Some political issues are just never mentioned in music partly because there is no simple solution.  Say the wrong thing and you could end up either being blown up or tortured or detained in some remote detention camp; take your pick depending on your stance.

ST: Describe your most memorable concert while playing with Wild Youth.

There were several. The two gigs at the Majestic Cinema are good examples.  The atmosphere was electric at both of them.   At the first one I am not sure whether they wanted to hate us or whether they felt it was the punk thing to do, but they bombarded us with fruit and vegetables from the second that we went on stage.   But we carried on playing seemingly oblivious to it all, and the atmosphere changed and they got into it.  The room had the electricity of someone like Gene Vincent playing in the rock n roll days, totally wild.  Afterwards we jumped into the van and split quick, people everywhere.  It was like a scene from Hard Days Night, total bedlam.  The next time we played there the response was incredible.   We were treated like rock stars.  We should have done more gigs like that.  What struck me was that these people, many of them poor and all treated as second class citizens in their own country were so welcoming, any aggression more playful than mean spirited, none of that Durban North suburbs aggression bullshit.

Micheal in the Ultra White Lovers in 1983
Phil Richardson is the gal in the back.
(Photo taken by Michael's wife, Susan.)
ST: Tell me a punk rock fairy tale.

Once there was a chubby little duckling and he very quiet and shy.  One day he heard this strange sound and it excited him very much.  He decided to change his life and worked very hard and gradually he turned into the silver swan and everybody loved him.  The other ducklings were not very happy and decided not to speak to him and he was all alone.  Anyway he would not give up and he persevered and years later he woke up in the big apple.
Like all good fairy tales there are several morals to this tale.

-Written by Samantha L. Thomas


Pertinent Link:

Punk in Africa Official


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