Where there’s Scarlotte Will, There’s a Way!

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The Future SA Rock ‘n Roll is Rich with Experiments

With rock bands such as Desmond and the Tutus, The Parlotones and Prime Circle having made a name for themselves locally and internationally, one can believe that there is no stopping South African rock music. One of the best qualities about rock music is its constant evolution and innovation which can only happen through experimenting. A rock band that displays that quality is a four-piece rock/alternative band named Scarlotte Will; a recent guest on The Gusto Project.

During their performance on The Gusto Project, one of the guitar players named Brendon fretted with a glass, while strumming with the other hand. That created a large echo sound that could take the listener to another dimension. The way the glass was moved across the strings also created a slide effect, otherwise known as the “glissando”. This is a sound and method that has existed for many years, since the invention of the electric guitar. This raised intrigue because I have never seen this particular method of guitar playing. Given the many creative and innovative ways of producing sound through rock musical instruments throughout history, one wonders whether or not rock music is evolving full circle. That is yet to be seen.

In early 20th century rock ‘n roll, there were many ways in which the guitar was played to produce a variety of sound, and that played into the performance as well. In the Blues, for example, the guitar would not only be held horizontally while the player stands upright, but would be put flat on the table or lap, enabling it to be played as a rhythmical as well as sound instrument. According to a scene in Jimi Hendrix’s biopic All is by my Side, the character Hendrix strummed his guitar with his teeth during a performance. This shows why the guitar is such an integral part of rock ‘n roll. It reflects the genre in question by being free, ever changing and unpredictable, particularly in performance.

The slide guitar was also invented, on which wood, bones, glass slides or knives were used to fret on the strings. Depending on which slide texture used on the guitar, a particular sound effect would be created. According to Rick Payne, the smooth and round textured slides create a damp and amplified sound, while the slides with pointed edges help with control and reduce dampness when desired. These cylindrical slides were also small enough to fit the guitar player’s finger. There have also been recent developments of the slide called the hybrid slide. A good example thereof is the Carbon Fiber slide.

Rick Payne adds that the slide effect is heavily influenced by the Hawaiian style of guitar playing. The guitar slide became more widely used across the US, after a young Hawaiian guitarist named Joseph Kekeku was recorded using the technique. It was an “eerie and memorable” sound, which also became the core sound of the blues. Payne also states that this technique “was discovered” in West Africa on a one-stringed instrument shaped like a bow, which travelled to the US with enslaved peoples. This instrument was renamed the “Jitterbug” in Black American contemporary culture, and the use of the slide technique on this instrument gave birth to the blues.

The technique used by Scarlotte Will’s Brendon was inspired by an already age-old phenomenon of guitar playing; only in this case, he used a bigger glass. By using this technique, the band not only contributes to the experimental nature of rock or alternative music, but it respects the history of the genre as well. There is a popular saying: “We need to know where we come from in order to know where we are going” and that definitely applies to music. If South African rock stars can continue with that understanding of their practiced genre, the future of SA rock music is worth looking forward to.

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