The last time éVoid had done a full South African tour, PW Botha was president. The brothers Erik and Lucien Windrich were 20-somethings with a thing for beads and face paint. And their politically charged, African-flavoured ethnotronic songs were considered subversive enough to warrant police attention – and popular enough for jumping fans to cave in the floor of Stellenbosch Town Hall.
That was 30 years ago – an eternity in the music scene. So the siblings were understandably a little worried about doing it all over again to celebrate their self-titled debut album’s anniversary. No need: all 10 of their August homecoming shows were sell-out successes.
“It kind of blew us away because we hadn’t expected that sort of a response,” explains Erik, who found his transformation back into a rockstar to be equally surprising.
“It was weird, surreal, very strange,” laughs the man who’s now creative and performance manager at Kingsbury High School in London. “It’s a completely different mindset in a way but we slotted in kind of naturally – there was nothing forced. What actually felt best of all was we didn’t have to apologise for anything we were doing, we were there on our own terms.
“They were there to hear the music and see us perform, and in the old days we may have felt the pressure to do a cover version or something else. But this was about an audience appreciating what we do and what our legacy meant to them. So that felt really affirmative.”
So did the stories fans (or “fadgets”) shared after shows – including an apologetic former cop who, three decades ago, had been tasked with keeping an eye on the band and routinely flattening the tyres of their car.
The brothers’ own story is equally typical of apartheid’s dark days. Following their permanent relocation to the UK in 1985 to avoid Erik’s conscription, they recorded a second album (‘Here Comes The Rot’) but failed to find a solid international footing at a time when South African expats, regardless of their political leanings, were regarded with suspicion. Real life – families, studying, jobs – took over.
“In a sense, [the band] was of its time and we feel we made the most of it. If luck had been different and timing had been different, it may have been a different outcome. But that’s life,” he says without a hint of regret – perhaps because, unlike fame, their love of music has never waned.
Erik, a film school graduate who also soundtracks features and TV documentaries, and Lucien, who keeps up his guitar chops in a blues band, just can’t stop writing songs, like those that appeared on 2008’s socially conscious, forward-looking ‘Graffiti Lounge’ album.
“Writing music is something we’ve always loved to do, making money out of it was something we needed to do, if you like,” he says, looking back on the ’80s. “So essentially it’s not something that drives us now, but it’s very difficult to make a living out of it. And, certainly, since relocating it’s been much more difficult, where you have to restart and rebuild a following. So, it’s been difficult to tie those things together, but essentially it’s about music and that’s what we enjoy.
“It was proved when we were back in South Africa performing again – that natural association and natural feel for it, people appreciated it, we could see that.”
But Erik is reluctant to throw around the word “comeback”.
“People told us: ‘You were formative, you have the same relevance, the same appeal’, and in South Africa we felt that if we were on the festival tour, playing larger stadiums, it could work, people would respond on that level, and that’s a compliment.
“Whether we could rebuild – I wouldn’t say never, but I guess it’s down to energy,” he chuckles.
New music is even a possibility – if there’s a demand.
“It’s a hard sell, selling music these days,” Erik admits. “I did put together a commemorative compilation CD for the tour which sold well, so there’s definitely the interest.But I think that was because we were there, performing. It’s a lot harder when you’re not there and you’re trying to sell a CD, and you can’t convince radio to play it because people just want to hear the old stuff.”
That old stuff will be reaching a whole new audience in July 2015 when éVoid take the stage at a festival in Portsmouth – a prospect that clearly excites Erik.
“It might be a ‘ou toppie’ twilight,” he laughs.
- This article originally appeared in The South African.