You’re already familiar with December Streets. Especially if phrases like “Won’t you put your feet back on today, love” or “Stay by me – everybody else can leave” sound familiar, or the homegrown, ska and reggae influenced, trumpet-featuring, infectious earworm Indie pop rings a bell. I spoke to the lead singer of the band, Tristan Coetzee, ahead of their return to Mieliepop Festival this year.
“I think that is definitely something that was a natural thing back when we started,” says Tristan of the foot-stomping, singalong kind of gigs they are well known for, where a rapport with the audience is a crucial part of the show. “That kind of music lent itself to the audience getting involved and everyone jamming and having a good time and partying. It is a very important thing for any musician at a live show to get crowd interaction, because that is the foundation of a good performance – not actually how good you sound.”
“The best performances that you watch are the ones where the whole crowd is jumping and singing and going mental. And that’s the best shows you have [as a band] as well. And it’s not necessarily about being perfect or having the perfect sound, it’s more about how you engage with the audience. It’s definitely an important thing to us, and it’s something that we’re working on doing more now.”
“But most music festivals you play you know the crowd is gonna be amazing, cause everyone is there with that mentality and that mindset that they’re gonna have the best time ever, and they’re there to watch music.”
The band has come a long way since they started out. “We started just out of high school. Then we were in varsity, and it was all about the parties, the girls, and the good times.” Originally, December Streets was defined by their indie pop sound, with big ska and reggae influences.
Then it was just about being free, exploring and having a good time, and now it’s more considered.
As the music grew, and the band grew as songwriters, the songs started to change. “Life happens in between, and that’s a big influence on the kind of music that you write.
“Our music style and preferences changed, to a stage where we’re now a lot more thought-through with music and the lyrics we write. It’s a lot more developed.”
But as a band that’s well known for upbeat, poppy, “happy” music, the reputation can be limiting. “I got to a point where it wasn’t fulfilling enough to write about some girls and some parties and some good times. I actually wanted to say something. And it’s a conscious change in the way that you write music. People perceive the band as one thing, and you’ve got to try and bring new messages in. We always keep that upbeat, pop, singalong, groovy element to it. There is definitely a deeper element to the writing of music now.”
As if the natural progression that happens in a band after 8 years isn’t enough, December Streets also stepped out of their comfort zone to participate in Coke Studio – a television programme focused on a musical collaboration between bands or artists of different and diverse genres. December Streets teamed up with DJ Qness and Mozaik to produce and perform the track Can You Feel It.
“I had a cool opportunity to work as a songwriter and producer on the show apart from performing as an artist on there. It was awesome. It was top, state-of-the-art studio recording equipment and environments, and you’re surrounded by these massive producers and the biggest artists in Africa. It was a really cool experience – getting pushed out of your comfort zone a little bit. It’s not necessarily the direction the band usually writes in, but we really enjoyed it a lot. It was really eye-opening, and it’s a really cool song.”
“When creatives are put together in a room, it either goes really well, or really terribly. And luckily it went really well for us; it just flowed. And it was a huge learning curve and a really cool experience for all of us.”
“I think collaborations are definitely an awesome thing to do. I always like collaborating, in any creative field.”
So due to many things that happened in the last three years, the December Streets you’ll see at Mieliepop festival might not exactly be the December Streets you remember from 2013’s event – partly due to them trimming down in size, with some members choosing to focus on their studies.
“We’re now a three-piece band, and we’re heading to Mieliepop with a completely new set.”
They’ll play some new music, but also some older songs treated in a different way. “Which is exciting for us. It’s a new challenge, and it’s a new chapter for us to open and walk into. We’re going balls to the wall with the new sound. You can expect energy, a lot of fun as usual, but also a lot of new music.”
December Streets will appear at Mieliepop Festival 2016 – 18-20 March at Tolderia Farm, in Lothair, Mpumalanga. Get your tickets from www.mieliepopfestival.co.za.