Francois Van Coke on beer, being a rock star and raining cigarettes

Two beers down and Wayde Flowerday and I sit down with Francois Van Coke to chat about beer. It’s a blistering Friday night at Rumours Lounge, and the air in the band room is thick with the stench of sweat and smoke.

They’ve just played a set launching their second craft beer, Antibiotika, and Van Coke says making the beer was an idea born out of fun.

“Dawid Fourie, the owner of RAMfest, bought a brewery sometime last year and he asked us if we want to make a beer and we thought it was a phenomenal idea because people like beer and all of our fans buy beer and so yeah, we made beer.”

However, the only thing Fokof was responsible for was designing the labels and coming up with the names, which are taken from songs. “They already had a blond ale and an IPA and a Weiss and we would just brand it.

“We want to make a lager that will go into draughts and that will be the commercial beer. So far it’s been craft beer.”

Van Coke says the response has been amazing and people are keen for it. “We would love to get it properly distributed and we’ve been talking to people in the industry. We’ve been learning a lot and we can make more beer and get dagdronk.”

One song a year
Fokof hasn’t released anything new, and Van Coke has just released his solo album, but he says they want to finish one song. “We played a new song at Oppikoppi in 2013 and that’s the one we want to try finish.”

He laughs and says the band wasn’t happy with the result. “Want to make it cooler. Ja, I think the lyrics are very cool and we need to work on the sound. I think we’ll get that done this year. One song per year. How’s that?”

You’d never think that this is the man who has brought together some of the most diverse crowds in South Africa. His presence on stage is huge, yet he’s slight and speaks like a typical small-town Afrikaans boy who is just having fun.

The problem, he says, is guitarist Johnny De Ridder because he is busy making music for adverts. “We don’t want to make an album without him because he’s the only one who doesn’t play in another band, you know. So he’s obviously an integral part of Fokof’s sound. We want everyone to be completely involved.”

Solo album
Van Coke’s self-titled album was just reviewed on So Much Music and Van Coke says in the process of writing an album, you think it’s the shit and the next day you think it’s shit. “You go through days where you think it’s amazing and days you think it’s terrible. But I think I’m really happy with the songs and it’s really cool stuff. I can’t wait to play it live.

“Me and [guitarist] Jedd [Kossew] played Moontlik Nooit … for the first time with other musicians and it already kicked ass. The collaborations are awesome and I’m excited to get the songs out.”

“If you’re in a band, not everyone feels the same way forever and we’ve come to a crossroads twice where we were gonna do things differently. And with going solo I can do what I want. Jedd is involved full time.”

“I never realised this until halfway through the album, but this is me looking to the future.”

Van Coke is seen as South Africa’s one true rock star and he says he doesn’t really think of it that way. “I don’t know … fuck … I don’t think about being a rock star.” He’s blushing. And despite his onstage “fuck this” attitude, this is the first and only time he swears in this interview.

“Obviously I play in a few rock bands and that makes me a guy that plays rock music. Fokof has got a cult following and that’s because it was right place, right time, right band members. Van Coke Kartel has its own vibe and with this solo thing, I just wanna do my own stuff.”

Speaking to many people about the band, Fokof created a one-band Afrikaans music revolution that people latched on to but Van Coke says he doesn’t know if it’s a revolution, “but it’s just something else in its own right”.

I tell him that it’s phenomenal that the music has reached so many people despite the language and he says he would have hoped it would reach people and the music would transcend the language. “I also listen to bands where I don’t know what they’re saying. Like Sigur Ros and Rammstein. And you get a feeling. It’s the way it makes you feel and I think people understand that despite language.”

“The Afrikaans revolution precedes us with the anti-apartheid movement and that was the only Afrikaans stuff we listened to growing up. It was a social thing, getting rid of the stigma and history of our culture. So we wanted to make music first and foremost for ourselves – the kind of stuff we wanted to listen to.

“It wasn’t a revolution. We were at the forefront and a lot of Afrikaans bands started at the time because of MK.”

Raining cigarettes
Kossew comes in and finds a box of cigarettes and starts throwing them at us.

“Because MK is gone, that popular thing of being in an Afrikaans band is over. I’m kinda glad we stuck around.”

“It’s raining cigarettes!” Kossew keeps on throwing them and Van Coke grabs one and lights up, calmly ignoring him.

Van Coke says there isn’t an Afrikaans rock scene and there’s not much happening in Afrikaans music.

He laughs and says: “I think it’s the only thing we can do is play music so we really pursue it and besides, we come from Belville.” – Nikita Ramkissoon and Wayde Thomas Flowerday


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Nikita Ramkissoon

Editor at So Much Music
Nikita is a Journalism and Education lecturer by day and music Jedi master by night. She can be seen in the photography pit or stage left with her Wookie husband. She can also be found trying to source corn dogs. If you see her, buy her a corn dog. She loves corn dogs.