Every now and then, a band comes along and stops us cold in our tracks. It’s always a singular moment, defined either by a recent live performance, where we were enchanted from their vantage point on stage or after their record starts spinning. Either way, there are moments when we fall in love with artists, and it’s exactly this type of admiration that’s inspired us to start 190 Proof Artist of the Month. This showcases musical acts that have truly done something special and are picked by several members of the PureGrainAudio staff. You can’t go wrong with anything by a band that has made it onto this esteemed list. For those musicians and artists out there that are looking to get some hard-earned recognition, we are always on the lookout for anything that melts our face off or tears out our hearts.
Band: Ruff Majik
Month: March, 2018
Genres: Sludge ‘n Roll, Doom Metal, Stoner Rock
Location: Pretoria, South Africa
The video for “Wax Wizard” is as good a start as any for getting to know these guys.
The Skinny: Ruff Majik is possibly the best live act you’ve never seen. But that’s not their fault; it’s all down to geography. Hailing from Pretoria, South Africa, this trio maintain a rigorous touring and recording schedule despite the difficulties presented by their location. It would be easy to get bogged down in politics and economics, but suffice to say that this proto-funk-meets-sludge outfit are not letting this get in their way. They’re about to embark on their first European tour (help them out via their GoFundMe), though, so fresh audiences across Germany and Austria can prepare themselves for something truly “majikal”.
Like most artists inhabiting the more left-field, grey areas of the sludge/stoner doom genre, Ruff Majik are kinda hard to pin down: with influences as diverse as Zeppelin and Sabbath, Queens of the Stone Age and The Dead Weather, through to the heavier end of the spectrum, like Down and Electric Wizard, Ruff Majik are anything but textbook. What they are in spades, though, is infectious, grooving fun: the first time I experienced the “ruffness” was in a dodgy dive bar, literally a stone’s throw from the right side of the nearby railway tracks, and I’ll never forget bassist Jimmy Glass standing on a table smashing out mind-bending low-end wizardry right in the middle of the most eclectic audience I’ve been a part of in years. They were playing second fiddle that night, supporting Mad God on their album release, but they would have played all night if Benni Manchino hadn’t nearly collapsed from exhaustion behind the kit. That level of dedication and heart struck a chord with me, and I’ve been a devotee since.
Fast forward to last Friday, to the same dodgy dive, a pall of smoke hanging over a tight-pressed crowd with rain leaking through the worst-constructed roof for miles, and nothing has changed. Ruff Majik are still tight, focused and playing their hearts and souls out, slipping a couple of fresh numbers in alongside a set of originals, exciting music to fans wearing merch that ranges from The Doors to Mayhem to Star Wars – a group as varied and dynamic as the band’s output.
With a new album on the horizon, Ruff Majik have also just released their newest single, “Come All Ye Druids”, a fresh cut that might, in their words, “set sail in newer, sludgier directions”, but is still unmistakeably 100% pure Ruff Majik. Johni Holiday’s signature wail – a hybrid blend of Robert Plant, Ozzy Osbourne and Jack White – writhes around a serpentine composition that they describe as “made to be filthy, heavy, oily sludge ‘n roll”. Tasty stuff, indeed – give it a listen while digging into these five questions I put to the band, as answered by guitarist/vocalist Johni Holiday.
The album Come All Ye Druids drops on April 20th, 2018.
Five Quick Questions with Ruff Majik:
Doom and sludge metal seems to have been largely forgotten in the South African context until fairly recently. What was the initial spark that lit the creative fire that has become Ruff Majik?
Johni Holiday: Well it’s hard to say really. We were never aiming for a specific target market when we started out, we never meant to be what we are now hahaha, it just sort of happened. We just transitioned from what would have been a messy, bluesy garage band into heavier riffs, more sludge and Southern melodies, more doom breaks and everything in between. You can actually hear the transition happen if you start listening where we started and then listen right through to where we are now. I think the spark was just a filthy tone we heard, when our amp started to malfunction initially. It just made everything sound so damn gnarly, and yeah, we never looked back from there.
Each release in the ‘Seasons’ anthology deals with a very specific narrative, reminiscent of some of the great concept albums of the 70s, just on a smaller scale. Coupled with the live recordings and energetic, intimate live shows, Ruff Majik really manage to step out of time and channel days gone by. Is this an intentional result, or a wildly lucky side-effect?
Holiday: Intentional, for sure. We want a listener to feel transported, to somewhere outside of time. Whether you’re listening at home, come to see us at a show, or just meet us in a bar hahaha – we just want you to feel like you’re experiencing something. Something majik.
The ideology of Ruff Majik seems to veer between fantastic voyages to other realms and blasting the hell out of unsuspecting listeners with heavy doom jams. How accurate is this summation? Or is this a manifest decision by the band to make Ruff Majik something that transcends the ideological message and just focuses on the creation of groove?
Holiday: I’d say that is pretty accurate. As stated earlier, we like taking people on trips. It may start out whimsical and end up evil as fuck, and honestly, the groove we create, even though it might seem to steer away from the initial direction of the voyage, is in fact essential to it.
Fairly obvious sort of question, but where is Ruff Majik more comfortable, more in its element: writing new music or performing live?
Holiday: What’s the difference? We played 2 songs last Friday that we’ve never even played before, just had a jam, and we loved it. We record everything live, we hang out when we’re jamming together, it all just feels the same. Ruff Majik is most happy when we’re holding our instruments and having a jam with our best friends. Doesn’t matter if it’s for people or not, we’re always creating.
The last thing I need to discuss is your artwork. It’s rare to encounter imagery that suits the music quite so well as you guys manage: how much of this is a drawn-out client/artist feedback process and how much is intuitive creative synergy at work?
Holiday: Probably the most important part of the puzzle. Our artist is Anni Buchner (recently Anni Holiday). I think that tells you almost all you need to know. But basically, we have always told Anni what the theme is, what the name of the album is, and given her the music to listen to. The rest is all her man, she just runs free with it – and I think that’s perfect.
This is then new single “Come All Ye Druids” and ya need to check it out!