Cistamatic, which began as a solo project by Gabbi le Roux, has since April evolved into a riot-punk trio, that has taken the Cape Town punk rock scene by storm. The band sum up their sound in five words, “Gutsy, angsty, punk, cheeky, and existential.”

As they have a gig coming up with the legendary local rock band Black Lung, as well as a single due out in December and their debut album in early 2023, we felt it was only fitting to sit down and learn more about what drives these unique individuals.

Early days

Gabbi had been working as a musician and producer on their own before they met Ethan Pelser (bassist) and James Turner (drummer), but they soon realised that playing live was limiting without a full band.

“I found the right people, I guess. […] I also started getting back into my punk rock roots, revisiting a lot of bands I loved as a teenager, like Nirvana and Black Sabbath,” says Gabbi. 

As soon as the three of them started jamming together, it was clear that they would make a fantastic trio. “I thought, ‘Fuck it, how often does this happen?’ so I asked them if they’d like to start performing with me as a band,” says Gabbi. The band’s debut performance was shortly after.

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[Members of Cistamatic (from left) James Turner, Gabbi le Roux and Ethan Pelser. PHOTO: Pierre-Louis Bredenkamp]

Before meeting James and Ethan, Gabbi recorded and produced a song called “Soft Side” with their friend and producer, Wade Fyfe. “We adapted the song for the band and performed it at the single launch together,” says Gabbi.

The released version of “Soft Side” is a far cry from the band’s current sound — both in terms of instrumentation and genre. Gabbi explains, “Cistamatic is a punk rock band now; ‘Soft Side’ was me doing my retro-nostalgia folk-pop thing.”

More than just music

The showmanship, commitment, enthusiasm, and even the unique screams of many artists, both locally and internationally, serve as motivation for Cistamatic. There’s Black Math, Julia Robert, Sold Ash, Black Midi, Amyl and the Sniffers, Royal Blood, Black Sabbath, Deerhoof, Nirvana, Hole, Talking Heads, Radiohead, Amy Winehouse, and Mitski, just to name a few.

A large part of Cistamatic’s live shows is devoted to extravagant and thought-provoking showmanship. According to Gabbi, they have always been a really performative individual, and playing with Ethan and James has helped them embrace their inner front person. “[It] allowed me to take certain characteristics and personalities to the extreme when I’m on stage. Also, it’s just fun!” they add.

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[Gabbi le Roux performing in the crowd at EVOL. PHOTO: Dan Meurer]

Ethan says, since joining Cistamatic, he has greater freedom to experiment with his performance style. “For most of my life, I didn’t notice how much of a difference it made to actually choreograph something or even improvise movement. After watching Mark Van Zyl perform with Filthy Hippies, it felt like I was watching performance art — not just appreciating musical ability,” he says. To him, Sold Ash is another excellent example. “It takes the show to another level [and] makes it individual. Even subtle things that only a few catches on can make it special,” he says.

Let’s get visual, visual

Cistamatic uses all of the tools at its disposal — lyrics, music, and even social media — to provoke its audience into deep introspection and strong emotions. “I think that’s what punk is about. Lyrically and musically, we like to make the audience’s experience as visceral and emotional as possible,” says Gabbi. “But we won’t actually piss on you,” adds Ethan jokingly.

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[Gabbi le Roux met Ethan Pelser and James Turner when she saw them perform live. She thought they had a rhythmic connection as a bassist and drummer. PHOTO: Pierre-Louis Bredenkamp]

The band has been working with local designer, Jani Harmse, and photographer, Josh Rijneke, to develop their visual identity, albeit they currently lack any music videos. “They’ve helped us express ourselves better in that way. We’d love to work with them on some videos at some point,” says Ethan.

While having only been together for a few months, Cistamatic has quickly established itself as one of Cape Town’s most prominent punk bands. However, if you ask Gabbi, they’re already content simply to be a part of the local punk scene. “It makes me really happy to see people coming to our shows and the alternative community growing after Covid-19,” they add. 

Cape Town, according to Cistamatic, has plenty to be punk about. “There are a lot of people frustrated with structural inequality and existential dread, and I think that building these communities around shared values and frustrations is really important for the general betterment of human societies,” explains Gabbi.

Got their work cut out for them

The band has been through a lot of hard times, but they have all been overcome. The act of being an artist, in Gabbi’s opinion, is already difficult enough in and of itself. “I have committed my life to making music because I could literally not imagine being happy doing anything else,” they say, adding that it comes with endless challenges.

“It’s not exactly economically profitable to be a musician, especially since the live music scene worldwide took a massive blow during Covid-19,” says Gabbi. Nonetheless, they are optimistic that things are starting to look up for the South African music scene after years of hard work by musicians, organisers, designers, and venue owners. “I’m proud to be part of this little Phoenix moment in Cape Town,” Gabbi says.

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[The crowd at EVOL during a Cistamatic performance. PHOTO: Dan Meurer]

The climate of inequality in South Africa’s alternative rock scene has also made it hard for Cistamatic and many others to get ahead. “Most of the bands and people working in the scene are straight white men, and it can sometimes not be a super welcoming environment for women and people of colour to enter, even if they are interested in it,” says Gabbi.

They have become quite brash because they have had to push beyond endless mansplaining, microaggressions, and assumptions about their skills in order to get accepted into the scene. “I still deal with sexist bullshit all the time. I had to make space for myself in this scene,” says Gabbi. 

Cistamatic would like to see the local music culture become less prejudiced toward outsiders. Many people who would enjoy being a part of the music scene feel excluded because they don’t see people like themselves in it. Therefore, they hope that people seeing them kicking and screaming will make it simpler for them to enter the space. “It’s kind of like a mosh pit. You really have to go at it with your elbows,” adds Gabbi.

No looking back

Over the next five years, Cistamatic has big plans for the band, but touring South Africa to “connect with more comrades and music dorks” is at the top of the list. “We’d love to play in Joburg and Durban next year and maybe do a tour. I can definitely see [us] going to Europe in the mix in a few years,” says Gabbi.

Cistamatic has a few artists and venues they have yet to collaborate with. “I’d love to open for Fokofpolisiekar — like that would be crazy. I also grew up in Bellville and used to watch them a lot as a teenager,” says Gabbi.

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[Cistamatic is inspired by Sold Ash due to their showmanship and commitment to detail. PHOTO: Pierre-Louis Bredenkamp]

They are a fairly heavy band and would enjoy performing at more hardcore and metal gigs. “[Also,] there are some rad artists in that scene we’d like to connect with, like Peasant and Halvar,” they add.

According to Ethan, they are also interested in collaborating with Boogy Central events, Fokof Bar, and Smoking Kills. “[Also,] if Endless Daze ever happens again, that’d be dreamy,” he says.

The next single should come out in December, and their debut album is scheduled for release in early 2023. In other words, “keep your eyes peeled and pearls clutched,” as the band puts it.

On 24 November, Cistamatic has a big performance at one of Foulplay’s band nights at District, supporting Black Lung with We Kill Cowboys. “It’s gonna be befok, my dude. We’ve been waiting for this one for a long time. [It is] probably the biggest show we’ll play yet,” says Gabbi.

The band will play a few more shows before the holidays, and next year will be full of exciting events, including the roll-out of their album.

Author

I can’t play any musical instruments or sing, so this is my contribution to the local music scene — which I love immensely. I can’t touch my toes, but that has held me back only slightly in life. My hobbies include reading, beer, bringing up Let’s Get Local when no one asked, writing, and surprising people with my pool skills. I believe somehow all of this will lead me to Dave Grohl.

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