With his long unshorn hair and calm demeanour, Josh O’Bree, originally from Port Elizabeth, entered the Cape Town live music scene like a zen saviour. His brand, Foulplay, is playing a major role in the revival of the iconic local live music scene that institutions such as Mercury Live and The Assembly once championed. We sat down with him to talk about his upbringing, Foulplay journey and challenges, his passions, and his future plans.

Where it all began

Foulplay officially started on 23 June 2022 when Josh arranged for Josh Mol, Die Bergies and The Karriers to perform at District. Thursday band nights at District have now become a mainstay on the Cape Town music scene over the past three months.

Jade Barnatt

[The poster designed by Jade Barnatt for the first official Foulplay band night. PHOTO: Jade Barnatt]

“The first gig I did was very impromptu! I had this one dude that opened for Champion Trees, [Josh Mol], who played [in SurfaRosa]. So, I managed to book him. Then, I think, I was at Surfa one night and Emile [Gerber] from Die Bergies was there and he was also keen to do a show.  And then he put forward another band, which was The Karriers,” explains Josh.

Six years ago, when Josh was still working as a bartender at Village Idiot, he met Guy Wood of The Firm, which owns and operates, among other places, Village Idiot, District, SurfaRosa (Surfa), and Harringtons. As a result of their relationship, Josh felt confident approaching Guy earlier this year to ask him about the possibility of booking a band to play at Surfa; that band turned out to be Champion Trees. “It was a really good gig — with like 150 people,” he says.

In the wake of the success of the event at Surfa, Josh and Guy started talking about the market gap caused by the rapid closure of Mercury Live and The Assembly (now District), two venues integral to the local music scene. Due to its original layout and purpose, District is one of the few venues that can accommodate crowds of 300 to 400 people.

At this point, bands were only performing at District every few months. Josh explained to Guy that the off-season is the best time for a live music venue to make a comeback since that’s when up-and-coming artists are attempting to make a name for themselves so that when the [live music] season rolls around again, everyone will recognise them.

“It started as an idea, on one hand, to make District a proper live venue again, like The Assembly. However, we also wanted to make it a space for new bands to come and play in that sort of space — with really good sound, a really cool environment, and that is run well,” says Josh.

Josh had a vision that District would help bands prepare for bigger venues, especially those in Johannesburg, by giving them experience performing in such settings. “Now they can play in places like EVOL, Armchair and District, which I personally feel offer three different viewing experiences — from an audience member’s side and also the band’s perspective,” he says.

Elle E

[Local band, Elle E, opening for Shadowclub at District on 18 August 2022. PHOTO: Mia Jane Truter]

After much discussion, Guy finally decided to let Josh give the idea a shot on Thursday nights, and the rest is history. Josh had asked Emile if he knew of anyone who could help with poster design, and Emile recommended Jade Barnatt. “That’s how I linked up with her and we’ve now done this whole thing from beginning to end. She’s been one of my main consistent people with who I bounce ideas off and she’s really cool to work with,” says Josh.

When asked about his most-cherished Foulplay memory, Josh thinks back to the second time Champion Trees played at District. He claims he didn’t see the band play at their first show because he was too busy in the back helping to mix the sound and marvelling at how smoothly everything was going. A few months later, after their debut album dropped, he booked them again. With about 115 people in attendance, the venue was quite full.

“When they were playing their songs — to see them realise that about 50% of the audience knew their songs and was singing along to the point where they could actually stop singing and have the audience sing back to them — to see a band have that moment at something that I created was something that summarised every reason why I wanted to do it,” says Josh.

Over the course of the next few months, Josh through Foulplay booked performances by a wide range of well-known and up-and-coming artists, including Shadowclub, Elle E, Year of Dogs, Girls on Film, Cistamatic, Filthy Hippies, and Face Jackson

Shadowclub

[Shadowclub lead singer, Jacques Moolman, tuning his guitar before their Foulplay set. PHOTO: Pierre-Louis Bredenkamp]

From Coldplay to Tool

While both of Josh’s parents had an influence on his musical tastes, his mother mostly introduced him to a lot of music from the 1980s. However, the three bands that influenced his taste that he attributes to her are The Cranberries, The Cardigans, and Coldplay — though he swiftly defends himself by mentioning “only their original shit”.

“Their first album, [Parachutes], with ‘Don’t Panic’, in my mind is one of the most engaging albums for me to listen to just on a purely emotional level. I’ve always fantasised about what it would be like to walk into a bar and just to see this band playing this music,” he says.

According to Josh, the closest thing he has come to experiencing what he imagines it would be like to see Coldplay perform their Parachutes album live was when he recently saw Jonathan Stephen Simons perform at District with his full band.

It was his father, on the other hand, who first got him into bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Springbok Nude Girls. “He and I are extremely similar — my biological father. I never grew up with him, so I would see him every few months or so. Whenever I saw him, music would always be one of the things we’d share with each other,” says Josh.

For Josh, who has battled depression since childhood, escapism through media such as books, video games, movies, and, most significantly, music, has been a crucial coping mechanism. 

“I feel like all four of those things represent very similar stuff. It activates your mind in a way that very few other things can. And music has always been the number one out of all of those things. It’s probably the most simple in terms of the way in which you ingest it,” he says.

Because of their distinct styles, Josh currently ranks Tool, Pink Floyd, and the Smashing Pumpkins as his favourite three bands, noting that “no other bands can replicate their sound.” Because they rose to fame at the same time as grunge, he finds Smashing Pumpkins especially intriguing. “But they were completely not that! Their sound is so eclectic and so different. I used to go to sleep, just putting the entire discography on shuffle. So, there are moments where you fall asleep and all of a sudden, obviously, you get jerked awake, because it is some loud shit,” he says.

What’s next?

Josh’s October Foulplay lineup will include some impressive headliners. Indie-rock group, Desmond and the Tutus, will perform at District on October 8 with support from Moskitos and Champion Trees. The legendary South African ensemble Springbok Nude Girls will perform at the end of the month, accompanied by Black Lung and Face Jackson.

To Josh, these October shows will hopefully set the standard for Foulplay’s future success. However, when it comes to live music, Cape Town has its on and off seasons, so Josh plans to scale back and showcase more local Cape Town talent during the off-season months, before bringing in bigger names for the busy summer months.

“I’m hoping to get [Foulplay] to the point where there is consistent turnout […] But that will come in time. Hopefully, in a few years’ time, this will be a space where it’s not just random people walking through the door, but rather people who are invested in the scene,” explains Josh.

Filthy Hippies live music

[Filthy Hippies guitarist, Mark van Zyl, on stage at District for a Foulplay band night. PHOTO: Mia Jane Truter]

He has worked to make District’s weekly Foulplay events welcoming to people from all walks of life. “If you just want to have a good night out — pull through. If you want to see if you might see something really cool or interesting — also pull through,” he says.

According to the lead singer and guitarist of Champion Trees, Francis Christie, there are only a few great people in Cape Town who have the “defibrillators out” and are working passionately to get things going again when it comes to live music. “Josh is one of them. He organises stuff out of a love for music. Without these shows, bands don’t happen and that usually isn’t a good thing. Go to Districts on Thursdays people!” says Francis.

Josh wants to encourage more people to take a chance on an unknown band’s music rather than merely going to live shows to “post shit on Instagram”. “We need more people to be open to going into things more blindly, not just following the four big bands out there,” he says.

To sum it up, every Thursday night at 61 Harrington Street, if you show up with eighty bucks in hand, you will get to watch three live bands. In Josh’s words, “It could be three amazing bands. It could be three not-so-amazing bands. That’s just the roll of the dice. And for people like us who engage with the music, that’s something that just comes with the territory.”

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.