Need to get something off your chest?

Good news. Somewhere in the Cape Town night, TOUGHGUY is turning a dimly-lit stage into a smoke-filled confessional. Neck-deep in churning fuzz, Sihle Mhkize is shouting his sweat-soaked demons out into the void.  He’s pushing his way through writhing bodies and emerging beside you, mic outstretched. It’s time to join in.

TOUGHGUY
[A scene from TOUGHGUY’s single launch at Evol on 1 April. PHOTO: James Browning]

The four-man tornado, TOUGHGUY, has been shaking Cape Town since 2021, after lockdown forced its members to make good on some previously idle promises. Sihle Mkhize (vocals, bass), Christopher Bolton (guitar), Ryan Oliver (drums) and Desmond Kannemeyer (guitar, vocals) had always been fans of each other’s bands, but had never followed through on plans for a shared project.

“It was always, like, a thing that had to happen to us,” Sihle explains, “And then lockdown kind of forced us to make it happen.” They were ultimately pulled into collaboration by an appreciation for the fuzz sound – vocals surfing atop waves of guitar, with a frantic energy and a dirty edge.

“We were all coming to Surfa [Rosa], and getting drunk, and fangirling over Meatbodies and Fuzz. I don’t think we sound like any of those bands, to be honest, but it was a good musical foundation,” Sihle explains.

Rejuvenation through fuzz

TOUGHGUY are one of many stand-out fish in the murky sea of Cape Town’s fuzz/psych rock community. They often share lineups and audiences with names like Moskitos, Filthy Hippies, Sueños, Sold Ash, and Yndian Mynah.

TOUGHGUY
[Desmond Kannemeyer performing at District in October last year. PHOTO: James Browning]

In fact, after hearing those names you might be taking a second look at the TOUGHGUY crew, certain that you’ve seen these faces before. And that’s no surprise – the four mates have been a part of this scene for years, under projects both past and present like Holograph, BEDBUGMAN, Runaway Nuns, Morena Leraba, and Retro Dizzy.

The scene’s usual haunts are District, Evol, and The Armchair Theatre, often under the banner of Foul Play or Fuzz Nights (organised by TOUGHGUY’s own Desmond Kannemeyer). The loose family of bands have been brought together partly by a similar sound, but more so by a similar live attitude.

Across the board, their performances bring rivers of guitar deep enough to lose yourself in and tight beats that’ll keep your head banging all night. Their audiences come to move their bodies, break some sweat and dive into impassioned (yet polite) mosh pits.

TOUGHGUY embodies that ethos, and never fails to deliver a transformative experience to those that make the pilgrimage to their shows. They prefer their stages low and their crowds close, not least because Sihle sets off into the gathered mass at least once a night.

The frontman heads into the fray, lyrical mantras still roaring from the amps, to feel the human frenzy himself. But this is a communal ritual, and it’s never long before Sihle finds someone to share the mic with for a minute. Crush your ego under the hammering strings and strobes, then shout your heart out.

TOUGHGUY
[“If it stops feeling good then you know you’re getting too old for this,” Sihle Mkhize says . PHOTO: James Browning]

 “We want people to leave feeling rejuvenated”, Desmond tells us.

It works because TOUGHGUY has skin in the game – they’re chasing the same thing they want to give the audience. “I feel like that was super fun, and that it felt fucking good. And I’m a lot less angry than I was when I stepped on stage. Cathartic,” Sihle says breathlessly after finishing a set.

Consistency is under-rated

We catch Josh O’Bree, organiser of Foul Play Presents, recovering in the backstage air conditioning after TOUGHGUY’s set, and ask him what keeps him coming back. “It’s always going to be fucking good. I think people underrate the fact that [TOUGHGUY] play relatively often, and every single time it does what it needs to do,” Josh says.

Despite all their collective years making music, TOUGHGUY says the spark is still there. An important part of that is being surrounded by people you enjoy, who you can put up with on the road and in rehearsal. “I think we’re very lucky to say that we’re all best friends, basically,” Sihle says.

Ryan tells us that they don’t have a principal songwriter. Whoever has a good riff brings it into rehearsal, and they workshop it from there. “Ryan’s written, I think, probably the most songs,” Sihle says. “Ryan’s the best guitarist in the band,” Desmond adds.

“And he’s the drummer. So that tells you something about our process,” Sihle says with a smile.

TOUGHGUY
[Evol’s eye-level stage was made for intimate chaos. PHOTO: James Browning]

In terms of unexplored territory, the band wants to get around to writing a ballad, incorporate some synth, and figure out a kind of dance hit. “Like, rock and roll dance – Snapped Ankles kind of feel,” Sihle says. “But I still need to buy a synth,” Chris explains.

Unapologetically optimistic

TOUGHGUY released their third single on the first of April, following ‘Holy Martyr’ and ‘Sugar’ in 2022. ‘Tell Me What You Want’ is a mainstay of their act – its roiling guitar and vehement vocals will be familiar to anyone who’s seen them live.

Lyrically, Sihle tells us that ‘Tell Me What You Want’ rallies against letting your heart go cold. “[It’s about] allowing for a little chance or whisper of hope even though life has repeatedly shown you that being optimistic will fuck you up. But you are unapologetically optimistic regardless of that. That’s one of the meanings,” he explains.

Their next release is pencilled for somewhere around mid-May, with the plan of putting out a track every six weeks. “But I’m not gonna promise anything,” Desmond says with a laugh. They have a bunch of songs still to come out, recorded in their converted recording studio out in Pringle Bay, but the band is already eyeing out a full album with a whole new set of tracks.

There’s no guarantee of when that might materialise, so we recommend experiencing TOUGHGUY’s music the way it was meant to – live. TOUGHGUY will no doubt be hosting evening sermons throughout the Mother City for plenty of nights to come, but there’s no time to waste. We could all use a little catharsis.

Author

​​I write about the tech sector in hopes we can find human-centred alternatives to the mess we’ve made for ourselves. I get involved in the music scene because leaving passion unpursued is a sin. When my feet aren’t busy on the sokkie floor, you can find me chasing silver linings.

Write A Comment