Photograph by Keziah Suskin

With the multitude of four-piece, all-white, early 20s, skinny jeans-wearing, all-male bands that are currently saturating the Indie market, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for start-up bands to wriggle their way into the public eye. Al Bairre, a Cape Town-based 6-piece outfit, breaks through these stereotypes and, with their catchy complexity, hope to rise above the masses of other Indie bands.

A glance at Al Bairre’s members certainly illustrates that this year-old band isn’t your typical straight edge Indie band – complete with slightly overweight drummer. They comprise of: Nick Preen (guitar, percussion, vocals), Kyle Davis (lead guitar), Tom Kotze (the elusive drummer and, coincidently, my bother) and identical twins Tessa (cello, keys, melodica, percussion, vocals) and Julia Johnson (ukelele, violin, keys, vocals). Member number six currently takes the form of a temporary bass player after Checked Zebra trombonist and bassist, Neil Malan, recently departed the band.

The diversity of gender, instruments, and classically versus self-trained musicians makes this band a fairly unique specimen. “I’d say we are a Symphonic, Indie rock band”, states Preen. “Ja, if we had to classify it into a genre” chimes in Davis. Al Bairre could probably be closest likened to a fuller sounding version of Vampire Weekend. They believe that their combination of complex musicianship mixed with straightforward Indie Rock, which is easy to enjoy and dance along to, is their trump card. “We combine catchy songs that you can jam along to with the complexity of cellos and currently studying music students,” said Davis. “If you don’t know anything about music you can jam to it and appreciate it; and, if you do know something about music then you can also appreciate it.” Preen continues, “We’re a big band with a lot of variety – not just the normal four-piece Indie band.” However, he believes that Al Bairre’s most important differentiating factors are definitely “that we got twins, and we’re just a really good-looking band.”

The way in which the band formed dispels the usual band formation clichés. When I asked them about how they all came together Preen laughs, turns to Davis, and says, “I think that you better handle this one”. After Davis explains about how him and Preen – old friends – have been “jamming since grade 9”, he eventually gets to the juicy bit. “We were in Plett Rage in 2010 and Nick hooked up with both the twins, in the same night.” “Yeeeaah! Yeah I did”, shouts an enthusiastic Preen. “Anyway, we put it down to mistaken identity”, continues Davis. “After that, there was a mix and match where I invited them to come and jam. Initially I didn’t know which one I had invited before, so there was a bit of confusion and we ended up getting them both.”

Photograph by Keziah Suskin

The band’s name came to fruition – as most do – when, on the way to an early gig, Tessa Johnson accidentally ran over a dog called ‘Al Bairre’. Leading Preen to add, “I suppose we’re actually a tribute band.” This dark-humoured misfortune of the band seems to occur often, infiltrating even their first gig. Davis recalls: “We were playing and there was only one multi-plug that the electric drums, all the guitars, and everything was plugged into, and the whole thing was kinda balancing. Then I stepped back onto the plug, while I was dancing, just as the bridge of the song came and everything, except my guitar (which was acoustic), came to a standstill.” After repeatedly trying to kick the plug back in while continuing to play the song – which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Mr. Bean skit – he eventually managed to get the instruments going again. Preen adds that he “spent the rest of the show holding the plug on the ground” trying to keep the electricity flowing through the band’s instruments.

Al Bairre is definitely a band to watch. And, with an impending EP recording session scheduled for early April, they are trying their best to get their music out and circulating the internet. Although they claimed at the end of the interview that “You don’t know us, no one knows us”, Al Bairre is a band that is trying hard to change that, one unique gig at a time.

Al Bairre, from left to right: Kyle Davis, Julia Johnson, Nick Preen, Tessa Johnson, Tom Kotze.

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