Rock hard porn
Something old, some-thing new, something borrowed, something blue. Words typically reserved for those about to enter the institution of matrimony are an apt and fitting explanation of 31-year-old Arno Cartens’s latest musical distraction, New Porn, writes Jason Curtis.
August 15, 2003
What began as an experiment to beat boredom is today one of rock’s success stories. It’s a phenomenon not seen in this country since the days of Rabbit. With celebrity status comes opportunity and with that the ability to expand and explore new territory. New Porn has become that creative outlet for the Springbok Nude Girls lead singer and the album, Another Universe, his solo songbook.
“After the Nude Girls it made sense to go with a name that hinted, if only slightly, where I came from,” Carstens explains. “I originally wanted to go with the name ‘Nude Porn’. But then I thought I’d drop trying to be trendy or fashionable and went with New Porn instead, if only because at the end of it there’s nothing new about porn or music, only the way in which we tell the story. New wars, new technologies and the HIV/Aids pandemic also insist our message, through our music, must change and that’s what this album hopefully captures.”
On closer inspection the New Porn marriage of talent is musically miscellaneous. There’s blues guitarist Albert Frost (Frosted Orange, Valiant Swart, Koos Kombuis) and violinist Brendan Jury (Urban Creep, Transky, Ohm) coupled with Carstens’s wry, yet dynamic vocal delivery.
“The three of us complement one another well,” Carstens beams. “We enjoy similar music, but the strongest link is our love of that fat Cypress Hill [motioning at an air-guitar movement] ‘chu-chunk, chu-chunk’ guitar sound.”
Carstens continues: “I don’t want the music I write today to date either. I think every artist hopes that their art doesn’t age. I would love to be 70 and still be doing what I love.”
The New Porn sound has taken longer to achieve than Carstens would have liked. “In all the years I’ve been with the Nude Girls I’ve wanted to record music like this,” he admits. “When I write songs I do it using my acoustic guitar and my voice. When I used to bring songs to the Nude Girls they immediately adopted our near-trademark aggressive edge, which is something New Porn has steered away from ... completely. I was sick and tired of doing it that way. My voice suffered, my throat suffered, my whole body took strain. With New Porn I use my voice acoustically, as an accompanying and complementing instrument, rather than a wall of sound to wind you.”
But even with an established career, success sales and tours across the country under his belt, Carstens did not get the cash to record Another Universe from the music industry. Rather it took the foresight and commitment of two businessmen.
“New Porn was nothing until other people paid for it,” Carstens seethes. “The managing director of Levis Strauss [Mark Joubert] and Alistair King from the advertising agency King James were the ones who came to the party. They came to see me play at Jo’burg, a small venue on Long Street, Cape Town, and they loved what they heard. Right then and there they asked how much money it would take to record an album and bang! It was done.”
The major record companies in South Africa are in freefall because of their lack of vision and aptitude and ownership of a market compromised by its own past success. New Porn are just one example of the many who settle for start-up independent labels.
As the lead vocalist and songwriter for the Nude Girls Carstens has circled the globe in the name of music: “We’ve just done a Springbok Nude Girls tour of the United Kingdom and it was brilliant. Huge amount of fun! François, Theo and I don’t give a flying fuck anymore. The pressure’s off — we’re doing it for the love of it now, not to crack the ever-elusive big time.”
In a world where skater punk and toddler rock is the flavour of the month, it is refreshing to stumble across the likes of New Porn with their acoustic rock foundation and occasional string section. “The music the young kids are releasing now is great,” Carstens declares, “but by the time they get to the place I am now, hopefully, they will realise that bubblegum loses its flavour. The challenge for me has always been to have my music remain vital, beyond fads and fashion.
“Every true artist is unique,” he maintains. “I have no idea if this is going to be my biggest success or my most embarrassing failure, but I believe in my music enough to endure.”
Carstens concludes: “It’s a relief to finally deliver a mature alternative.
“Another Universe is quite simply great music intended for those hungry for change.”
The challenge for me has been to have my music remain vital, beyond fads and fashions, says Arno Carstens.