The departure of a band member is a massive blow to the morale of any band. All bands have different ways of coping with the departure – even if the departure was on good terms. Some will take some time off to regroup and plan for the future. Others decide to press on without the respective band member and usually replace that member. Few bands decide that the way forward is to change their style of music to accommodate the fact that there is now one less band member. It is this particular path that Gangs of Ballet has chosen since the departure of their bass player, Hardus De Beer.
The departure of De Beer barely even put a dent in the momentum that Gangs of Ballet had been rapidly accumulating since the release of their debut album yes/no/grey. It is a momentum that has propelled them into the national spotlight. They introduced themselves as a humble alt-pop group with a penchant for soaring piano melodies, subtle synthetic influences and delicate acoustic elements. This is a façade that Gangs of Ballet has decided to abandon with the release of Form & Function Part 1. Form & Function sees Gangs of Ballet completely reinventing themselves as they choose to pursue that is much more rooted in alternative rock than in the alt-pop that was found on yes/no/grey.
The evolution comes as a bit of shock, because South African bands are not known for musical evolution and innovation. They tend to be rather complacent and stick to their old ways simply because they know their old ways work. You get a few bands like aKING, Shortstraw and Al Bairre that see the value in branching out and trying new styles of music, but for the most part – the local music scene is a stubborn creature that is stuck in its ways. Form & Function abandons the pretence that Gangs of Ballet is an alt-pop group as it opens with the haunting “Ageless” – a song that draws heavily on influences from Arctic Monkeys and sees Gangs of Ballet bristling with dark indie rock energy.
Form & Function may open as an EP bristling with gritty electric guitars, razor-sharp synth lines and rhythmic drum patterns, but that is not the case. There are moments when Gangs of Ballet branch into synth-pop stardom. This is the case with “Blurry” which sees them delivering a song that is almost begging to be remixed to include massive progressive house drops. It stands in stark juxtaposition to “Ageless”, but serves as means of creating the spectrum that Form & Function covers. It is a spectrum that showcases a band continuing to prove why they are one of the biggest names in the South African music scene. Gangs of Ballet has two more EP releases on their way as part of the Form & Function series, and if they are anything like Part One then we better brace ourselves.