From the release of their 2005 debut, Juturna, Circa Survive has made a career of turning all of the things that make them difficult to categorize into their greatest strengths. The word “progressive” is often used to describe their sound, and while this term doesn’t really do justice to the band’s distinct identity, it does conjure the scope and ambition of those iconic bands from decades ago, the ones that managed to capture the attention of mainstream audiences without sacrificing their esoteric tendencies.
On their latest record, The Amulet, they continue this legacy, but filtered through the unique lens of their punk and alternative roots. Their mix of intricate guitars, muscular bass, and interlocking drums creates a dynamic foundation for vocalist Anthony Green’s unparalleled voice; however, the magic of Circa Survive isn’t just technical skill, it’s an ability to blend that technicality with undeniable sense of melody and hooks. It’s this focus on uncompromising yet satisfying songwriting that compels listeners, no matter their genre-of-choice.
(Photo Credit: Hayley Rippy)
Three years before the end of the Apartheid that bled South Africa and its people for 100 years plus, I and a lot of the people I love were born to a country ablaze, trying desperately to put out the fires and build anew. The South Africa of our youth was a land of infinite possibility in my eyes—our generation, the first experiment in racial harmony, the proud guinea pigs of a country so recently divided, now trying to find some sort of national identity after years of separatism, hatred, bloodshed, and silent tears flooding the sewers.
We grew up like some strange great African hope peering out of the rubble… Our parents’ children, but Mandela’s and South Africa’s first.
I don’t know when it was, but sometime in our teens that great light started to dim and a wave of desperate apathy started to suffocate a lot of the beautiful kids around me. We began to realize that not only were we older than the democracy of our fatherland, but we were all stuck in a weird place in time, burdened by the weight of the past and trying to find some sense of identity in a rapidly westernized new Johannesburg. The older and more conscious we started to grow, the more lost and jaded we all became, roaming the high-walled, wire-fenced suburbs, trying to find some thrill in boozy basement parties, DIY club shows, drunk body “car fuckings,” and whatever drug high would have us.
The same youthful faces that once adorned the covers of “proudly South African” multicultural advertisements were beginning to pile up at the private hospitals, head clinics, and cemeteries of our city. Now in the murk of our adolescence, I watched myself and my friends go down a hopeless road to a dead end or fatal fall.
Desperate to feel connected to something, I spent days locked up in my room finding shelter and community online, digging for new records and bootlegs of gory slasher pics. In the heart of it, a homie put me onto Circa Survive’s Juturna over gold leaf liquor and back alley scooter races. Circa immediately became a crucial part of my life and health as well as one of a few teenage obsessions I now credit with getting me writing and saving my life.
Slowly over the years, I began to write a journal of our newfound African youth culture dysfunction that would become the blueprint for my first feature film, Necktie Youth, a critical and melancholic portrait of a group of friends in Johannesburg trying to make sense of a young girl’s suicide that was based on a personal experience I had at 14. During the festival tour of the stark black and white film, I reached a point of no return and was finally forced to address my demons, and began a valiant fight for my life and my own happiness for the first time. After almost a decade of emptiness, I began to refill my reservoir with the things that once gave me true meaning: family, friends, art, and music.
Most importantly, opening my heart, I found a love that truly saved me from the flames and helped me rebuild. And as much as it was a soundtrack to myself destruction, Circa’s music became the soundtrack to my rebirth.
I reached out to Circa Survive and quickly started rapping and relating with Anthony Green as we began to realize that, although worlds apart, we suffered and survived the same firing squads. When the band asked if I wanted to work on a video for their new record The Amulet while I was back home in Africa visiting family, I felt that fate had gifted me the rare opportunity to close of a painful history and pay tribute to the simple victories of “now” with the people I love.
Supported by my incredible partner Jenna Hiscock and my best friend and cinematographer Chuanne Blofield, we impulsively hired an RV over the weekend of my 27th birthday and spent a week together, lost in the mountains, cooking on cliff sides, and filming this soft, intimate video. Don’t wanna say too much about the video outside of what it means to me, so I’ll end with this:
I’ve come to learn that, although completely fucked up and filled with waves of seemingly unsurvivable pain, life is love and all we really can do is keep trying, keep seeking and giving of ourselves with complete abandon no matter how little we feel we have left. I feel super grateful to be alive today and to share this little part of myself with you and Circa Survive, and I hope somewhere in this essay/ramble/confessional is an applicable truth or a flash of something real. Other than that…
Here’s me and mine wishing you many fires and rebirths.
—Sibs Shongwe-La Mer (The Miley Cyrus of nowhere)
(Photo Credit: Hayley Rippy)