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Disrupt, surprise, abhor – the role of art in our scroll-by world, according to Toast Coetzer

Disrupt, surprise, abhor – the role of art in our scroll-by world, according to Toast Coetzer
Journalist Toast Coetzer travelling in Namibia. (Photo: Alice Inggs)

Toast Coetzer sees himself primarily as a journalist and his travel writing is well known in South Africa, but his music, poetry and photographs speak deeply of his creative soul too.

InArt’s bi-monthly interviews explore culture by asking creatives about their life in the arts and which artists in other media stimulate them. This time it’s Toast Coetzer, journalist and poet, co-founder of The Buckfever Underground and co-editor of lovely literary journal Ons Klyntji.

When did you first identify as a creative artist?

I don’t really know. Maybe, in one way, the day back in 1996 when I first owned a computer, opened a Word document and, while listening to Radiohead’s OK Computer, thought maybe I should write a poem. I’ve always seen myself as a journalist because that is my profession, but somewhere during my student days of those late 1990s – when my friend Gil Hockman and I founded our band, The Buckfever Underground – I realised that one could easily operate a creative outlet on the side and recognised that this is really quite important for one’s overall sense of well-being.

Outside of your medium, what branch of art most stimulates you?

The only mediums I have a vague grip on are writing and photography, and even though I’ve been in a band for over 20 years I will never call myself a musician. So, definitely, music is the art form that most stimulates me, and I find that listening to the right stuff sometimes helps me write better and more fluently. I must also add that I have fluid ideas about what art is, and I find all manner of non-arty things artistic, most often the rugged, random beauty of landscapes and wildlife, plants and things like rocks with lichen on them, and so on.

Which artist/s in said discipline have significantly inspired you, and why?

My late-1990s student days coincided with the time when Oppikoppi was a music festival where experimentation was part of the fibre of the event. I will forever be indebted to the organisers for putting acts like Nine, Unofficial Language (Buddy Wells!), Matthew van der Want and Chris Letcher, Zim Ngqawana, Madala Kunene, Tananas, Fetish, Supernature, Benguela, Pops Mohamed and others on stage. Seeing Albert Frost and Louis Mhlanga play together was transcendental. I always say that Benguela is my favourite band in the world, and that hasn’t changed. The music of both Guy Buttery and Derek Gripper has also, in the past decade and a bit, become part of my life – I am currently listening to their album Live in Cape Town in my car. It changes everything!

Toast Coetzer

Covers of different editions of ‘Ons Klyntji’. (Photo: Alice Inggs)

What to you is art’s most important function?

I think we mostly see art as something that should be beautiful and admired, but that’s only part of it. It must also disrupt and surprise, and maybe at times even abhor. It should make us pause and think, which is becoming increasingly hard in our scroll-by world. It must remind us about something that we are when we are not online, not scrolling, not tapping debit cards. Ultimately, I think the experience of art is private and individual, and it probably best functions when it is part of your life but unnoticed – not directly looked at. I like the idea of stuff that happens in your blind spot.

Local creatives that excite you?

I love the platteland paintings of Willem Pretorius, am always re-earthed when I read a poem by Clinton V du Plessis, enjoy the metal artworks of Pilato Bulala, am inspired by readings of poets like Puno Selesho and Sindiswa Busuku, and like to struggle with the complexities of an artist like Jaco van Schalkwyk. Also, the other day I bought Sibusile Xaba’s CD Ngiwu Shwabada and it is totally blowing my mind.

Toast Coetzer

Journalist Toast Coetzer in Namibia. (Photo: Alice Inggs)

What specific work do you return to again and again, and why?

My favourite books are an odd bunch, ranging from Trout Fishing in America (Richard Brautigan) to Okker Bestel Twee Toebroodjies (John Miles) to Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Annie Dillard) to The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K Le Guin) to Our Dumb World: The Onion’s Atlas of the Planet Earth, but I don’t often reread books. Mostly it is music I return to, and some albums which come to mind now are Sputnik (Benguela), One Night on Earth (Derek Gripper), Fashion Nugget (Cake), The Sophtware Slump (Grandaddy), No Such Place (Jim White), Für Alina (Arvo Pärt), Dummy (Portishead), Time: The Revelator (Gillian Welch), Kwela (Mafikizolo) and Blue Lines (Massive Attack) – these are albums I’ve listened to many times in my life.

What are your thoughts on the AI revolution?

I haven’t dabbled with it yet, but as my friend Jon Savage told me, roughly paraphrased: Worrying about it won’t make it go away. It’s here to stay, so try to find a way it can benefit you.

Any project you’re unveiling/wrapping up?

This winter I’ll be working on the next edition of Ons Klyntji zine, which I co-edit with Erns Grundling, Joe Botha and others. It’s a collection of mostly Afrikaans and English poetry, short stories and black-and-white visuals ranging from comics to documentary photography. It will be out – if all goes well – by mid-September. DM

Mick Raubenheimer is an arts and culture journalist.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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