Thriving in hard mode

There are some bands that you’ve loved for so long, they become more than just a soundtrack to your life. They’re woven into the fabric of all its moments, big and small.

I was in Matric when two iconic SA bands, the Eight Legged Groove Machine and the Electric Petals, collided and gave birth to the beauty that is WONDERboom. It was 1996, and South Africa was in many ways still going through her own labour pains in the early years of a fragile new democracy. And as much as many young South Africans may have tapped into the ‘Seattle Sound’ and all the other incredible music sweeping the world in the 90s, we were hungry for music that represented us and all the things we were feeling in the wake of so many changes. Gone were the days of having ‘local is lekker’ shoved down our throats while ‘artists’ like Patricia Lewis and Steve Hofmeyr flicked their blonde hair and their questionable lyrics at us in school auditoriums. We wanted something authentic. Something real. And so a wave of incredible bands emerged in SA in the mid- and late nineties that delivered what we needed, and then some, and WONDERboom was right up there with the best of them.

Of course, being a Durban girl, I may have listened to WONDERboom from the start, but I didn’t get to watch them until they opened for Live in 2000. It was like being punched in the face in the best possible way. If we could harness the energy from their live performances, we’d end loadshedding in an instant. I was hooked. And I stayed hooked.

But of course, I still lived in Durban, which meant even during the heady days of the late 90s and early 2000s, when the live music scene was really thriving, opportunities to see some of the bigger SA bands were scarce. Still, some of my favourite memories of WONDERboom include road tripping to watch them at festivals like Woodstock, and near-transcendent moments of seeing them singing Africa under a huge sky littered with stars, with the band members all wearing giant white angel wings.

And then came the forum years. Long before the social media laden lives we live today. It started out with the band having a sort of chat function on their website, allowing you to (ostensibly) send messages to them. I just used to send hundreds of messages asking them to come to Durban and to please play Bang. I can’t imagine why they ignored me. But as they were getting ready to release All the Hits in 2005, the forum somehow exploded. And suddenly there were Forum Girls™. Which was a lot more innocuous than it sounds. We travelled the country to watch the band, and for a long time, I lived on a diet of toast, low cost airline tickets, and bad financial decisions. Washed down with a lot of tequila. Underpinning it all was the incredible music that WONDERboom just kept delivering.

And they’re still delivering. Their latest album, Hard Mode, was released on 22 March, and I honestly think it’s their best yet. It’s a step up from all their previous albums, both in terms of musical and lyrical content, and in terms of production (courtesy of the legendary Matthew Fink). In the last couple of years, as they’ve been developing the songs for this offering, I’ve watched them evolve their sound into something that is still intrinsically WONDERboom, but is also a little bit darker, a little bit more indie, a little bit more polished, while still being raw and real and authentic. I don’t like to say more mature, because obviously we were all tiny babies when this adventure started 28 years ago, and are still incredibly young, but yes, that too. It’s one of those albums that you fall in love with instantly, but that you also know is going to keep growing on you the more you listen. Early frontrunners for favourite song include Alive, Deadly, and Prodigal Son, but you really can’t miss with any of the 11 tracks included.

It’s not easy being a musician in South Africa at the best of times. Having the staying power to still be creating beautiful, fresh music and delivering insane live performances after 28 years is even harder. Hard mode, for sure, but still thriving. Somewhere along the way, fandom turned to friendship, and so I may be biased. But I really believe we could erase the nearly 20 years of that friendship (let’s not), and I’d still be in love with this album. It’s so good. And while we had to wait nearly seven years for Hard Mode to materialise after their last album, it was unequivocally worth the wait.


  1. What a delightful potted history of such a WONDERful band! Thank you for sharing this.💜

  2. Bel

    April 3, 2024 at 2:16 pm

    So glad you enjoyed it!

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