It's A Sweet Life

At home with Bob Perfect, the dude shining a light on Durban

By Samora Chapman

It’s dusk on a warm winter evening in Tropic City. I park my car under the watchful eye of The Terminator and head along Umbilo Road, hoping like hell that my car doesn’t get nicked. This edge of Umbilo is a weird space – part industrial, part low-income housing, squeezed between seedy bars, factories and sordid hotels. Not your average neighbourhood for an ambitious young entrepreneur at the forefront of the creative scene, but this is where you'll find the enigmatic Bob Perfect.  

Bob’s a chameleon. A music journalist first and foremost – founder of Durban Is Yours (the definitive local youth culture blog) and contributor to the likes of Noisey, Hypetrack and Platform – he’s also a stand-up comedian, DJ, photographer, party liaison, pro-wrestling fan, magic nerd and cricket coach, To name just a few of his more recent incarnations.

After a few phone calls, Bob emerges from Havelock Court looking like a ghetto prince in his gaudy gold ski jacket.

“I moved into this flat with my mom when I was one,” he says as we take a stroll. “A few years ago she moved to Johannesburg and I just kept living here.” I do the math: that’s 27 years in the same house in the same ‘hood.

Havelock Court is dirty brown and sickly yellow. The graf on the boundary wall is done with a paint brush, acrid black smoke drifts from the park adjacent (“probably the nyaope addicts burning tires again”) and kids play soccer in the alley. It’s a rough neighbourhood, but it’s also alive.

Bob’s bright and candid as I line him up for a portrait. It’s strange for us to be doing this little dance, having worked in the same sphere for nearly a decade. Two big egos in a small playpen.

It’s agreed that we need some lubricants to break the icE, so it’s off to the bottle store down the road. Paige, Bob’s queen, joins us and we head into the evening ducking and diving the regular beggars and hustlers. “It’s a sweet life” is scribbled on the wall. We buy three quarts and head home.

Back at Havelock Court, we dodge washing lines and tow trucks en route to the top floor where Bob lives.

“Here’s where the magic happens,” he jokes as we enter. “Excuse the mess.”

Bob’s den is a one-bedroom flat, thickly layered with pieces of existence. It’s warm and dark – comic books and cameras fill corners; shrines to pop culture and cults abound. A Darth Vader figurine towers over a diminutive Justin Bieber. Photographic prints and posters cover the walls. The space is like an inside out brain. I like it.

“This place has gone through a number of iterations,” says Bob, as I snuggle into a couch infused with memories of rock ‘n roll lifestyle. “Paige and I have been living together for a year. Unfortunately for her. ‘Cos I’m used to being a messy person.”

Like any self-respecting comic, Bob’s a king of self-deprecation. He rolls a cigarette, I gulp my quart and Paige sits in the corner smoking, wearing a subtle smile like the Cheshire Cat. As we settle in, the conversation starts to flow…

“I’m more comfortable in a messy environment. Like I feel uncomfortable in barren spaces. If there’s too much space – like minimalist rooms – they look amazing, but it feels uncomfortable! It doesn’t feel like people live there.”

I agree, and Bob’s den definitely feels lived-in – it’s a space where ideas have been spawned and bloomed. A space that’s seen a few things. You can tell.

“We have spoken about moving. But I don’t really wanna leave Durban anytime soon ‘cos I’ve placed a lot of roots here and built a lot of things so I wanna see it through. Shit is eventually starting to work out… it took about two years longer than I hoped, but it’s all coming to fruition. To leave now would be to throw away a lot, and then watch from afar as people build on and benefit from everything we’ve been doing for the last couple of years.”

Outside the window, a siren wails. There's a familiar soundscape here, where you can literally hear the buzz and cackle of street life outside. The conversation takes a more serious turn…

“I originally wanted to be a politician,” says Bob, “’cos of where I grew up – you see how shit things are and how unfair things are. Up the road there are million rand houses but in my block there are families of 10 living in one flat. Their streets are clean, ours aren’t.”

“How has growing up here shaped your world view?” I venture.

“It’s totally shaped my world view. I’ve grown up as a lower-class white in a black community. I’m the only white person in my block of flats. In the other block next door there’s white, Indian, black people – so it’s a genuine rainbow nation. We all know each other’s names. Over the years there’s been a lot of drugs and gang violence and prostitution and all that shit. I’m an only child and my mom had to work two jobs. There were genuinely tough times. But I still have white privilege – I live in this flat with Paige while next door, whole families live in one space. Although I’ve had things harder than my contemporaries, I’ve also had it easier than the people around me. It generally means I’ll side with the downtrodden people over the middle-class because I don’t know about growing up in a house, where both parents are there and you’re provided for.”

It’s easy to see how Bob’s background led him to starting a ‘blog’. I ask about the genesis of Durban Is Yours, the site that has provided a platform for many local artists, photographers and musicians in recent years. DIY won the SA Blog Award for best music blog in 2011, and launched a number of talented artists and creatives who have since moved on to other cities.

“DIY was the first really Durban-centric online publication. The idea started with Russell [Grant] and I about six years ago. There weren’t any sources that were purely Durban at the time, a place to go and really see what’s happening. We wanted to fulfill that role. The whole point was to grow the local scene.

It was well-timed. A lot of guys had just finished studying or were doing cool shoots but they hadn’t been given a place in major publications yet. We were lucky to have a lot of talented writers and photographers at the start. People who had the right mentality – like Grant Payne, Skullboy, DJ Fuego Heat and Kevin Goss-Ross.”

I take a closer look at the original DIY artwork hanging on the wall – a genius ode to the legendary Durban takeout joint, Johnny’s Rotis.

“Stathi [Kougianos]came up with it,” explains Bob. “He was crucial to the formation and early years of DIY. We got the actual artist, Slim, who does the Johnny’s Rotis sign writing, to design our logo and buttons. He’s a fourth generation sign writer, knows like 60 fonts off hand.”

DIY enabled Bob to find his voice and become a spokesperson and commentator on the scene, which was a starting point for him to delve into a number of other roles. I ask him about his various manifestations and how they came about.

“In some cases it’s about filling roles and in others it’s about self-expression,” he reveals. “Standup comedy is a purely personal artistic endeavor. I do it for myself ‘cos running the site is not always creative. I worked in a photo shop from age 16 to 22, so photography is a passion of mine, but it’s not something I’m skilled at. I’m always writing about events and I’m at a lot of events anyway, so I got a camera and learnt how to use it. Same as DJing, I don’t wanna pay someone to play the first or last slot of the night ­– so I’ll just play. I love music and I may as well show it off – show people what they should be listening to. I get sent tons of stuff for the website.

I still don’t really know what I wanna do with my life, which is kinda fun. A lot of the time people ask if you can do something and you just gotta say yeah I can…. And then figure it out along the way.”

It’s this attitude and dedication that’s made Bob one of the ‘go-to’ guys for Durban related events and content. But the whole scene seams to be experiencing positive growth, so it’s an exciting time for the sometimes-sleepy seaside town.

“It’s weird, the last annual exodus to Cape Town actually opened up space for new bands and new people to be a part of the scene,” comments Bob. “Guys like ELi & ImMortal, Yusuf Pyrus, Mouse, The Myths... There’s a lot more cross-over of the scenes. Black people and white people are starting to finally hang out. If you go to town, 8 Morrison Street or The Winston you see rock kids, hip-hop kids, white, black, gay, straight, hanging out and becoming a lot more cosmopolitan. Rivertown is starting to look like Braam – there’s a lot of hip city kids, alongside businessmen – it’s an interesting space. We just had Zakifo, which was an incredible music festival; the city is becoming more utilised and developed.”

I ask Bob about his events biz, Heat City Nights.

"It’s just something I kinda saw myself doing after watching Van Wilder: Party Liaison,” he jokes. “We started with small gigs and gradually grew and took on bigger jobs. We brought Sage Francis down last year and a couple of British DJs. I booked the main stage at OutLand Festival and I’ve just worked on the Zakifo after parties and Red Bull info sessions.

"More and more people are shining a light here because people like you and me have put in years of work representing Durban. Texx and the City is putting out Durban stuff as well as We-Are-Awesome and Superbalist. Just look at the 5fm Top 10 this week: half of them are Durban acts. Sketchy Bongo, Aewon Wolf, Kyle Deutsch, Veranda Panda. Guys like Nasty C are blowing up and look at the Durban guys who have left – Okmalum, Moonchild, Riky.

"The Durban peeps produce some good work. I think it’s cos Durban is so conservative and it’s so hard to make it work here that people give it their all – that hardship and struggle gives us the edge. There’s also space to move and create, and fulfill roles that haven’t been fulfilled yet."

Bob pauses and I take a walk around his place to get some pics of his various belongings like an investigator of a crime scene. His ID book reveals a true identity, his laptop screen is busted so it’s connected to a PC monitor from a bygone era. A Facebook status flickers – something antagonistic. Bob is well-known for speaking out boldly on everything and anything.

“I was a weird, nerdy kid,” he says introspectively. “I liked graffiti but also liked practicing magic and playing cricket so I never really fitted in. When I was younger I lived online. I was bullied so much at school and my immediate social surroundings were shit, and so social media helped me to learn how to interact. You’ve got an audience listening to what you’ve got to say so it can be used in lots of ways – to convey how you’re feeling, spread news, share photos… it’s all encompassing. At times I use it to stroke my ego and at times to critically engage with subjects, at times to troll people, show people work or shine a light on cool things. It is what you make of it. When the mall of Christianity burns down you gotta say something…”

With that said we call it quits on a conversation that could last all night. Bob’s got a gig at The Pub to kick off and I’ve got to make sense of everything…

Above all Bob has sweated and bled for the Durban creative scene – putting on gigs, performing and publishing for almost a decade. He's an important figure in the current band of misfits working to make Poison City a place that burns bright and not a place that’s always left behind. And it’s working out for him, slowly but surely.

I’m tired of the Durban-centric mind frame that we Poison City kids often get stuck in. But there’s a reason for it… a reason to look around and shine the light on your peers, to build foundations where you’re from and to stick to your guns. And the reason is progress. Growth. The reward of seeing something that you helped pioneer, bloom.