History of Dark Ages Promotions
Dark Ages was formed in South Africa by J.G. Mocke and me (Lunatic) at the end of 1996 and these are my hazy memories of what happened. I think we played our part in the Metal history of South Africa and I hope our story will be of interest to some.
V.O.D left for Europe in 1995 and recorded there and in 1996 I imported their CD ‘Bloedrivier’ and MCD ‘Needledive’ from Germany for my collection. I found it a bit annoying that I had to ‘import’ CDs from a South African band! Not too long after that I ran into Mark from Groinchurn in one of the nightclubs I used to go to and he told me they were featured on a four way split CD with international bands called ‘Four Ways to Misery’. This further irritated me as I had to spend months tracking down a copy which I finally managed to import from Canada. I was also in the habit of writing to record labels at the time asking for catalogues and ordering whatever I could afford. I got one letter & catalogue back from Unisound records and I think they misunderstood my request as I got a wholesale catalogue. I was really impressed by how cheap the wholesale CDs were direct from the label.
I ended up discussing this with my friend (and band mate) J.G. Mocke after a few beers and we felt that we should do something about this. We had both just graduated with diplomas in Marketing and were finishing off diplomas in Advertising. We were both unemployed due to the policy of Affirmative Action and thought we could do some good by importing CDs and selling them at really cheap prices to get them out to the average Metal fans stuck in little towns all over SA. We also thought the experience would help our career prospects if not providing us with employment. We decided on a name ‘Dark Ages Distribution’ and we contacted various labels asking for wholesale prices. Our first order was to Morbid Records in Germany to get copies of the two V.O.D. CDs and their home video, those sold out immediately and we used the money to place another order which also sold. Mocke (as he preferred to be called) built up a relationship with Dolphin Records in France and I arranged for us to be the official distributor in SA for Voices of Death Records from Sweden. We were selling all the stock we could import and our catalogue was growing. There was even a SA compilation out at the time called ’13… A Compilation’, which gave us valuable stock to trade with overseas. At this stage we found ourselves swamped by requests for catalogues and since no-one knew the bands, they wanted descriptions or reviews of the CDs so they could choose what to purchase. We got sick of writing these out so we decided to put together a small newsletter reviewing the CDs we had and maybe spicing it up with a bit of news or interviews. The idea grew a bit and it was Mocke who suggested the idea of doing a ‘zine. I came up with the name ‘The Crusader’ and we started putting it together.
We reviewed some CDs we had for sale, a few recent albums we had in our collections and added some news. We started some sections that we wanted to become permanent, a section on SA bands of the past, a Christian Metal page (for Mocke) and a ‘Evil’ Metal page for me. We printed 250 copies at a local copy store and started sending them out on for free on 10 April 1997 to anybody who wrote to us and a few international contacts. The response to the first issue was encouraging in SA and we decided to do another issue.
Our writing style soon developed in our distinctive way due to a combination of our lack of creative writing skill, a desire to 'remain in character' and our annoyance with the professional writers. Lets face it, the nineties were a black hole for good music and basically all you wanted to know was, "Is this Metal?" and "Does it Suck?". To hell with all those flowery descriptions and exploring the artistic relevance of the album. I hated spending money on a new album only to find that they've started incorporating industrial or other techno elements. Why wasn't I informed about that after all the reviews I read?
The second issue came out on 10 September 1997 and soon afterwards we got a bad review of the first issue in Metal Maniacs. I think this galvanised the South African fans who started writing to us in their droves.
It was at this point that I heard Hammerfall for the first time and I was really happy that there were others who felt the same way as we did and I was extremely happy when I got an interview with them for the third issue. We then decided to pull out all the stops for the third issue. We put TONS of work into it tried to make it the best we could and invested all the money we could scrape together. We printed a 1000 copies of it and launched it on 17 April 1998. We had a big launch party/gig for it and even did a radio interview to promote it. I was extremely happy with the result and with everyone’s reaction to our largest and first A4 issue. I was happy that our diehard fans were willing to pay the R10/$3 for it when the earlier issues had been free, but still, we failed to even come close to paying the printing, distribution and promotional costs. We had hoped this issue would prove to be successful enough to allow us to charge properly for advertising and thereby start making a profit to allow for it’s continuation. This wasn’t to be the case. At this stage we also had another big opportunity in that we co-released a 3” M-CD of Groinchurn together with Happy Hamster records. It gave Dark Ages a big boost in being able to trade a popular product like that with international labels in order to get stock for the distro. The sales of these CDs helped assuage our debts.
Before the production of the fourth issue properly started, Mocke decided to back down from it. I can’t remember the exact details but I think he was getting further with his band and was hoping to distance himself a bit from the scene that he was totally immersed in. I think we both burned out…
I decided to publish a final, fourth issue myself as we had already done so much work towards it and I had made so many commitments. I was then planning on doing it as an e-zine and finally publishing online. The fourth issue was the most ambitious and I was totally burned out and broke by the time it came out. I was working two menial jobs to afford it and all my money went towards Dark Ages & The Crusader. The fourth issue came out on 25 June 1999 and I ‘disposed’ of my stock very quickly. Most of the copies went overseas to all the labels and bands that had sent me CDs for review and all our faithful supporters in SA bought a copy, including a lot of international supporters although I definitely did not make my money back.
I did a small fifth issue as an e-zine and a lot of work towards a sixth issue but this got lost. I moved to the UK on 22 March 2000 and soon afterwards I put all text versions online. As we passed the 15th anniversary of the first issue I finally got out all the original master prints we used for the copiers and scanned them so I could put them up for download as PDFs.
I think we played an important role in Metal in SA in the 90s but we were ultimately unsuccessful. After all these years I’m still selling off the last of the leftover stock of Groinchurn CDs (via e-bay)…
In summary I would like to add that I think that Dark Ages was born from a philanthropic yet naïve view of Metal in SA and The Crusader took on a life of it’s own. The Crusader demonstrates the new found freedoms of post-apartheid South Africa, where you could say or print exactly what you wanted due to the utter lack of law and order but it also demonstrates our frustrations. We were the first generation to experience ‘Affirmative Action’ at its worst and we were noticeably angry with the situation. The market in South Africa was too small to support a niche publication like ours and the market in the rest of Africa was virtually non-existent. Things were a lot different before the internet took off.