27 August 2008
22 August 2008
Desmond and The Tutus/New Loud Rockets
88 Lounge, Norwood, Johannesburg
First up - let's all salute the bouncer with the "High School Musical" t-shirt. It takes a man truly in touch with his masculinity to pull it off, and by god, did this guy pull it off.
It's been a long while since I've been to 88, and I seem to have forgotten just how chic and trendy it was. Not trendy, say, in the way new-rave was for six months last year, but trendy in terms of the people who come here. They are a trend. It's strange. It seems these strapping young men actually want people to know that they spend a lot of time working out. Their girlfriends are all the size of their biceps. Perhaps they enjoy symmetry. The small interior "lounge" area is sweaty and packed with people like sardines in a can. Did I mention the word "sweaty" yet? It'll be used often today.
Let me remind us all of the last time I was here. It was to attend the album launch of The Sick Leaves, and I got a free bottle of water. Does anyone know what happened to that rather cool band? If so let me know. Maybe they got lost in Germany.
Let it be known that Love on Rollerskates were the opening act. The opening act that I missed. End.
I do, through the masses and vintage wallpaper, manage to see Cape Town's New Loud Rockets as they burst into flames before us. Channeling early 00s New York nostalgia, and combining the swagger and charm of The Strokes and The Walkmen, NLR stuck to the dress sense of those heady days too. All of this made for a band I'd like to take home. Musically, I mean.
They crafted tight, hooky songs, filling the gaps between leads and words with a clever, sneakily funky riff or fill that made me smile. Although I doubt anyone would class them as originals or mavericks (and neither were most of the nu-indie scene NLR emulate), NLR were polished and accessible and smart enough to stand up and sound like the music we all like to hear. Also, the bassist was rocking the Richie Tenenbaum look, and the band sported very healthy facial hair (apart from the lead guitarist, who is probably in Business Management Sciences, or something).
Cries of "Rockets! Rockets! Rockets!" filled their final moments on the stage (the old, disused chant of "New Loud Rockets! New Loud Rockets! New Loud Rockets!" was retired due to audience-fatigue). I was sad to see them leave, and later would be even sadder on my way home as I forgot to buy their EP.
Retiring to the outdoor tented area... thing, I manage to breath in some natural (and comfortingly polluted) Joburg air. This is a mistake. Making my way back to a decent vantage point to see Desmond is impossible. People are standing on ottomans and dancing is now a contact sport. Having seen Desmond perform three times in about a month, I feel I've exhausted all my opinions of them. I did make a mental note of trying to warn children of the dangers of the "German Modern" dance. The loss of an eye is no laughing matter, folks.
Scanning, as I do ever so well from the back of a gig, I do see a young gentleman wearing a beret, and one wearing (with no sense of irony) a modern football t-shirt. I thought both people were rather strange and possibly stupid. Also, while scanning, a girl, after pinching me, asked me write about something. She told me this something rather emotionally and begged me to include her heart-wrentching story. I didn't have the guts to tell her that I couldn't here a word she was saying. I apologise, but feel free to comment and tell us of the injustice here.
Finally, in this place of sweat and biceps, played Richard III. While most seemed rather disinterested after the Desmond gig, those who stuck around got some Bloc Party remixes, that further emphasised the night of nostalgia that seemed to cloak us all. I didn't mind though, sometimes hearing songs you used to love with people who loved them once is a nice way to spend the evening.
26 August 2008
The Bohemian, Richmond, Johannesburg.
Kidofdoom (acoustic) and Cabins in the Forest.
The Bohemian in somewhat of a Joburg institution, apparently. I cannot attest to this. I can, however, tell you the following: it's dark and gloomy, smoky and vaguely reminiscent of pizza and egg cartons… It’s also a pub, which makes it a terrible venue for an intimate acoustic gig featuring two of South Africa’s most excellent acts. Yes, Steve Hoffmeyer included. The fact that about half of the patrons were here to simply get drunk and shout “Wat se jy?!” at their 'mates' on a Thursday did not make for a receptive audience.
While we listen to a 90’s alt-rock soundtrack (R.E.M, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Violent Femmes) Cabins deal with a slow sound-check rather well, (“Make the stomp-box less…bombastic. It sounds like the Footsteps of Godzilla!”). This sound-check was indicative of evils we’d later see revealed.
Lounging on the decomposing couches near the front of the stage are the various members of Kidofdoom. They looked relaxed, partly due to their uniform of jeans and t-shirts, but also because the last time I saw them was at Oppi - a massive, expansive ordeal that surely must have ripped a number of nerves to ribbons. Here, however, in this second-hand armchair of a pub, they seemed to exude a certain laid-back vibe that belies their intricate, complexly evolving sound. Four take to the small, red-curtained stage, with drummer Joe on keyboard duties for tonight. Strolling leisurely and not without a few laughs (and who said instrumental-post-rock-sci-prog had no sense of humour?) the first few songs fall into place well, despite the frankly terrible sound. Barend's bass sounds like a cat with its head stuck in a tin can. Not a good tone.
While making an attempt at providing subtle synth-whispers while keeping a straight face, Johan eventually departs the stage, much to the amusement of all involved. The disappointing thing was that, due to the fact that most of the audience wouldn't "shut the fuck up" as I kindly requested, and that the sound was fairly horrible - "all involved" was a small number.
Kidofdoom ended up as an acoustic duo, and eventually included a particularly awesome muted-trumpet solo. Lord, you have yet to invet a more mournful instrument!
While I would not class this rather informal performace as "monumental" (good), or "face-melting" (Oppi-good), it was fun to hear the songs I've gotten to know so well in a different guise: like seeing a photo of someone you had a crush on, only they're much younger -it's different and strange, but the things you love are still there.
Straight outta CT (and still hanging around since Oppi) was Cabins - who, sadly, have done away with their healthy beards. A moment's silence, please.
A moment's silence, however, is not what we get. Instead, the incessant whine of conversation robs Cabins of the hushed hiss that suits their performances so well. Worse still is the sound - the range of their chords and voices both driven at once overwhelms the speaker system - static mush is a third member tonight. The sound issues clearly bothers the band too, as they have to constantly (sometimes mid-song) ask for their levels to be adjusted. Despite the techinical difficulties, Cabins still show that they're really good at this stuff - and drown out the crowd and the faults with flamenco flourishes and staccato bursts. Toward the end of the set, their frustration is clearly visible - and sours the struggling mood. "Frenzy" is ended early due to the glitches, which sort of sums up the evening. Throwing in comparisons of Oppikoppi to Mordor and Splashy Fen to The Shire helps lighten the mood somewhat... Mordor can be fun too, apparently.
All in all, I blame the venue for two rather disappointing sets. Both bands showed glimpses of what they're about - and Cabins, despite the constant annoyances, were still ereally good (and they are especially suited to this kind of gig). It's just disappointing when talented performers are undermines by the venues which should be supporting them.
23 August 2008
This is Kid Of Doom and Cabins In The Forest live at Bohemian, the performance was truly awesome. The venue itself lacked an intimate feel that would have greatly improved the atmosphere created by the music. Simply put it was stuffy, noisy, and congested.
17 August 2008
2. Cabins in the Forest/Guy Buttery (as a 1-2 punch of folky genius)
3. Lucky Fonz III
Some honourable mentions: Yesterday's Pupil, Desmond and the Tutus, Fire Through the Window, Mix & Blend, DJ Nisker: One and Natalia, Twelv & Thesis.
15 August 2008
Moving on, for we have a busy day to attempt to remember: first up on the James Phillips Main Stage was Fire Through the Window, who hail from somewhere with a sea. I saw them perform at one of the very awesome "Shut Up, I'm Dancing" parties last year. I was not impressed then, but due to some aggressive prodding on the part of my friends, I went along. I was pleasantly surprised, which is always the best kind of surprise. Poppy and generally inoffensive, they bopped around sweetly while we waited for our headaches to dissipate - and managed to live down their introduction: "You may have heard this band in an ad for an iPod!".
The Kick, who followed on the seemingly cursed Most Amazing Myn Stage, did not, however, get the set they would have liked. A truly awful piece of planning meant that a band, who sound like Led Zepplin having sex with The Mars Volta in a black hole with absolutely no connection to sunshine, were playing to a sleepy crowd of drunks and a few fans. This was not mid-morning-having-brunch-with-your-girlfriend's-family music. It deserved a dark dive bar, with toilets that don't work and 5-for-the-price-of-1 whiskey special. Instead, with the birds tweeting and most people still asleep, they struggled to build any sense of atmosphere. This was disappointing: even though I'm not partial to music that The Kick makes, they are very good at making it. Technically, they tick all the right boxes and put on a powerful show. It's a pity, really - Oppikoppi is somewhere people should be able to hear new music, but it was not to be.
Enjoying more success was Isochronous (who are praised in this week's Mail & Guardian), who took to the James Phillips Stage at about midday. Led by Kidofdoom guitarist Richard Brokensha, they played a tight, strong set - full of hooky lines, catchy lyrics and Tele-heroism. Along with Kidofdoom - Isochronous are proving that prog is not dead, its just dusty.
On my way out, to get some food and some rest before Desmond and the Tutus, I catch a slight bit of Gordon's Suitcase with Strings and Skins. Don't ask me what I remember.
Right, so it's Desmond Time. Let's get a few things out of the way, before I am stoned to death (with added ironic dance moves). I like Desmond and the Tutus. I think they're fun, and have some catchy lyrics about girls and stuff (what else is there? "Imagine" was about booty too, you know). I cannot, however, condone the mass-hysteria that grabs hold of a crowd when these skinny white-boys take to the stage. Have you people seen what mass-hysteria can lead to? It's a gateway drug, I tell you! What next? Political rallies? Gang-warfare? Taxi Violence?! I just can't afford to get that excited. I'm sorry. They were, however, very good. They came on in dramatic fashion, two memebers being carried on. The boys from Pretoria (represent!) played hits, "Kiss you on the Cheek" and "She Hangs The Pictures" amongst others, to a healthy throng (wow, what an awesome word!) while still looking cool. Impressive. I, however, am still not moved to craziness. I just feel as if I've passed the stage in my musical evolution where having fun is the be-all and end-all to music. I know, this is somewhat counter intuitive, but let me explain. I listened to fun music, yes. I liked Vanilla Ice when I was young. I liked Roxette too. They were fun. I was not able to form coherent sentences. See a pattern? I'm tired of simply, having fun I need something more. I need to be challenged, I need to be offended, I need to not understand. Desmond & the Tutus? I get them, I understand their music in the same way I get The Strokes. But I cannot, no I cannot! be truly in love with what they do, because it's too easy. I've read Dostoevsky and can't go back to Harry Potter now, no matter how fun and addictive.
I know. I sound like some kind of snob, but I swear to you... Ok, fair enough, I am some kind of snob. Forgive me.
Fearing I could not stand the sexiness that is Koos Kombuis, I decide to follow the other "minorities" (here at Oppi, black people, Indian people, coloured people English people, indie people and random people) to the Sipho Gumede stage to catch the very cool, chilled and sexy 340ml. Fate, however, had different plans for me. Instead of walking to the stage to the sounds of 340ml, I am serenaded by Obita (not a completely terrible thing). This is because the entire Sipho Gumede bill is running 45 minutes late. This seriously fucks with my timetable, as Lucky Fonz III is playing straight after 340ml on the Gito Baloi stage, which is 5 minutes and one daunting uphill away.
I persist and decide to watch whatever I can of the Maputo Mob (Wham! Bam! Alliteration!) before running to catch Lucky. I'm glad I did stay, because despite being annoyed with the generally tardiness and the two guys behind me who kept asking for their photos to be taken, 340ml were awesome. They were helped by a really receptive crowd (the rest were all at Koos), who cheered, puffed, passed and reminded me that despite the horrors of Xenophobia, South Africans can still have a good time regardless of nationality. It was a Hallmark moment, with added herb. Having, sadly, only caught 20 minutes of the set, I was off and running.
I made it to the Gito Baloi Stage just in time to hear (but not see): "Hey, I'm Lucky Fonz tha fird" sighed in a thick Dutch accent. I took a seat near the rear and watched as this jangly fellow, with only a guitar and a nearby piano, started his set. I kind of expected something else from Mr. Fonz. I'd read reviews comparing him to Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan - but also to modern folky men, like Conor Oberst, M. Ward and Will Oldham. I, therefore, expected a show draped in quite, intense melancholia, littered with quiet "thank yous" and "thank you very much-es". But no, Fonz baited and toyed with his crowd - challenging them, taking questions, telling jokes, hiring smokers to act as human smoke machines, singing in Afrikaans. He was hilarious and silly and occasionally rude - in some ways, more Ryan Adams than Conor Oberst. His songs, however, were short vignettes of war and loss, they are letters from soldiers girls left behind. As people laughed at his asides and odd accent, once every now and again they'd fall silent. They'd hush around a strangled cry, or a plaintive note left struggling to stay alive. He'd cut through the bullshit, the laughs, the playfulness with such clarity that the voice he carried could not eek out any more emotion. And, as the crowd recovered, hearts in throats, he moved on. The songs, simple Americana tunes, chugging on to familiar melodies, were still sung in a Dutch accent - an endearing juxtaposition. I was glad I left the others behind.
Now, with Fonz still a warm memory, I had four hours to kill.
I did the hour-killing with as much efficiency (and FREE SPRITE!) as possible. Now it was time. I hoped, I prayed, I doomed.
Kidofdoom climbed onto an unrecognisable James Phillips Stage, lightsabers stood upright, the landing area was bathed in purple. On both flanks were giant screens - displaying dot-matrix graphics. Something special was about to go down...
Kidofdoom took to the stage. Soon we neared sensory overload - strobe lights beat our pupils into submission, the spacey synths washed clean the kinetic drumming and sharp guitar bursts, bass-lines circled the rest, throbbing in my feet and hands. The people around me stared at the screens - cityscape's and ocean waves, galaxies and rocket ships, they all seemed to fit what we were hearing. There was an epic, intense, otherworldly edge to what they did. Even though, at some stage, the visual system failed - the songs were there to put those same images in our heads. Raucous and thrilling, they played without abandon or restraint. Drummer Johan pounded out tricky beats and rhythms, odd time signatures and cymbal crashes with the mad energy of a banshee, while guitarist Ryk stood to the side, sanguinely carrying most melodic duties with a cigarette in hand and aloofness in spades. Isochronous' Richard and Ben of the Visuals rocked out on keyboards/guitar and keytar respectively - all is well in South African music. I have the proof right here.
Applause seemed sparse from where I was standing, most newcomers seemed dazed and slightly confused about what they were witnessing ("Do we clap at the end of songs? When are the songs over? Do they have laserbeams?!"), but the crowd stayed until the last note rang out, the band triumphant and defiant of most conventions at once. This is what I meant when I said I couldn't love Desmond & the Tutus: I gotKidofdoom. I really did.
Finally, the last act of Oppikoppi 2008 was upon us. Alas, things were not going well. Data Takashi had drawn the Most Amazing Myn Stage, hardly intimate and most probably cursed, and was set to play after the truly horrific noise made by Thys Nywerheid. Not a good combination. This rather painful fuck-up meant that the final set played was poorly attended with Data fans clamouring for warmth. His set, however, was designed to keep us poor, frozen souls moving and warm. Our extremities were awakened, our blood pumping and, closing in on 4a.m., the thought of sleep put on hold while we broke it down for the final time.
So, there we go. It was dusty, dirty, loud and beery, yes, but it was also an opportunity to make new friends and hear new music. It was a chance to be reminded that sometimes, no matter how shitty you think this country might be, we still know how to throw an awesome festival.
14 August 2008
Warming the crowd up first is Richard III, who mixes indie-pop favourites (The Strokes, Feist etc) with harder beats, which works pretty well most of the time - serving up dancable tracks people recognise and sing along to.
Next on the heavily green-lit stage is Tasha Baxter, whom I miss due to a reason I don't remember. An interesting side note, however, is that the funniest T-shirt at Oppi read "I Want To Pound Tasha Baxter In The Vag". Simpler, better, faster.
I get back for Mix & Blend - out of Cape Town I think. Mix & Blend are made up of three (?) DJs and were joined by one vocalist (and honestly, they could have done without him). Their "Blend", ahem, of hip-hop beats, horn samples and vocal loops were properly funktastic - in the way of intelligent mixmasters before them, they didn't need an overweight dude shouting "Yo yo, outta Cape Town y'all, all original!" at every other moment - they were instrumentally diverse and creative enough with their tempos and timing that they really stuck out - 3 DJs and a crowd of millions... They entertained, though, despite the single flaw.
DJ Nisker: one and Natalia followed M&B with a simiar set-up (though with two fewer DJs and a sexier singer) and were pretty impressive. The dreadlocked spinner kept things in good stead, with deep beats and some pretty interesting samples. The vocals this time were better suited to the tracks, and actually added to the music, instead of detracting as it had with Mix&Blend.
A quick stop at the rather lively Most Amazing Myn Stage to catch a bit of Fuzigish (conclusion? Eh, not for me.) before I'm on my was back to Sipho Gumede for Twelv & Thesis, a new-ish duo out of Jozi. They delivered an hour of deep, lung-shaking drum and bass, and scattered vocals, urging the healthy crowd to drop it, shake it, etc. Which they certainly did. It was aggressive and intense, and if we were exhausted afterwards, I couldn't imagine what they must have felt like.
Finally, Friday wound-down at the Gito Baloi stage, which benefitted many acts due to its smaller, more intimate size. Yesterday's Pupil provided last-night indie vampires with electro-funk, loops and vocals, which as I recall (all I recall) impressed me enough to keep me awake.
Finally, with god's grace and the devil's cold closing in, Sassquatch took to the recently vacated stage - all 7'8" and yeti like growls. Ok, not really. But the part of his set I did catch was freaky-cool and ass-shakingly approved.
And then I fell asleep.
The day starts late, much lazing around the campsite is enjoyed, water is drunk, teeth are brushed, thorn bushes are urinated upon, Coco Pops are devoured.
Excitement begins to build around noon – for today’s line-up inspires some hope for the salvation of our parched souls. Cabins in the Forest is followed by Guy Buttery, with Richard III, Twelv & Thesis and DJ Sassquatch performing at well spaced intervals.
I arrive at the Gito Baloi stage a good half-hour early, my anticipation met with my inability to correctly judge walking times and led me to Janice Half-Jack. Janice sang and strummed while Half-Jack (Ja? Ck?), I guess, offered moral and melodic support. She needed it. Somehow, much of South Africa’s music is stuck in mid-90s American “alt-rock. This can be the only explanation for the Alanis-esque vocals that plague the very MOR tunes that were so very earnestly sung. Why would a nice Afrikaans girl insist on sounding as generic as she did? Anything in actual Afrikaans would have at least made her slightly different. I guess she read my mind, as she did sing a song in Afrikaans. As the song began, I mistook it for a John Mayer cover, until I thought: “No, wait. This is too boring to be John Mayer…” Her social-commentary track, “Simple Thing” sounded like like Phil Collin’s “Another Day in Paradise”, but for the narcoleptic set. Oh dear lord. “Everyone’s a millionaire without a single thing,” she sings. Well, then, we’ve all fucked up.
A trip to the bar later, and Cabins finally took the stage. Yeah! Whoo! In T-shirts and socks (and jeans, ladies), they both kind of look like Sam Beam of Iron & Wine fame – or his younger, better-kept brothers, perhaps. And when the first stomp-box is stomped, something altogether different happens… We hear the first awesome set of Oppikoppi 2008. Andy and Gary pick and wince and scream through gradually epic tracks, playing around with odd melodies and harmonies as they nimbly pick at their strings. The audience closes their eyes and take in something broad and lunar. Their songs evoke empty roads, dusky drives, a sense of impending… unknown. “Just because you feel like toast/ Doesn’t make you someone,”, but no, we are no-one. We are not toast. We are here and, for the first time this weekend, dozens of people are focussed on one point in space.
Even the rather heavy-handed “Army of the Disenchanted” works as a chugging, simmering condemnation of “school-yard bravado”. The Anti-Bush polemic is a little too overworked by now, for my taste - but they still sound good. The indie-kids and long-haired hippies salute what they’ve witnessed with hearty applause and whistles, and any band with a didgeridoo as part of their set deserves some thanks, at least. Oh thou of little hope! We are all saved!
In a one-two guitar hero combo, Guy Buttery takes to the stage. Some divine intervention (or just smart organisers) planned this set-list, obviously. He sets up his guitar, sitar and, uh, saw, barefoot. With a quick “Hello Oppi!”, he gets underway. Over the next 40 or so minutes, Buttery treats his guitar like a princess, like a whore, like a red-headed step-child, like a living beast. He taps, he slides, he picks, he wows – he plays a saw! He also manages to be technically brilliant, but never showy or masturbatory – a feat unappreciated by many, but oh-so-important. Never does he force you to think “Wow, this guy’s an awesome guitarist,”, simply because you’re too busy listening to the array of sounds he produces, drawn into a musicscape of completely unheard of proportions. Although he may perplex the uninitiated “Bru, when does this oke sing?”, he deserves more plaudits than I can manage to type. The brilliant cover of Joanna Newsome’s “Book of Right-On” ends his set, we wake from a peaceful dream and head downhill for some lunch.
13 August 2008
Day 1: Thursday
Diesel is a bitch. R11,84 per litre. R600 gets us half a tank in Lucy our trusty green Landy, and the six of us are off – leaving the gleaming green metropolis of
The long and winding road (N1) has roadworks in abundance. Turn up the stereo man! Blast “Crosstown Traffic”! Vent our frustration, carry our eagerness to
Three hours later and already we’re sweaty and dusty. It’s a bad combination. The sweat trickles, the dust sticks to the trickling sweat, stopping the said trickle dead. The dusty sweat-trickle solidifies. Suddenly you’re in a mud field all of your own. This is
Our campsite is on “
The second reason no one turns up on the Thursday is due to the fact that the Wishlist bands have centre stage. They will have no names but for “Wishlist Band” printed on the rather well thought-out programme. They deserve no names. They are Pick 'n Pay items. They are the bottom of the barrel. They are the homeless shelter's sustenance. This is an early sign. Unequivocally, with little shame, these acts are terrible. The first band we see features a female singer dressed in a black wedding dress. Holy “Pows!”, Batman! They sound something like the following equation: Creed + Evanescence+ Nickleback + Horror = The Most Boring Thing In The History Of My Brain.
Instead of staying around the Most Amazing Myn Stage and The James Phillips Main Stage, we head over the Koppi to the Sipho Gumede 206 stage, which, guessing by the name, will offer more “urban” fare. The layout is both genius and retarded – the steep slope, dotted with rock and grass offers a good seat, but also a veritable cliff-face to the imbibed. I decide to cross that horrific injury when I come to it - or it to me.
The rest of Thursday is spent drinking atop the Koppie, warming hands around the campsite fire and trying to sleep with the cries of “Oppi!” confirming our location. We know, buddy. We know.
Friday promises more in the way of people, music, dirt and beer. All hail the weekend.
Wait, hold on. I have not one, but two(!) anecdotes to share.
The first concerns a young man named Dewalt who stumbles upon our small circle asking "Did I hear you guys speaking about the Lord Jesus Christ?". We answer: "No, dude,". He doesn't mind. Soon he's kneeling in an oddly suggestive way and staring deep into my eyes. "What do you know about The Lord Jesus Christ?". "Uh, I prefer Gandalf," is the first thing that pops into my head. I resist. I do not want to be sat upon by Dewalt. I mumble something non-commital, Dewalt mumbles something about "fokken communists".
The second, which follows about ten minutes after the Dewalt incident, involves corporate bribery. "What do you know about Levis?" asks a young lady, dressed in a black 501 shirt and kneeling near our twice-invaded circle. "Uh, I prefer Pep," I mumble. She grunts something like "Fucking communists,". We did end up with free t-shirts though. Levi's wins this round.
We're hard at work (well, after Top Gear ends, anyway) at posting some truly rad stuff from this year's Oppikoppi music festival. It's a little daunting, if we're being honest. Everything is still coated in a slick coating of dust, beer and sunscreen, and there are large parts of the weekend lost to my memory. Dude. Seriously.
But we'll be hitting you with the performances from your favourite bands, reviews, pizza tastings, beer sniffing and general fuzzy awesomeness as soon as possible.
Keep on keepkeeping.
06 August 2008
05 August 2008
1: It is generaly a cool track
2: the music these Dj's played was too ridiculous for me to use.....seriously though it was stupid.
The only reason people danced was because it was music they had once heard on Highveld Stereo
when they were 8. There is a very good reason why we dont like the Sanlam money song.....its absolute crap and bloody old!!!!!
02 August 2008
Alexander Theatre – Braamfontein, Johannesburg
Ah! Shit! Line!
No, not that kind of line. I’m not that cool or rich or… you know… bad-ass. Plus, anyone who snorts shit that makes you more of an asshole must be some kind of asshole-savant to start with. That’s the kind of statement I can’t afford to make.
The line in question slides out of the entrance to the new, latest “hot” spot (it’s pretty damn cold in there), the Alexander Theatre. The queue snakes some fifty-meters, and a short foot-race ensures I’m there only slightly ahead of some enthusiastic Pretorians and their cigarette smoke. The guy, no, the man in front of me is old enough to be my former guidance councilor in high-school. This is a different crowd, I note. In my notebook.
It’s a different crowd, a big crowd, an older crowed, an excited crowd. It’s a Desmond crowd. Finally, twenty-minutes later, I’m frisked by the huge doorman (oh, how welcome his warm hands were!) and squeezed into the over-populated Beijing lobby. It’s tiled in black-and-white retro linoleum and has a coat check. Coat checks are strange. I’m South African. I’m from Joburg. I do not hand my clothes over to strangers and expect to get them back. That’s my goddamn coat, lady.
I managed to be caught in the jet-stream that leads to a massive, hangar-like room. The ceiling is a good three- to four-hundred metres above my head. Or so my approximations conclude. The walls are black, and the graffiti reminds you of where you are: “Othello – June ‘70”, “Grease ‘92”, and the less obvious “PDC Rule, OK?”.
The stage is manned by a DJ queuing up 80s novelty-classics on his Mac Book Pro, beneath an arch of multi-coloured balloons. No, there’s no Sugarhill Gang or Cameo, but that “Hey Mickey! You’re so fine! You’re so fine you blow my mind!” kind of novelty song that gets people off for no other reason than the fact that they know the words. This is all a little too white.
Luckily there’s a bar (actually, there are two – we’ll visit the other later) at the far end of the hangar. I attempt to slide through the crowds, all stealth-like. But I feel like Mufasa just before the wildebeest started stampeding.
The bar is poorly stocked and understaffed – it takes an entire AC/DC track (“She shook me all naaaight long!”) and much general bitching with the guy next to me to emerge with a Jameson on ice and with R18 less in my pocket. A quick tour of the lobby and a suspicious-eye on the coat check girls before it’s back to the hangar to catch the main event.
Being somewhat short (totally average height… for an Asian… woman.), I can’t tell the bassist from Marty Scorsese. I few young, sprightly ones begin climbing the ladders leading to makeshift balconies dotted above the Tutu’s. I pocked my pen and notebook and set about climbing the rungs, one hand still clutching my tumbler and the other pulling me up rather high. From my new vantage point, I see both Desmond and his Tutus doing their stuff – and, take note you local bands, they’re fucking awesome. They’re polished but energetic; they’re having fun and actually entertaining the crowd. And this size crowd needs some entertaining. Of course everyone’s into it – it is their album launch after all, and they’re the only band performing – but they’re making sure our R50 bucks feels like a good deal. The drummer’s kinetic and playing with a confidence that belies his rather drab black shirt. Dude should be rocking a sock, or a James Brown Funk-Suit. The bassist and guitarists both avoid that “Hey, man, I just play guitar” cliché and actually do more than stare at their fretboards. Mr. Frontman sings and shouts between the indie-pop licks and beats with a sense of real purpose, and also announces, “Hey, we’re Desmond and the Tutus” more than strictly necessary. That’s alright though, its all part of the show. Flicking between laid-back and crazed (wide-eyed, like a man stumbling out of a Brakpan strip-club at 3a.m.), he promises kisses on one’s cheek and bemoan saggy-bottomed Speedos to the rather over-enthused blondes right in front of him. The shake their hair too violently to be considered sexy – which is very, very violent indeed.
From way up high (I’d guess three- to four-hundred metres up), the crowd gradually turns from violently convulsing blondes to the Serious Listeners (who stand in the classic indie-guy pose: Converse toes pointed inwards, skinny-knees locked in skinny-jeans, dress-shirt untucked and creased like the Devil’s laundry, ironically-cheap beer in one hand, the other hand adjusts his eyeglasses so as to better capture the scene). The goodtime guys and gals are still swarming the bar at the back, but they’re lucky. The sound at this gig is what I call The Money Sound. It is brilliant. Well-balanced and clear, the vocals aren’t completely muddied by overly loud bass and drum mics; guitars sound crisp and immediate, all of which lets us, the precious audience, enjoy the songs as well as the performance.
After a cry of: “Encore! Encore!” (Where on earth do they think these things up?!) the band depart. Soon after the balloon-infrastructure collapses (speaking of which, have you seen the Radiohead video for “House of Cards” yet? Go. Now.), and that’s my cue to get off the concrete slab above the heads of the unsuspecting and make my way to the other bar.
That’s it, truth be told. Over to the coat check girls to validate my parking ticket and warn others about the second-hand coat deals, and I’m once again in the cold July night-time. The street smells only of cigarette smoke, marijuana and the boerewors-rolls of the near-by vendor. That’s a decent combination at this time of night in this part of town.