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DIGITAL OVERDOSE

by Karl Kemp / Images by Alice Inggs / 08.04.2015

Cape Town’s mountains have their own smoke machine, and it’s pulsing right at the gloaming. The sky’s bloodshot, streaked through with veins of molten gold; pierced by the cut of the city skyline to the far right, visible over a smorgasbord of shades of green, mouldy to bottle-blue. The air is crisp, rank with health. Kirstenbosch’s summer concert venue is sloped down to the city bowl. Up here is high, up here is fresh. Portugal. The Man is about to play, those swashbuckling crusaders of kitsch – straight from the youth zeitgeist you’re tapped into right now. We’re talking beards and irono-caps and a shit tonne of amateur photographers; we’re talking a light show and backdrop haphazardly ripped from the tapestry of pop culture; we’re talking COOL in glowing neon lights, the coolest there is, the most ineffable notion of cool since that word was first used. This is the band that brought you ‘Purple Yellow Red & Blue’, the soundtrack to summer 2013 – the year in which half of the crowd tonight were verging on matric, the zenith of the cultural pastiche of fleeting 20-something youth culture.

Right now, it’s like we’re looking at a massive interface, an OS for life, the three screens traversing the treetops, a digital genre-mash waiting to swallow us all. Grey descends and the leaden sky flees along with the roiling mist and the rapture leaves us with hundreds of shining iPhones, cyclical selfies on repeat, snap, snap, snap. Desmond and the Tutus fire off five quick shots into the crowd… only Shane Durrant, a long haired last-of-his-kind, could make CT kids enjoy being mocked.

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And then a roadie comes on, and his shirt is buttoned up to the throat and he’s wearing some kind of beanie so people assume it’s the band and start yelling and screaming before he sets up a drum mic and walks off. Then the band comes on and they look like the roady but one of them speaks over the mic so we know it’s them now, and we’re about to be plunged head-first into the day-glo world of the post-modern catch-all culture – the “continuous digital scroll of the hipster psyche” – as Alice called it back in the day in her review of ‘Evil Friends’ in Rolling Stone; the perpetual gif, the animated fender-genre-bender.

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They kick off with the smash-hit, the colour palette, and god damn if they don’t catch the last winding red slash of sunset over the city just as the song closes, scrubbed partially clean of some of the radio sheen, and the kids are eating it up. There never really was a chance of anyone sitting down for this. They rumble through a set-list passionately relayed to them by the crowd, and there’s real evidence of the now-generation kids tapped into the music, perhaps having actually listening to an entire album (whilst updating their Tumblr and WordPress). We’re in the bits-and-pieces machine now, and it’s purring, chewing up genres with a colourful ADHD I-don’t-give-a-fuck appropriation that paralyzes as much as it enchants (at least, for the older people).

Portugal. The Man are amazingly musical, with a bracing grasp of how rhythm works to create a hook for a song with the guitar playing second fiddle and without dumbing down to electronica and safe pre-programmed production. It’s an authentic live experience set to groove rather than grind, and it works in such a well-oiled way. I’m thinking the bassist has some major talent and rock ‘n roll potential, right around the time they trot out the hook “fuck those rock ‘n rollers” for the song ‘Hip Hop Kids’, and I realize I’m out of touch, way out there with the parents who are here to safeguard the under-agers. We bum a cigarette from some drunk girl standing in the cordoned-off safe-smoke area and she says “You can have one, you know why? ‘Cause it’s fucking PORTUGAL THE MAN, MAN, and you gotta do what you gotta do!”

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She’s shaking her millennial ass to the waves of the precisely calibrated groove rolling from the stage, and all of a sudden it’s a Beatles – no, an Oasis cover ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, and Britpop finally landed in South Africa, I think harshly, before I realize half the crowd is singing along. From the periphery of the interface I thought that the kids would keep wanting to swipe left, to the next hit, to ‘Modern Jesus’, to the next tune that was on the radio, but no, they love everything, all of it. They love the band, not the singles. “You don’t get it / Just a loser in a t-shirt, jeans / I don’t fuckin care / You don’t get it / I’m just a creep in a t-shirt, jeans, I don’t fuckin care” sings Portugal. The Man and they’re totally right, I’m the guy he was telling to fuck off a couple of songs ago, so why do I feel like I’m getting this? It’s like unshaped angst, dressed up in nonchalant dancing, or post-modern rock ‘n roll in a digitized world full of cross-dressing cool kids with attention spans that can only handle six seconds bursts of entertainment, unless there’s a beat behind it. That’s kinda what our Jesus is, Portugal. The Man’s other mega-hit, ‘Modern Jesus’ – “don’t roll with us / we don’t need no modern Jesus” is the sound of a 20-something slamming the door in a one-man studio on Kloof with nobody pissing them off. Our Jesus is truly dead, and there’s the meaning in it. And as long as there’s meaning, there’ll be good music – substantial music. No matter how hard we try and hide it under layers and layers of kitsch, faux-cool trendy bullshit. And I’m thinking, as the last of the fog drifts off over Kirstenbosch and the band remixes the decades-old youth anthem ‘Another Brick In The Wall Pt II’ to their own happily nihilistic groove, that not having anything to say in a time where the singularity seems like a real possibility – well, that says a whole fucking lot.

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*Image © Alice Inggs

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