No One is Dancingby Roger Young, images Sweatface McGee / 11.07.2011
An open and empty white concrete space in a seemingly abandoned and unused edge of the city. We are handed white masks and markers at the door. Performance art abounds. Dancers with big hair climb out of boxes, there are projections, a band set up is behind a wire mesh fence, a drone of music pumps into the hollow space as people with severe haircuts pretend that it’s all cool to be paying forty rand for a double. Silent calculations are happening trying to work out how much overtime at Sucky McSuck Advertising will have to be done in order to maintain the stance here. It’s the most expensive and hippest show house I’ve ever been to. Welcome to Invisible Cities.
But it’s really hard to be too much of a cunt because this late Sunday afternoon the Invisible Cities project hosts a Make Overs and Dirty Paraffin collaboration; two of Joburg’s obscurest bands, and virtually polar opposites. In fact nothing about the whole event would be wanky if it just didn’t cost so damn much for so damn little. The bands play for about an hour and twenty minutes, the drinks are pricey, there is nothing else really to capture the attention. Most of the older people here are wealthier and more secure (unbeknownst to them) to shop for an apartment and feel no need to dance. The well dressed kids are the ones that have enough money to be here but not enough to pay for their cool friends to get in as well. There is a palpable out of sorts-ness. The whole endeavour reeks of money and misunderstanding. Even though, as a marketing strategy, it’s working. People are actually milling about saying “I could live in this space,” while wondering what the fuck the point of colouring their masks in is; will there be a prize? A flash mob? A music video for an obscure blog? An orgy? A mass suicide? Snacks?
As Dirty Paraffin start a polite circle is formed just away from the metal fence separating us from the band. Like any gig the many cameras form the front line, a wall of 5D MkII’s giving the rest of us an excuse not to dance. The cavernous acoustics give the shouty offbeaty electro maskandi a dull boom; you can hardly make out Okmalumkoolkat’s txt spk flow. He weaves in and out of the smoke while Dokta SpiZee fiddles with the electronica. Dirty Paraffin rely on direct contact with the crowd and they’re not getting it today. No one is shouting back the lyrics at them, there is no hand shape throwing, there is just them, white space and a fence. I’m openly wondering why no one is climbing on the fence but not doing anything about it myself, everything feels under-utilized. Dirty Paraffin are about languages, the cool language of Facebook speak, the hard language of inner city kwaito, the intersection between the vernaculars of Durban and Jozi and the recent history of “first world” electronica. To fully access them you must at least have a handle on some of these dialects, which explains why no one is dancing. But it’s not entirely the crowd’s fault. Paraffin live on the dangerous edge of too cool, too fashiony, too willfully inaccessible; sometimes it works for them, today it doesn’t.
The crowd edges closer when Make Overs start; the fuzzy duo hiding behind their hair and the drone rock. There is something of the aftermath of a minor car crash in Make Overs, quease inducing yet hypnotic and magnetic. The boy ginger on guitar bows his head to the lo-fi wall of noise while the girl ginger pounds on the drums as if they might summon forth some kind of answer. The acoustics, in this instance, work for them. Their high chanty singing is pure rhythm and it ebbs onward from their little whirlpool of buzz. The Make Overs have pacing and meditation on their side; they temper their cymbal and shout attacks with tom rolls and tiny silences. They’re contained yet, they’re gushing forth. They’re still not able to get the crowd dancing but then again, it’s not like they’re really trying to.
It is somewhere around this point that McGee and I steal the tequila. He takes a group shot of the bar staff wearing masks, turning them away from their duties while I slip it in my bag. The Make Overs noise makes the deed seem wise. The masks have found use. We’re in the bathroom with their oh-so-quirky-and-hardcore hand drawn signs, slugging the shit down when the collaboration starts. We rush out and still no one is dancing.
The mash between the rolling and pounding of the Make Overs with the electronic mis-stepping of Dirty Paraffin is hard to quantify besides saying that it’s fucking great and trance inducing. It’s totally downtown Jozi, it’s totally everything the money behind Invisible Cities wants to achieve and it’s totally cool. Okmalumkoolkat’s rapping over the girl ginger’s shouty vocals, the guitar like a power tool cutting through the nu skool kwaito beats. Girl Ginge’s pounding drums root the slipperiness of Dokta SpiZee’s rhythms, Okmalumkoolkat’s flow is pulled along in Boy Ginge’s swirls and plings. It’s a glorious confluence that has happened too late in the day, most people have left by now, and it’s far too short. It’s practically over before my mind and ears have been able to re-orient themselves. And when it’s over, Invisible Cities empties like a sinking ship.
There is an after party of sorts on the roof of Main Street Life but we find ourselves on a different rooftop, not into chasing the veneer of cool that seems to come with this district, a stance that requires vanishing up your own apartment. Me and McGee are standing on some platform, drinking stolen tequila and I’m shouting, “why don’t people fucking dance” all the time thinking I’m Batman, when we hear a call over the rooftop. It’s the MSL party. “Come over here,” they shout. “Our roof is better than yours.” I counter, “No, our roof is better than yours.” We shout this back and forth a few times until it gets old. And then we climb down. I grumble about remembering a time when “Our Roof Is Better Than Yours” was cool; before they went mainstream.
*Images © Sweatface McGee.