A Crossroad of Subculturesby Rob Scher / Images by Adam Kent Wiest / 17.10.2011
Rocking the Daisies is an annual pilgrimage. It’s a crossroads of subcultures, all descending on Darling in the Western Cape. This would be my fourth year. It’s the closest thing I have to a musical Mecca. It was here I saw 340ml for the first time, Gazelle, Tidal Waves and Closet Snare. Approaching Cloof Wine Estate, I looked forward to adding some more to the list.
The festival has already filled up considerably, forcing my crew into the deep recesses of Gen Pop. We find a good spot next to some post-youth campers. How to hustle our booze into the festival is the primary concern. The draconian measures taken last year had guard’s body searching revelers like anal Australian customs officials. Subsequently I find myself with a bottle of whiskey halfway up my ass, and a generous rum ‘n coke shaped bulge in my crotch. Our efforts are wasted, the guards barely notice my awkward shuffle past them. We arrive just in time to catch the end of the Rocking The Daisies All Stars set. It’s a Motown-inspired covers act. Considering the lack of practice the musicians had together, it’s an impressive display of brass bravado.
Gazelle, at this festival in 2009, was a true spectacle, Xander was a sight to behold as he emerged onto the stage wearing his gold cape. I find myself in the same spot this year. A lot has been said about the “afro-friendly” content of Gazelle’s music. The highlight of watching them that first time was the epic stage show, consisting of marimba’s, a fleet of backup singers and a charismatic frontman. This time round, Xander strolls onto the stage sans dramatic entrance. He’s replaced the gold cape with a guitar. This could be a promising. Alas, after the second song I realise the guitar is little more than an elaborate necklace than a device for playing music.
I’ve decided to pretty much write off the main stage for the rest of the evening. The Nu World Beat Ring is calling. The Lemon Tree theatre now takes the place of where the Nu World stage was last year. And it’s lost a bit of the intimacy that the barn had, but at least houses a larger crowd. Napalma are on and have the crowd moving to their bongo electro. It’s late, the weekend is still young and I can’t be bothered to wait for Toby2shoes’ set.
I wake up to the sight of a large wooden crucifix. I recognise it from the “don’t drink and drive” campaign set up by the entrance. A public service announcement at a festival was always going to be a bad idea. Kids aren’t really interested in putting the brakes on their drinking, but they are prone to kleptomania. My tentmate vaguely remembers the heist, thinking he had been dreaming a scene from a Dan Brown novel. The Brother Moves On is the first show of the day. They’re miles ahead of most of the acts on the main stage. Mr Gold – praise singer come sangoma come frontman of a prog rock band, all at once. He has the crowd engrossed by his not too serious spoken word, summoning up ancestors and dedicating songs to alcohol and Rian Cruywagen. Producing space rock sounds, the subtle trombone, tasty guitar licks and funk bass groove are the perfect soundtrack to my hangover. As Roger Young notes, these guys need to be seen again. 10am on a Saturday, with a bleating hangover, is not the best time for music watching.
As the heat kicks in, there’s a mass exodus for the dam. Somehow I find myself transported to La Med in Camps Bay. Or the Mainstay Beach Bar. I’m in the nucleus of jockdom. My pale complexion is out of place next to the bronzed Adonises that occupy the beach. It’s like Clifton without the comfortof granadilla lollies. We locate a quiet spot further around the dam to mull over our next decision: Jeremy Loops or Sakitumi?
It’s the perfect answer to the heat. The Red Bull tent seems to switch from, aggressive machine at night to welcoming sanctuary during the day. Sakitumi’s is a tongue in cheek set of familiar tunes ranging from Mario Bros to Flight of the Bumblebee, all perfectly mixed into a bouncy beat. VjGrrrl, accompanies with her talent on the visuals, a highlight of which is appearance of internet meme star – Keyboard Cat. It’s a pop-cultural explosion of music and images, nerd electro – I’m a big fan.
The sun finally relents. An inaudible sigh of relief can be heard throughout the festival.
It’s finally time for the highlight of the festival – Mr Cat and the Jackal versus Nomadic Orchestra. It’s everything I hoped for. And when Mr Cat launch into the tragic ballad, “Where’s My Shoes?”, a heart-wrenching tale of lost footwear, I shout along with deep sympathy – my own pair of Vans having been a casualty of the previous night in this very tent. The Nomad’s have never sounded this good. The addition of trumpet player, Darren English, completely changes the dynamics of their show. The frenzied energy of the players as they switch places during the two-hour long set, is fuelled by the insatiable appetite of the crowd. At some point Roger Young shoves a pig mask over my face and I realise we’re going to write the exact same article and it doesn’t matter. There’s nowhere else we could possibly be at this moment.
Sibot’s about to drop his set in the Red Bull tent but I feel obliged to check out the international headliners. It’s a strange feeling, like choosing between a favourite meal and a new exotic dish that you only have one opportunity to try. Band of Skulls perform their rock-lite to a welcoming crowd, many of whom seem to be fans of the band. But they battle to make a connection, and I can’t help but feel that they’re a bit mellow for this time slot on the main stage. I look to my music snob friend for his insight into the band and all he can drunkenly muster is, “they sound like they’re from London.”
Drawn by the call of the lyrical harpy that is Inge Beckmann, the crowd moves in as close as possible. As far as I’m concerned Lark are the real Rocking The Daisies All Stars. They’re a musical eclipse. Rare and spectacular to behold. The audience is unable to take their eyes off the stage. Members, completely immersed in their instrument, create the fusion of sound that is Lark. The visuals supplied once again by The Grrrl are juxtaposed perfectly on Inge’s ethereal movements. The Humanizer is an alchemist, carefully brewing his potion, that he adds to each song; Fuzzy – a mess of hair and bass guitar and Sakitumi tying it all together with his precision drumming. The climax of the festival is reached at the performing of “Razbliuto”. Inge is a golden siren and the audience are her willing followers, caught on her every word – she stalks the stage, framed by the backdrop of pirouetting ballerinas, she dashes us on the rocks. I’m spent. The rest of the night is inconsequential.
Against every natural instinct to pack up and head home, we stay for one reason – DJ Snakehips. The man is a living legend. If Lark are an eclipse, Felix Laband is Halley’s Comet. A master of his craft, carefully eyeing the crowd, reading our every move as he mixes his set. The atmosphere in the Red Bull tent tangibly shifts as “Dirty Nightgown” plays, the air growing heavy. This is Felix Laband as he’s meant to be heard, every intricate sound heightened. The booming bass of the massive rig pulses through the captive audience. The song ends and we come blinking into the Sunday sun. For a brief time, we were happily held captive in Laband’s darkness.
I’ve squeezed the festival dry. The acts mentioned above will be captured in my memory as representing Rocking the Daisies 2011. Complaining about the otherwise stale lineup of the main stage matters little at this point. There’s always an odd knowledge that another year has passed us by. And not knowing whether I’ll be in Cape Town for next year’s festival, heightens my sense of nostalgia. Whether I return in 2012 or not, as long as there are acts like Lark, Rocking The Daisies will remain a Mecca.
*All images © Adam Kent Wiest.