All the Young Dudesby Sydelle Willow Smith / 21.01.2011
It all began with a sense of dread and foggy images of the few memories I have of Umhlanga from holidays in friends’ family timeshares.
I must admit, I began the shoot with some trepidation. After all, for 10 days I would be subject to the cheesiest treffers from the 5FM playlist, played too loud, on repeat. Plus I had a sneaky suspicion that someone somewhere, during the course of my journey into the teenage rite of passage known as “Matric Rage” was going to throw up Brutal Fruit and Steers, all over my almost new Canon 7D Camera. But hey, I was getting paid.
Ballito. Deep in the “ragers” habitat. The first night threw me in the deep end. A club called Boston’s. Each rager was required to purchase a passport that would allow them entrance into the various clubs and events at discounted rates for the course of the festival. It’s a system aimed to temper some of the hormone fueled chaos, by providing transport and a variety of choices in terms of clubs and concerts the wider audience of pop consuming ragers. In Boston’s I was surrounded by tight white vests, shorts skirts, high heels, alcopops, lasers, and hands waving in the air. Eighteen year olds towered above me, perched on piercing stiletto heels. Sweaty faces filled with glee, sticky shooter kisses, later stumbling in each other’s arms out into the hot humid air. The aim of the evening, running free. For many this was the last time they would spend a holiday with their old school friends, before heading off to universities or gap years, or worse, straight to work. The liberation. The final exclamation point of twelve years of schooling reflected in the constant grins of the ragers every time someone on stage reminded them that they were finally free from school.
As the days rolled into one, clubs, beaches, Wave House Concerts, and the late night take away pizzas, I began to notice a trend. The big cellphone brand promoters hustle through the crowds, from nightclubs to beaches luring young clients in with the promise of prizes. As parasitic as they seem, these teams of marketing vultures form the basis of one of the key attractions of the organized chaos that is Rage, the opportunity to win big! A trip in a catamaran in Durban Harbour, a place on a Yak 52 doing barrel rolls and acrobatic flips from Virginia Airport, or even a King Swing Jump off the g-string at Moses Mabhida stadium. Sign up with one of the cellphone companies and you could even win a car – which a very excited young man called Andy did, on one of the last nights. He was so nervous he threw up. So its not just all parties, alcohol and hooking up. Although there was no big push in terms of Aids awareness and no promotions spreading the message of responsible drinking, perhaps not wanting to put a damper on the atmosphere of care-free fun. During the course of the week while filming at Wave House during Zebra and Giraffe, Flash Republic, Prime Circle, Jack Parow and DI Fresh I took a moment to escape to the safety of a bathroom stall to take a small moment to breathe, pee, and clean the humidity from my camera lens.
“This is my 3rd Matric Rage in a row!” Declared one of the drunk girls proudly.
While interviewing Roger Goode at Eightees, two couples, recently acquainted, made out heavily in the background, oblivious to the giggling spectators around them. Interesting to note that the accompanying photograph that I took of the two “multiracial” hook ups later appeared in Die Rapport accompanying an article on Matric Rage and was met with an uproar by a group of conservative readers.
Matric Rage. There’s no secret or science behind the spectacle. Just a bunch of kids letting loose and having fun, with big acts like Jack Parow to rev them up. In general it’s harmless, and carefree. I expected to see far more chaos than I did. I saw lots of couples making out, one guy puked, and some chancers jumped on stage once or twice. But mostly I witnessed almost clean fun. Just a large team of recently liberated eighteen year olds, free from the overbearing rule of their schools and their parents for the first time. The most positive aspect of the whole experience was how multiracial the audience was. As I filmed DJ Fresh on one of my last nights, sweat pouring down my face, my lens misting up from the intense humidity, I took a moment to look around at the crowd of young South Africans jumping and jiving in unison regardless of creed, sharing the privilege of being able to celebrate the culmination of their Model C education in a somewhat exclusive holiday on Durban’s coast.
*All images © Sydelle Willow Smith.