Close The Door, White Women Are Insideby Roger Young, images by Celeste Muller and Olivia Mortimer. / 01.07.2011
Main Street Life’s brute interpretation of Cape Town art chic seems like the work of a despotic and slightly incompetent Michaelis student, it’s the same vibe as the Biscuit Mill but with the Boho swapped out for an attempt at Andy’s Factory. From PataPata to Chalkboard on this cold Sunday afternoon the headscarved, the NHS framed, the dreadlocked and the bearded wander amid bands, exhibitions, the Bioscope and the art hotel lobby, between indecision and stretched service staff for the Fete De La Musique, a sort of half day extremely mini festival thing put on by Main Street Life and the Alliance Francais.
Walking down the immaculately clean and empty street we encounter giant marionettes about three metres high and operated from the inside, led by a marching band and surrounded by small children dancing. A small group of children, two puppets and a two man marching band. Like the days program, it’s a well-crafted, fun moment that is markedly miniature.
There is milling. The programme is running late. I’m only really here to see Us Kids Know’s last gig. Kitch kids sit on the pavement and smoke. I’m about to go check out the market when I hear it’s modelled on the Biscuit Mill in Cape Town, I vomit in my mouth a bit (to use the parlance of a time when the Biscuit Mill was kinda nice).
Nancy Ginindza is playing at PataPata so I push my way through the middle-aged struggle veterans, the ex Yeovillians and the Federal Party voters. Nancy is wrapped for the weather and producing warm jazz loungey sounds. Most of the people in Pata are sorta just nodding along while maintaining their conversations. It’s got a cigar bar feel, like something I imagine finding at an airport in Stuttgart. Nancy and her band are soulful and soft, a bit folky and quite silky; somewhere between Tracy Chapman and Massive Attack, if Massive Attack was to have done an album of jazz standards. Nancy herself is skilled, technical, a bit light and very earnest. It’s weird that someone singing so beautifully can come across as so inessential, but there is an emptiness in the space between her and the audience. There’s something kinda hoighty-toighty about the whole affair. But what did I expect? It’s just a chilled jazz gig on a Sunday in a place with leather couches.
In the small corner of the L shaped seating area, the Vampire Cohen is grinning at Us Kids Know as they pound out their last set ever. There is force and speed to it; they’re literally grinding through their instrumental indie pop meets West African rhythm meets etcetera vibes. Chad is blowing whistles, pounding drums and sweating like a man who got no sleep last night. Colin is high plucking and basking in the cold glow of the LCD projector. Cameron is showing off his bass skills, hair and tambourine. It’s one of those sit down gigs and mostly the audience is doing just that, sitting down, leaning forward, a look of quiet awe on their faces. It’s happening too fast, this gig, it’s rushing through me and I don’t feel like I’m experiencing it properly. Mostly I’m amazed at the way the Kids balance attack and chill like some kind of deranged trapeze artists determined to fall hard enough to rip through the safety net. And then Chad stands up and shouts into his drum mic, “I fucking love you all”. And that, like the final bow of the Springbok Nude Girls, is the last we will ever see of Us Kids Know. The Kids and the Kitch kids disperse.
Afterwards I’m standing across the road and I take it all in, this joozshification of the spirit of ’94, this Upmarket Disneyland Harbour Café vibe. There is something forced about this district, something exclusionary. Communities are organic, you can’t plan them, even Le Corbusier had to learn that. I mean, I get it and I get that it’s good. I get that it’s better than either the Melrose Arch or Sandton City approach. I get that artists are getting paid for their work to be hung in the hotel, that it’s a string of well designed new venues for music, art and film and I get that the homogenifying and upperclassification of the “melting pot” is a sign that our culture is going forward, being absorbed into the wider collective unconscious. For all these things I salute Main Street Life and all their endeavours, I really do. I just feel funny in a place that claims to be revitalising the city, creating a space for city dweller and suburbanite to interact and then charges R25 for a glass of wine. Essentially I feel like I’m in some kind of gated community and not in the city at all. It’s the commodification of dangerous Jozi living without the danger or the Jozi.
I try and get a whiskey from Pata while Uju is getting started, the bar staff take about forever and then they get it wrong. I abandon my whiskey. We mill on the pavement. I get a sandwich from Chalkboard, which also takes forever but they’re polite and nice about it and they get it so damn right. We debate whether to stay for the screening of All Tomorrow’s Parties, a film we’ve all torrented ages ago. The sun is setting, there is nothing really holding us here. The whole event feels lame, slim, the substance of the programme itself almost an afterthought, hardly a Fete De La Musique at all. We debate going up to the roof, someone comes down and says, “Holy fuck, they were playing Acid Jazz. It’s like a time machine.” “Acid Jazz?” I say. “You’re kidding me.” “No,” he says “I wasn’t sure if I was on hold for Telkom or at a ‘cool’ party in 2001.” It’s time to get out of The City™ and get back to Joburg.
*All images © Celeste Muller and Olivia Mortimer.