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Main Street Life

Close The Door, White Women Are Inside

by 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.

Main Street Life

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.

Main Street Life

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.

Us Kids Know

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.

Main Street Life

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.

Main Street Life

Main Street Life

Main Street Life

Main Street Life

Main Street Life

Main Street Life

*All images © Celeste Muller and Olivia Mortimer.

10   4
  1. Lizzy says:

    Le Corbusier, not Le Corvusier. (probably a typo, i know). and over-planned spaces can have their own kind of awesomeness, like Brasília. better than no planning at all.

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  2. Roger Young says:

    DAVIS! Goddamn it! I sent you the correct spelling. FFS.

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  3. Thishiwe says:

    @Lizzy. The difference is that Brasilia has a spirit, some kind of life, Young is right, Main Street Life feels empty, and that’s mainly because it’s all marketing and rich folks and no actual community attempt.

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  4. potkettle says:

    Chill Roger. If enough of us Serfricans say it that way then it can’t hurt to change the spelling for their conveniense? Think of it as mahala being a contributor to the beauty of our ever-evolving language and its lesser subsurviense to European hedgemoney. Now I need to get back to standarising the outputs of that study I was working on.

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  5. Thato says:

    LOL! You painted a picture for me. I was at the same gig actually this past Sunday and I agree mostly with what you said Roger! I wish I had seen you.
    I did the whole groupie thing with Us Kids Know because I had seen them at another gig a week or so before. Awesome band!
    I absolutely looove Nancy, saw her a month ago at a very intimate gig in Newtown.
    All in all, yes, Joburg’s “bohemian” crowd is really just the Sandtonistas donning head wraps and dreadlocks, I’ve been saying this!!

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  6. thebrr says:

    I usually disagree with Roger, not this time, I agree completely.

    There was one word which I missed which was when he said “…something exclusionary” I wanted to read “…something illusionary”

    I feel like it is a house built on sand, that is precariously waiting for one side to tip over, I hope not! I really dont, I think often you need some community to be “created” in order for the natural progression of an actual community to appear.

    that is all

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  7. Marge says:

    Was there with Thato on Sunday too. Awesome vibe, the crowd from Pata Pata poured out onto the street, braved the chilly rooftop and danced till we dropped. There is absolutely no other place like this in Joburg, this is real, pure Joburg vibe.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    Farts on Main does tend to get stuffy

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  9. Malek says:

    Spend a bit of time at MSL and the facade quickly fades away to reveal an overpriced, insulated, ‘hipspotic’ movement of urban gentrification.

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  10. thebrr says:

    The Bioscope is pretty banging.

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  11. outside weeier says:

    main street life can suck my balls

    there is nothing good about it

    it’s as simple as that

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  12. ffffff says:

    Also, it’s the Alliance Française and not the ‘Alliance Francais’.

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  13. fluffy says:

    Anything put on by the Alliance Française is so naff – they seem to have a queer idea of Africa – like it means ‘black people and bongos’ and that’s enough!
    But I agree the Bioscope is cool.

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  14. Michael says:

    This whole “let’s reinhabit the inner city” impulse is so funny. As if there weren’t already people there. In fact, there weren’t the ‘right people’ there: inner city dwellers in Jozi didn’t fit some artsy, Wallpaper magazine notion of urbanity, so things had to shift so that units could be sold.

    Also, how are these manufactured communities (I’m think too of the area around 44 Stanley in Auckland Park: “loft living” nirvana) different from the townhouse complexes that sprung up all over Jozi in the last twenty years?

    I’m not saying that these people with money to inject into urban property markets shouldn’t be able to practice their own brand of coollness eugenics: they just shouldn’t try sell it to us as anything other than what it is: lifestyle living with the same lust for a notion of purity as the worst white racist settlement logic.

    Which is kinda similar to what you’re saying in one of the best-written and most subtle articles I’ve read on Mahala for a while.

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  15. Syd willow says:

    Great stuff mister young.

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  16. eat a bag of dicks says:

    Roger, what is your problem, i saw you traipsing around both saturday and sunday having a good old time.
    No attempt at gentrification can go without its ups and downs and pitfalls, the nett value of something like this is in the facts: two highly successful finished developments and counting. Do some research YOU FREAK and look at the demographics of the building, its as South African as ever, catering for a cadre of people who want to live in the city and appreciate it for all its good and bad sides, MSL is also a building thats 97% filled. If it’s the class issues that you have a problem with you could have taken the time to enquire about the various community initiatives that have been facilitated by the Maboneng community. As a resident of MSL I feel it is important that you garner some valid insight before trashing something, a trend you are so well known for so why I am surprised, who knows. I live in the city, I walk around the city and I engage with it actively, something the Maboneng precinct allows me to do.Without pockets in the city for the ‘burgeoning’ middle class to explore the cities gems are wasted and abandoned, and us young (not your kind) emerging professionals are left to engage with violently uninspiring spaces. Also hate the player not the game, we don’t stipulate Pata Patas menu pricing, they do.

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  17. Roger Young says:

    @eat a bag of dicks

    One must learn that it is possible to smile while thinking critically.

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  18. Lady says:

    He has a point about the place. It feels somewhat shallow and pretentious. I think the problem is that there isn’t much soul there.

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  19. emma p says:

    bag of dicks (ha! that is hilarious!) maybe try and be cognisant of the fact that the ‘city’ you ‘engage with’ is a construct. the joburg lifestyle sold to you by main street life is a sanitised and commodified version of a city that is not a series of ‘gems’ (try and engage with how much you trivialise by using a word like that to describe much of what goes on in Johannesburg!) but a sometimes cold and hard, extremely varied, oftentimes in that particular part of town decaying, generally speaking not packagable and/or consumable by yuppies like you and me, messy (and i use messy in the figurative sense) lived human experience.

    maybe just MAYBE if msl brings the right balance of money, time, people and sensitive and artful thought and it actually confronts the social and class divisions that make suburban and city an attractive and exotic location for some and a very different kind of location for others (the people who lived there before msl was msl? do you think they thought the space was ‘wasted’!?) it can be a part of creating a new kind of space in johannesburg, a genuinely accessible space, where a real multiplicity of voices can and will be heard. MAYBE. but it will require a subtlety of thought and a conscious awareness of our .. illusions and their exclusions.

    (it’s always a bad idea leaving comments on here. terrifying wondering what vitriolic responses will come.)

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  20. Eat a bad of dicks says:

    I engage with every single part of the city, I shop a Carlton center, use my little trashy bike to get from A to B or I take taxis and get around, don’t have a car nor a permit to drive one, never had never will. What I meant is that because a place like the Maboneng precinct exists so comfortably where it is, 500 meters from the carlton center, in between doornfontein and jeppes town down the corridor from yeoville and hillbrow, the explorer in every one of us who forms a part of the residential and extended community of Maboneng, will eventually venture out beyond the ‘construct’ of the precinct itself. This area is three years old and in it’s infancy, what’s to come will placate all disgruntled parties and convincingly at that.

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  21. Eat a bad of dicks says:

    My bag

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  22. Roger Young says:


    I have no doubt that you do all of these things. It sounds like you are the model MSL citizen. I hope all of them are like you and continue to bring the gospel to the poor inner-city dwellers who, before you came with your lemon trees, had no idea of how to live.

    Sorry, I’m being facetious. The truth is that I think the stated intention of MSL and the district at large is a noble one, I just have reservations as to, this far into the project, whether they are entirely genuine.

    PS: The “area” is not three years old. MSL is three years old.

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  23. thebrr says:

    Emma P, the big winner in the inevitable sour Mahala Thread.
    Eat a Bag of Dicks, the inevitable pretentious high and mighty hipster.
    Roger, the winner for the fairest and most thoughtful article I have read on Mahala for a long time.

    I think its difficult to engage with an argument that has “… YOU FREAK” written in it by an Author called “eat a bag of dicks”

    Perhaps rather called yourself anonymous if you wish to remain so. Your argument, although at times well thought out are too emotional and therefore lack the thoughtfulness required over such a topic.

    finally get a drivers licence, it will open your world beyond your post- modern walled off suburb.

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  24. emma p says:

    Dickbag .. You use doorfontein and yeoville as if they are static pre-determined markers, like hill markers mapping out the great explorer’s path. These are places where people’s lives happen, not empty spaces waiting to be discovered by adventurous foreigners. (Of course it’s easier to deconstruct than it is to actually say something. I don’t claim to know how to ‘engage’ the city other than to propose thinking it through a little more closely)

    (And what does riding a bike have to do with anything!? Give you more direct and authentic access?) (To the natives as you roam the wilderness?)

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  25. le brrrr says:

    how about this weather hey?

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  26. thebrr says:

    indeed… indeed

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  27. le brrrr says:

    emma p, you sound hot, coffee in maboneng?

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  28. le brrrr says:

    Freddie Mercury sang a song about bicycles, was a pretty good tune as well, great music video

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  29. bike rider says:

    i feel the bike comment was harsh, i have both a bicycle and a car and find the time to enjoy both, recently participated in a midnight charity ride from maboneng through the inner city.

    cold yes, but very exciting.

    Emma P, i think le brrr likes you

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  30. eat a bag of dicks says:

    @ Roger, sorry i called you a freak (normal is boring?) MSL is a year old and the Maboneng precinct is three years old

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  31. eat a bag of dicks says:

    @bike rider, you are a legend!!! i saw you guys riding from MSL, it was awesome and inspiring!

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  32. bike rider says:


    for realsies

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  33. Roger Young says:


    Call me a freak, i don’t mind. I know what I am.

    MSL / Maboneng – In light of what I was saying about your comment it’s Tomato / Tomato

    I’d insert a smiley face here, if I was that kind of guy.

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  34. since 1693 says:

    not wanting to point fingers or nothing, but @thebrr, if you are who i think you are your comments are pretty negative given that the band you manage has leveraged happily off the precinct and had many a successful gigs here…just saying, people can hate all they want but i live in the building too and am happy in the area and happier in a city as opposed to the burbs.

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  35. thebrr says:

    @1693 I would ask that you observe the comment on ” July 1st, 2011 at 12:52 pm”. I am exactly who you think I am.

    1 one of my bands has had 1 gig there. It was thoroughly enjoyable.

    Venues need acts and acts need venues, this is not a charity, where
    venues are some sort of magnanimous places where they deign to allow bands to “Leverage”. That attitude needs to stop.

    As RY said “One must learn that it is possible to smile while thinking critically.”

    I adore the people who live there, and in fact we probably get on, whoever you are.

    That does not mean that I have to withhold my opinions, friends often disagree.

    I usually disagree with RY and yet, we can have a perfectly civil chat.

    I do not “hate” I just have reservations.

    Ps: ” I don’t want to point fingers or anything” not “…nothing”

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  36. Since 1693 says:

    Thanks for the lesson, I am sure that after reading these comments some of those friends you have wont worry about you being a judgy McJudgerson

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  37. Latino Heat says:

    thebrrr i believe you are livin la vida loca?

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  38. thebrr says:

    @Latino Heat. True story!

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  39. Niall says:

    Thanks Roger et al for Mahala 3, just received it in the post.

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  40. the beautyful ones says:

    at the core the problem with gentrification is that it is an arm of neoliberal politics…a full on anti poor offence…and it decides that people like ‘eat a dick’ et al are more important, culturally, financially, ideologically…than the original, indigenous inhabitants of the space…the messy, dirty ones (shout out emma p!)…and despite what this particular brand of capitalism, cultural capitalism, might insist, the poor don’t need the handouts of the maboneg precinct, we don’t need the charity or the garbled, haphazard organisation of the bourgeoisie (and stop stealing our shit you morally bankrupt drones, maboneng is a ghetto term)…what we need is the space and opportunity to dream and plan our own beautiful patch in the sun…if we could just get this suffocating phallic appendage out of our throat…don’t sleep too easy there in your MSL dorm rooms…to retaliate is just and that which is just is noble.

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  41. Anonymous says:

    Someone’s a BA Student.

    Pulls out pipe, smokes it, chortles menacingly.

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  42. Hippo critter says:

    And probably drives a polo and likes to tweet,

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  43. bOoby pryze says:


    i was born in port elizabeth, and came to johannesburg because i didn’t have a choice.

    my parents moved here when i was three, straight to hillbrow, into a building called high point…..for a young black boy like me; it kind of was. Brenda fassie lived across the hall on the 14th floor i believe it was a the time, and once or twice she bought me some chicken licken.

    it was awesome.

    we then moved out a few years later but that whole time i would always commute through the city, whether i was walking or on buses taxis etc to get to school or not to get to school, see bunking was a big part of my schooling experience, there was always an air of excitement, we went to day time clubs that allowed school kids in uniform to drink and party in broad daylight, ironically one of these spots was called moonlight.

    le club was great on weekends.

    anyway, i love this city….having spent time in london paris new york amsterdam shanghai rio etc, i still think johannesburg is the business.

    main street life is not an island to me, because i still see and feel the whole city, main street life is just a place for me to lay my head every night, and it’s been a joy, the community of people here is quite something – if the people who “designed” this place and this living are evil, i’ll bet they never counted on this, hey, god if you believe in any of that didn’t really count on free will going as far as it has right – soweto is/was contrived, remember verwoerd, and so is sandton, so is wherever you live, it’s about what you do with the space.

    oh and you only have to take a 45sec walk into the fox den on main to get a taste of jozi, which the residents of maboneng often do….and it’s intoxicating.

    so hey, either it’s for you or it’s not, simple, roger is entitled to his opinion, it’s not wrong and it’s not right, it’s the way he feels and that’s all good.

    i, i live in the main street life building and it’s energy and soul is spectacular, if you don’t live here…..you can’t really know.


    bOoby pryze

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  44. Andy says:

    well put B0oby Pryze… nice work

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  45. striker says:

    Roger, I thank you for your strong opinion. Context is everything, so is free writing, free thought, free comment, free will – it is mahala after all.

    The one thing that struck me is how nicely your free thoughts pack so many things in neat little matchbox-sized containers – you’ve got one for the “headscarved,” the “NHS framed,” the “dreadlocked” and the “bearded”…one for the “kitch,” one for the “kids,” and the struggle vets too.

    Ahhh, the boxes….

    They’re so cheap and so easy to come by in this city…but they damn sure ain’t free.

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  46. Roger Young says:

    @bOoby pryze

    ” if you don’t live here…..you can’t really know” Yes. I totally agree with you.


    Kitch Kids is one box, not two.

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  47. Chad says:

    Why is no-one talking about Us Kids Know? Aren’t we as important?

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  48. @Andy says:

    DISCLAIMER- only applicable if you are A davis: loving the boOby PriZe but shamelessly commenting/critDissing on the tit twit? are you confused?

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  49. Sam says:

    This ‘review’ is extremely short-sighted and petty. Rejuvenation happens all over the world – but perhaps you haven’t traveled or you don’t read the ‘papers’. And I believe that this area was more or less ’empty’ and ‘run down’. Kudos to the developers for doing what thousands of people do throughout the world. Everyday. Improve a city for the people there and from afar.

    Smells like a great case of sour grapes to me. FFS – what are you doing for your city? Why don’t you do something positive for urban upkeep and quit being a hater?

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  50. Roger Young says:


    You’ll notice there is a para stating all the things I feel are good about it. I’m not a hater, just suspicious.

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  51. block mount says:

    amen sam, amen

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