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Drakensberg Dystopia

by Luke Mason / 12.04.2010

On Thursday I said goodbye to a friend. A tragic start to the usually jubilant Splashy Fen weekend. All the lives that he’d touched sat shoulder to shoulder, brought together one last time on his hospitality. The church rained in his memory and honour.

My favourite memory of Dylan Harris was at Splashy a couple years back. He stood in the centre of the circle as he always did – in red basketball shorts and yellow shades, holding ten smiles in each eye and a Millers in his left hand, dancing to his inner ints.

“INTS INTS INTS INTS” he intsed, feet planted, hands outstretched, waving his knob around kawabunga style in the mountains. A king in this world: his legend growing with each wave of laughter.

Driving irie into the morning light, mattress buffeting on the roof racks, connection snoring softly in the back again. This year instead of the usual giddiness, I feel the heaviness of Dylan’s departure. I’ve made this journey almost every year for more than half of my life. The eye-level of the memories change, but in all of them there is a commonality – a feeling of place, of warm arms and cold nights, fireplace conversations, music and elation – of place within that place – of legacy. We write our lives with our every moment in the minds of others, never thinking we might be halfway through a sentence when that final full stop comes. Splashy is a place of a million stories. I wondered what words I’d have right now for the headspace of that mountain.

The gatepost looms, my name isn’t at the door. I don’t mind, I’m not a real journalist anyway. I’m just convincing enough for a condoned entrance.

My mom’s car knows this place well. It swaggers up the hill, through the flags and blow-up dolls, tents and humans. Random smiles and ‘Happy Splashy’s are shared, lots of young faces, a handful of friends, bikini bottoms and gum boots. The various factions of Durban cool-kids had bivouacked up and down the hill and I feel strangely homeless.

Brothers prepare for the lift-off

When homeless at Splashy on a sunny day: find yourself a decent tree; set up tent; pile in all things soft and warm; change into your summer skin; roll a spliff; open a beer; place shades firmly on face, when you are satisfied with the hue of your perceptions; go and suss out the scene.

Gone are the days of four big stages. The markets are smaller. Everything about the set up is more commercial, less interesting. The line-ups less appealing. The pocket-knock more serious. It’s amazing that after 21 years they haven’t managed to build a decent toilet, and there’s not a single rubbish bin in the entire place. Nature opens her legs and we vomit on her yet again. But hey, that’s Splashy.

Bottles of various evil juices passed around, hands slapped, shoulders bumped, cheeks kissed and smiles shared. Most of the rainbow heads are here, the rock stars, the beauties, the trippers and the tambourine men.

Not just creepy, Steve is classy too

Somewhere in the vagaries of all that freedom, those missions and the laughter, I felt something decompress. I was back in that fuzzy edged mountain light, everyone polarised in celebration, enjoying myself without trying, writing without thinking again.

Friday night would have been far cooler for me if I could understand Afrikaans. I spent the night attached to someone beautiful, so for the most part, they were all love songs anyway. We had fun getting thrown out of backstage with our press-pass Mahala-ness. I met the guy with the epic hat and asked him a whole lot of questions that just aren’t that interesting when looking back on the drunken scrawl. We lent half an ear to the vibes of Tidal Waves. I asked at least 30 people what this was all about until I was satisfied that no one really knew, or cared. Beer tent, booze and raucousness, always friends on their own trajectories, intertwining and diverging. The throngs ride the bandwagon, inhibitions tossed aside as we danced and drank and laughed and loved and smiled and howled with Dionysus.

The morning sun was tame behind our tree but Friday kicks me into consciousness, hard. My throat feels like it’s stuck itself together during the night, and no amount of water can loosen its grip. A Myprodol and a spliff, I stagger through the brambles to take the scourer to my teeth. We are practically the last four tents in the campsite, on the other side of the family campsite fence. Familiar humans emerge slowly from their tents: a Blessed one (who 23 years ago would be born later this very weekend), the reincarnation of Jimmy Hendricks and his dark eyed companion, two ladies from the North, two counterparts from the South, the Turkey, an Amazon and a guy named Chris.

Easy Camping

The morning meandered, we told jokes and shared various supplies. We played chess.

The Blessed one stirred a pot of yellow veggies over a smouldering fire. Two days later he would scrape congealed yellowness into the brambles, but that was impossible to know that then. A certain ingredient was lost and rummaged for. An hour after it had been found it was the rummagers time to be lost. They grinned into the unknowable. We headed for the water.

A long lounge by the top dam. Beautiful skin everywhere. Cane and juice, conversations and ever more friend. The most incredible light and sun. Johnny Cash climbs out of the boot of a bakkie and dances on the water. Hours and hours go buy in luxurious laziness. By the end of it, I’m drunk.

This is possibly the coolest person alive in South Africa right now.

Spitmunky spat, heads bounced. T.H.O.T.S rocked, hands raised. The rugby roared, we showered. People dress the full spectrum at Spashy. From the sex of as little as possible, to the poofiness of the all those warm clothes we never get to wear in Durban.

Although, with Global Warming as the guest of honour this year, it didn’t really ever get that cold.

We sit around our tent, clean and warm in the evening breeze, sharing aromatic cigarettes preparing for the party field. A police helicopter circles the site, weighing on us like a giant mechanical vulture.

Total Beardos

It’s dark, I’m smashed and we stumble down the hill, arm and arm. There is euphoria in the air and we swim through it unabashed. A squarer type in his best colourful wig asks me if I know when Prime Circle is playing. “I don’t fucking care when Prime Circle is playing.” I reply like a dick. (Guy, if you’re reading this, and some punk said that to you this weekend, he apologises.) We saw a friend by the medical tent and went to say hello. The second member of a team of three, who had been walking around earlier in the day in a custom made three-man-jersey and giving out group hugs, lay blank eyed under a blanket and was receiving fluids. A strange world in here. A 17-year-old kid got stretchered in. He was rushing his fucking nuts off. Eyes rolling, mouth and eyelids opening and closing like a confused carp. Fear and loathing in the fluorescent bubble, we made our escape. I don’t remember too much about Saturday night after that, aside from the vodka, the Cream Soda and being totally lost in another human being. The Meditators did their wonderful thing, we danced, we got cold, we went to get warm clothes at the tent and put them back on at 8 the next morning.

My eyes open. The previous nights’ consequences hadn’t manifested yet. I wasn’t sure where I was at first. All I knew for sure is that it was Poo o’clock. You can run from those burger express bacon and cheeseburgers, but you can only run so long. My bag is lying in the brambles outside the tent. My sunnies are gone, my wallet too. I had obviously left it outside when I came back to change. I find my wallet a couple more paces into the brambles, gutted, the remainder of my cash had been pillaged but my cards and stuff where all still there. Fuckers. I hobble downhill, barefoot and tender, eyes straining into the cold morning. There’s a strange feeling on the air. Now that Prime Circle had played and there was no rugby left to watch, a decent percentage of this year’s humans had nothing left to stay for. The weekend warriors take down their tents and climb into their cabbies, there is a sense of emptiness, a shallowness.

The other Pooers queue and shift from foot to foot. I watch the two lady toilet attendants closely as they busy themselves with our business. The younger one lets a tiny whimper escape her lips as she emerges from one of the heavily abused shitters.

I turn on the tap and wait 5 minutes for the water to arrive, and wash away some of the party layer from my feet, hands and face.

Back into a camp site of ever closer friends, resting tired bodies on logs and camping chairs around a pile of cans, plastic bags, cigarette boxes and half eaten edibles masquerading as a fire.

This is it

The hilarity of Saturday still sits close on the tongue. I cuss and howl at the unfairness of it all until one of the Northern women hand me back my glasses. She’d found them lying in the grass.

The Turkey tells a story of how he had been accompanied back to the tent last night by a beauty. And when they had arrived, she asked if she could wake up the Turkeys tent-mate. So while the Turkey got his Turk on, the beauty woke up the friend with the strangest kiss he’d ever had.
“And you had to think about it!” says the Turkey.
“Of course I had to think about it bru!” protests the friend.
“The funny this is that afterwards she’s told me she had had 3 poos that day”
They sat next to each other, closer now then they’d ever be.

“Fuck this place. Fuck Splashy Fen! I’m never coming here again.” Bless crawls crusty eyeballed out of his tent and peals a vrot banana. He had spent most of the previous night getting the shit kicked out of him by undercover police. I had seen him just prior to that in the raddest of hats. So rad in fact that I felt the need to put it on for a second. Apparently, according to these particular cops, it’s easy to spot the dealer at the jol, he’ll be the one swapping hats. Bless looks broken as he tells his story.

Splashy Foot

“So like there’s three black cops right, and all the other cops are white. They’d ask me a question, then they’d fuck me up when I was trying to answer. They’d ask me a question, then they’d fuck me up. So then I’m keeping quite. Then they’d ask me a question and fuck me up for keeping quiet.

“A black cop comes and speaks to me and I said to him, ‘Hey cop listen, you check these glasses I’m wearing, it’s my fucking birthday. This place here, everyone is doing drugs. Whoever you think is drunk is fucked on something. This is my first time here. My friends are getting excited and saying lets get this thing. So we bought this thing, we chowed this thing so we could have a good time, and now you are calling me a drug dealer and you haven’t found shit on me?’

“You know when you feel like a thug bra, and you just can’t do anything about it. They fucking smack you around, and, you’re just a thug. ‘You, sell drugs to our kids. I’m gonna fucking kill you. You just here to fuck white chicks. I’ll take you out into a field and kill you. A leopard and a cheetah don’t mix.’

“I’m like, ‘bru, you don’t know what I want in life. Do you know who I am? Do you know what I do to contribute in the world? You want to treat me like a thug cause I want to take drugs at your festival. It’s my birthday, so what if I want to experience drugs? You can’t just assume all sorts of shit.’

The black cops knew that I wasn’t selling the drugs, but when out of nowhere the wit ous start skopping me, the black cops are just quiet. They’re like ‘Ja man, there’s nothing we can do.’
I’m like ‘What do you mean there’s nothing you can fucking do?’
‘We can’t help you.’
‘Ja, you haven’t helped me fuck all.’

“What are you gonna say when the ou tunes he’s gonna put a gun to your mother’s head? What are you gonna do? That big Dutch mkhulu baas wannabe head of security guy put a knife to my fuckin body and he’s like, ‘I’ll put it through you.’
I wanna leave now, I wanna go home.”

Terrifying vibes subside slowly. More of the the herd emerges as the story is told. Sleepy dust removed, the ladies do their best to feel ladylike again. Supplies packed, spirits lifted. Another lazy day, getting drunk by the river this time.

Is that chick naked? Is that a chick? Damn you beergoggles!

A transient day, the sky can’t decide what mood it’s in. Maskanda music rolls down from the top of the hill, the wind ripples the glassy water. Bless and I play an amazing game of chess.

Back up top, stepping wherever the fuck my feet decide they want to go. Very very drunk. Manuvah to Land was sublime. No but seriously, in my opinion, my favourite band of the fest. We danced free, drunk and happy, as that lead singer made all his funny faces and entertained the shit out of us. I would see Bless later that evening having the birthday of his life! Surrounded by friends, with a huge smile on his face and the odds pelting from his mouth. By the end of the fest he would still say he wasn’t coming back, but I wonder.

None of the people I wanted to see seem to have left. For every person you bump into at Splashy, you walk past a hundred. The odds on Sunday had simply swung a little in my favour. Although, I did spend about an hour utterly lost. It’s fine bumping into people. It happens spontaneously all the time, but when it comes time to look for someone you’ve lost, you’re as good as fucked. My last image of this year’s revelry was around the drum-circle in the early hours. Lots of friends were still alive, drunk, dancing and mouth raping each other. But I had said all I had to say, my body was tired, dirty and sore and I walked off into the silence of the night, my final stumble home to my tree and my brambles.

I had come to Splashy this year homeless, with life and death on the mind. I had poured my liquor out for my absent friends, had reaffirmed some friendships that needed my attention and had found the Splashy that I had given up looking for. Dylan had left love, friendship and goodness in this world when he had gone. And at the end of the day, that is all that there is. His final lesson to me was an important one. One of the celebration of the time we have, of appreciation of the people we love and the magic that each person brings to every others life. Again I have found my sense of place in a world unto its own. A parallel dimension born in the flux of 10 000 decompressing lives. The magic of a smile and a random conversation. The last outpost of Dionysus. Until we meet again my friend.

Hug the tube, son

Keeping it surreal by the water

Say, you look familiar?

Totally shifty

All images © Luke Mason.

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