Finally Rock ‘n Rollby Luke Mason, images by Erin Wulfsohn and Lauren Oliver / 16.03.2011
In the zoo, a nobody with a lucky job gets the chance to look at Durban from a rockstar’s perspective. My opinion on the music means very little, but I can say that in every respect, the quality of the event outshone the support, hands down.
By 5pm around a hundred or so Durbanites had parted mournfully with their 200 bucks and trickled through the doors at The Wavehouse, Gateway. The shopping centre Gestapo had quarantined the drinking facilities behind fences and burly Enforcers – 30 meters behind and to the side of the stage – and the troop of motley scenekids hung like reef fish to the security of the bars. Van Coke Cartel kicked off the evening to a crowd missing its middle. They played with energy and style to 6 loose rows of people, half of them fans, trying their best to offer what they could against the apathy. I watched a very similar thing happen when Die Heuwels Fantasties played the Red Bull Soundclash: the anti-Afrikaans residue of old Natal still strong and opaque, lying like a blanket, smothering their best efforts. The bar areas filled slowly in the background. Durban city: The toughest crowd in the world.
Backstage the mood was quiet during the change-over, a few smiles, fewer jokes, professionals working. People arrived at the gig in twos and threes, smoked cigarettes, talked to each other. Zebra and Giraffe played in the sunset. Their performance was enjoyable, vibey, cool, and it pulled a few more away from their beers, but the spaces on the dancefloor remained, the elephant in the room. Most stood, wary to contribute a headnod to this unfamiliar music without at least a beer in hand for counter-balance.
With Die Antwoord, the crowd swelled, suddenly the thought of watching Waddy Jones gives me a starstruck feeling. Everyone backstage is told to take a step towards the wall, Ninja needs his Zef-room. They came out in a knob-waving, Yolandi-screeching fury, looking ridiculous as usual, acting sif, and swearing at their fans. The real Max Normal. His nuance remains, the Pink Floyd boxers under his onezie, the brain beneath his mullet, his flow and his beautifully painted hightops. People begin to dance and have a bit of fun. A bead of sweat forms. But there’s inevitable tension, not everyone is in on the joke. The glazed expression in his backward glances is mirrored in the illuminated faces of the crowd. Home from superstardom, back to that old feeling. A pub punk stands dead-eyed, front and centre his two middle fingers raised in defiance the entire show.
Alkaline Trio’s manager tends to the details while they do yoga poses and talk quietly amongst themselves before their set. The class of the act is undeniable, and despite Matt Skiba having serious difficulties with his guitar, they played good music and looked like they had fun in front of a crowd well shy of a good night at Clapham Grand (excuse the oxymoron). Fans begun to move and mosh, taken by the music and infected by the proximity. Finally someone hits the top of the porous crowd, but even Marty – Durban’s rockstar – battled to stay afloat.
“What the fuck is this about?” Finally Matt Davies of Funeral for a Friend takes control of the situation, shaking his microphone at the barflies and the uninterested.
“Don’t be shy, come and try!” Enter the showman. Enter the shepherd of the lost sheep.
“For fuck sake Durban! Make some fucking noise!” For the first time that night, Durban made some noise.
“How about a circle pit? Larger than life, big as fuck? Let’s break this fucker down!” And they did, larger than life, big as fuck. With the familiar anthems and the simple on the bus: off the bus attitude of the mosh pit, the vibe lit up. The story was told in Davies’ smile, the pleasure of having his words roared back at him. It was, finally, rock n’ roll.
Maybe it was the venues fault, forcing the populous into the nakedness of appreciating the music without booze in hand, the social crutch. Maybe people just didn’t like the bands. I don’t know. Durbanites turn up in their thousands, religiously, to pay tribute to cheesy house and radio douchebags every time they press play. Is this town really as backward as that? Thank Buddha for the people in the crowd giving their energy freely, they saved the gig and made it worthwhile for our guests. Without them, it would have looked pretty grim from up there.
*Images © Erin Wulfsohn and Lauren Oliver.