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Making a Splash

Making a Splash

by Alex Sudheim, images by Jessica Rogers / 07.04.2010

Despite having recently discovered to my chagrin that I am not getting any younger, I took this sobering realisation on the chin and resolved to immediately avail myself of all the trappings of what The National so eloquently describes as “another uninnocent elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults.” Responsibility, reliability, maturity, integrity, that sort of thing.

In other words at Splashy Fen 2010 I would conduct myself in the appropriate adult fashion with none of the lunacy, depravity, havoc and general balls-out debauchery that have characterised my previous ten or so trips to the annual mountain mayhem that is The Fen. I would observe the proceedings from a distance and record my field notes with the detached objectivity of the most dedicated social anthropologist. I would present my findings, astutely grounded in a rigorous theoretical framework, to a jury of academic peers in a suitably esteemed scholarly journal.

Well, if the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions, the above just built the Golden Gate Bridge across the River Styx. On Thursday afternoon I headed for the hills a healthy, high-spirited young(ish) buck fired up with the prospect of innocent pastoral pleasures but returned on Monday morning a smouldering ruin of of a man. Burns, bruises, lacerations, puncture wounds, insect bites and strange rashes covered my filthy, desecrated body. In short, I had a fucking fantastic time. Now, let’s see if I can remember any of it.

Despite Thursday being the first day of the festival and not a public holiday, over 10 000 people had already pitched their tents and put on their party faces when Splashy Fen roared into gear at 6pm. Or more like squealed into gear – after the all the build-up and anticipation there is no excuse for opening any festival with Haggis & Bong. They call themselves “Celtic metal” but whatever spin you put on it the bagpipe is an abomination that sounds like a pig being tortured to death with sharpened vuvuzelas, and should be banned.

Cortina Whiplash

Fortunately, immediate redemption is on hand when Cortina Whiplash hit the stage. The all-girl 3-piece have more balls than all the blustering lad-bands at the festival combined, with their raw, snarling, helter-skelter blues-rock powered by bassist and lead singer Loandi Boersma’s feral stage prowling and Joplin-channeling vocal energy. By the time they rip into their blistering cover of Patti Smith’s “Rock ‘n Roll Nigger” you begin to wonder if the metal fence in front of the stage is to protect the band from the audience or vice versa.

The rest of Thursday night saw raucous performances from The Shadowclub, Straatligkinders and perennial festival favourites Captain Stu and Hog Hoggidy Hog while on Friday night Splashy Fen cast aside its Anglo-Saxon reservations and embraced the Afrikaans rock revolution. Jack Parow established himself as South Africa’s Beck and emphatically proved he’s way more than a one-hit wonder; the sublime indietronic rock of Die Heuwels Fantasties comes across as a harder, homegrown version of The Postal Service and Fokofpoliesiekar, while rocking as manfully as ever, seem somewhat overshadowed by their own hype as breathlessly portrayed in the melodramatic documentary that can’t emphasise enough the assertion that “there will never be another band like this.”

Jack Parow

Then Splashy Fen hits a wobble in the time-space continuum as Saturday’s programme should have been swapped en masse with Sunday’s. Despite impressive sets from genre-mashing iconoclasts T.H.O.T.S and electro-spazz-rap trio Spitmunky in the afternoon, these end when the main tent is given over to the Sharks game and the rest of the evening promises major snoozefests from Ard Matthews and Prime Circle. The beseeching, overwrought sincerity of Matthews is positively emetic and, even though Prime Circle can get a bit lighters-in-the-air ballad-y, not even they deserve the Nickelback comparison one rapturous fan bestows upon them.

Low Profile

Instead, a tight, frenetic set by Car Boot Vendors on the smaller stage salvages the evening but it remains a pity that many festival-goers, out of cash and out of stamina, leave on Sunday and miss smoking sets by seductive rock-reggae band Manuvah To Land; indie-punk group LowProfile; B-grade horror-rock outfit The Death Valley Blues Band and synapse-frying US “Nintendo-core” act Horse The Band. The latter employs various electronic instruments to simulate the sounds of classic 8-bit Nintendo games (Super Mario Brothers, Tetris etc) which they throw into the blender with paint-peeling metal-core. The band has famously toured the planet several times on the most suicidal of shoestring budgets, a fact which is plain to see in their commitment and intensity onstage but which also left one wondering why they were turning out the lights at the tail end of Splashy Fen instead of starting a fire in the middle of it.

Horse The Band

In closing, an obligatory word on the festival in terms of race-obsessed South Africa to pre-empt the predictable, inevitable and oh-so-witty remarks that are about to ensue in the comments section with some or other smug smartarse cracking wise about bands called Tighty Whitey and The Pale Natives or whatever: the fact that the overwhelming majority of Splashy Fen’s patrons are white is an incontrovertible but not necessarily racial one. The healthy spattering of black kids partying it up at Splashy pointed to various cultural factors to explain the demographic disparity – “black people aren’t into camping”; “black people aren’t into live rock music”; “black people dig R&B in clubs” are some of the common responses I received. And it kinda makes sense: when I went to the sold-out Akon show at Durban’s International Convention Centre, the crowd was close to 100% black yet no-one was tooting the race horn there.

Splashy Fenners

In short, just like the Akon concert, Splashy Fen is a mountain that Mohamed can come to if he wants to. No-one is telling him that he can’t: at neither event is there any form of policy excluding anybody on the basis of race therefore both – despite attracting a majority of patrons from different race groups – are by definition non-racial events. And besides, if you really want to solve the sociological, psychological, historical and economic mysteries of race in South Africa in the context of public music events, go write and publish a Phd thesis on the subject. A callow comment here simply means you don’t have the balls for the battle.

So do we...

All images courtesy and © Jessica Rogers.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    A commendable piece. No self righteous wanking – just straight shooting opinons regarding the music and event in general. I especially enjoyed your balanced retort to one of Mahala’s black-is-the-only-black previews on Splashy.
    I’m sure we can expect a pseudo gonzo we-are-awesome-wannabe shock piece to follow…

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  2. heino says:

    “you begin to wonder if the metal fence in front of the stage is to protect the band from the audience or vice versa.”

    nice line. cortina whiplash sounds rad. would like to see them one day.

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  3. math wrath says:

    That’s right buddy, cut them off at the pass before they turn this piece into another tired festival race debate. Given recent events, self-righteous racial debate is probably the last thing that SA needs right now. Time to let people indulge in what seems culturally natural to them and let the forces of nature and natural selection take their course.

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  4. sakkie says:

    Very good, honest and knowledgeable writing about a rock festival without being too hip about it. You made me wish I was there. Thank you for not once using the word awesome

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  5. Andy says:

    i just take offense that Anonymous thinks we publish “pseudo gonzo we-are-awesome-wannabe shock pieces” Because I’ve never seen a “shock piece” on we-are-awesome

    and what the hell does “black-is-the-only-black” mean?

    Sounds like you’ve got issues Anonymous. Let’s talk about them.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Andy pants. Let me explain.
    I was not referring to the we-are-awesome site. I was alluding to (a majority) of your “writer’s” propensity for (seemingly) creating (overly) self inflated pseudo Beatnik images of themselves. This literal masterbation tends to dominate there pieces on musical events. Everything in moderation, no?
    Secondly. Black-is-the-only-black. As opposed to…and I’m sure you already know this one big guy… something or the other being the new black. Again, a majority of your writers (seem to) pander to the nationalistic ambitions of the black diamonds at the expense of the rest of South Africa’s many peoples.
    Anyhoo. Just my 2c-waste-of-time opinion.
    By the by. Another denialist piece on farm murders would go down well just about now don’t you think….

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  7. Anonymous says:

    And. Before the hounds are let loose…I’m all for (true) democracy and living as one (if we choose).

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  8. rettambuli says:

    Anonymous – you simpering ass-hat – you’ve inadvertently turned the commentary feed into exactly the kind of race-flecked snark the article chidingly second-guesses…

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  9. Anonymous says:

    Indeed. I also made use of gross genralisations. Mahala hurt me (deeply) and I lashed out. Tit for tat. Not a cool cat. My apologies.
    I must admit. There has been an improvement and as always. It is better than nothing.

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  10. hoodoo pie fiend says:

    great review! keep up the good work alex.

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  11. Sarah Dee says:

    I’m mostly impressed with your memory.

    Thanks for filling in some of my blanks.

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  12. eye spie says:

    i saw you butt naked fucking some chick under a tree, nice one bro, never saw you watching any music though, where did the opinions come/cum from ahem

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  13. solid says:

    nice review thanks

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  14. Andy says:

    Alex is this true!?

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  15. Andy says:

    Because, if so, you should’ve mentioned it in your review…

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  16. Nice one! says:

    Nice review Jess, this was my 10th Splashy Fen and I noticed a far more racial inclusive line up and crowd then previous festivals, change doesn’t happen over night. Lekka

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  17. Anon says:

    @ Eye Spie.
    So true – Wasn’t Alex was one of the people to run “out of cash and out of stamina” on Sunday. Moral of the story? Good journalists can talk shit.

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  18. Anon says:

    No comments on any of Sunday’s Blues sets?

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  19. Your Mother says:


    for some education

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