Nanny Festby Roger Young / Images by Sydelle Willow Smith / 12.10.2011
Finally, the moment where I no longer give a fuck happens. It happens during Mr Cat and the Jackal vs The Nomadic Orchestra set on the smallest stage at Rocking The Daisies. It’s been a weekend, so far, of minor irritations but here, fleetingly yet gorgeously, they dissolve. This is the reason I came here, this is the feeling I’ve been waiting for. After the car ride, the packing, the disillusionment with so many fences and gate checks and all the fucking rules of a commercial festival (because let me tell you as much as RTD tries to paint itself as a eco friendly hippy vibe, it is a deeply commercial festival, with DA-like nanny overtones. And fences, lots of fucking fences. You pay your money and you drive into the countryside to get away from fences or at least the feeling of fences and then, there they are; along with the rules and the please don’t-drink-and-drive ads between every band and the save the planet bullshit while being sponsored by a brewery (Did I mention that they renamed the town “Carling” for the weekend, real hippies wouldn’t do that) a brewery that I can’t imagine has the best “green” track record, anyway, where was I? Freedom. I go to festivals for freedom, to stop thinking and to just let go. And the bottom line is RTD never really lets you let go.)
But freedom does come, finally during this Mr Cat and the Nomadic’s set. It’s a testing set, alternating musicians at this rate but they perform with abandon. I’ve actually had reservations about both bands for a while. I find Mr Cat is still a little steeped in their influences; as good as they are, they are not quite totally themselves yet. And Nomadic Orchestra are a little, well, Balkanology for my liking. Both bands, in essence are a little too stagey, a little too theatrical. Anyway, they played song on song. One Mr Cat, one Nomadic, swapping the stage like magicians, then members were left behind, bands crossed over. It became a glorious swirl of manic energy and playfulness. Mr Cat’s sea shanty meets the blues vibes perfectly dovetailing with Nomadic’soohpah gypsy thing. The manic-ness of having to swap all the time does something; it strips both bands of their overt theatricality. Strips them back to just plain performance. The recklessness slips into the crowd and a friendly pogo pit develops. People are smiling and random strangers are sharing drinks. There’s a sense of community, something that’s been missing so far at Nanny Fest. And suddenly, it was all about the music again. It was a moment where I laughed with joy, had to re-evaluate my opinion and got to dance. In that brief moment Rocking The Daises was a proper festival.
Even if, ostensibly, the reason we go to a festival is to watch bands, it isn’t the only reason we go. But what one must realise is that a festival is designed to cater to a lot of people at one time and you’re not going to please everyone all of the time; therefore it’s up to you as a festival goer to make the best of the experience. I know, a lot of what I’m saying is hugely obvious but I need to state this as much for yours as for the organisers’ sake. Rocking The Daisies can’t please everyone, it sure as shit can’t please a cranky motherfucker like me but what RTD can do is be honest about what it’s doing. It’s not an eco fest, even if they do recycle. It’s not some hippy bullshit in a field; it’s a place where Prime Circle plays the main stage on a Saturday night. Absorb that. Process that and then move on. RTD is a place where they don’t clean the toilets regularly; it’s a place where the showers don’t work on a Sunday. It’s a place where you keep getting hit in the face by annoying Ray-Ban branded balls. If RTD didn’t have the Red Bull stage and the Beat “Barn” then it would just be Kirstenbosch with an expensive bar and a no BYO policy. But all that aside, I actually had a good time, and no, that’s not just the mdma talking, I mean this isn’t just a weekend thing, RTD, I actually like you for who you are and I promise I’m going to want to see you again. You don’t have to pretend to be someone else for me.
Okay, that’s the bitch session over, mostly. Let’s get into the narrative. After we put up our tent and finished bitching it was time to work out the drug schedule and hug people. We over drink at the free Sailor Jerry van in the fading sun. Henk tells me that once we’ve done our mdma, he’s going to change my mind about Gazelle. I’m on a diet and can’t go near the food area, the Red Bull Electronic tent is a bit slow on the uptake generally and I’m avoiding the Beat Ring / Balkanology area because I am a snob. So, we go over to the main bar and start reconnecting with all the people that I only see at festivals, the disparate undercover brotherhood of freaks that do this shit as a way of life.
I don’t remember much else. We took some shrooms and some mdma and then it was Gazelle. Henk fails to change my mind and then I absolutely have no idea what happens. We wander around. Nothing really takes my fancy. Walking across the bridge later that night I hear someone in the distance singing “Wash Your Socks” and I feel a pang of grief. It’s about two in the morning when I realise that I have half a marlin in our cooler bag and need to find a fridge for it, our ice packs won’t make morning, the forecast is for heat all weekend. I find the Kreef Hotel reception and ask them if they can hold onto my fish. I get into a conversation about cooking marlin with a man who has theories. And then Henk and The Biltong Heir find their way in and tell me that all the bars are closed. Kreef is the only place left open. I have whiskey in my tent and we gather a team, take more class A’s and hit the Red Bull Pistachio in time for Moe Joe’s set. I don’t remember what he played. I just remember the lights and Joubert, the famed festival streaker, hanging on to the railing like he was in a wind tunnel. Later that night, as Joubert attempts to disrobe for a lap of honour, festival security tackle him to the ground and prevent the international festival staple of harmless nudity.
In the morning, we’re up at the crack of ten am to see the buzz band of the festival, The Brother Moves On. Anyway, Brother Move On pull off what is quite simply the best gig at RTD. Musically and headspace-ly they’re miles ahead of any other band there. They have a sense of humour but they’re not a jokey band, they’re jazzy political psychedelic funk with serious ancestor issues. They’re everything people have said about them, and more. I decide that I need to see The Brother not on an mdma and shrooms comedown. I need to see them not at ten o’clock in the fucking morning. After their show, someone walks past me wearing an “Africa is not for sissies” t-shirt. I feel like this, and the distant song the night before, is a sign that Syd Kitchen is somehow around.
Apparently I’m to be in some cooking show. Thank god I froze that marlin. Plans are made at tent camp for a time. While this is happening I notice a musician packing up his tent even though I know his band is playing tonight. Apparently RTD doesn’t give musicians plus ones and his girlfriend is staying in Gen Pop, so he’s going to move over there. Oh, well.
Yesterday’s Pupil is playing in electronic tent but Tumi and the Volume have started up on the main stage. It’s going to be a tight juggle. Yesterday’s Pupil plays mostly new material and to be honest, it’s weird seeing him on stage without an actual drum kit. The new material is more vocal based (and Peach is finally finding his singing voice), more emo pop than his previous album. It still has the same kick to it but it’s more dreamy and internal and a little less playful, a young Jarvis Cocker singing with voice effects overa Jean Micheal Jarre opera with low riding bass.
Tumi is busy taking the main stage apart. The Volume have their funk on and Tumi works a crowd like no-one else in this country. He’s no mere hype-man, he brings the people into the experience. There is actual dancing, smiles are wide in the last golden glow of the sun as T&theV almost refuse to get off stage, taunting and teasing the stage managers with a song that just doesn’t end but keeps promising to, Tumi singing portions off stage and then running back on. Then it’s time for aKing and I realise the white portion of the fest has started in earnest. It’s time to abandon the main stage.
Back down, over the bridge back at the tent camp, the cooking show is struggling to find a skottel and I’m buckling. The food area at RTD is seriously good but I can have none of it. I’m a fat man trying to stay off the carbs. We take our evening shrooms and fill our whiskey into juice bottles and sneak it into the fest, once again. I’m not even sure if I’m just being paranoid about this alcohol thing but I’m not taking any chances, I had some drinks poured out coming in from the parking lot on Friday night and I didn’t like it. I get that there needs to be security, I just know it’s also easy for them to be friendly.
We rush over to Mr Cat and the Nomadic and this is where the festival kicks in. Please now refer back to my first paragraph, without the bitchy bit in the middle because Mr Cat and the Nomadic completely blow the bitch dust from my mind. Did I mention the banjo thing? Did I mention the guy from Nomadic playing two trumpets simultaneously? Did I mention the tight and loose energy flowing between the two bands; did I mention that I finally relent to the fact that Mr Cat and the Jackal has actually travelled past its influences into themselves? And that Nomadic Orchestra is the best of the gypsy sound I’ve seen around. I relent to the present; nothing that comes before matters, there just is this. There is just joy.
We’re spat sated from the tent. I crack and we head for fried food. Not without ducking into P.H.Fat’s little rap show. It’s too packed with strangers after the loose friendliness of the Beat Ring. We eat our combo box of fried trans fats and chemically enhanced calamari, out of non-polystyrene recyclable boxes.
We want to walk in the fields, the moon is bright but there are fences everywhere. We walk down past the bathrooms, past what has now reverted back to the Balkanology tent and I find a fence badly secured, we break through and through another one and we head out into the vines, up the hill toward the water reservoirs.
The hill gets progressively bigger and steeper as we climb it. We pass through the vines and I snag my belly getting over a barbed wire fence. Up here the air is dry and warm, the festival spread below us, insignificant as a distant town. The sounds from the dying down of some rock band and the electronic tent clash, battling in the approaching night mist for dominance, like some minor storm. The moon is bright and nearly full, the stars pinpricks. We have achieved freedom. It’s a good feeling. We lie on the hill, in the dust and warmth and we listen to Band of Skulls vaguely coming through on the wind. It’s the best place to be. As we hear BoS playing their big song it’s time to make our way down the hill. We find a white pony, and we spend more time with him or her. The moment the MC starts up in the distance, the pony freaks out and moves under the tree.
It’s been a hot day and now that I’ve broken the diet, I want ice cream. But because it’s been a hot day, they’re sold out. We climb up the impressive 5 Gum tower and watch Lark from above. They’re Lark, they’re pretty damn amazing, but I’m way too chilled out from the hill climb to be able to click into their vibe.
There is here, a large gap in my memory. I know it has something to do with that damn orange tent but suddenly I find myself in front at the Red Bull Pistachio Stage with three glowing The Saint type figures are pumping out hard and groovy, what I can only guess is, Minimal Tech. It’s clean and it’s complex and it sucks you in like a motherfucker, building beautifully with very little else but techno beats and groove. I get lost in it until the lights are rather abruptly switched on and we’re herded out the tent. Later I read the program and discover they were called Digital Rockit. So, there you go.
On Sunday morning the showers are dry. (Never put the media in the VIP section if don’t plan to keep showers running on the Sunday). And the toilets are destroyed. There is no sign that anyone is coming to clean them. Even when we leave at about two in the afternoon, they haven’t been attended to. It makes me feel a little like, now that they have our cash, RTD doesn’t care about us anymore, it’s like having bought a girl drinks all night and she leaves with someone else.
I have to choose Felix Laband over Shadowclub (although whoever thought putting Shadowclub on in the noonday sun was a good idea, needs a talking to). We go and sit in the food area; the ice cream people open up again to a collective cheer.
At the Red Bull electronic vibe, everyone is sitting down on the grass and waiting. I’ve been speaking to people all weekend and a good chunk them have told me straight that the main reason they came to RTD was for Felix. He doesn’t play often enough and he doesn’t release enough music. Everyone stands up and begins grooving the moment he starts, grooving slowly in their various blisses. His set is worth the ticket price alone. He plays a mixture of tracks from Dark Days Exit, some other stuff which may or may not be his and he plays some kwaito, including “Jezebel”. The sound of Felix Laband coming through a really big sound system after a long weekend of festivaling is magnificent and hugely satisfying. A guy called Jeremy comes up to me and asks, “how was your festival?”
“Ups and downs,” I say, “like any fest.” We nod and revel in Felix for a bit. I wish he’d just release a new album already and come back to us.
Down at the tent camp the cooking show has happened without me. I need a shower and I can’t have one so I’m keen to leave. There are two types of festival, the kind you can’t tear yourself away from and the kind that you can’t wait to leave. We pull off, somewhere near Malmsbury, I realise I’ve left my marlin behind.
Now look Rocking the Daisies. I know you tried hard, I know this was a lot of work, but frankly there are others who try harder and do it better. But I did have a lot of fun with you. And listen, it’s not just the mdma talking, I had a great time and I don’t want this weekend to just be a once off thing. I promise I’ll call you. I promise we’ll see each other again. You’re amazing, no really.
*All images © Sydelle Willow Smith