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Culture, Music
Invisible Cities

Not Just Sandton

by Lindokuhle Nkosi / 31.05.2011

I’ve stumbled upon a blog called “The Death of Johannesburg”, the purpose of which is to document the “physical destruction of Johannesburg in the New South Africa.” The readers, mostly ex-pats who refer to themselves as refugees reflect nostalgically on the CBD that once was. They lament on the demise of the KFC on the corner of something and something, apparently, an integral part of South African culture. And those who are still stuck in this hellhole of a country congratulate the ones who left in the 80s, before the blacks took over. The ones who fled en masse, with their investment money and title deeds. Leaving behind buildings, derelict and filled with squatters, that can’t be sold.

I won’t pretend that the Joburg CBD is the most pleasant place to be. It’s the abolishment of pass laws. Our porous borders. The choking piss smell and the Nigerian drug dealers in their flashy suits and snake skin shoes. The internet cafes where you can buy an ID book and a whore for the night. It’s the collapse of rent controls; the disregard for basic health and safety that have transformed it from a bustling social hub of music, art and liberal politics; into one of the “unsafest areas of the world”. Not that it was meant to be the cosmopolitan district it has evolved to, mind you. Designed and marketed as a sanatorium for the rich, Yeoville and its surrounding suburbs were created to give the wealthy a break from the mining smog and pollution. Except the rich came and left. They didn’t quite buy into it, and now forty-something odd years later, misty eyed investors and a pressurised government are pumping millions back into the city as part of their Urban Gentrification Programme.

Invisible Cities

Enter Invisible Cities, a 12 part year-long cultural exhibition that has shunned the comforts of the sterile suburbs and taken residence in empty, decrepit concrete towers in the CBD. After navigating through a mini construction site, and up 6 flights of stairs , I (tight chest, short of breath) finally reach the rooftop of Revolution House, corner Kruger and Main. It’s fucking cold, the sun, a futile ornament in the wintry Joburg sky. Its half past four before the first band takes the stage.

The Frown, fronted by a snarling Eve Rakow, draw varied responses from the crowd. It could’ve been the cold. Maybe that typical Jozi mentality that prefers to make a band sweat before we allow ourselves to show that we’re actually have fun. Fun. Nice. Flat words that attempt to convey a sense enjoyment, but like the band, they seem to fall a little short. The synthesiser drowns out the cellist, who looks a little misplaced in her dainty white tiara. And for all her melodic howls, her aggressive gestures and clawed hands, Eve just looks like someone who is trying to appear intimidating. A good attempt though. A fair shot, but at what? I’m thinking Bjork. I’m thinking the forest that little Red Riding Hood was warned not to enter; but walked through anyway. Just not imposing enough.

Invisible Cities

“We felt like everyone was leaving the city again. Like the hype had faded, y’know. You have people who came for the wrong reasons, made their money and left, but the city is still alive.” Mpumi from BLK JKS (one of the Invisible Cities organisers) leans against a graffiti’d wall. On the stage to the left, men in sequined leggings are preparing to perform. Painted onto the wall behind them, three words. “WE WON’T MOVE!” I ask Mpumi about the Sophiatown reference, and whether he finds it a contradiction in terms. The empty buildings have been chosen as venues because they are “no longer what they once were, and not yet what they will soon become”. They were chosen for their transitory nature. Chosen to attract people back to the city, and the words on the wall imply that the people never left. But just like Sophiatown, they did.

“We’ll we’re back now’” he says, smiling as if he’s just avoided a trap. “We’re taking ownership of our cities, and it’s as if we never left.”
I ask if he thinks the Sophiatown reference is racially exclusive. “That’ll be easier to answer,” he says as his smile fades. “No.”

I pushed a little too hard. Took it a little too far and the interview has changed colour. I could apologise and ask him something about his motivation maybe; but The Brother Moves On is about to begin and I use this as an escape.

They are an intriguing enough bunch, grown men in shiny tights, furry jackets and war paint. In front of the stage; a man dressed as “Black Diamond Butterfly” and a girl, “The Black Widow” grind and slide over each other suggestively, but with very little skill. They’re distracting; her in various states of undress, thrusting her hips towards him, towards the ground. It’s obvious that this is unrehearsed. It looks like something they decided over drinks last night. “It’ll be hilarious darling. I’ll carry my ANC Black Diamond Bag.”

Invisible Cities

Finally Siya, now known as Mr. Gold introduces himself and the band in that post-colonial amalgamated African accent popularised by Hollywood. A story–teller, he flows between mediums; shouting, singing, praying. The “Human Insects” upfront try hard to keep our eyes on them, but with the band warmed up and in full swing, they’re easily ignorable. Mr Gold’s voice is unrestricted. He shouts into the mic with the abandon of a man who is fully aware of his voice. Who is familiar with its strengths and failing. The guitars complement each other. The drums are hard-hitting,the base mesmerising in its solemn reverberations. The Deejay randomly scratches here and there, it takes nothing from the music, but it adds nothing either. The performance is enthralling. The crowd dances, or at least attempts to; bouncing from foot-to-foot to the traditional Xhosa music inspired funk.

In the ad-hoc interview, Mpumi mentions how he finds beauty in deconstruction. Earlier in the week, they’d hauled a second-hand piano up the stairs, and filmed it burning on the rooftop. The image is projected on the side of one of the walls. “Perception informs how people behave. We want to show them that everything is beautiful. Not just Sandton. Your city is beautiful too.”

Invisible Cities

*All images © Lindokuhle Nkosi

12   13
  1. Sorry What? says:

    Thanks Mahala. Pity you didn’t have a journalist to cover this show instead of, well,

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  2. Anonymous says:

    pretty disappointing account of what happened.

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  3. Tim says:


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  4. kzamats says:

    Nice read, thanks.

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  5. Caroline says:

    I think you meant to say cellist. There’s a big difference, buddy. Not only in size. Research that next time, won’t you?

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  6. Billy says:

    That’s not a violin

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  7. Lindokushle says:

    yes, cello. Apologies

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  8. Anonymous says:

    This is a very sad attempt at a review of Sundays event. Just a word of advice, rather don’t liken a band to another artist in a review, rather learn to describe the music as it is. You’re supposed to be a music journo right? You clearly missed the memo.

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  9. Alex says:

    You really shouldn’t be allowed to write about music if you can’t even tell the difference between instruments. Due to that massive error, everything that followed held little value for me. Useless review.

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  10. Michael says:

    The blog to which the author refers is 3 years old and there is a reason for that, most of the buildings listed have been or are currently being refurbished. Poor article.

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  11. lindokushle says:

    This is not an attempt an musical journalism. The ideas reflected in the 3 year old blog post are not a reflection of time, its ideas are constantly being fed into, check the comments section. I understand that for some people who were there want to read a ‘review’ that would sing that bands praises. Sell their ep’s for me,validate that they indeeed did have a good time but I wrote this under the opinion that the event was not conceptualised to be a musical showcase, it was about reviving a jhb culture that the organisers had felt people had strayed from. So yes, the ‘musical’ part of it was scant; but in the intoduction I let it be known that the piece, like the event, would be about jhb, not music.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    Then it shouldn’t have been under the music section of Mahala. Either way, it’s still a poorly written piece.

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  13. lindokushle says:

    The only concessions I can make are about the violin-cello error. Monumental error on my part

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  14. Anonymous says:

    Don’t you mean concession? Singular? Because that’s just one concession you’re making.

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  15. Anonymous says:

    Poorly written account of the event.
    Mahala should fire whoever wrote this and send people who are not completely so far up their own ass.

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  16. Anonymous says:

    “I won’t pretend that the Joburg CBD is the most pleasant place to be” – what a stupid comment. JHB CBD is massive, and the value of the buildings, like the LSMs of the people living in them run from the poorest to the richest. Some areas are terrible of course, but some are fantastic – just look at Arts on Main, which we were looking down on from the event on the roof of Revolution House.

    You spent one paragraph lamenting how other people whine about Joburg’s “demise”, one paragraph saying the same thing yourself, 3 paragraphs discussing (inarticulately) the merits and demerits of the bands at the show, and 4 paragraphs saying not very much about the organisers of the event and what they are trying to do.

    You’re right it’s not a music review – and it’s nothing else either!

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  17. flik says:

    unfortunately i couldnt attend the event but i do know that it was better organized and conceptualized then this article. really terrible.

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  18. Andy says:

    So amongst all this kvetching… OMG she called a Cello a Violin… what a sin. OMG… WTF… The white flight blog she mentions is 3 years old….

    She interviewed one of the organisers, asked some difficult questions. Prefaced the piece against a backdrop of the descent and subsequent gentrification of the Joburg CBD… spoke insightfully about both bands… described their music, their sound.

    What exactly is wrong with this review? The key word here is “exactly”. Lay it out. Make an argument beyond your underwhelmed finger pointing. Where is the affront… ?

    it seems to me that the people commenting here have a vested interest in rubbishing the views expressed in this article, but no one is confronting the issues at stake, or telling the other side of the story. Spell it out for us…

    And while you’re at it, does anyone care to comment on the “We Won’t Move” Sofiatown graffiti? What was that about exactly? Mpumi’s account leaves a lot to be desired.

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  19. matthew says:

    you know, and i’ve said this to eve already, i thought her voice actually sounded dam good on sunday. and caroline, well you could actually hear the cello for a change – props to the good soundman! she strings the band together well.

    what i do worry about is how this readership encourages the kind of negative writing/reviewing style that this article makes use of of. The comments here only serve to reinforce the sentiment that fuels such rants. (xenophobia however is a tried and tested no-no, please)

    from my side i think that one should take notice of how such a culture of criticism (not critique) can hamstring commentary.

    stop hating.

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  20. Marx the Spot says:

    “It’s fucking cold, the sun, a futile ornament in the wintry Joburg sky.” – nice line. screw the haters Lindokuhle. More on The Brother Moves On please!

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  21. dudie says:

    yeah – bunch of cunts @ mahala lately, sort of making me read it’s articles less and less.

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  22. pointless says:

    am very tired of every 2nd music journalist comparing every female vocalist they come across to Bjork.

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  23. Andy says:

    hope the comments don’t put you off the articles dudie… or is it the other way around…

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  24. dudie says:

    no, it’s the comments – i enjoy the articles very much.

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  25. polony says:

    nice one here. interesting how arts on main (who also owns the apparently derelict revolution house) has tapped into the inner city mystique without really being in the city, the We Wont Move graffiti, the question and its reply seem to reveal a savvy marketing scheme based partly on the appropriation and dislocation of johannesburg history and our own predilection for romance, too much romance.

    no one is ‘back now’ at arts on main/main street life/ maboneng – they’ve are all just arrived – but thats not a bad thing either.

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  26. 1D10t says:

    So Dudie, don’t read them then. People have every right to slate such a poorly written article. Your ‘review’ of the music means nothing if you can’t distinguish between a Cello and a Violin.

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  27. dudie says:

    this article is not about cellos or violins, come on – it is a forgivable mistake.

    plus, i wouldnt review this gig with a ten foot pole btw:

    with a cocorosie/joanna newsom impersonator playing, if it is the same The Frown posted here: (http://www.mahala.co.za/random_shit/the-frown/), i just wouldnt – even if for originality’s sake. if not, then excuse my ignorance.

    i thought the article was written (language wise) and completely painted the picture of what the event was all about. it is wonderfully descriptive and completely unpretentious.

    am i sensing some prejudice towards jhb writers lately?

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  28. Amaru says:

    I was not at the event and this is not about the event. Very few South Africans (poor and rich) in Johannesburg know what living in a city is like. Most people live in suburbs. Soweto, Parkhurst, are not cities or neighbourhoods that are a part of cities. They are suburban spaces. The idea of living in the city is horrendous for most Joburgers. They want to drive around everywhere, even to buy milk and bread. This by nost standards is not considered to be a good measure for quality of life. Even if you go and buy your bread in a Jaguar. They love doing their shopping in ugly malls and being in enclosed spaces and cannot grasp the concept of walking on streets or even having sidewalks to walk on. I guess part of the reason for this, is the criminality. But criminals will go everywhere even to the suburbs and malls. Save what you have left that can still be called a city. Reinvent your spaces and stop complaining about all the foreigners. The best cities in the world know how to make use of their immigrants and social mix. Stop trying to be so bourgeois and invest in what’s real. Get out of the malls and gates once in a while or for good.

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  29. anon says:

    I suppose you’re entitled to your opinion and the subjective nature of the art dictates that you’ll have some people leaning towards supporting you, and some leaning away from supporting you. But to seek comfort in that is a poor reflection on your writing.

    The reason most people aren’t supporting your article is because your tone stinks. Your critique is lazy, preachy, under-researched, cynical-because-supportive-doesn’t-get-as-big-a-reaction, and, besides some catchy phrases, a weak, strongly opinionated, review.

    ‘They are an intriguing enough bunch…’

    Phew. What what relief.

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  30. Jen says:

    did you mean: sophiatown?
    did you mean: cellist?
    did you mean: Music Journalism? or journalism that has rhythm? Because yours is neither. (Ref Musical Journalism??)
    did you mean: xenophobic much?
    I also found that blog when I typed “how to write a bad article about old buildings”

    I also didn’t know that anyone could get “under an opinion”. Did you buy your opinion a drink first?
    I liked the part where the oversized letter kept falling on people who were sitting next to people who were looking all forlorn and pretty and shit.

    This article is full of terrible stereotypes, bad grammar, racial slurs and it doesn’t really have much direction after the first sentence. It kind of gets lost in the author’s cynicism about a great project and two really great, creative bands. If you’re going to criticize a band you need to give a better reason than the fact that someone sounds a little like someone else. So what? That doesn’t make them any less good. Nevermind the timbre of her voice – how about speaking about the actual music itself? If you’re irritated about the way our music scene looks at the moment, stop moaning about it and find something else to write about. So many authors on Mahala lately have become haters, and it’s driving anything new and exciting that’s happening in JHB into the ground. Come on – stop whining and try to see the good in what these people are doing.

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  31. Caroline says:

    Jen = Best! That was amazing.

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  32. Jasmyn says:

    I’ve listened to both bands at love events and can only use one word to describe this venture “MAGIC”! Well done to you both for being able to create magic in space that we so often forget about – merging, colliding, infusing and ultimately creating like true artists. To The Brother Moves On – Your performances are what Picasso/Dali and the likes of true artists revolutionised and opened us up to new forms – YOU’RE AWESOME! To the journalist…me thinks you should go back to Sandton and enjoy the people and space that Manhattan can offer you. God bless true artists! Aluta Continua!

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  33. Nicolas says:

    Dear Ridikhule,
    Besides your various, unforgettable grammar and technical mistakes, that everyone seems to have already pointed out, I would now bring the focus on the concepts. Let’s pretend you didn’t write “Sofiatown” and “violin”, for a second. Let’s focus on your actual argument. You wrote: “Eve just looks like someone who is trying to appear intimidating. A good attempt though. A fair shot, but at what? I’m thinking Bjork”. Well, probably you’ve never seen a Bjork gig in your life. Probably you were confused by Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark – assuming that you know what I’m talking about. Anyway Bjork is anything but intimidating. This is the last adjective I would use for her live performances. So what I think we should challenge here is not only your writing, but your actual knowledge and understanding of music. Either you have no idea what you’re talking about, or this is something personal. Probably you just wanted to “destroy” whatever happened, aware of the poorness of your argument. Well, in this latter case, “you can’t be her/ she’s a rockstar”.

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  34. Anonymous says:

    @ Jen. What ever. You covering up for who? for what? Ha Ha Ha Ha HA!

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  35. Jarhead says:

    The new development around Main Street is run by a small group of people with sad god complexes. A small group of self proclaimed “celebrities”. Spend more time there, a little longer than just one event and you will see the true nature of the area. It is as half baked and fickle as the event was. Refund please! Let this be a reflection of what they choose as a marketing strategy. That’s all it was to the grease monkey that runs the whole operation. The guy has a real slumlord vibe about him. If you going to host an event host it and make it happen. The Black Jacks are a marketing tool for the area no more and no less. Might seem like a great idea but some brains behind the celeb face would be great. Take a turn at the Chalk Board this seems to be the hang out of hang outs…… or not. I’m not hating , just talking the truth about the other side.

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  36. Mpho says:

    Kiff. Reminds of the early hip hop days in inner joburg. Dope photos! especially photo 2 + 3.

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  37. Anonymous says:

    Loved those time! Back in the day when Reality use to bump!!!

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  38. Jen says:

    @anon. Wtf? That makes no sense? I like to think that there was no covering going on there? More decoding? What?

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  39. Mike Miller (USA) says:

    Its very tough to see it now. I played music in the old Sophiatown. It was very cool then. It seems to have de-generated into the chasm we now see. But 35 years ago things were a bit different. I know good music will always rear its head again. Good luck to all.

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  40. sello says:

    shame andy for trying to defend. first rule of the diss, have your own house in order first. i.e at least know what instruments are on stage before you write up a music review?

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  41. Raytheon says:

    iv been playing for the brother for just under a year now and quite honestly its one of the most magikal things to have happened in my life. that being said…

    these “events” are not just people doing things arbitrarily. there is intention before anything. before mr gold puts on his tights. before Eve + co. thrash out their filthy beats… these PEOPLE had intention and are following through on those intentions. even before i joined the band i could see that in each individual. so before anyone throws their panties at siya and before okes start slating the frown for whatever reason they can over adjectivetate [ and yes i did just make that word up.]…lets remember that, outside of money + ego + status, people like you and me are throwing their nets far out into their mind-oceans and hauling in the fish for you to eat…wether u like how it tastes or not. be grateful ur fed!


    you’re not a real person until you’re in my phonebook. if you really want your 50 rands back ill be glad to give it to you in person. 0827927135.

    to the oke who wrote the article. thanks for being brave and putting ur opinion in the line of fire. most of these people prolly wont tell you any of this shit to your face. just know, that even if your article was shit, you wrote it… well done.

    your face is marred with your sweat and your blood. not theirs.

    in conclusion, some scathing shit was said here…fukn hell…all the way from the black side to the white side and back again. i dont give a fuk really im a charoe…but my favorite word in this whole piece was by far:



    lets not forget… culture is not your friend; stereotypes [including the ones about sandton in this piece…shit id bling out if i lived in sandton] are hard for us not to be bound by [be aware]; hurting peoples feelings online is lame…do it in the streets; and…er…everybody dies.

    if you care to waste some time…throw a net out in your mind-ocean [lol]



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  42. kacker says:

    some people organize an Event in an extraordinary location to create a feeling of underground – sponsored by establishment and taking entrance fees. Pretending at its best, even as if there were forces trying to make them move.
    but: even if partly redicilous still ways and ways ahead of violinistic Sandton.

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  43. JM Koet$ee says:

    This comment has nothing to do with this article; ignore it.

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  44. happy brown says:

    http://mapodile.myfotojournal.com/2011/jun/02/invisible-ci/ – check these out, some people are just haters who need to just deal with knowing little to nothing

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  45. Anonymous says:

    No waaaay! Mahala that is why we love you. Giving South Africans a voice for Mahala.

    @ Jarhead, I came across this review by chance and never thought I would see someone that has the balls to say what you have said. You know what you have to say is so true. My friend lives in that building Main Street Life, you should hear the shit that goes on there. I wouldn’t take a place there even if they were giving them away. Small pieces of scrap. They ask for membership fee and you get nothing for it, some apparent “perks” that you never hear of. Its pap money for that grease monkey you talking about. Ke Jewish! They have rats right up to the 4th floor (that is no joke some guy was telling us that the other night). There is more but you have to see it for yourself. Just hang with some of the locals and I mean the real people that stay there. Not the bad advertisements presented by those celebs.

    The Chalkboard well you hit it on the head. That guy is just interested in the who’s who. He walks with an attitude just because he hangs with one or two people you could maybe have heard of. Please bra! Ya and check those chics out that hang with that crowd some white chick and some indian chick. What the fuzz? Celebrities in the making? KWAAAAKWAKWAKWKWA. Ya but that’s all of them.

    You know more people who live in that building should hear about this article and say what needs to be said. I’m phoning my friend right now! Wait to hear what (ish I cant say it) ……. has to say! ………. has the real stories.

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  46. Raytheon says:

    did this chic just tune ” …Ke Jewish!…” and then proceed to talk about rats… yoh deep. This thread just got regentrified!



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  47. Disappointed! says:

    If you are speaking of the Chalkboard at the Bioscope in the city of JHB. Then I have something for you. After researching the place for a while my girlfriend and I went there thinking it was a really great find in the city we would hang out in to get away. To cut a long story short. We went to get some drinks and met a few of the guys that worked there. I have never met such pompous assholes in all my life. On approaching a group that consisted of the guy that owned the place Randy or something, a ginger and a few other odd looking characters we where completely ignored. So much for trying to get to know a little more of what the place is about. It’s not cricket man. Get your head out of your ass!

    We will not be spending the film festival there.

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  48. PrimoGoal says:

    Downtown festivals promise to snarl city traffic…

    Rocky Lawrence performs at the Chicago Blues Festival 2011 Friday in Grant Park. (Brent Lewis / Chicago Tribune / June 11, 2011) ……

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  49. Chalkboard Co Owner says:

    hey there,
    you might have been talking about me, Im Russell. Im sorry I came off like that.

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