Oppikoppi | Unknown Strangersby Max Barashenkov / Images by Kevin Goss-Ross / 11.08.2011
The gay middle-aged Afrikaans man pounces out from behind the thorn-bush, assumes a crouched feline position and hisses at me. The combination of his shark-fin hat and the acid glare of his eyes is threatening enough for me to back up and mumble: “We are not so different, you and I. In the Boer war, hundreds of Russian volunteers fought alongside your people against the hated rooineks.” At that he softens, his growls subsiding to delicate purrs, and lets me scratch him behind the ear. With a farewell ‘meow’ he disappears back into the shrub and I can hear him ambush another party of Oppikoppi revelers. Unknown Brother indeed.
In the Sunday light of a dusty moon, I stand and howl from the lack of both story and crude female organs of obvious Asiatic descent. Covering festivals is a whorish undertaking. ‘Reportage’, to some, is very different to a ‘story’. Lives aren’t changed here, as much as we convince ourselves of it. Facts and impartiality are lies worn by seasoned journalists out of the dread of force-birthing any kind of focal point to these events. Sipho Hlongwane publishes two neat stories on the Daily Maverick, cleverly hinging the review of Oppi on his choice of Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse and Gazelle as two of the defining acts of the festival. Evan Milton will probably sing praise to the Afro-flavoured bands he recommended to me. Some will surely write about the ‘magical bond’ shared by those attending. Others will produce detailed, PR-reeking descriptions of the music. I, with all the respect and admiration of an amateur, will offer that this kind of coverage renders Oppikoppi a fact-ridden cripple, a soulless three days, and retreat to a bastard form of flash anthropology and method acting. There simply is no other way out.
To not drink at Oppikoppi, to remain a clear-eyed observer, is simply criminal, a betrayal of the most common denominator that unites us for a weekend. Only once you’ve been held up by total strangers, vomiting into the dust, can you tap into the meaning of this festival, however different it is to the girls shaking their hips to Die Heuwels Fantasties and to you, gagging on the cock their music represents in the beer garden. Bonded by dust we are, but dust washes off and this isn’t war, for there to be blood, no matter how much the people here resemble soldiers. All of them came to defend a certain lifestyle and fight for some ideal, unique to each but deemed worthy to defend en masse. These can be as elaborate as the belief that humanity should aspire to this kind of atmosphere of relaxation and brotherly affection, or as prosaic as the desire to get fucked for three days straight, without the worry of responsibility the next day usually brings. Detachment from this, dearest critics of ‘drunken ramblings’, is treason, objectivity a lie to oneself, first and foremost.
Show me a music writer who says he keeps an utterly open mind when watching new bands and I’ll be the first to cast a stone in his or her direction. Preconceptions form at the mere mention of the act’s name and what a blessing it is when those are proven wrong. On Sunday morning, I overhear Die Tuindwergies being interviewed for MK Online, they are mentioning Pearl Jam as one of their influences and I’m mentally preparing to take a hearty shit over their performance. What I’m treated to is one of the best shows this year and, by the time they whip out the banjo, I’m screaming for their record so I can fuck my Afrikaans girlfriend to it. Passionate, yet unforced, melodic and rough at the same time, intelligent without dissolving into wankery, and, most importantly, so incredibly down-to-earth, they are, perhaps, a band that embodies the Afrikaans soul the fullest. It is a similar story with The La Els. Having read devastating reviews of their record, I expect this Durban outfit to be knee-deep in a mire of clichés and failures. Cliché they might be, but the delivery of their electro-flavoured dance rock is fantastic – tight despite some sound difficulties, catchier than the clap and energetically infectious. Of course, where there is dust there is cow-dung and predictability, and performances by the likes of Dance You’re On Fire, Red Huxley and Holiday Murray (“If I was on acid, I would like them…”) pass by in a technically proficient but forgettable blur. They are mercifully countered by epic sets from the ferocious TUMI, the flawless Desmond and the Tutus and the mystically intriguing Mr. Cat and the Jackal (the highly intelligent youth behind me comment on the percussionist: “He is like Mozart, but better.”). Yet the most interesting act, from a critical standpoint, is Saintfearless, the Kaapse quintet that spammed their way into Oppikoppi. After two years of existence they are still relatively young and their music reflects a certain unsure footing. The opening number and the single, ‘Tango Tango’, are magnificent bursts of rock n roll deviousness, backed by great stage presence from the Jim Morrison-like frontman (“Screw you all, I’m gonna sell my soul for the sake of rock n roll” chorus is stuck in my head still). The problems start when the band slows down and reverts to bland indie solutions – the middle of their set is a dreary time. Stick to the upbeat, boys, and I’ll pay good money to see you again.
Now the sun inches to the horizon, faces become familiar shapes, conversations deteriorate, musical beasts emerge from their dens to rape and pillage. The first swims into my vision in the form of Werner, of Wrestlerish fame, an imposing but friendly figure and I curl up in his protective shadow:
“Give me a quote?”
“Fuck no! Our audience watches 7de Laan, they don’t read Mahala,” he laughs yet leaves me with this pearl. “We [Wresterlish] are the Parlotones in the making.” Good man.
The current carries me away, back a day, and I’m screaming “Nie My FokkenHondtjie!” Fists mincing the air to a welcome replacement of The Narrow. Earlier, I’m similarly freaking out to Bittereinder, who are hands down the best act of the fest. Ekverstaannie a fokken ding nie, but, by the hairy balls of Thor, do these guys lay waste, electro-dubstep-rap worthy of the fiends in Valhalla. The boy-girl from Isochronous grows a pair and jams guest guitar as if the devil himself had expelled some juices inside him. Glorious beastings all around. Suddenly, I’m not there anymore, lost instead in a forest of blow-up dinosaurs, getting habitually mouth-fucked by P.H.fat. Trashed on vodka, I’m so in synch with the beat of Oppikoppi and the Cape Town crew’s bass-rhymes that the girl in front of me tells me I’m taking my flailing too far. “Sluuuuuut,” I roar in her ear in response, “Oppi and ‘too far’ don’t mix!” The dinosaurs are popping all around me, some in-time to the bass drops, others creating an odd broken rhythm. In that moment I’m in love with Oppikoppi, a love that quickly ebbs away during the forty minute wait for The Used. ‘Fuck them’ is the conclusion, why do I want to waste my time watching international acts that stopped being relevant more than seven years ago? I listen to them from the delirium of my tent, having forsaken any kind of journalistic duty. The herd will lap it up, I’m sure, but this Russian is destroyed.
Monday morning finds me regretting my rudeness to the poor creature at the P.H.fat show – how can I ever hope to understand her motivations, her taste, her wants and desires? How can anyone judge the collective mind of 15000 people, break it down in to facts, boxes and neat conclusions? How can anyone comprehensively ‘cover’ a festival? All I know is that no revelation happened, the world is still the same, no-one here will recall this as one of the best times of their life. The soldiers go back to civilian life, no worse, no better. Their rage is confined to these three days. As beautiful as it was in the heat of the moment, we return home as unknown strangers, not brothers.
*All images © Kevin Goss-Ross.