Storm in a Tea Cupby Ray van Wyk / Images by Jonx Pillemer / 22.03.2013
In the weeks leading up to The Flamjangled Tea Party my mind runs over the many implications of the exaggerated show of madness that comes with the festival. Overwhelmed with work, jaded, listless and irritated I come to the conclusion that it must all simply be a contrived effort at originality in the face of what is all too often only a reason for middle class white kids to get off their faces somewhere outside the city, isolated from the poverty and the stench of metropolitan life. Pushing these musings to the back of my mind, I make my way to the festival grounds in Contermanskloof on Friday afternoon, scarcely a 30-minute drive out of Cape Town.
Arriving and after setting up our tent, I decide the best idea would be to see how far I could get into a 3 litre papsak and proceed on to wherever the weekend would take me. Consequently, all I can remember from Friday night is Kimon’s gangster ass DJ set; the distinctive, high pitched, isolated bell from some killer hip hop beats ringing through my ears like the feeling of a mis-remembered childhood love affair.
And Saturday was also write-off. Here’s a tip for you, unless you have a serious medical condition that requires you to be in a state of complete motionlessness do not smoke something called ‘hash oil’ and expect to be anything but a drooling mess, 15 seconds behind every conversation and otherwise completely incapacitated. As the sun sets however I drag my slouching carcass away from the comfort of the grass under a shady pine tree and head towards the main stage, where Machineri are setting up. I struggle to make heads or tails of this band’s very flat, ballie-era blues-rock kind of vibe. Their performance features nothing distinctive enough to define them by, but they get the crowd yearning for the rest of the evening’s entertainment.
Night-time at the main stage kicks off and the excitement is palpable as people crawl out of their skins and into a Flamjangled alter-ego while small children dressed as animals and dandies run circles around them. The absence of normality is all-pervasive – in the colours, the lights and the general ambience of the festival at night. Despite myself, I give over to the madness.
I suspect that almost every member of Trenton and Free Radical is either a session musician by trade and/or has had an extensive musical education, for their music is well rehearsed, technical and flawlessly executed. Unfortunately it lacks substance in its pseudo afro-jazzy production. Lyrics like “Mr Mandella / You’re one helluva fella / I wanna be like you” also stops a lot of people in their tracks on the dancefloor. And what is the likelihood of going to hell for not continuing to bop along? However well intentioned these lyrics might be, there is a certain unavoidable cringe that overwhelms even the least discerning of listeners.
After Trenton the main stage descends into logistical chaos. Never before at a music festival have I seen the sound crew experience trouble so consistently without doing anything about it. When any attempt is made to correct the situation the effort only leads to further problems succeeded by stunned inaction. I think it pertinent to mention this right off the bat since literally every band I see on the main stage after this has problems with the sound. It’s my first time watching many of the bands and my perception of them is certainly tainted by this very difficult to ignore faux pas.
Gazelle and DJ Invisible are up next and the small crowd laps up their brand of future safari electro. Having toured extensively since their inception and collaborated with multiple SA and international artists I am surprised at a relatively tame performance for this crowd of harlequin misfits.
Itching to get moving, I am convinced to stay for the next band and am pleasantly surprised when it becomes clear that Bateleur have transcended the all too pervasive tendency to ‘drop the beat’. They’re that “throw every conceivable style of music together in a disjointed way” kinda band, with so many key and time signature changes that each song could constitute an album unto itself. This keeps everybody (crowd and band members alike) on their toes and is done in such a tastefully sneaky way, that it adds an element of ephemeral wonder to their set. Their sound is comparable with the more experimental songs of RX Bandits; spliced with nuevo-folky elements, it is almost orchestral.
There was plenty of hype about The Dollfins. I’d heard of their cutesy-with-an-edge girly surfer-rock reputation. It could have been the sound problems, but they leave me unimpressed, except for the Cramps and Misfits covers they take on in a ballsy way. Their music comes across as a little weak, unrefined and amateurish, but I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt and check them out again before I make up my mind.
After that I find myself between The Living Room – a separate bar and dancefloor which is magnificently decorated as a giant TV set only opening at 11pm on the Saturday night – and the Miniscule of Sound which claims to be the world’s smallest club, hosting no more than about 10 people at a time on the opposite side of the festival. Outside the MoS a man in a pink tuxedo and another in rags, smelling of peach schnapps and raw fish debate the likelihood of us gaining entry and we slip by unnoticed. Inside I stretch my arms out in front of me and penetrate the crowd consisting of 3 burlesque dancers and 4 or 5 colourful freaks, coming within centimetres of the DJ spinning poppy electro beats. Turning around I bump up against a heavyset, sweaty, crossed eyed and shirtless oaf, scratching his pits like some kind of stoned ape straight out of the pages of a Terrence McKenna novel – behind him and surrounding the tiny dancefloor, reflective walls bounce light around the tiny room unfit for housing a restrained mental patient. It occurs to me that everybody in here has lost their chips – and everybody loves it.
Sunday morning comes all too quickly as the heat and the flies and dust creep up all around us. A slow amble from my tent back down to the main stage at about 11 brings in the new day and a fresh set of bands on the main stage. I catch the last portion of Manouche’s set, riddled again by sound issues they brave the heat with their brand of “Jazz Swing, Folk, Tango and Walz”. This band has serious potential and given better circumstances and perhaps a nighttime slot, would undoubtedly do well as a headlining act. It’s refreshing to see a band tackle a wide array of notoriously difficult to play instruments – the accordion, fiddle and double bass – and pull it off without leaving the crowd in a half arsed musical limbo, something that so often happens when bands take these on as purely a novelty item.
Soon after Manouche, Ann Jangle entertains the afternoon crowd with pleasant upbeat folky/rockabilly tunes, followed by The Time Flies – the only act booked from last year’s Tea Party.
When I get back home, I am equally relieved to escape the heat and disappointed at not being able to catch the last few bands. An overwhelming sense of release from the mundanities of existence, a certain freedom that follows any good festival, pervades my being for the next few days and tells me that I’ll definitely be back next year.