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Toffie Knows

Toffie Knows

by Mahala High Five Brigade / Images by Danielle Clough / 06.04.2010

Design is a beautiful thing, no doubt. One only has to look to Apartheid-era architecture, Biggie Best stores or whatever Grecian-Columned abomination of the week Jeannie D is gushing over on Top Billing to recognize what a dire, barren wasteland of bleeding eyeballs the world would be without the whole business of Form meeting Function. From the humbling power of the perfect proportion, to the simple genius of everyday practicality, one cannot deny the way in which we shape things has in turn shaped the way we are.

That said, for all the clever ideas and beautiful things Design has spawned, there is the periphery scourge that is Design Culture. You know, that wanky little playground where the over-paid and under-criticized frolic in the pits of their own self-importance, certain in the knowledge that Design Can Change The World®.

A pretty good annual example of this is our very own Design Indaba. For a cost of around R6.5k (afforded to those who presumably lack Regular Joe burdens such as rent or food), you can spend a few days being militaristically herded around the convention centre ooh-ing and aah-ing over lamps and chairs, and basking in the measured glory of the revered and multi-accoladed. These range from the mind-blowing to the self-fellating to the unabashedly crowd-pulling, such as this year’s Martha Stewart who opined with disturbing zeal on… Glitter. It is, by and large, an environment dominated by self-awareness and professional hierarchy. Although most people who attend work in marketing and are sent there by their corporate patrons. And God forbid you get relegated to the cheap seats with Plebby mcNobody. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some very cool things to see, and it’s hard for a first or even second timer to walk away feeling unimpressed. But the thing is, is that once you take Design out of its functional context and put it in an exhibition space, it’s very easy to view it above and beyond that which it essentially is. A chair is no longer furniture, it’s Art. Helvetica is no longer a font, it’s a fucking religion. Which is nice to get carried away with, but after a while it’s just all gets so damn serious taking it all so very seriously. SRSLY.

Hence, the idea of Toffie came as a breath of fresh air. Run by Peet Pienaar (you know, that famous Performance artist-turned-internationally-acclaimed-graphic-Designer), it promised to be a fun and fizzy thumb-under-index-finger-ing of Design and Pop culture. Even if the venue, Rondebosch Boys High, sounded a little dodgy. The line-up, which was to include heavyweights Kim Jones, Jorge Alderete and Sean Saylor on the international front, also promised a variety of workshops and media launches, as well as an exhibition hall housing the likes of Nacho Gil, Kronk and Disturbance Design. All culminating in a Diseases-themed afterparty where Argentinian electro-fuck-rockers Manta Raya were set to take the stage with “an unnamed unternational act” (which, along with the Nike dude failed to materialize).

So what was it all like? Well, on the whole, I would say it was a little underprepared, really. Not that this was necessarily a bad thing. From Kim Jones (Wiki him. Seriously) who mumbled through his speech like a shy little boy at show ‘n tell; to Siggi Eggerson whose talk was given by a robotic voice that proclaimed “he had got too drunk to think of anything more”, the whole vibe had this rad, impromptu punk DIY feel to it. No slick-as-clockwork schedule. No spoonfeeding. No VIPs. It was completely unpretentious and approachable. And these included the speakers, who were genuinely interested in interacting with their audience as opposed to drilling out pre-prepared speeches. There was a skate ramp, a mash-up exhibition filled with loads of cool stuff to peruse and Love and Hate doing 10 minutes line portraits of whoever’s 50 bucks was buying. There were arcade games and beer and shoes and toys and DJ’s. And the experience was one of being lost in a giant, sherbety pop culture lucky packet. Which, although slightly underwhelming for a few, I personally found quite refreshing.

The problem with exhibitions in general is that one is usually presented with such a glut of information in such a short space of time that it is often difficult to absorb it all, and it’s easy to walk away feeling intimidated. Not to mention that dreaded in-one-ear-out-the-other effect. To the contrary, Toffie was less about the indigestible main meal, but more all about little, bubblegum sized pieces of inspiration that you were able to chew, spit, or stick under your desk for later. Which is all very well if you like your brainfood of the low-cal, high sugar variety; but a little problematic if you were expecting a flavour that was more Proudly South African and less… Bellville.

From the Fokof documentary screening to the VCK album launch/acoustic show to them headlining set at the Diseases afterparty (complete with collaboration with Argentinian Manta Raya) and, most bizarrely, Wynand’s “rock ‘n roll marketing” talk (all done under the rolling eyes of the audience, among them some of SA music and media’s most important people) it was clear that the VanFokkingPresident ties were strong. Which wasn’t entirely unexpected. The Fokof camp is, after all, Pienaar’s star client, providing him with a perennial No Rules Brief an adoring fan base and the perfect vehicle for him to flex his creative muscle. The problem being that it was all to the exclusion of a lot of other local talent that definitely could have benefited from the experience. I feel there was definitely room for more fringe elements.

While it was in some ways a relief that the usual suspects of the SA creative scene were absent, I don’t think that the concept of an event that was irreverent, unexpected and unconventional was taken advantage of. Where were the photographers? The design collectives? The artists? When it comes to design meeting pop culture, there’s more than enough happening in local music, fashion, skating and entertainment than what Toffie managed to assemble. And given the international brass that was there, and the relaxed, curious, interactive vibe, it would have been so nice to see more than just the Bellville Massive being given the Big Up.

Those points aside, there’s no doubt that the whole affair was a rocking success. Let’s just hope that next year welcomes a bigger, better and more diverse offering – without losing the spirit of the enfant terrible.

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  1. math rocker says:

    “but a little problematic if you were expecting a flavour that was more Proudly South African and less… Bellville”. Now THERE’S a statement that can be appreciated in, how should we say,… layers. Nice one, keep it coming.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    There was shirt with the slogan…Grunge is Dead….worn by a certain Mr. Cobain to apparently denounce the commercialisation of the popular Seattle sound/culture/whatever/nevermind of the time…maybe some covert hipster should start selling a…Bellville is Dead….shirt and Francois can wear it on stage or to Studio 1 on MK…(maybe there is already such a shirt)

    It is so tiresome, no?….

    Bellville is so underground, Bellville is awesome, Bellville is the new black, Bellville has sold out, Bellville is so 5 minutes ago…Jesus…it happens with everything. It has all been done before.

    What is next? I suppose we can just look to the American/European underground of 5-10 years ago…

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  3. jannie says:

    I had a really good time and I thought the speakers were great.

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  4. math rocker says:

    Not even that, ‘nonymous. At least the Seattle scene had a modicum of originality to start off with. Honky ears in SA have been duped into thinking that the Bellville crowd are unique simply because they started singing in Afrikaans over “harder” backing tracks. But if you mute those vocals all you’re left with are very tired and worn out ol’ rock riffs. From a subcultural viewpoint it’s a curious blip on the SA radar, but from a more musical perspective it’s nothing short of dishwater.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Point taken. New shirt…Originality is Dead…?

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  6. math rocker says:

    New shirt…”My Dad’s music was better”

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  7. math rocker says:

    Of te wel, “Pappa se choons het harder gerock”

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  8. Q says:

    Where was mahala’s promised stand at toffie?

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  9. Andy says:

    We rocked the stand on the Friday… but we didn’t sell any tee-shirts and managing it seriously curtailed my socialising and ability to attend the lectures, so for the rest of the weekend all that fine Mahala merch sat in the back of my car… sorry y’alls. We’ll do better next year. Promise!

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  10. unbiased says:

    i like this.

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  11. manto's ghost says:

    And why were people with chicken pox spreading their germs at this event??

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  12. Roger Young says:


    Lame, dude, super lame.

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  13. Andy says:

    That’s a lameness i will have to shoulder…

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  14. fanrap says:

    you so hot, you need a fan
    they so not, they need a fan

    I saw you on the cobrasnake Danni, and loved this story and your facebook status updates today provided me and my friends plenty of lulz.

    thank you for being you.

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  15. Twinfinn says:

    Hey, nice, that’s me with the chickenpox. In reply to the previous comment, it was a ‘diseases’ party. And goddamn, was I infectious.

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  16. bigdickwetsuit with mutating germs says:

    no no , that was me spreading my germs….if you see, this mediteranian(cant use “black” ) dick (dressed in wetsuit) had condoms wrapped around it and not over it – so I WAS SPREADING MY “clean” smell Aquafresh chicken pox and any C@CK disease you can think of. But if you where spreading too (Twinfinn) then i was sad not to have mutated with you!!!!

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  17. bigdickwetsuit with mutating germs says:

    more apropiate to say i was a “ZUMAdic”

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  18. Anonymous says:


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  19. bigdickwetsuit with mutating germs says:

    @ Anonymous…..
    rather an artfag than SQUARE!

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  20. Moomsi says:

    Brilliant concept!! Wish I could’ve attended. Will definitely be attending in 2011.

    Especially love the 10-min portraits! Well done loveandhate! 351073 & black koki absolutely rock! 🙂

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  21. Kurt says:

    Congratulations on the first event,The Preident must just be careful that they dont get too good at it and turn into another design indaba – and alienate others the way the writer of this article felt alienated.

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  22. Danni says:

    Don’t get me wrong… Def didn’t feel alienated! Was just an observation.

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  23. Anonymous says:

    design indaba may be expensive. I could only afford the simulcast.
    Toffie does seem like a bit of an arty wank.. and it’s also not exactly cheap.. for an arty wank

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