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Word from the Chief

by Rob Cockcroft / 08.08.2013

If you’re not already there, you’re probably packing the car and steeling yourself with nips of OBs. Yes, finally, Oppikoppi Bewilderbeast starts today. We caught up with the bosveld skop’s fearless leader, Carel Hoffmann to find out exactly what to expect from this year’s jol.

Mahala: It’s almost time now, you’re doing the final touches. How’re you feeling now that the festival is so close to kick off?

Carel Hoffmann: We’re super busy. Look, this is like launching an aeroplane, some sort of zeppelin or something. Today was a really, really busy day for everybody, actually the last three days, and everybody is running. So back to the feeling, this year actually feels a little bit more calm than last. Many of the logistical and organisational arrangements that we wanted to make after last year are working. We changed the structure of how we run these things and it looks like a lot of it is falling into place. At the moment it’s reasonably calm but the entire system is taking strain. The ticketing has been really busy the last few days, the gates, all the activations. The trick about a big festival like this is there’s nothing and all of a sudden there’s 20 000 people. But so far, so good.

And when do you get the chance to just kick back and enjoy the festivities?

Look, my own personal role is very small on the operational side of things. So for me there are times that I can do that, but the team that runs this just don’t stop now. So the last week is flat out. From now on it’s virtually a 24 hour operation. Security teams, fire brigades, it’s ongoing. It’s like an organism now, you know. From now there’s no rest. Everybody is in it to the hilt.

What new things have you done to make this year more special?

This year there was actually lots of big things that we changed. Last year it felt to us – it’s always dusty but – it was really dusty. It just felt to us a little overcrowded so we made some big structural changes, changing the flow, changing the audience entrances, the viewing decks, entertainment areas, all those things. We’ve also added fun things like the beer drone app and the gimmicks and tricks to try and entertain the crowds when you have them for three days.

What’s your main ingredient you put into getting such huge crowds coming to this harsh terrain every year?

The thing is it’s a festival so it’s part of the entertainment industry. So the implication then is you have to keep reinventing yourself and you have to bring new things and let’s not forget the magnificent line-up. I think the line-up every year is super solid. There’s a hundred odd artists appearing so it’s a big gig.

Carel

What sort of numbers are you expecting and how does it compare to last year?

We think it’s going to be reasonably similar. It looks to us like there’s going to be close to 20 000 people. We haven’t got the final figures. As I say the ticketing for these events is very active in the last few days.

What have you had to do to accommodate all the people?

We’ve made some changes to the entertainment area, to get the flow better and actually for the dust control we built many new dams and reservoirs, lots of reticulation. To get in, you’ll notice there’s a whole dust suppression regime. For the campsite itself, it’s pretty similar. The camping last year was still okay. We will stop the sales at 20 000 if it reaches that. However, what we have increased is all the tented hotel villages. We actually increased the beds there by 80%, but they’re actually sold out because there’s a huge demand for more and more of those things. So that keeps growing and there’s huge waiting lists again. We thought we’d cater for the demand, but it just seems insatiable at the moment. The thing is Oppikoppi has a very young audience, but there’s also a few guys who are slightly older but still want to be part of the whole thing and those hotels are a nice way to take a little bit of an edge off the event.

How far in advance are your guys here putting up all the infrastructure?

I’m sitting with notes already for next year. All of us keep notes on what we want to improve and change and tweak or whatever so the planning starts now. Because there was such big capital expenses this year to get the water reticulation changed those things started 9, 10 months ago. We knew at last year’s festival what we wanted to change. Those things started very long ago.

Those decks overlooking the two biggest stages are really good idea.

It’s fantastic. We were hoping that it would come out well, but it’s just magnificent. You virtually have a 360 degree view of the bushveld. Probably one of the prettiest spots in the world where stages are involved. You can already see what can become of this. As the festival starts and you have entertainment all around you. That’s something to look forward to.

Deck

What’s your criteria for choosing all the right acts? Other than Deftones some of the other international acts are relatively unknown here.

Yes. Whether it’s international or South African there’s two things. You must have a few big draw cards, there always has to be, but from inception Oppikoppi was always about discovery so there is a specific drive to find the esoteric or left-of-centre, undiscovered artists and that’s the same whether it’s international or local. And also we deliberately go out to find guys like Robert DeLong who is not a gigantic star but he’s got fantastic tunes or Manchester Orchestra, they’ve probably got nil radio play in this country, but there’s a subculture following that we’re aware of and we like the tunes. In the end a large part about Oppikoppi is that it was started by ourselves for ourselves, following our own noses and the thing is I think that something like a booking strategy for a festival must have some sort of definition otherwise all of them become the same. As soon as you start booking things for commercial reasons then it sort of falls flat. So we’re quite happy and, of course, we want a balance. We want lots of African, we want lots of rock n roll, we want lots of everything really.

What’s the ethos, behind this year’s Bewilderbeast theme?

I don’t think there’s really an ethos. It comes from a Badly Drawn Boy song off an album that I specifically really like. We just like the name and we thought it could work well and we’re very happy with the results. We came up with a nice campaign around it and it looked really pretty, you know. Coming back to your other question earlier, the festival expanded into many different communities so it’s not just a rock festival anymore. There’s poetry, there’s lots of different entertainment here. So back to the question around the theme, we look for a nice theme but also we’re very conscious of all the content we have to create and the marketing element from there. So we look for something that we’re enthusiastic about, that the fans will be enthusiastic about and also if it’s executable .

Apparently the weathers gonna be harsh this weekend, very cold and the possibility of lots of rain. What advice can you to people coming through?

The thing is it’s Oppikoppi, we’ve been through everything. Luckily conditions are so harsh that the most of the fans are used to it so they pack for the cold in the evenings and it’s hot in the day so they pack for both. This is like a freight train, a little weather isn’t going to stop it.

Thankfully, it doesn’t look to us like it’s huge amount of rain. The last report I saw it was like 12% so it’s not gigantic. So far the weather has been lekker, we’ll see.

Lastly, what can first timers expect?

Everything, so much. We just did the first trials for the beer drone. The naked marathons. The thing is these days I think it’s such an overload of experiences and crazy shit that you will see nowhere else. So for an unexpecting fan – lots of tunes, lots of crazy moments, lots of fun. For me one of the nice things about the festival is you’ll often see guys with smiles on their faces. And, of course, a party, the festival was built on hedonism. It doesn’t stop so once it starts running and long may that last.

*Oppikoppi Bewilderbeest kicks off today. The first entertainment started at 9am. First act plays at 13h00. Catch the line-up here.

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