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Darkness on the Edge of Town

by Stefanie Jason, images by Ghairunisa Galeta / 20.05.2010

Johannesburg – A windy Saturday night on a Melville street corner saw a bunch of strangers and familiars, all on a shady BLK JKS guestlist, pile into two shuttles for the sole purpose of transporting our semi-sober beings across the dreaded Boerewors Curtain to Alberton, for the Smirnoff Experience™ “Mash Street”. The party was to be held at a secret venue hosting performances from South African fusion band BLK JKS and a Dutch electronic DJ and producer, named Tiёsto – to experience a bizarre elixir of Maskandi, rock and electro music. Skeptical? Well, we were too. The feeling still lingered once the journey was done and we arrived at Rand Airport, in front of a huge aircraft hanger-slash-venue called Sky Raiders, where techno junkies queued donning distinctly East Rand garb and gelled hair, while frenziedly sucking lollipops, all rushing to get inside.

Besides waiting an hour for the JKS to dish out our VIP passes, the décor details in the foyer were highly impressive. There was a Soviet Union theme running throughout, with the blood red marquee and sharp crimson lighting, as well as the perfectly symmetrical rows of booths and hard looking hosts. But beneath the misguided Communist exterior, lay a street theme that resonated all too well with the urban grime of Joburg city. Graffiti pieces by Rasty and Falko, a DIY graffiti wall for all to tag, and of course, a sprinkle of psuedo-celebs. With two rather huge juxtaposed dance floors and a tiny VIP room above everything.

First on the line-up was the four man local band, the BLK JKS, who performed their signatory trippy sounds alongside half naked, stripper-style Smirnoff dancers, to a room full of peculiar spectators, who at first were too afraid to get buck under the overly-lit dance floor. In contrast the electronic dance scene next door, resembled a psychedelic scene from Avatar with it’s impeccable sound and visual effects, the award-winning BLK JKS – who represented on stage, as they usually do – didn’t have much to work with. It was a set that suffered from bad lighting, a miniscule stage and sound that should have done them justice, but was strangely lacking. Nevertheless, they worked with what they had and brought their infamous hype to the other side of the Boerie Curtain.

Calm after the calamity, we transcended to the VIP level where attractive food, sadly non-vegetarian, and a Smirnoff-laden bar awaited for us to take advantage; which we did, until slowly scanning the room to find, to our surprise, passed out tannies and bewildered VIP onlookers, who clearly were not too impressed by our demands for quadruple shots of Vodka. Once we were finished abusing Smirnoff’s hospitality, we descend to the hazy floor with its Na’vi-like crowd to check out the number 1 ranked international DJ in the world spin his magic. Because it was coincidentally my second time seeing Tiёsto – my first encounter with the unfamiliar DJ was at an electro party somewhere in Washington DC four years ago – he did what he does best and his fans loved his “cosmic energy” from beginning to end.

Apart from the sad fact that the bar stopped serving alcohol after 2 in the morning, the Smirnoff Experience™ “Mash Street” was filled with fresh ideas that I’ve hardly seen at local parties, from their social media interaction which involved live Twitter updates using the #smirnoffbethere hashtag, taking snaps of us which instantly appeared on our Facebook pages, to the exclusive DJ Tiёsto and BLK JKS Smirnoff Experience™ collaboration called “Dreaming”, which debuted on the night and is available for download here.

It’s surprising what a party on the other side of the tracks and some free intoxicants can do to a dozen strangers. In a single word, the best way to describe our state upon exodus from the Smirnoff Experience™ was “experienced”.

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