Hot Rocksby Andrew Thompson, images by Tim Hulme / 01.12.2009
To my dismay, there were no kids on leashes. There was a disappointingly low number of people lying face-down off their heads on drugs, and only a few dozen paralytic drunks stumbling over the uneven ground – most of them were respectably kotching and sobering up in the rambling stream. There was, now that I think about it, a very small number of ageing tie-dyed hippies. I spied one though, living out of his rusty 60s Volksie bus in the campsite, who, apart from the leash-less kid, looked like he was trying his best to relive the Synergy glory-years. But he really just looked tired and jaded, defeated, and not wired and free and ready to spin circles on the dance floor. But then again, this wasn’t the Synergy of the 90s, those wild, drug-fueled dance parties; this was Synergy Live, the original’s softer cousin. So there were plenty of school kids, lots of hipsters, lots of Afrikaners, a few more Souties, less than a handful of black kids, spectacular heat, a theme park, thousands of tents, a river, and way too much dust.
I’m pretty sure that somewhere deep inside my nasal cavity, where my nostrils enter the top of my throat, there’s a layer of ultra-fine Boschendal dust, the kind of manure-laden dirt that you don’t even know you’re inhaling until you cough it up or sneeze it out the next morning, still waiting to trickle down into my gut. The only consolation here is imagining the look of horror and disappointment on the faces of the prissy Southern suburbs girls as they watched what they thought was a bronze Synergy tan trickle down the shower drain the next evening.
It was hot on Saturday; almost too hot to do anything other than moan about how hot it was. So hot that they sold out of Hunters; that the cheese on my samie I was saving for later melted before my eyes; that the gin and dry-lemon we fixed ourselves on the roof of my car tasted like it’d had 3 minutes on high in the microwave. Too hot, really, to watch the bands, or at least to enjoy them, and thus, come Saturday midday, most of the clever kids were lying on their backs in the cool Franschoek streams, rather than bobbing to the music.
Just after lunch time, Van Coke managed to pull some folks away from the holy water with a solid performance, but even the New Academics, three hours later, had to fight hard to get everyone back. Which, with another solid, energetic set, they eventually did.
By now the festival was looking promising – people slowly filled the dance floors, the buzz around the bars increased, that ageing hippie let his kid climb the scaffolding in front of the stage, and in the distance the puke-generating theme park rides were whirring into action.
And then the MCs decided to do something about it. Never in the history of music festivals has there been such below-par MC’ing, and the looks on the seasoned Rudimentals’ faces when the whining host failed dismally to get them to start up an impromptu jam session (“You over there, play me a little something. Now you, Mr. Drummer, give me a beat. Ah… yeah…. Ah, sing something for me over there”), pretty much summed it up. The fact that she’d started her introduction of the band by saying “Boys and girls, do I have a surprise for you”, despite the fact that the band was on the schedule and already waiting patiently behind her to start their set, just made it that much more ridiculous. If they all weren’t such gentlemen, they’d have drowned her out right then. But never mind, because the Rudis were their usual energetic, eclectic selves, and with a brief cameo from Teba, they set the tone perfectly for a solid evening.
As the late afternoon brought some relief, it seemed like there was a solid three-way tug-of-war going on between the dance tents, the main stage, the the understaffed bar. But even before Fokof had made it through their first track it became apparent the main stage would take the first round fairly comfortably. Of course aKing picked up where Fokof left off, and by then everyone was cooled off, had had a few spins in the theme park, enough to drink, and was ready to kick things off.
But then, for some godforsaken reason, Prime Circle, the original Spar commercial jingle singers, billed by the organisers as “the leading rock band in South Africa” came out, looking embarrassingly lacklustre and dated and passé, and once again all the energy drained from the main stage. Even the school girls laughed the band off when in the most sincere of tones they instructed everyone in the crowd to pull out their cellphones and lighters to wave them in the air. When they dedicated a song “to all those people out there who’ve been bullied by dickheads,” I could only chuckle into my tepid Vodka, and wonder how the fuck a band apparently struggling with self-esteem issues, and for good reason, still manages to get on the bill for festivals like these.
By then, most people seemed intent on ending up face-down in the dirt off their heads on drugs, and so just before they did the trippy dance bubbles bulged at the seams with people who didn’t give a fuck how kak Prime Circle were; they just knew they wanted to have a good time.
It was up to Goldfish to round off the night on the main stage. And as predictable and samey as they’ve now become, they still know how to put on a damn good show, and as they washed the crowd with their massive green laser and fun jazzy grooves, they clearly took the final round.
As limited as the appeal of sleeping in the the back of a Chico with the word “Nobber” scratched into the dust on the back windshield is, it eventually had to be done. The party was stopped dead in its tracks sometime around 3am. The over-arching lack of momentum that characterised the weekend took its toll early the next day as well, as squinting morning-after revellers gingerly crept out of their tents in the early sunlight and silently packed up their belongings. Hardly any skottels were lit, there was no beer-swilling boytjie jamming U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday out the back of his double cab at first light, and most of the stalls on the waste-land were already packing up.
So we followed suit – Sunday’s line-up looked somewhat weak and the queue for the coffee stand significantly long. Soon afterwards, as we were traipsing through the quiet streets of Franschoek looking for something to spite our starvation, in our filthy upturned jeans, slops and tangled hair, I realised that either I’d become horribly soft, or that, despite some standout performances from a top selection of bands, a quality sound rig, and a spectacular venue, overall the festival felt fairly average. Perhaps it was because, more than most things right then, unlike countless other local festivals, I didn’t want to travel back in time to the night before. I just wanted a proper shower and a bed that didn’t require me to sleep with my feet sticking out the window.
Images © and courtesy Tim Hulme.