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Up the Creek

Low Expectations and a River

by Chris Mason, images by Athena Lamberis / 14.02.2011

Up the Creek quickly became Up the Crack, in the lead up to the festival. It was an inevitable play on words that highlighted my expectations of the festival. I had none. So (as humans are prone to do when strapped for knowledge) I talked shit about it. Granted, it was playful shit, cheeky little nuggets, but shit nonetheless. Ignorance may be bliss, but it often breeds contempt.

The road uncoiled out in front of us, climbing up the hill, but we were wedged in. Young black guys hawked a plethora of imported Chinese items on the hot tar, which was jammed with vehicles. Somerset West was constipated, it’s large intestine blocked up by humans escaping the city, the office, their lives, on a Friday afternoon. We too were escapees, our goods packed into the back of an old Land Cruiser called the Whale-fish, desperate to get out of the crush. It was hot and stifled in the traffic, and the marijuana we had just smoked was not mixing well with the heat and the crowds. “Where the fuck are we?!” I shouted, falling out of my reverie to land in the passenger seat, sweating and anxious to get away from all the forlorn faces and into the country.

The road finally opened up, cars thinned. We were out, navigating the interim spaces between cities. Farmlands and birds of prey perched on electricity poles filled me with a sense of calm, while the whale- fish patiently swallowed up the road, taking us along with it.

Up the Creek

The destination, found two and a half hours later, was a shale and quartz hillside slanting into the Breede river. Humans abounded, setting up temporary abodes on the rocky terrain. Tents in their hundreds, 2000 temporary inhabitants, and no more, as apparently the tickets were limited.

We drove around in a big circle, cursing the sharp, sloping ground as terrible for sleeping on. The river was unreachable, and all the camp sites close to the epicentre were taken. Only the outskirts, the deserted peripheries remained. Overlooking everything was the hilltop, crowned with a tuft of aloes and prickly pairs. No one had attempted to get to the top. With the Whale-fish we trundled up and found a flat spot at the very top.

Glib in our new status of land owners with the best view, we cheered and slapped backs. Loud, friendly rock wafted up from the stage, above the tents, and laughter followed it.

Up the Creek

The Doctor, who was also the driver, said “I don’t know much, but I know this is no place for acid.” He may have been right. It was not a drug-fuelled neo-hippy stomp to power up Mother Earth. (There were drugs, but they drowned in beer). It was far from the mystic intentions of the money-less give and take of Africa Burns. Yet it was almost equally far from the giant heaving mass of beautiful youngsters that is Rocking the Daisies. It reminded me of a young Splashy Fen. Small, intimate, somewhat uncool. Full to the brim with beer and cheer.

The main tent looked like a giant open-sided barn, made with thick wooden poles and covered in green plastic. Like the enormous spit-braai that fed half the festival, it was home-made, with the distinct marks of a farmer’s ingenuity.

Under that green plastic the music started early on Friday night. As is my wont at music festivals, I didn’t put too much sway in seeing everything. Initial impressions of the line up had been unremarkable, but to their collective credit, and from what I saw, all of the bands gave enthusiastic performances. In a tender moment that evening I even felt an affectionate admiration for the resilience of our embattled musicians. Karen Zoid and Hot Water we heard only from a distance. Watching the Dirty Skirts left me unmoved, sadly, but the Rudimentals stood out with their energetic performance and loud, funky horns. Fade to black.

Up the Creek

On Saturday morning animals of all shapes and sizes emerged. Placid things with bright colours and taut plastic skin. Killer whales, Merdogs and a penis the size of a man all joined the throng of humans carrying inflatable objects to the water. No one had mentioned this in their non-descriptions of Up the Creek! It was fantastic, in a Roald Dahl way. The river looked like Rooibos. The bank on one side sported a make-shift stage and in the middle there was a sand island the size of a rugby field. The sun was fierce, a 30 plus desert heat. In the dark, cool water people teemed around each other and their floatation devices. Laughing and drinking, their grins flashing and wet bodies gleaming. Everyone euphoric in this newly found paradise. The excitement died down as the day wore on. The wind picked up fresh. The river emptied slowly as revellers sought shelter under beach umbrellas. We stayed there all day, on that magic little beach.

Up the Creek

The evening started with Jack Parrow shouting his name and sweating a lot. I heard some people say they didn’t like him, mostly foreigners. It was the first time I had seen him, and a lot of the Afrikaans was lost on me, and the shouting. But I did feel the need to protect him. His ballsy attempt to do something different, however loud and unmusical, seemed worthy of some appreciation. So I told the complainers that they needed to think about him as a parody of himself (I was proud of that one). This placated the Americans and impressed the Swede, but the Soutpiel was left convinced. Boo! Yes, that skinny, flamboyant man Chris Chameleon, his long-haired trumpeting compatriot Ampie and the drummer with the crazy eyes. Fucking Boo! back from the dead, and rocking! Chameleon looked a little older and world-weathered but was still the consummate performer, with all his voices and in his tight pink and black sequined jumpsuit. The crowd booed with glee. At the back of the stage a middle-aged security guard in a red shirt stared at Chameleon, his face showing obvious distaste. A scowl had formed, pulling the sides of his mouth down. I project-read his mind, “This guy is a fokken moffie. And why the fuck are these people booing? Jussis man.”

Up the Creek

I couldn’t help feeling sad when they played, “I’m gonna get lucky someday”. The youthful hope that used to drive the song was replaced with something darker, the experience of disappointment, and for a moment I saw Chameleon as the struggling artist, looking for the big break that may never come.

Bed on Bricks. Taxi Violence. He’ll steal your baby. You may get shot. These bands passed without incident, and I drank whiskey out the bottle. What the fuck is up with these band names? In a state of distrustful inebriation I questioned the legitimacy of the names, trying to probe the possible meanings imbedded in what they represented and the reasons behind them being used. I failed. Flash Republic came on. A fan blew the lead singers hair up, like something out of a music video. She sang with gusto, her shirt looked like a toga. Some strong hash was passed around. It was my turn to stare, to wonder if this was good or bad music. In the murk of the late hour it was hard to tell. The people seemed to like it. To me it sounded like pop, something on 5FM. I wobbled to what I suspected was the beat. It ended in cheers. Soon afterwards the darkness swallowed me up.

We left early the next morning, before the oppressive heat got us, and after one final dip and a blood-red detox juice. Already we were recounting reasons why the weekend had been so good. Low expectations and a fantastic river, mainly.

Up the Creek

Up the Creek

Up the Creek

Up the Creek

*Images by Athena Lamberis.

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RESPONSES (22)
  1. Max says:

    Tops!

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  2. Max says:

    Tops!

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  3. Anonymous says:

    i thought exactly the same when i saw that security guard! homophobe! haha

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  4. Anonymous says:

    i thought exactly the same when i saw that security guard! homophobe farmer guy! haha

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  5. Anonymous says:

    pretty good, pretty good.

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  6. WhistleWhile says:

    Again a music review on Mahala which ends up being concluded with a “…and then I passed out from being too wasted”. It’s pretty much the cool kid equivalent of the primary school creative writing mainstay “…and then I woke up and it all was just a dream”. Dreary and lazy.

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  7. Roger Young says:

    @WhistleWhile

    It’s only lazy to do that on gig reviews. For festival reviews, it’s the equivalent of getting an extra star.

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  8. Dekon says:

    Bright eyed and bushy tailed aren’t qualifications for writing.

    All writing is, in some way, exhibitionism. Better have a fucking good show if you don’t want to suffer slings and arrows. This, sadly, is a an amateur hamming crammed with typo’s (prickly pair?), ill-advised and puerile words (abounded? abode?) and…not much else, really. Anyone who says different is either a friend of the author or is equally uninformed.

    “Chameleon as the struggling artist, looking for the big break that may never come.’ Sweet fucken baby Jesus in the manger, are you actually unaware he’s a massive success in the Afrikaans market, Mason? I’m sorry but if you don’t have the facts on an artist, you shouldn’t be publicly stating an opinion on them. Not a gripe, just a fact.

    I’m all in favour of citizen journalism, but for chrissakes, what’s the criteria here? A free ticket and there you go – instant review? That’s promoting the dumbing-down of an already slothful audience.

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  9. Chris says:

    @Dekon and Whistlewhile

    No one said this was a music review. Mahala didn’t ask me to do it. This was a personal account of a festival. Nothing more. Therefore I am entitled to write whatever the fuck I like. Correct?

    Dekon, the fact that you used the phrase ‘ill-advised’ when criticising words like ‘abounded’ is pretty ironic, you have to admit. But I’m sure you did it on purpose and are in fact a fantastic writer.

    Oh, and about Chameleon being ‘a massive success’ in the Afrikaans market. Wow, that is news to me. I guess he’s counting his millions right now.

    I have never been called Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before though. That was quite sweet, thanks.

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  10. Max says:

    Chris, you tell them.

    From my limited standpoint, this is the best article i’ve read on Mahala this whole year. And whoever disagrees has their right to do so but can also go fuck themselves.

    There is great, unforced narrative to the article. He covers the bands, the people, the vibe, all without it sounding like a text-book review. And the style is fantastic.

    Good going.

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  11. the doctor, ahab. says:

    i don’t know much, but i know message boards aren’t a good place to take acid.

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  12. syd willow says:

    nice one lovelies

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  13. Tim says:

    @Max.

    Well, the year’s only six weeks old, isn’t it?

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  14. WhistleWhile says:

    @Roger, a bit of a self defeating comment hey? Doing gig reviews drunk and all.

    @Chris, there’s an old adage that goes “Write about what you know”. Clearly you have drunk festival experiences down to a tee, seeing as that has now become something to write about. The fact that you don’t know that Chris Chameleon has released 7 albums outside of Boo!, 3 of which have gone either gold or platinum and that he plays packed gigs in Europe is a bit of a concern as you write him off as a “struggling” artist.

    @Max, defend your brethren. You say he covered the bands – out of a whole festival he wrote about 8 bands, some only mentioned in passing. He also lays out a pretty vivid description of the landscape, but he only goes into any depth when he supposedly deconstructs the psyche of a supposedly homophobic security guard.

    I think Mahala should just disable the comment boards – it seems the journalists don’t want to take the flack and once of them gets attacked about a bad piece of writing the rest of the gang come in to defend the article/piece/musing. If you can’t take the heat, to quote Max, go fuck yourself.

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  15. will-i-am says:

    That river changed my life…

    Awesome article – Booooooo

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  16. Jake says:

    WhistleWhile and Dekon, why so bitter? It is an unsolicited personal account of an experience that is not intended to meet the checklist requirements of a music or festival review as indeed that was not its raison d’etre. I understand that you may have thought that this was something along the lines of an official review and could empathise (if not agree with) your grievance. But now that this has been cleared up, you must surely realise that you sound petty?

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  17. Chris says:

    @WhistleWhile

    You’re right, I am pretty adept at getting drunk at festivals. But I still don’t see what’s so upsetting about an opinion piece on such an experience.

    I will admit to falling short on the Chameleon’s history. I didn’t know of his international success and therefore maybe it was hasty to describe him looking to me like a ‘struggling artist’, if only for a moment. I did not write him off however, and actually described them as “rocking!”.

    Not being a music reviewer by trade, I steered clear of any analysis of the bands, stating only my opinion of the ones I saw.

    Isn’t most reviewing just what the reviewer thinks anyway? Even your comments here on Mahala could be construed as merely opinion, right?

    Perhaps the security guard was not a homophobe and actually knew Chameleons Afrikaans music, and was just looking unhappy because none of his favorite songs where being played. Who knows? And who actually cares? It was description of something I found interesting at the festival, that’s why I wrote about it. I didn’t go into detail about the middle aged white people getting drunk because, well, they are self explanatory.

    I disagree with you about the comment boards though. They are important. It’s just a pity that anonymity leads most people to be such dicks. Wouldn’t it be amazing if people who wrote comments were actually held accountable for their comments, like the writers are for their articles? Imagine the intelligent debate that would ensue when commentators are actually defending themselves, not some gung-ho pseudonym.

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  18. mega-douche says:

    Tamara Dey is still doing the fan-in-the-face thing? Shame… now there are a bunch of crap-pastique ‘musos’…. Flash Republic. Christ. Great piece, nice read…well covered, respect.

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  19. Max says:

    WhistleWhile
    you couldn’t be more wrong about journalists defending their ilk – we are a petty bunch and rub our hands with glee when one of us writes something shit. i defended this article because I thought it was good and it appealed to me in the sense that this is the kind of writing I want to be reading – as far as music/festival reviews go.

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  20. Roger Young says:

    @WhistleWhile

    I was sorta making fun of myself. You don’t read too good do you?

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  21. equally uninformed says:

    Hhhhhmmmmm…. now, who in the world would go out of their way to attack a nice personal story about a festival experience… hmmmm….. who’d go so far as to insult a writer that they don’t even know… and criticize their use of English on a site like Mahala….. hmmmm…..

    Well lets see what we know about this people and why they would write such unnecessary slander:

    1. They like English, a lot.
    2. They like Cris Chameleon, a lot.
    3. They say things like ‘Sweet baby Jesus in a manger’
    4. They refer to people by their surname…
    5. Thinks all writing is in some way exhibitionism

    So from from 1. I deduse that he studied English (at university nog al), and yes, he’s this is a he.
    From 2. I would say either this is Mr. Chameleon himself writing (no one else in SA knows about his shows in Belgium and Holland) or a friend of the chameleon.
    3. He is definitely not cool, I don’t know anyone cool who would say this, this is like saying ‘cool bananas’. He is probably from Capetown as this is maybe one level up from the Joburg ‘jissis boychie’ or the Durban…. um Durban guys don’t write so much.
    4. Went to an all boys high school, probably a more ‘traditional one’ but maybe not private.
    5. Ever considered that some children write because they are forced to by religious cult leaders…??? This guy has clearly not thought of all the options and so either he must think he is quiet the genius or perhaps is just looking to get in on that glorious attention.

    So as this is not Cris Chameleon, I think it is either Roger Young trying to get some comment rumpus going to drive more traffic to the site or… it’s a wanker, in that case we’ve all thoroughly enjoyed all the back and forth action, shot.

    Thanks for letting me toot my own horn now feel free to blow your own whistle.

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  22. Uiters Geheim says:

    I enjoyed the style and tone of this entertaining article, and I was surprised to find some pretentious know-it-alls attempting to denigrate it.
    @Dekon, nobody can know everything, and at least Chris was humble enough to admit it.

    P.S. I don’t know Chris Mason (but I’d buy him a beer if I ever met him), nor am I uninformed.

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