Ramfest and Heartbreakby Roger Young, images by Kevin Goss-Ross and Justin McGee / 03.03.2010
It was the kind of weekend where no one judged you for the stains on your pants and there was great music everywhere. Now generally I rankle at writing overly positive articles for the fear of being accused of being bribed. And here I must clearly state that, yes, there was a pay off. That pay off, that massive bribe, was Ramfest itself. Unfortunately personal reasons made it hard to fully enjoy it. I had been dumped, on Facebook, the day we got there. I was a broken hero in a half shell. There I was surrounded by thousands of people watching Isochronous, it was profoundly beautiful moment and extremely sad for, hearing Richard Brokensha belt out “Where’s my beauty queen”, while knowing mine was far away, filled me with tears. I had to stumble out of the heaving mass to compose myself. As I was clearing the crowd I bumped into someone who was carrying a big old cup of whiskey, they persuaded me to stay and watch the boys finishing jamming out on a spaceship of sound. The full-on orchestral, keyboard jazz-rock and on-stage bounce overrode my sadness just long enough for me to drink a lot of this other person’s whisky, a technique I was now, by Saturday night, perfecting to the point where I was no longer able to get drunk.
I was so emo all festival that by Saturday night I was mostly being avoided but on the Thursday I was still in shock, so the first night of the festival was all about getting my drink on. wWell the first day really, and we had been drinking on the train all morning. Because we got there early the pool was empty. We broke it’s virginity and drank more Tass, a wave of cool relief washed over us. Having waited for Ramfest for so long and now we were there. There was no real entertainment on Thursday night except for watching Griet set up the electrodome and feeling like we owned the festival. Sitting around having intense conversations, a weird joyous releasing feeling, like the momentum has carried us this far and now the anticipation is over. It was a feeling that persisted until our numbers started dropping on day four (that’s day two to you rookie mo fo’s).
There is a girl sorta dancing on the bar, and I rip my shorts while trying to pull a table cloth off from under everyone’s drinks. The few people that were there crowded around the bar and spoke in that high wild ridiculous way you do when shucking off the cares of normal daily life, I managed to forget for a while but at some point the emo hit and I had to go back to the tent, cry and pass out.
In the night my photographer stole back his blanket, so I wake up shivering, my first thought on opening the tent is, “why is my soup outside?”, I am still in a sorta drunk haze so it becomes a real inquiry into the nature of all things. The moment the sun hits, we hit the pool and start building up a cache of in-jokes that will last us the festival and confuse everyone we meet. It’s a long day ahead before the music proper kicks in, and we can feel that wave of anticipation up near the festival proper so once the Tass is finished we make our way down to the river. It’s hot and the whole day is spent between the river, being mudfish, and the pool, being kids. Between whiskey and some weird lemon drink the PTA chicks in the tent just below us have brought with them by the shit ton. Good tmes, I tell you, good tmes.
Kidofdoom are made for an epic crowd like this. And by epic I don’t just mean big, I mean keen, flocking and air punching to compete with the doomers. Hearing “Sociallight” being played over such a large sound system, with that huge lighting rig, amplified my opinion of this band I once used to dismiss as a novelty act. Every nuance was perfectly rendered. There is a joyous uplifting to kidofdoom live that is like a religious experience without the annoying preachy stuff that comes after. They wash clean through your soul.
Johnny Foreigner’s sound didn’t come across as layered as it had earlier in the tour, in the smaller venues, so I found their set disappointing but only because I felt like we weren’t wasn’t hearing them totally. But that didn’t stop the crowd from catching their shouty pop infections and talking about them in various ways for the rest of the festival, from “they were awesome” to “who?”.As their set is ending I run up to get a beer before the masses hit the bars and run smack into the electro tent. Dancing ensues. I’d like to describe to you the kind of dancing but seeing as I was doing it, and very fast, to forget myself in the flashy lights, it really is hard to say.
Out of obligation to culture I pull myself off the dance floor in time for Fokof and manage to catch the last half of it. Now, I am not a Fokof fan, i think that whole vanfokkingtasties crowd have a tendancy to rely too much on the thinking part of the lyrics and not much on the feeling part of the music, but watching Francois Van Coke tear into those tracks filled me with awe, like a minister at a revival tent making snakes bite into his flesh and laying hands on his flock, he hypnotised the crowd into a frenzy, I may not think that it is great music but it sure is masterful showmanship.
Yesterday’s Pupil takes to the stage, the crowd starts off small but a few songs in there is no way to get close to the front, I’m dancing like a bastard, it feels good to be free, I’m thinking as Peach shows the drums who’s boss, busting out his electro meets Joy Division meets I don’t know the fuck what, a blur and I find that I up at the electrodome and it has gone all apeshit by now as Haezer has come on and is fouling the air with his dirty hardcore dance attack. I find our photographers stumbling around shouting “Nice Pants”, with gay hands, to practically everyone. McGee is still waiting for his camera to be delivered and Goss-Ross has handed his over to him for now, as he is getting all soft cock and mumbly. Everyone is either dancing poes hard or running around on some crazy mission. On the dancefloor us train folk are in a small circle and some guy with fag hair who had, earlier in the day, defended Seth Rotheringham is tapping white powder from a capsule onto everyone’s hand. I think telling him earlier that he was stupid pissed him off, because he gives to everyone else but me. That sentence is my revenge. Sometime at about three, I get emo again and stumble home, passing a graf artist working on an incredibly detailed drawing. I drunk dial my now ex-girlfriend and cry myself to sleep, keeping Tidal Waves, in the next tent, up all night.
In the late morning, the train team is still sleeping so I make my way down to the river, on the way there are bodies littered everywhere, in the back of bakkies, half out of tents, under trees, under cars, on the gravel path. I pass the graf artist, still working with his koki pen. When I get to the river it’s full of people, and I think, “fuck these people. We own the river,” and leave. I pass the Vice Island on the beach part and give them shit about it not being a real island and steal some rum before heading back quickly to catch Jack Parow.
I don’t get Jack Parow, I mean I can see that he’s funny, that his lyrics are sharp and that he is accessing the low-rent “zef” thing on a much more honest level than Die Antwoord, but he just doesn’t speak to me, his beats do not excite me like they excite the thousands of MK generation kids standing in front the stage chanting every line of every one of his tracks. But Parow wins my heart when, after he had downed a brandewyn and coke earlier in his set, he now suddenly heaved and retched and then said: “Jammer, ek het amper gekots”. When he ends around twelve there is not much else I want to see, so I spend most of the afternoon, except for my brief swim when I discovered the vomit floating in the pool, sitting around the tent, getting relationship advice from cute girls.
Ramfest is two strips of stalls, bars, the main stage, the electrodome, the metal stage (which I never visit) the Vice “island”, the pool, the river, the sprawling tent camps, the constantly awesome line-ups, so much choice that bands you would normaly go to see are abandoned because of the side missons, the flowing of new people and the discovering of new things. Bands I missed in this way: The Sleepers, Desmond and The Tutus, The Narrow, Cutout Collective and The Monroes. I missed the Dirty Skirts just because I didn’t like Jeremy’s jacket and Taxi Violnece because I think the lead singer’s hair is always too clean. I missed the metal tent because I dislike metal. I aviod the trance looking tent vibe, because trance hippies scare me. Ramfest’s real alternative music motto spreads itself into all directions of alternative, all kinds of subcultures passing through each other.
Four days of drinking has got to McGee. So when the tent fire in the other camp breaks out he doesn’t have the energy to photograph the people snapping out of party mode and into save the fucking tents mode. Shouting, running, ripping tents out the way until the fire is contained. But I don’t care about this, I am talking to a girl, whose boyfriend has fallen asleep after dropping acid, about her skirt and my broken heart (did I mention that I got really emo at Ramfest?) when he wakes up and we have a long conversation about Die Heuwels Fantasties and the rest of that bunch. I spill my guts about how I can’t understand why people like them so much, how I think they’re not electro but just electronic MOR rock and the dude on acid just smiles, turns out they’re his favorite band, he asks me if I speak Afrikaans and I confess that I can’t really. Apparantly If I could understand the lyrics then I would be able to understand the music. I wasn’t going to bother watching Die Heuwels but I now decide to make a point of it.
At sunset I wander through the festival in hazy light, the train team is either passed out or looking spent, I feel blank but content, I’ve had an amazing Ramfest and there is still one night and one day to go. As per usual I bump into someone who fills up my cream soda bottle with whiskey and fills my heart with their concern.
I sit down with the Vice crew just off the side of the main stage, they’re exhausted from the all day beach party, their eyes are glazed but their mouths are set in smiles. During Die Heuwels Fantasties set, their lead man constantly tries to get the crowd to respond to his between-song calls for a shout of this or a shout of that, when the response is weak, he gets more insistent, more aggressive, it starts to feel a little embarassing. Ace turns to me and says, “I’ll never forgive myself for having sat through this set.” And gets up to leave. Sure there at least a thousand kids there who know the lyrics to the hits, but their set is a strangely dull affair until they bring on Jack Parow for the last song. Parow, like Francois Van Coke, is a showman, a palpable change ripples through the crowd who are suddenly more into it.
It’s a well established fact that Inge from Lark is an on stage force to be reckoned with, her interpretive dance-esque moves come off entirely genuine and her vocal range is spellbinding. By this time there must be four to five thousand people packed in front of the main stage, the festival is coming to a focus, and Lark manage to make it seem, wherever you are standing, that they are performing just for you, without looking at you or even really talking at all. Their theatrical bombast is overwhelming, sucking you right in, it immerses the audience totally, Inge’s crazy eyes, hand shape throwing and witchy athleticism coupled with Fuzzy’s exploding hair make for a totally beautiful and engaging visual experience and their pounding, driving, grinding, dark synth-rock inspires more head banging than air punching. But when they veer into a self indulgent moment, a showing-off of sorts, it gets a little too serious without any substance and I’m suddenly over it. I know if I got closer to the stage I might get back into it, or maybe on the next song, but I just don’t have the urge to. The spell is broken.
Then Boo! I remember them as good, but not this good, “OOAA” fills me with a goose bumply awe, me and the six to seven thousand people who were at the stage at that time, the fullest it’s been at the main stage all weekend. Chameleon in heels and slashed tights is some kind of preternatural force sweeping away all other performances of the weekend, raising the game with humor, love and alien bass skill. But it’s seeing Ampie Omo bounce between instruments that made me so goddamn happy, I can’t even say why. Boo! songs were always tightly wound bits of funk pop perfection but the sound is perfect, the setting is fantastic, the crowd is amazed and not just those of us who know this is a comeback. It’s one of those moments that being part of will stay with this audience forever, even if they don’t know. Shit, I even enjoyed that annoying translate the alien language shtick they do between songs. Peach from Yesterday’s Pupil is standing there gobsmacked, “legend” he says in a hushed tone. Not one face I can see around me isn’t transfixed by the prancing pixie, how the fuck does he move like that in those heels? How does he do that with his voice? What is he doing to that bass? He never resorts to showing off, he just plays with his ablities naturally and organically. All the while Ampie is running around like some kind of toy stuffed lion brandishing his trumpet like an extra limb or pushing some button or hitting some thing, keeping it together, keeping it loose, even the new guy on drums is excellent. The crowd reacts exstatically when Chameleon says “We’d like to do one more song”, he pauses and then, “but in typical Boo! fashion we won’t!” And then he clears stage. It may not be planned but leaving on that high note creates a kind of fever that Pendulum quickly capitalises on, the main stage transforms into a mass rave complete with lazers. A throbbing pulsing mass of drum and bass with live vocals that continues for two hours. Because the cash machine has run out of money and my lack of vigour for bumming drinks from people on mushrooms, I retreat to the tents where the energy from the weekend is ebbing and flowing through various conversations, in various circles, in various camps.
There are other festivals in this country who cost cut for profit’s sake, on line-ups, amenities and other little details, when this happens you can feel that disdain for the punter flow through the festival. Ramfest is not like that, because of the let’s-just-have-a-good-time nature of the enterpise, its little faults didn’t seem like faults at all. The biggest problem was that the cash machine ran out of money on Saturday night, forcing many to leave early Sunday. There were other minor gripes like Boo! could have been allowed an encore and sure it would have been nice if the bar hadn’t run out of beer at that one point but overall there was a gees at Ramfest 2010 that 9000 attendees felt. The genius of the festival was not in individual band choice but in the intertwining of different kinds of alternative music and line-up planning, which built and released wonderfully. Early Sunday morning I realised I had to leave, I had to go to tell the woman I loved that if music festivals don’t have to be shitty then neither does the way we treat each other, but because she wasn’t at Ramfest I wonder if she’ll know what I am talking about.
*Many more pics and captions to follow…