Real Alternative Music Festby Hugh Upsher / 17.03.2014
I had come a long way since I drove my blue Citi Golf to the first RAMfest back in 2007. It used to be Oros+Jack Daniels in a 2l bottle, collapsing tents and losing my voice. Now it was packed lunches, continuous teeth brushing and moderate drinking of 4% beer. Once settled amongst the laager of tents set up by friends I got my hands on the printed band lineup with corresponding time slots. I tried to scan the line-up methodically to plan out my missions, but all I could focus on was the bold names at the top of the page ‘Biffy Clyro’ and ‘Foals’. Everything else fell away.
While drifting between stages during the early evening I heard something strangely familiar from the Monster stage. It was the unmistakable Afrikaans alt rock anthem ‘Vergeet Vir My’ (Forget Me), which I found ironic because I had completely forgotten that that band existed. It felt like a 10 year reunion show a few years too soon – another victim of the unsustainable local industry.
Friday night was the night for metal and although this wasn’t what I came for I was optimistic the headliners were going to kick my aural ass. I’m no metalhead, but I have had great experiences watching acts like Sepultura, Soulfly, and Metallica in the past. Trivium just seemed too clinical and mollycoddled by comparison. They definitely missed that dysfunctional punk element that made those classic acts so appealing. It didn’t help that the frontman was doing cringe-worthy bicep flexing towards an audience dominated by young men. It would be unfair to say they were simply early Metallica derivatives but that didn’t stop drunk me from yelling “RIDE THE LIGHTNING!” repeatedly with friends.
Kill Switch Engage was the act that I hoped would reignite my taste for metal. I had heard their cover version of Dio’s ‘Holy Diver’ and hoped their mould-breaking (and sometimes comedic) approach to the genre would save my night. I stayed long enough to hear the popular metal ballad ‘Always’ which was dedicated to “anyone who has lost someone dear to them”. I left when the very next song was dedicated to all the ladies and their “swollen chests”.
Saturday morning started at 6:20am with sounds of cows mooing en masse like they were being milked the wrong way. I emerged from my tent to see a friend had graciously placed pizza boxes over the patches of grass where he had puked hours earlier. From there the day slipped by surprisingly fast with bouts of swimming, morning comedy and long pointless conversations under the safety of a stranger’s umbrella. The first international band, Vu Vu Vultures, were a pleasant surprise – although their female fronted synth-infused sound felt a little out of place in the wilderness. They had been shifted to play the comparatively tiny side stage due to “technical issues” with the main rig. This made everybody a tad nervous about the fast approaching evening.
While en route to the main stage I came across a real-life ogre. After accidentally making eye contact with the double nipple ringed, box-wine wielding fellow I was certain it wouldn’t end well with. “Hey Soutie!”, he shouted in my direction. Luckily he was only trying to make friends and after I complied with his demands to let him pour wine in and around my mouth he moved on. Nothing could distract me from the two bands that were high up on my short list of bands I still wanted to see live.
The Foals’ sound had a raucous power from the very start. Their strength lies in using their intricate picking and key layering as texture over dexterous song writing. The moments where all five of them were letting their technical grooves loose were absolute bliss. Even when the guitarist had amp issues mid-song, the rest of the band carried through, despite a very visible and embarrassing hissy fit being thrown. It was great to see them cover tracks off all three albums but I felt gutted when they finished their set – though I would have only really been satisfied if they played all 33 of their album tracks and then some.
Disco classic ‘We Are Family’ pre-empted the appearance of Biffy Clyro to the stage followed by a storm of guitar riffage. They are the kind of rare band that has a hard and heavy outer shell with a gooey singer-songwriter at the core. This allowed the energy of the set to fluctuate between acoustic sincerity and body thrashing madness. It was a pleasure to be surrounded by people that seemed to know the lyrics better than you do. Especially when you previously weren’t even sure anyone in South Africa knew they existed before the RAMfest announcement.
Sundays at festivals always start with the sounds of tent zips and slamming car doors. Unlike most music festivals RAMfest doesn’t give a shit about Sunday. “You got your headliners now fuck off”. With no kiss goodbye, you can’t help but feel used. You wake up on Sunday feeling disorientated with bruises in strange places and are forced to gather your things and do the drive of shame (attempted one night stand metaphor). Thankfully that’s how we like it done. Rough, dirty and in a place where no one can hear you scream.