Check Our Coverage of South Africa’s Ramfest Music Festival 2014
CAPE TOWN: 6 – 9 March: Elandskloof, Villiersdorp.
Ramfest, a South African alternative music festival, taking place in four locations at the end of summer in the southern hemisphere – Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg. A photographer and I travel to the Cape Town venue to check out Saturday March 8’s festival scene.
The concert site
We arrive with no traffic on our route, dusty and confused, 125km into the mountains outside of Cape Town, to a very understated will call. It is on a hill over looking the entire festival that, from this vantage point, appears deserted and quiet. Concerned the festival may be over, I ask the very casual guy behind the makeshift desk. He tells me this is the big day, the last day of bands and the one with the international headliners (Biffy Clyro and Foals) everyone has been waiting for. The photographer Victoria and I look at each other, excited to plunge into this very different festival scene. If you made it all the way out here, you must really believe in the festival.
As we drive our vehicle backstage, no one checks us. The festival is in a valley surrounded by mountains, which naturally means there are no ticket touts, no people hopping fences (in fact, there are no fences), very little security. It all seems to run smoothly, everyone behaving themselves without what we consider par to the course festival woes. I do not have to hide my vodka in a plastic water bottle to get through nor do they desire proof of identity to claim your tickets.
Propped at the bar (at which there is NO LINE, I could get used to this) sipping our cold beers, we start to notice straggles of people coming into the festival from the campsites, manned by a solitary, unmoving security guard. The festival begins to fill up. The campsite doesn’t look big enough to have hidden all these people from us- where did they come from? The trees? The bare mountains? We notice the site is, by festival standards, immaculate. No piles of puke, litter or cigarette butts. All of the port-o-potties are clean seemingly 24/7 with toilet paper, inside lights and sinks with soap. Where in the heavens are we?
The crowd is made up of a hodge podge of cliques, spanning the entire spectrum of subculture. Here the goths mix with the metalheads who mix with the indie kids who mix with the dreadlocked hippies; everyone is drunk and hugging and dancing and laughing. It’s like a harmonious afterlife for music fans.
Vuvuvultures are one of the first bands we see, a quartet from London, England.
Vuvuvultures – Harmony Boucher
The lead singer Harmony Boucher is beautiful, rugged and impassioned sucking us whole into the Stellenbrau stage. Her voice is something like Shirley Manson of Garbage but her own- haunting and sultry. There’s some Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Fever to Tell in the jerky electro influenced undertone and the bands frenetic stage presence. The crowd that gathered are very hip, Urban Outfitter’s mixed with a bit of British indie style oddly reminiscent of The Libertines heyday. The crowd know the words and are as hypnotized as we are.
As we watch I realize something: I can actually see the stage. My view is not impaired by thousands upon thousands of iPhones all desperate to prove they were here front and center. Everyone seems to be doing this bizarre thing of enjoying the music, dancing and jumping and yelling along, and this trend continues throughout the day. I see one digital camera whip up for a quick shot but it is a perfunctory interruption and the rest of their set is met with outstretched hands and smiles. Later, I would see actual lighters studding the crowd rather then iphone lights.
I personally am not moved by the two headliners, Biffy Clyro and Foals. Perhaps it’s the English way to feel so– unmoved. However, to their fans, they were a hit. One fan described Foals performance as the best he’s ever seen.
Foals began at 9pm and already the entire festival (this is no exaggeration, the bars and stalls are completely vacated) migrates to the main stage. I have never been a fan of Foals’ brand of anthemic art rock, but as I look back from the pit at the crowd, I realize here are thousands of people enchanted by their energetic set. This is a reaction they must be used to- they are headlining a bunch of festivals this summer and for good reason. They put on a rousing show.
Biffy Clyro, a band with some serious longevity in the UK, are shirtless by the first song. Their melodic, slow crooning and predictable guitar progressions doesn’t usually warrant such a dramatic removal of clothes, but here they are. The crowd is vibrant, yelling for the band, hands in the air, appreciative. I am impressed by the war cries they incense from their raptured audience. Although an undeniable crowd pleaser, there is no electricity for me and they pale in comparison to the highlight of my night, the Celtic influenced Haggis and Bong.
Haggis and Bong
Despite their rather unfortunate name, this South African Celtic-Groove-Metal band, hailing from Pretoria, floored me. Haggis and Bong are comically dressed; all Braveheart blue paint and kilts, bagpipes sounding like electric guitars. With little to no vocals, the bagpipes sound fills the air and lyrics are not missed. The band are the very definition of men; you can hear the testosterone crackling in the air, their bare chests glistening and faces grimacing with concentration. The William Wallace of the group becomes frustrated with the lack of a slam pit in the front row and launches into the crowd, starting his own circle pit, wind-milling and moshing before returning on stage. The bagpipes are frantic, shredding and absolutely perfect; I have never heard this instrument sound anything more than terrible and so am awed that such a sound could be conveyed. See a clip here.
“They should be on the Main Stage”, laments the man to my right. I have to agree, but it appears that Dawid Fourie, who created the festival in 2007 and is also responsible for it’s lineup, saves the Main Stage for the international bands.
Whilst queuing for the very clean port-o-potties, I get speaking to Johann, a guy in his 20s from the Western Cape who tells me he drove 600km to get to this festival. I ask who he was here to see?
“To be honest I don’t really like any of this kind of music,” Johann tells me in his thick South African staccato.
Why is he here then?
“There’s nothing to do on the Western Cape.”
This seems to confirm quite a few people’s opinion of the festival- the lineup is not quite to their tastes but it is fun and ‘something to do’ in a country that, one can only assume due to it’s location, is often omitted from the international touring schedule of a lot of alternative bands and artists.
I am told by one girl in a bunny onesie that she would rather be here and discover cool new bands than pay hundreds of Rands to see Rihanna or Lady Gaga in Cape Town like a lot of her girlfriends do. She doesn’t care about the mainstream, she tells me, she wants drums and guitars. And booze, she laughs, holding up a half full, grass strewn cup of Hunters.
True to festival form when the stages end the dj dance party ensues all night long. When I asked the bartender how long he will serve he said “Until you stop drinking! ‘til Dawn! Until the music stops!” I was in love.
For the local bands that play, whilst people who rarely know your music may not be the ideal situation, one thing they will find at Ramfest is a receptive, welcoming audience.
A lot of festivals in Europe and the states seem to have forgotten the point and have become scenes to be seen, the music pushed to the back as fashion and celebrity take the spot light. But Ramfest and Fouwrie have gone and got it absolutely right. It is a festival for people who just love music, are willing to hear something they haven’t before and want to embrace the new. And isn’t that the whole point of music festivals, really?