There’s a global movement going on, fusing New Age themes with computer cyberpunk and techno music. Now the Zippies have a new hang-out in downtown Jo’burg. Sean Badal checked IT out
THE fashion guerrillas that prowl the tattered urban landscape of downtown Johannesburg over weekends have a new hang-out. It’s called IT — and if “disco” brings back unpleasant memories of John Travolta pounding the floor in a white three-piece, the all-night raving at IT might just be the place to let it all hang out.
Ultra-loud music, funny lights and more flesh than a butcher’s shop at month-end is what your entrance fee will get you. The music is by groups with names like Telepathic Fish, Ozric Tentacles, and Transglobal Underground. The vibe is even more unsettling — groovy Sixties neets the MTV generation. The smell of incense mixes easily with Passion, or Opium.
It’s not unique to Johannesburg, though. In the age of instant communications, ravers from Tokyo to Toronto dress and party alike — separated only by time zones.
The hip American magazine for digital deviants, Wired, calls them Zippies (that’s Zen Inspired Professional Pagans), and according to the Zippie bible, Epi (Encyclopedia Psychedelica), Zippies are people who have “… balanced their hemispheres to achieve a fusion of the technological and the spiritual. The techno-person understands that rationality, organisation, long-term planning and single- mindedness are necessary to achieve anything solid on the material level.”
Yep. The philosophy behind Zippiedom is an eclectic mishmash of New Age themes like shamanism and pagan spirituality. Add to that elements of the computer cyberpunk movement and a dash of Eighties techno music and you have a distinctly unique, global social movement.
In the United Kingdom, Zippies emerged as an incongruous union between remnants of genuine middle-aged Sixties hippies and the teenaged techno followers of the Eighties. It has since spread around the globe — with devoted votaries partying themselves into oblivion.
In South Africa, the seminal roots of the movement started in mid-1992 — with all-night rave parties that were organised in abandoned warehouses and old buildings. The first one was held at Yeoville’s old Piccadilly theatre. One of the organisers of the rave was Preston “Riptorn” van Wyk, co- partner of World’s End. Van Wyk and partner, Anthony Collins, recently took their techno-roadshow to the Grahamstown Festival, wowing audiences with a mixture of dance, video and art. Van Wyk describes World’s End as an “artistic enterprise” and vows to shake South Africans out of their apathy.
‘I blame it all on the shopping mall culture that we have in the country. There’s just no adventure in the kind of lifestyle that people lead here — it’s just too comfortable. In many ways it can be justified — given the type of past that we have had — but that’s still no excuse. The excuse that we’re living in Africa, blah, blah, blah, is not valid either. I very much acknowledge that I am South African and I live in the middle of a Third World country. My ambition is to bring together elements of techno-shamanism and fuse it with local influences — and perhaps we can make an impact on global trends. We have a lot to offer, but the VCR rules in this country!”
Van Wyk is unperturbed by the sniggering accusations of fakery and hocus-pocus that the more mainstream media outlets have levelled at rave culture.
“We’re trying to expose people to the different facets of New Age music. Whichever way you look at it, it’s very inspirational. A lot of the music draws ideas from current world values, issues and contemporary events. It’s a very global thing. The effect of this is that some very interesting positive alternatives are being suggested to current social systems that govern society. A lot of people are naturally experiencing a draw towards an inner evolution rather than an outward evolution. The established religions don’t seem to be providing answers to spiritual fulfilment. It’s about teaching people to deal with responsibility. It makes people aware of choices through the information available. It’s still up to individuals to make those choices.”
The impact of computer technology is also an important element of the culture, says Van Wyk. “We are able to communicate instantly with each other because of computer technology. But people are scared of the technology. Part of our whole objective is to make people user-friendly towards computers — but not to promote consumerism. If people can learn to understand it, they can incorporate it into their lives to improve the quality of it. It would be foolish to ignore it.”
Alan Smith and Billy Downie, co-owners of rave company Kamo- tek, are also enthusiastic about bright, new electro-gizmos – – cellular phones and digital diaries are at close hand in Yeoville’s trendy Ba-Pita restaurant. But their plan to educate the masses in the ways of rave culture runs deeper than that.
Says Smith: “Our immediate plans include working on the redevelopment of the city’s Newtown area, and the Market Theatre complex. We have a lighting crew coming over from the UK in August, to assess possibilities for a techno show in the area. Our main concern, though, is moving the rave scene away from just the Johannesburg area and into the surrounding regions. People are still afraid of coming into the inner- city, and we’d like to show them what they’re missing!”
Smith is adamant that the city is ripe for rejuvenation. “Johannesburg has been receiving a lot of publicity in the media overseas — not only because what is happening here politically — but also in the fringe media, especially in Europe. People are intrigued that we have a rave culture in South Africa. The club IT, for example, is twinned with its namesake in Amsterdam. South Africa might just end up having an influx of ravers from all over Europe, and we need an infrastructure to support that.
“Globalisation has made the world a small place and ravers are always on the lookout for new and exotic locations!”