/ 1 June 2008

A musical alphabet

It’s not easy to review a music festival. Those who were there have made up their own minds and those who weren’t are jealous because they missed it all. It’s tough to put three days full of music, people, events, friends and fun into words, so the Mail & Guardian Online decided to try something different: for last weekend’s Oppikoppi music festival near Northam in Limpopo province, playfully titled The Way of the Dassie, here’s a review in letters (below) and pictures (click here). Twenty-six of each, to be exact.

A is for AC/DC, against whose satanic intentions we were warned as children. Did they play at Oppikoppi? Indeed not. But their hit Thunderstruck was blasted out by Cape Town’s Wedding DJs, who do a fine job in short shorts and plastic sunglasses. They are retro, Eighties (and a bit of Nineties) and more fun than anyone would care to admit.

B is for bar chairs, which were Kwani Experience drummer Monde’s percussion tools during their smaller, acoustic sunset gig. Innovative and surprisingly melodic. Who knew? (Also see Z.)

C is for Closer by the Nine Inch Nails, but adapted for country by daring duo Paul Riekert and Anton L’Amour. It was too rough to be included in their live radiosondergrense broadcast, but Riekert managed at least one “fok” in their stirring covers of Lucinda Williams, Tom Waits, Beck et al.

D could stand for the depth of Dorp’s music — all those years abroad helped transform them from a jump-up-and-dance flavour of the year to a band with class. But D cannot really go to anything but dust. Where Glastonbury has mud, Oppikoppi has cinnamon-fine red motes swirling and settling everywhere. It’s as much part of the ritual as the badly spelled shop signs on the way to Northam, but damn, it’s dirty. Especially when it’s clinging to the clothes and skin of those who ignore the need to shower daily.

E is for exhausted, which one gets after trekking up the koppie to see Somerfaan’s exceptionally short set that had already finished. E is also for excuse, as offered by jazz guitarist Sasha Sonnbichler, who along with pianist Paul Hanmer was late for their (very pleasant) sunset performance. “We got frisked. They saw instruments and of course we weren’t carrying.” Darn those pesky roadblocks …

F is for fire, which blazed suddenly through the stir-fry tent and sent rockers running with bottles of water. And in the midst of it all, a terrified goth.

G is for getting even, which is what Koos Kombuis did, in a way, by changing his song AWB-Tiete to ANC-Tiete. It certainly — and thankfully — silenced the idiots in the crowd who would usually shout “AWB! AWB!” until the song came up. Koos Kombuis was lively on stage with the adroit Eerste Nasionale Band, but do today’s young Oppikoppi fans still get him? Or has he simply become the singalong guy with a smattering of swearwords?

H is for heart, from where the music of Andries Bezuidenhout comes. A sappy description, sure, but his solo set armed with only his guitar (the Brixton Moord and Roof Orkes have lost Roof to Canada) at midnight was just the thing to ward off the cold. Easygoing, easy to enjoy and easy on the ear.

I is for inventive and irreverent, words that describe the MaxNormal.TV crew. “When days are dark and friends are few, remember, MaxNormal.TV is there for you,” said Normal himself. There was singalong hip-hop and inspired animation on a big screen: what’s next on TV?

J is for just short of splendid, which is where Afrikaans rockers Foto Na Dans find themselves. They have an ace lead singer with a unique voice, good lyrics and the right attitude, but the music itself could do with more inspiration. The Dirty Skirts could teach them a thing or two about that.

K is for Karen Zoid, who, some fans fear, has slid down the slippery musical slope into the adult contemporary puddle. However, her hour on stage was well liked by those who attended: she has not lost her knack for rocking, even if the so-called Zoid generation has moved on to rebel heroes who don’t live in the suburbs.

L is for the likeable sound of new-to-the-scene indie rockers the Black Hotels. They deserved their daytime main-stage spot, and though they could be a bit tighter here and there, they were one of the highlights of the Koppi. Next year, top evening billing?

M is for men in ties — the sharp-dressed ska bandits of The Rudimentals, who had the dance-stage audience screaming for more of their dashing reggae beats.

N is for no audience, which is what guitarist and singer Selaelo Selota had during his early-evening set on the main stage. Maybe it was his bad luck to perform at a time when people were at their camps, getting ready for another late night, but his soulful music deserved much more support.

O is for one too many love song, which is what singer-songwriter Justin Taylor brought to the stage. A handsome boy with a good voice, he’s clearly a girl magnet, but did he have to write a song about each encounter he’s ever had with Cupid?

P is for perky, which describes the Parlotones best. “They’re my happy band,” said a fellow music critic apologetically. Happy, perky and crowd-pleasing, they did a good job. On the other hand, Hip-Hop Pantsula’s gig was decidedly un-perky and badly needed a shot of energy.

Q is for quakes, which rock in Japan. Japan and I, however, barely registered on the Richter scale at Oppikoppi. An all-girl act in party dresses, they were bland, unoriginal and nothing but loud. Q is also for quitting, which Tasha Baxter just wouldn’t do when on stage improvising vocals first over Redwood’s beats and then over British DJ Moody’s. She might still be there.

R has to stand for rhythm, of which visitors Groove Armada had more than one could shake a set of cymbals at. Combining the decks with bass guitars, drums and three strong vocalists, this was an hour of mind-bending dance energy and unrelenting, uncompromising beats. They could have played all night.

S is for stamina, of which one needs lots to get through a set by Dutch dance act C-Mon and Kipsky. Combining instruments with electronics and live vocals, their beats jump in unexpected directions but never lose direction, and they keep a dance floor rocking hard. They can visit again any day.

T is for tuba player: a musician that was missing from the Youngblood Brass Band line-up, as he had missed his flight. The band, visiting from Wisconsin, kept apologising for this, despite sounding wonderfully deft anyway as they raced from rap to carnival and back through jazz.

U is for Unit R’s funky electronica, which had festival-goers running to the stage from all round, and for the Unsound System DJs’ track selection on a dusty afternoon (Björk in the mix is always a bonus). U is also for uncomplicated, which is a nice word for American punk-rockers Jimmy Eat World’s music. What was that? Did someone say uninteresting?

V is for vocals, of which you’ll find none when kidofdoom play. They may be young, but their musical training shines through when their layered instrumental rock bursts forth. So much talent, and with trippy strip lighting too.

W is for washboard — not as in stomach, but as in the object played during the Violent Femmes show. Unusual? Yes, but mostly fun. Unlike the burning feud between singer Gordon Gano and bassist Brian Ritchie over the use of Blister in the Sun in a Wendy’s burger ad that saw them arriving in separate buses and barely looking at each other on stage. At least the music didn’t suffer much.

X is for X-rated, which was what a bizarre scene among the thorn trees should have been. A drunken youngster bared his hairy bum for the world to see, and then asked the peculiar Whip Man (a loner in leathers and armed with a fierce-looking whip) to give him six of the best. Alcohol must be an almighty anaesthetic.

Y is for young and old, which came together when Oppikoppi mainstay Valiant Swart shared a midnight set with boeremusiek legend Ollie Viljoen, who has combined forces with many young upstarts such as Riku Lätti and Albert Frost. The crafty Swart-Viljoen combination worked wonders.

Z is, of course, for Zs. As in Z-Z-Z, or ZZZ, or whichever way you’d like to spell sleep. Little was had by most (and a friend had some in a stranger’s tent), and the bit of shut-eye one did achieve was likely to be disturbed by one of those drunken Neanderthals who seemed to communicate by screaming “Oppikoppi!” to each other. Or even by off-kilter drumming and far-from-subdued voices from the Kwani Experience camp in the early hours of the morning. Thanks, guys.