It is hip to be green. Rocking the Daisies, held in the rolling hills of the Cloof Wine Estate near Darling, is South Africa’s leading eco-festival. It covers every sustainable and ecofriendly base possible with swap shops, waste recycling, biodiesel generators, public service announcements and even biodegradable soap. But is anyone listening?
“This place is like a zoo,” the barista at the Douwe Egberts coffee stand with a bottlebrush ’tache and an Anton Chigurh accent told me on the first night of the festival. “Open-plan zoo.” He was not referring only to the herds of fur-suited cosplayers (people wearing character costumes). Fast-forward three days and the trash-strewn battlefield of the emptying main campsite left me wondering whether the mantra of “play hard, tread lightly” was heeded at all by the 15 000 who rocked, downed and shnarfed the Daisies this year.
“The reality is that it is a music and lifestyle festival. It’s not a green festival,” said Grace Stead, who manages Steadfast Greening, a Cape Town-based company that focuses on sustainable event management, which performs a comprehensive eco-audit of each year’s Daisies. “So the focus is on music and lifestyle and we need to understand that as well.”
The Daisies crew at least did its part in getting the music right. People came for Bloc Party and Grandmaster Flash, but they stayed for the groovy local acts. The clichéd phrase “local is lekker” leaves me gurning with cringey embarrassment, but in this case it is apt. In between the jams, there was also a real effort to get a message across.
“Good question!” laughed Stacey Fulton, the festival’s client services manager, when asked about the challenge of educating the inebriated masses on the virtues of an ecological-minded and sustainable lifestyle.
“It’s difficult, but the key is to make the messaging as engaging, cool and fun as possible so that people come to you and engage, rather than you shouting at them and forcing a message down their throat. That’s not our style.”
This style was apparent during the public service announcements screened between acts on the main stage, which were a call to arms but did not speak down to the audience. The Rudimentals’s dreadlocked frontman, Teboho Maidza, got the tone just right when, after urging everyone to find out more about green energy, he explained with a wink and a grin that he was a big fan and longtime user of green energy himself.
The festival also hit on a winner with the Trash-Bash initiative. With South African Breweries on board, the idea was that if one handed in a bag of trash or a cupful of cigarette butts, one was rewarded with a free beer. Even the primitive, reptilian part of the brain that takes over when one is inebriated to the point of insensibility can see the good sense in that.
“We strongly encourage that sort of initiative, because it gets people to actively participate,” added Stead.
Walking the talk
Participation is also at the heart of the Walking the Daisies campaign. The idea is that a group of about 60 people walks the 60km between Blouberg and the festival grounds before the event starts. Everyone who does the walk gets a ticket at a vastly reduced price. The journey takes two days and the participants camp along the way. It was set up in 2008 to support the environmental-minded aims of the festival.
“There were quite a few people doing the walk because they were somehow involved with the sponsors, or with Ocean Minded, Greenpop [a tree-planting environmental organisation co-founded by Jeremy Loops, who played at the festival] and the World Wide Fund for Nature [WWF],” said Sven Christian, who completed the walk for the first time this year.
“These were the people that were there to create awareness and to help educate people like myself about the environment we were walking through. Whenever the group was together as a whole, there would be someone explaining something to us, usually about the fynbos or the relationship that the WWF is trying to develop with the fisheries to get them to pay more attention to the ecosystems they’re taking fish from.”
The group spent part of the first day collecting rubbish on a polluted stretch of beach along the route, handing over all the glass for recycling. On the second day, they took part in a tree-planting exercise in the small town of Mamre. The walk was, for those taking part, the most hands-on and visible environmental initiative at the festival. There was plenty going on behind the scenes too and festivalgoers were passive participants in a number of other impact-reducing schemes. The festival ran on electricity from the Darling wind farm, all the generators were powered by biodiesel and communal water points negated the need to sell bottled water.
The question of whether any of this actually sinks in is one that Stead’s team attempts to answer. Every year, they interview about 5% of the people at the festival and ask them whether they are aware of all that is being done.
Supplementary to that is the actual eco-audit. This outlines exactly how much electricity was used, how much waste was generated and whether enough of it was being recycled, and what the complete footprint of the festival actually was. The audit also includes recommendations on how the greening of the festival infrastructure can be improved.
As well as its partnership with Steadfast Greening, the way the Daisies team interacts with sponsors is of vital importance to the festival’s aims. “Sponsors come looking for us because they like our values as a festival and want to tap into that, or we also do seek out specific brands that we feel suit our brand and our target market and will add to the festival,” said Fulton. “Our sponsors realise the value of getting involved in a festival, because you have a captive audience.”
The corporations sure do have their dirty little mitts all over the South African festival scene, but events of this size simply could not happen without some sort of brand sponsorship. It has to be said that the type of sponsors they are working with — minus all the booze and energy drink brands, perhaps — boast pretty reasonable street cred. Hemporium, Food and Trees for Africa, 49M, Greenpop, WWF and the Sunflower Fund are all doing important work. Pick n Pay at least packs some clout as the official greening partner.
Feeding the masses
The challenge of funding the festival and keeping it as ecofriendly as possible grows every year as more and more people flock to the event. There was an increase in attendance from 12 000 in 2011 to 15 000 this time around, which, demographically speaking, means there were probably more white people there than there are in Zimbabwe. And someone has got to feed this lot.
Food vendors are actively involved with the festival’s green aims and most use ecofriendly cleaning products and biodegradable plates and cutlery. The sheer number of people did mean, however, that the outlets were heavily oversubscribed at meal times. The food queues, holy mother of God, the food queues. I was on the brink of tears by the time I finally wended my way to the front of the Mr Calamari line (for flexitarians only), just in time to witness two queue-jumpings — one of which very nearly devolved into a fist fight — and see a dust-caked urchin swipe an unattended buttered roll.
Indeed, the heaving swarms in the food court were replicated throughout the festival site and by the time Bloc Party took the stage, just before midnight, the hellions had been well and truly unleashed.
The fight for the soul of Rocking the Daisies is being waged between Gaia and Bacchus. This is not a festival for eco- and social-minded people. It is a festival that tries very hard to turn the people it attracts into world-aware mini eco-activists. It is not their fault that almost everyone there was too hunk and dry to hear the message.
The fault lies not in our festivals, but in ourselves. If people want the chaotic, discordant ambience of debauchery, there is not a whole lot organisers can do about it. It does not negate the good work being done.
Rocking the Daisies takes place annually at the Cloof Wine Estate in Darling.
To view a slideshow from the festival go to mg.co.za/daisies