I have been to my fair share of festivals, but I have always been curious about RAMfest. Its legend is a great one, and curiosity rendered me wondering whether it would live up to the many dreamy-eyed tales I have heard about it. It did not. RAMfest exceeded my expectations in every way imaginable. No money in the world could enable me to compress my 27 February to 1 March 2009 weekend in fewer words, and I hope mine will paint the picture for you...
Friday 27 February
It took us approximately two and a half hours to actually get out of Stellenbosch. It is the trouble with roadtripping with five students in one car- it turns out we were all too excited for RAMfest to think straight at all, and our festival survival lists apparently evaded our fuzzy-with-anticipation minds. After what seemed a million years of mad scurrying for food, booze, squidgy bottles, extra cigarettes, waterless hand sanitizer, forgotten tickets and snacks for the road, we were on our way, pumping a playlist made up of only RAMfest bands to get our blood flowing. Arrival, pitching of tents, a bottle of bubbly and there was barely time for a look around before we caught our first act. But organisation was better than most festivals can boast, with no unnecessary queues, helpful staff and a satisfyingly wide variety of junk food to choose from. The main stage and metal stage were separate so as to keep the rockers from the metal heads, at least for the greater part of the musical performances. And now for some music!
19h00: Havoc Vultures.
For the first band up, they have a decent crowd. Plus they’re dressed like mummies. Not a performance to go down in the record books. But they did dress like mummies.
As good as always, though my statement must not be interpreted as being entirely positive. Though I love this band and its music, I must say that if you have seen one aKing gig, you have seen them all! With lyrics almost too poetic to be lyrics, hypnotisingly graceful run-on lines throughout their songs, a cup of talent that runneth over and an impressive following of fans to go with it, one would expect a little more vigour in their performances. The band members mostly give an air that says, “We actually have better things to do than be on stage to play for all of our many fans who adore us so”. I cannot recall having ever seen frontman Laudo smile, or thank his crowd for hanging on his every word. So far I am not blown away by the new material either, perhaps especially because of the high standard set by their debut album Dutch Courage, but I will give it a chance to grow on me. Nonetheless a tight set living up to the usual standard.
22h00: Taxi Violence.
There is a reason they are largely viewed as being South Africa’s best live act. And there is a reason they got a better response than Eagle Eye Wank back in 2008. Always thrilling to watch live, Taxi Violence dragged [no pun intended] Bingo along to send the sparks flying on stage. Feverishly energetic, tight and more professional than the vast majority of local bands, Taxi Violence has mastered the art of playing live. They filled up the large stage, connected with their even larger crowd and got precisely the reaction one wants from a live performance. Drummer Louis Nel was unable to play, but their stand-in session drummer is a talented player, pulling off this stint as though he graces the stage along with the rest of Taxi Violence on a regular basis. Frontman George has energy enough to make you pant just watching him jump and run and spin around on stage! And the rest of the band members are not left out here either, with each individual adding to this must-see performance.
23h00: Dirty Skirts.
Ever thought the Skirts could conjure up a moshpit? Well, they did. The crowd’s eager anticipation seemed to bubble over when the Skirts hit the stage, and they responded accordingly- giving their fan base a show to remember! They mixed up just the right portions of old- and new music, with Daddy Don’t Disco being the definite favourite of the evening! Jeremy, dressed head-to-toe in black to suit the RAMfest vibes, always manages to bond with his crowd, even when he is metres away on a huge stage! We are not sure how he does it, but we love him all the more for it. Drummer Mark did an impressive solo and that is without doubt the funkiest bass guitar I have ever seen! The Skirts certainly punched a hole in our... er... Friday night.
A band of musical geniuses, rather than just a bunch of pipe-dream-driven boys hungry for recognition and easy sex. Their all-instrumental set is some of the most romantic music I have ever heard. It hypnotises the soul and sends it off to a very beautiful place. There was no excessive jamming, just a crowd in awe of the talent on display before them [me being one of these]. From the lighting and the midnight hour to their inspiring presence on stage, everything was just right for this show. Their music stirred within us the need to go nightswimming in the Breede River and as we floated around, half-submerged in water and the remains of six hours of incredible music ringing in our ears, we assumed we had died and gone to heaven. A perfect end to what would turn out to be the second-best day of our lives...
Saturday 28 February:
At our 7am hour of waking, it is already hot outside, not to mention inside the tent! Resultantly the day kicks off with a swim, followed by a shower and after a quick breakfast of energy bars and coffee-to-go, we are more than ready for the big day. Squidgy bottles at the ready, filled with a mix of whatever alcohol is left, and it starts all over again...
11h00: 3rd World Spectator.
They just won the battle-round to play at V-fest this year, and with good reason! Heaven only knows why they did not manage to get a better timeslot, but the crowd they draw is not bad for 11am. As for the music, it is tight, theatrical, with moving build-ups and a passion so palpable you cannot help but be drawn into it all. Frontman Peter Crafford has a vocal range without horizons, it seems, which is exactly why he did decently well in Idols [shhh... Don’t tell anyone!]. I have enormous faith in these boys, and I have no doubt that my opinions will be shared by masses more by the time V-Fest rolls around!
12h00: The Plastics.
Certainly not their best I have ever seen. Though their funky pop ‘n roll dance tunes are always fun to shake one’s hips to, I felt that they, despite the addition of a fourth member, struggle to fill such a large stage. Then again, they are a fairly rookie band so perhaps all they need is some coaching. The show was not as tight as they have managed to be in the past, and it could do with more energy from all members. I was asked whether or not all my reviews of them are going to say that they sound just a teeny weeny tiny bit like Arctic Monkeys. So I shan’t say it...
14h00: Pretty Blue Guns.
A disappointing turnout, especially judging by crowds they have managed to attract before. Nonetheless it was an acceptably good show, with the usual high-quality raw, swampy rock ‘n roll blues. The new material is certainly promising, thus far showing much progression from their impressive debut, Dirt. And the good news is that the new album is set to be released soonsies, so keep an eager ear to the ground for what is guaranteed to be a whole new dirty world of listening pleasure.
15h00: New Holland.
An enormous turnout, especially when compared to the unsatisfactory crowd response from just an hour before. The indie kids love these guys, and they showed it in true supporter spirit. Everyone boogied- and sang along in full force, and the guys on stage seemed to be loving it as much as we were. Frontman TeeJay as well as his two wingmen Buckle and Gerdus smiled from sound check until the very last notes faded away, and their energy was just enough to show their enjoyment without detracting from the music itself. This was unquestionably one of their best shows I have ever seen, and few things make me feel as warm and fuzzy inside as a good live performance, with the desired crowd response to go with it. This made me feel warm and fuzzy inside...
PS. TeeJay, how do you get your hair to look like that every day?!
16h00: Yes Sir! Mister Machine [Metal stage].
After a quick dip in the river to cool off between spurts of excessive jamming, we took a peek at what was happening at the Black Parade Stage. Probably quite a sight for most of the all-black, pierced, tattooed, unhappy-looking metalheads to see me singing along to The Coast of Arms, but I do rate this band, despite its falling outside of my regular genre of music. Their lyrics are something quite stunning, and musically they are more than sound. The set was nit as tight as usual, but the Somerset-West boys did well, and there was, as always, more than enough energy to go around. Frontman Franco Fernandes did, however, have blood coming out of his mouth and after indie-kid-Dirty-Skirts comments [which happened on both occasions we dared venture near the metal stage] I rolled my eyes and rolled on back home to the main stage. Good thing these two were kept apart...
17h00: The Beams.
A Cape Town-based band that is a little more under the radar, and they have been rather quiet lately. But these boys are no strangers to big music festivals, having played at the likes of Oppikoppi and Rocking the Daisies before. Theirs is an Indie sound, fused with some boppy dance-pop and even a dash of old school post-punk rock vibes. Oh, and don’t forget the cowbell! Frontman Paul Maree is always entertaining, in a spastic kind of way, and I doubt I will ever tire of watching him on stage. Rumour has it he gets unusually nervous before hitting the stage, but he certainly does not let on that this is the case! And did you know that he is none other than super-mayor Helen Zille’s son? Well, now you know! Word to yo’ mama, and Kudos for a great performance, as always!
I am about to make a bold statement. But if you have seen Isochronous live or heard their music at all, you’ll agree that my statement is not that outlandish. So, here goes: Isochronous is the best band our country has. [Lark no longer counts]. Frontman Richard Brokensha [whom you may recognise from kidofdoom] has a clear, flawless voice that is second to none, and he just so happens to be exceptionally talented on the guitar. And the keyboard. He’s a musical genius, and his fellow band-members just so happen to have this in common with him. Three of them are studying Jazz up North at the Tshwane University of Technology, and all four are inimitable at what they do. Though watching them with impressive lights and at a slightly more eerie hour would have made this even more stellar [just when you thought it couldn't get any better], their daytime performance was one I will struggle to forget! I was speechless, along with the rest of the kids gathered round to hear what all the hype is about. Their music, a combination of electronic and alternative rock laced with the odd splinter of jazz is hypnotic and heavy, accompanied by mesmerisingly beautiful lyrics. Instrumentals are dramatic enough to rouse any sleepy soul, with build-ups and silences that will have you hanging on their every sound. And in case that wasn’t good enough, they love it too! Having had them in studio with me for an interview, I was thrilled to see them begin to jam shamelessly to their own material. Bassist Franco Schoeman is just a laaitie, but he seems to have already mastered the bass guitar. Their set was literally stunning, and had I the power I would have had them play for hours more. This is without doubt the next big thing for South Africa. And then? World domination, of course!
What is left to ask for?
19h00: Foto na Dans.
This was another performance that stood out among the rest. Which, at RAMfest, says a lot. Trust me. Frontman LeRoi is fairly slight, but his voice is even bigger than his hair! Powerful and deep, he belted out a magnificent set, with older material as well as the slightly darker tracks from their latest album, Pantomieme op Herwinbare Klanke. Once more, the lighting was magnificent and complemented the music hugely. Their lyrics are written in pure, beautiful Afrikaans and their music is a dark sound with electronic rock that is spellbinding and soothing all at once. Subtle but commanding, this was undeniably one of their best performances I have seen.
I think I can safely assume that this was the show that almost everyone was looking forward to most. This was a first for me as I have, despite having listened to every one of their tracks countless times, never seen LARK live. Of course music lovers across the country were devastated upon hearing that LARK was to come to an end, but they very kindly reunited for a quick national tour and, of course, RAMfest. Inge Beckman is one of the most alluring women I have ever seen, with a larger-than-life stage presence that sets her above all others. Her voice is unfathomable, and their music is not only unique, but entrancing and exquisite. Words cannot do justice to their performance and this is one band everyone has to see, lest they should die an unfulfilled life. Seeing them in a smaller, more intimate situation does, however, appeal to me more. Notwithstanding my hypothetical preference, I left in awe of the magnificence I had just witnessed, and I pitied Die Antwoord [formerly Max Normal] for having to take to the stage directly afterwards.
They were revolutionary when they first hit the scene, with throngs of angry and attention-starved teenagers worshipping the very ground they tread upon. But nobody could deny the power in their music, and nobody could deny that they had created an influential stir for good reason. Perhaps the first example of Afrikaans rock ‘n roll, their crowd was enormous! The moshpit was a dangerous place to be, as always, but with spectacular lighting and energy exploding all over the place it was more than enough to watch from the less mobile back rows. The kids sang along, jumped around, screamed, punched holes in the air and put on a spectacular display of their appreciation. Frontman Francois was relatively well-behaved, though he looked just a little worse for wear the next day when he passed out on a hay bale for hours. They put on show packed with the best of their best that was packed with blistering vigour from start to finish. My only disappointment was their final track, Fokofpolisiekar. It may have been what gave them the status they have today, but I thought it not performed quite well enough to end off such a stellar performance. There was simply that slight lack of vivacity to wrap up something quite incredible. Other than that I was impressed with an overwhelming performance of hard rock with which to end my day of musical magicalness.
Shame for Battery 9, who had to play directly after Fokof. One would think it a prime spot, but everyone, seemingly assuming that nothing could top what they had just witnessed, left when the last resonating note died softly. I was one of those, indulging in lying under the stars, holding hands to reflect on the 18-odd hours that had just passed. Yes, this was the best day of our lives.
Sunday, 1 March.
Tired, but with spirits not yet exhausted. Sunday passed in a fairly brief blur of excited blether about the day before and lending an ear to the last remaining acts. It was Sunday blues all over, and not only because RAMfest was fast coming to an end.
I have never enjoyed Mr Cat and the Jackal too much, but I confess their pirate-inspired music is fun to sing along to, and you get the rare opportunity of dancing like one too! Sweet... Though I cannot say I watched their show from start to finish, any band that sings, ‘Walk the plank, you’re off to feed the fishes’ deserves mention and a thumbs-up... Or whatever the pirate equivalent of that is.
13h00: The Violent Free Peace
Zinkplaat member Basson Laubscher started a little side-project, and this is it. Though blues is a slightly more limited genre of music, theirs is always fun to get nostalgic to. And it is blues in the truest from, with everything from music to lyrics to the raspy vocals spelling out the word. Sunday will hardly ever attract a great crowd, but everyone had a good ol’ time indulging in some wistfulness.
14h00: Dan Patlanksy.
The most disappointing part of his performance was seeing a ring on his left ring finger. Dan Patlansky is likely the best guitarist in the country. And watching him from close by will instantly make you just as passionate about his music as he is! The ardour and love he has for music are palpable in the expression on his face that will make any girl’s little rock ‘n roll heart melt! His set was long and served as the perfect way to unwind and slow down to reflect on the past three days, his rough voice sending us back to that beautiful place we had been in for the better part of the weekend. This man is beyond talented and if the universe is not out of kilter, it’s only up from here...
We left in a daze, and stayed in that daze for days. Misty-eyed and smiling perpetually in delirium, we felt we could have died fulfilled and euphoric having experienced RAMfest. It was life-changing and I fully intend to attend the many to follow in years to come. My new religion? I am officially a Ramfestarian. You should be too.