20 years of music, dust, and democracy, coupled with my personal appreciation of sound, found me at the gates of Northam Rock City for what was my fifth experience of the music festival. It is through this premise that I set out to review the 20th edition of what is one of the oldest and most prominent music festivals in South Africa. I say review, but this is merely an honest personal account of my Oppikoppi experience. I say honest cause not every single thing was awesome at Oppikoppi as most reviews you’ve probably read have made them out to be.
Before the festival had even begun there was some disappointment around the line-up Oppikoppi with some people hoping for a surprise act to be added to bill. From an international perspective there was hope for a more relevant or current artist and from a local perspective there was hope for something more experimental.
Where was John Wizards? Where was OKmalumkoolkat? Where was The Black Keys? Where was Flume? The one thing all these artists share is that they are international touring musicians and it is impossible to host a festival of international standards on a budget of R 750 per attendant. The average price for an international festival is around R 2500 for a general ticket but this is South Africa and frugality is a part of our culture.
But this was a celebration of local music and more specifically a celebration of 20 years of Oppikoppi. The line-up suited this and the organisors got it mostly right in terms of the nostalgic factor and historical value. Fokofpolisiekar was there singing Van Coke Kartel songs, Taxi Violence was playing for the 5th time, while The Editors and Wolfmother took us on a trip down memory lane.
Oppikoppi is in not the most ideal representation of South African society on which to base any kind of social or political commentary. But that becomes difficult when it shares a birthyear with our democracy. It becomes impossible when you wake up with the old south african flag draped across the roof of your vehicle.
I mostly had a positive social experience when engaging people from all kinds of cultures and ethnicity with the overall sense being that of a nation willing to let go of the past and able to create an all-inclusive and democratic new South Africa. I moshed with a black dude. I heard a white lady sing along to more kwaito tunes than I could tongue. I turnt up with some white dudes during Doc Shebeleza. I got an indian fan girl more photos with her favourite alternative band. Hell, I even denied advances from a white girl.
We cannot expect the organisors to evaluate each and every attendant psychologically in an attempt to weed out the kooks. Anyone who spends an extended period in these conditions is a kook to some extent. It says Right Of Admission Reserved, but it is very rarely that this right is administered.
There will be monarchial individuals clinging onto the social ramifications of an overthrown monarch anywhere you go. Even more so in an environment fuelled primarily by intoxicants. Someone has to be the bigger man.
At least that is what I told myself as I quietly pulled the flag off my car. Relieving my fingers -as carelessly as possible- of touching a symbol of the past. A past, from which I was relieved, due to the efforts of those before my time.
As much as the organisors cannot be held responsible for this, something they should consider is training or firing their quad bike security squad. The team did great in recovering stolen goods and preventing more burglary from occurring, however, mob mentality is not justice and it was too often that I felt my personal dignity being violated by those meant to protect me.
Dust is the soul of Oppikoppi. It is a commodity which does not lack in supply at Northam Rock City. As much as they lay hay on the ground and spray all the paths with water, in attempt to reduce the dust, it will forever remain a staple of the festival. The organisors have realised this and have intelligently marketed it as something which differentiates the festival from others – In Dust We Trust.
Another staple of Oppikoppi and festivals the world over is the intoxicant. From alcohol to drugs, the Oppikoppi experience is fuelled predominantly by stimulants which enhance the production of dopamine and endorphins, which results in the feeling of pleasure. The dust doesn’t matter when one is self-medicating pleasure.
The Columbia of Oppikoppi, which I also heard being referred to as the, ‘zombie-pit’, was the Red Bull Electronic Stage. If you were there after dusk, you didn’t have to look far in order to locate an individual with dilated pupils and clenched jaws – joyfully losing themselves in the pulsating rhythms.
Having steered clear of the hard intoxicants for the first time at Oppikoppi, this was something which I was able to observe effortlessy. I’m not saying whether this was a problem or not, all I can do is commend the South African youths ability to hold it together while teetering on the edge. Doing it responsibly, in this age, is a matter of doing it without dying and there is nothing I can do but honour the absence of death when drug-related deaths have become the norm at festivals overseas.
Lots of people say that they go to Oppikoppi for the music, but I say no would find themselves gathering in Northam if it wasn’t for the music. Read the second part of my review tomorrow where I actually review my experience with the live music on offer at Oppikoppi.
Words by Thozi Sejanamane.
Images by Brooklyn Pakathi.