When in Wolmer you shall do as the Wolmers
While everyone woke up early on 3 May to catch the ‘Fight of the Century’ or get ready for Parklife, I awoke from my own melee. My whole body was aching, stiff and full of bruises as though I had spent 12 rounds in the ring with Pacquiao. I was breathing, but barely. The stench of stale spilt beer, whisky, and the early morning autumn air filled the camp as I awoke alongside my friend and his girl in their tent that looked like it was hit by one of those “massive” tremors you read about on twitter that occasionally hit Joburg. The weekend chewed us up and spat us out. But we survived, only just. This was Wolmer Fest 2.
Back in 2014, two guys got this great idea to host an underground hardcore/metal festival at a venue called Wolmer Bush Lounge. Located close to Akasia and Pretoria North, it had two stages and hosted 30 bands across three days. It was fucking charming. It is seldom that bands and fans get to hang out, visit each other’s camps and play garden cricket together.
Wolmer Fest 2 covered the same amount of bands but was now packed into two days. And you were now allowed to pack your cooler and bring it into the camping area like last year’s event and entertainment area as well. We were given space to sit and sip the sweet nectar of our own drinks while enjoying the soothing sounds of Satanic Dagga Orgy. When you ran out, there was a bar about 20 steps away. Just like last year, they had hot showers available in the camping area plus clean bathrooms and the same friendly staff and security guards were back to give you hugs and help you to your tent in case you mixed rum and whisky.
The closeness and bond between the bands and the fans were tangible. Having a drink and playing garden cricket with the guys from Forever Unbound who opened this year’s festival after a fun, messy but brilliant set is what sets this apart from most other fests. It is impossible for me to name every band because I unfortunately didn’t see everyone and there isn’t even space to talk about every band and their show. But from what I hear about the shows I missed, every single band put up a great performance and gave it their all.
Among them was the Alt Prog-Metallers Riddlebreak who I saw for the second time and didn’t disappoint. You should definitely check them out even if it’s just for the bassist. Jonathan Peyper was a surprise discovery for many people at last year’s festival and he returned home this year bringing his signature blues rock along with him. Newtown Knife Gang proved that they were one of the biggest bands on the bill. Playing their hits and getting every fan to sing along.
But the thing that I have mixed feelings about was the attendance. What bugs me is that every second hardcore person complains about the scene dying, not enough is being done to keep it alive, there aren’t enough venues, bands, the tickets are too expensive or shit is too far. Here was a perfect example of how fickle some of the community is. Here we have a two day festival in its second year featuring 30 of the best South African bands costing you R250 for a full weekend camping ticket or R100 for a day pass where you can take your own drinks in, and yet only a few hundred people showed up across the two days.
It might be a little too far for you if you stay in Joburg, but you can’t expect all shows to be held at Rumours. If you are willing to fork out money when an international act plays, but would rather sit at home than attend a local show for an affordable price, then fuck right off overseas. My worry about this is that the bands will start feeling defeated. They might wonder what the point of spending money on equipment, studio time and fuel to travel between shows and practice is when there’s no one there.
But on the flip side, I’m happy that only a few hundred of us were there. Because everyone enjoyed themselves, partied hard and got along. I saw more stage dives at Pretoria’s very own hardcore heroes, Home At last’s set, where just a handful of people were watching, than what I have seen with some internationals playing in a full club. It was more fun. It says a shitload about every single person who was a part of this weekend, which will go down in infamy, not only among us but in the walls and the soil of that venue.
Now, fuck ‘The Fight of the Century’. Give me a Wolmer Fest 3.
Photography by Uwandre du Plooy for Back Down South