Remembering RAMfest - Part 1
I remember. Probably even better than Dorothy.
RAMfest, you dirty little loverats!
This was my first time. I missed 2009 because I spent all my money moving to Cape Town, and again in 2010 because I needed the weekend to make money in Cape Town, but this year I’m an aimless deadbeat or whatever so I joined the rest of the dirty Ark and thought I’d drink some beers at RAMfest for the weekend.
I meant to leave early on Friday morning and arrive by the time the gates opened at 9:00, but it was my birthday on Thursday, so I invite you to invent your own reasons for why I overslept and only got there at 12:00 in the afternoon. This was actually pretty shitty on my part because my friend Jon had dropped off his new tent at my place the day before after I’d promised to call early dibs on choice camping-ground and set up his tent next to mine; and indeed, by the time I’ve arrived, I’m left with the spoils of temporary real estates and I’m forced to erect two tents on a bed of solid rock.
Fortunately I soon run into Viking Candice, who jovially declares that her camping-ground is close to the pool, nested on soft, green grass, and that we are welcome to join her better-than pastures, and it does not take much to twist my arm and bring the tents in from the barren bedrock. So, for the record, that’s four tents I built over the weekend. I attempt to show my thanks by offering beers, but Candice piously shakes her head and somberly intones that she will not be supping from the Nectar of the Nitwit this weekend. A bottle of Gilby’s Gin appears in the light, and she declares that it is her intention to partake in the game sport of Gin & Tonic for the duration of the festival - in the name of delayed inebriation and prolonged sobriety. I’m confused, but she insists that her methods are scientific.
We hear some jubilant hooting and cheering coming from the pool, and Candice suggests it’s the Black Orchid Burlesque Beasties doing something sexy in the water, and as we casually rush to the fence, we see that all of the occupants have moved away from the center and are disgustedly huddled to the sides, save for one sole figure in the center. We’re confused for a moment and my first suspicion is the old "Chocolate Log in The Water" until we see the man in the middle launch himself up in the air like a whale and submit a witty homage to Free Willy. It wasn’t poo-in-the-water; dude was merely butt-naked and creeping people out by floating his penis in the water, is all. To his and everyone else’s credit, everybody adjusted to the circumstances very quickly and calmly - after a few minutes the happy nudist was left go on belly-flopping, back-stroking and waddling around completely unclothed with hardly anyone appearing to show much worry or concern.
Look how casual everyone is, here. Isn’t this the kind of society we should be trying to aspire to? Everybody’s just reacted to a situation by calming the fuck down and enjoying the party without letting a naked buttock or two ruin anyone’s day. These are the kind of people and times where everyone is giving and ready to lend you money for beer and schwarmas without being too serious about you paying them back anytime soon.
I like festivals.
I take a stroll towards the band area, and pass a gazebo with a sign which claims that the people sitting beneath it have "Cigrets". A stall further on is selling or not-selling "Droks & Dwelms", and the perpetrators-or-not enthusiastically wave me over for a picture.
It’s a good picture. This is them:
I move on towards the stages and stalls, and a boy with a sideways-mohawk sidles up alongside me and blows bubbles in the air. There are T-shirt stands and jewelry stand and ever-so-many carts selling all manners of fried things between bread. One stall advertises a "hangover breakfast" which includes your cholesterol of choice in a bun with coffee and a Compral. I spot a stall selling vodka slushies and I’m suddenly struck by familiarity.
By the signs, I mean, not the vodka slushies.
Cape-Town-dwellers, have any of you noticed those mysterious signs along De Waal Drive and University Way? They are pieces of cardboard wired to fences and posts and say creepy-sweet things like "Free Romantic Dates", "Pope’s Noses" or "Therapeutic Weed". They all have a phone number at the bottom which, if called, takes you straight to a friendly but unintelligible voicemail message.
The handwriting matched. The cardboard signs advertising their quirky little vodka slushy creations were in the same style, and I was going to find some answers.
I feign interest in purchasing a vodka slushy a little too well as I realize that money has changed hands and that I now have a slushy in mine, but I’m not thrown off.
"So, those signs up in town," I venture.
"Signs?" the girl behind the counter chirps sweetly.
"Those strange signs with the numbers. You know. Free Romantic Dates. Horsemeat. Witches. You know what I’m talking about."
It sounds like I’m talking in code but the girl doesn’t look as confused as she should be if I was talking nonsense to her.
"I don’t think I do!" comes the reply, but there’s a knowing look.
"How long have you seen these signs?" she asks, impishly.
"I’m on to you," I hiss, and turn heel, brooding over my slushy.
"Come again soon!"
I walk around some more and take some pictures. It’s hot. It’s really hot. Hippies are barefoot and composting while over-heated goths, refusing to cave in their skin-grafted PVC pants and boots.
People spread themselves in front of my camera and pull faces and flip the Bird, the Horns or the Enthusiastic Thumbs-Up, which loosely correspond to the typical characteristics of the inhabitants of the three respective stages - the massive Main Stage, the Alternative Tent, and the Pyramid Stage - the electro area, which glows with the near-sentient malice of something inanimate that knows it’s not getting switched off at all for the entire weekend, forever.
I’ve circumnavigated most of the Nekkies camp site, watched a guy slump his forehead against a discarded metal container and pee without using his hands, and have demanded more information and vodka from the mysteriously wonderful vodka slushy tent at least once. I wander back to my tent where I am failing to understand how Candice’s plan to stay sober by only drinking G&T has worked at all, but she is adamant that she has come armed with a plan.
My friend Jon finally calls me to tell me that he’s arrived, and I go find him. On our way to the tents we pass the Black Orchid Burlesque Beasties.
"Freeze!" Jon hisses.
"If we stand still, they’ll carry on grazing and we can watch them without scaring them away."
We both strike a pose and freeze ourselves, and it works - the Beasties casually walk around us without rearing back and running away.
I explain to Jon that we’re not allowed to take glass bottles or cans past the gates separating the campsite and the band area, and present him with one of the plastic tumblers which previously housed a vodka slushy.
"Don’t lose this. It’s how they want us to drink for the weekend."
We pour the drinks we’ve brought with us into our chaste plastic tumblers and water bottles, promise to be good, and the security guards let us pass with a kiss.
The first guys up on the main stage are The Revelators, who play to a small crowd, the rest presumably still preoccupied with drinking or swimming or similar activities which compliment the daylight. They’re kind of unremarkable. A bigger gathering draws up as the sun starts sinking behind the mountains and Blk Jks start doing their weird thing, and I’m very sorry that it’s not big enough. I’m just going to come out and say it, nobody expects three black guys to go up and play some rocking’ guitars and drums, okay? Let alone dressed as Sith lords. They’re packed with energy on stage, they’re scissoring-kicking, they kick ass. Or kck ss, whatever. I’m sorry for the big gap in the crowd who missed a great set.
Ashtray Electric start setting up, and since we’re not ready for bed yet we amble away and look for something to do. The Black Orchid Beasties have a one of their Boylesque (boy-burlesque) dancers painted as a seriously cool red devil on stilts, and he’s walking around and fire-dancing. On stilts. A burly, hairy friend of mine earlier tugged at his collar and confessed to me, "You should see that guy dance. I’m telling ya, he left a couple of very hetero dudes very confused the last time they put on a show." The lady-beasties are walking about too, popping into crowds to mosh along with the audience, and occasionally do some fire-spinning side tricks of their own. They’re never short of an audience.
We sort of get turned around waiting for Mind Assault to do their thing and end up bouncing up and down with the electro kids and the pyramid stage - something we find ourselves doing a couple of times during the course of the weekend. Whatever, okay? Jon and I can’t dance but we’re both dab hands at Wii Boxing, so we blend right in. Every time we start dancing to the music at the main stage, we end up doing bad renditions of John Travolta and Uma Thurman’s Pulp Fiction twist, which I guess makes us like the token Linus & Lucy Christmas Special at any given crowd. But eh, we’ll take it.
Without wedging my tongue up every organizer’s sphincter for the duration of the article, I need to compliment Metal4Africa’s sound set-up this year - the metal tent was crisp. Either that, or bands are getting better and don’t need to rely on everybody just playing their instruments really fast and loud. Also, Mind Assault’s been doing their thing for ages, so, in fairness, those guys really do know what they’re doing. Additionally, for this particular evening they’ve combined an act with the Black Orchid Burlesque Beasties - Fox has a blond wig and silver body paint all over, and a metal breastplate. And a grinder. She uses this to grind it up and down her plate to send sparks flying at the audience.
It’s really weird. And really… enthralling. Lady seems to know what she’s doing, in any case.
We catch the tail-end of Zebra and Giraffe, who’ve cast a spell on their own audience - everybody is singing along with eyes half-closed, their arms linked firmly around somebody’s neck. There’s a genuine spell of Love Thy Neighbour in the air. Like chloroform, it doesn’t last long in the open air, as Gazelle come up and blast their unique blend of, I don’t know, African electro-pop reggae?
And don’t they look FANCY. Founder-frontman Xander Ferreira has his signature red gloves and matching leopard-print scarf and hat to offset his silver coat, and their DJ is as anonymous behind his visor as The Stig, and they perform their whole rainbow-nation disco-pop thing, which sort of makes me think about how you only ever miss Marmite when you don’t live in South Africa, but I keep it to myself.
Jon and I find a girl who’s been sitting under a tree on a red cooler-box the entire evening. We ask her where her friends are. She grins and gestures ambiguously.
"Did they ditch you?"
We both suddenly become extremely concerned that she is in fact sitting on the chilled remains of her friends and light-heartedly tell her she should enjoy the show and not bother with waiting for them. My stomach sinks when she says "I don’t think that’s going to happen".
I remember that scene from Dreamcatcher where that one asshole’s job was to sit on the toilet and not let the ass-monster worms come through and eat everyone, and decide that maybe we should not be getting involved with something bigger than us.
Okay, now, guys, Die Antwoord. Dye-antward.
This is a topical thing to talk about right now, as their latest music video, Rich Bitch, has actually been outlawed or whatever in our very own South Africa. Do you care? Yo-landi takes a big ol’ shit on a gold toilet in it. Is this something you’re bitter about not seeing? Thoughts?
Talking about these guys is opening a can of worms. They’re geniuses or kids that get too much attention, I don’t know. Do I need to go into a debate about whether it’s cool that Watkin Jones and his awful tattoos make for a more commercial and relatable mascot for South African diversity than Zakumi?
I’ve seen their music videos, their website, and I’ve seen these goons shopping for groceries in the Checkers in Kloof street, with their kid. They cut her hair the same way as Yo-landi’s. For me it’s weird to think about them entertaining a massive audience - I’ve actually never seen them live.
Possibly through osmosis from the rest of the crowd, I’m excited, despite myself.
DJ Hi-Tech opens up, spinning an obnoxious loop about, well, fucking us all in the ass, and an insidious, dark OMMM swells as the lights dim, and Ninja and Yo-landi Vi$$er finally explode onto stage in matching outfits like two retarded, angry child-trolls. Their energy is seemingly limitless; they jump and bounce around each other on the stage, they flip us off, Yo-landi spits water into the press pit. They change their costumes a couple of times, with Ninja ending up in his Pink Floyd boxers so he can do that thing where he violently thrusts his hips at the audience to make his peen swing back and forth and flap up against the light cotton cloth. Yo-landi mimics him and I more-than-half expect to see the same pendulous weight swing from her pants. She does, however, gyrate and paw at herself in gold leggings, often flashing deliberate little glimpses of her bum. She spits on the photographers some more and bares her teeth. Jack Parow, who is 100% as pure-grain as Ninja pretends to be, stumbles on stage to sweat and slur "Wat Pomp" with the duo, and Francois Van Coke finishes it off at the end of the show as the whole crowd joins in for "Doos Dronk". Ninja and Yo-landi are, by this point, wearing Pickachu and Angry Bear jumpsuits, because they are from The Internet. The crowd is doos-dronk and ecstatic.
Look, Die Antwoord may present themselves as a couple of horrendous assholes who have managed to get foreign nations to spend thirteen minutes chanting Jou ma se poes in ’n fishpaste jar together, but they command stage presence and power. In the same way as a toddler furiously treading feces into your carpets might.
A friend later asks aloud, "How did Yo-landi happen to figure out she could… you know, make her voice go like that? The squeaking mouse-thing, I mean?"
I suspect it’s a sex-thing but I keep it to myself.
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