Interpret Durban

On Friday night, City Hall played home to Interpret Durban. There’s a good chance you already knew that, since you were probably there. Here’s Russell Grant’s take on the evening.

It felt like we had dug our way into the house of a deceased master, like fabled mice playing in the cats’ absence, although not without gentle reminders of their omnipresence: portraits of JZ and James Nxumalo hanging behind the hot-dog stand. The vast Baroque interior of the main hall was crammed with artwork pinned up on pieces of string, huge bean bags shaped like letters spelling out ‘Durban’, canvases in the process of become art, runway models, a runway, photographers, judges and general riff-raff. In the adjacent room a bar, the aforementioned hot-dog stand, and us, the DIY crew, trying to find out where you all live. Upstairs was curry, cake, a dancefloor and a magnificent view. The old masters certainly knew a thing or two about the power of a classic view. But we weren’t there to marvel at the achievements of our predecessors; this was our night. You can have your teak encased organ, and ornate domed ceiling; give us string and a few cans of spraypaint and we’re good to go.

To be honest, writing a review about an event like this is challenging. What kind of event was it, first of all? I’m not entirely sure. Was it an exhibition opening? Kind of. There was art, all Durban themed and displayed in neat rows. But there was no free food and drink, and no artist statements. Was it a fashion show? Again, sort of. There was a runway, and models and beautiful clothes, and photographers lined up and even some boobies. But boobies and photographers do not a fashion show make. It all happened so quickly; the girls paraded in batches across the stage, to be ogled by a flashy MC, “yoh, yoh, YOOOH!”. What about the bands? Was it a gig? No doubt Durban’s talent was out in full force. But the stage was guarded by a member of security (at least for the first few acts. The big names had full crowd interaction). We Durbanites prefer to be up close (on the damn stage if possible). Still, there was dancing, but I wouldn’t call it a show. What about just a straight up party? Not likely. The dancefloor was hidden away, and it was small, and there weren’t enough people on it. The drinks were also hideously expensive.

Could it have been some sort of gig/exhibition/party/fashion show hybrid? Nah, that would never work. Too much going on. From that perspective it was a complete failure. But I’m not looking at it from that perspective. To me it was a microcosm of the Durban creative world: small, slightly divided, confused at times, housed in an oppressive, old-school, mainstream culture, and aching to interact. Not knowing where you are or where you’re going or what you’re seeing; these are all familiar feelings for the Durban artist. Interpret Durban showed us that these individuals need to get together more often, to share ideas, to make things more coherent. On that level it was a success. A friend of mine said to me on the night ‘Business deals are going down here!’, and to me that was exciting. It’s very rare that Durban artists get to be together in the same place, as artists, and network and plan, and collaborate.

As far as the bands that I saw went*, D’Urban Knights really impressed me. It was their first gig, and they displayed a level of showmanship not common amongst first-time acts. They have the potential to go really far. Sheep Down had an unfortunate show. It was a point in the night when the vibe dipped and people were just too scattered. They did their thing, but in a hall of that size, with such a thin crowd, it was difficult to generate any kind of rapport. The Mizers had a better response. The all time Durban favourites didn’t disappoint, and got things warmed up for BLK JKS, who were nothing short of brilliant. This enigmatic four piece blew minds with their boiling intensity, technical prowess, and groovy bass lines pulsing beneath layered, atmospheric guitar noise. Certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but I (and a lot who were present) really enjoyed them.

Events like this get everyone excited; new projects, inspiration, good times; now it’s just a matter of keeping it moving. It’s about time these sorts of things happened more often. Time will tell what Durban makes of it.

*Apologies to the bands I didn’t get to see. There was a lot to take in, and I didn’t see enough of the others to give a fair appraisal. As for the artwork and videos, look out for our post with the winners’ work and our discussions with them.

*All images © Russell Grant

26 Responses to “Interpret Durban”
  1. tam says:

    Excellent read 🙂 like the bit about the fabled mice! 😀

  2. Justin says:

    I don’t usually use this word because I am a guy.
    But the photos are goddam beautiful!
    Awesome Russel, pure class.

  3. Matt S says:

    what a great piece, well written, succinct, and informative. The pics are awesome and I’m glad I put my camera away when I did. All I can say is well done to everybody who was a part of this whole damn vibe. Proud to be a part of (or at least trying to be) this artistic movement. Praise be to ye young Durbanites, for on your shoulders rest weary dreams, yet ‘neath the Eastern sky you shine.

  4. mat says:

    I havent read the article yet but these photos are insane!

    The shot of lead singer and guitarist from blk jks is one of the most insane band shots I have ever seen!!!

  5. kerry says:

    Really dig all thephotos – flippen awesome, such a talented photographer and I couldn’t agree more with your review. I was kind of dissappointed with the flow and organisation of the event…But having all the Durban talent and creatives in one area was pretty damn cool…. Definately need more events like this, with cheaper booze, more flow and more platform for aspiring creatives!

  6. luke says:


  7. Ry says:


  8. Nem says:

    Nice one Sooley!

  9. Matt says:

    Holy shit. So good.

  10. D says:

    The aunty standing next to ‘Gareth Cliff’ looks so bleak.
    Probably because her halo turned to a dunce-cap.
    Yours would too if you were standing next to ‘Gareth Cliff’.

  11. Mark says:

    Fuckin ay article!

  12. mathew says:

    So good man! Really well written mate!
    And a good event I enjoyed myself…

  13. pissingblood says:

    Love it, man. Great write up and sick photos. Seriously stoked on this one.

  14. Jonas says:

    Hey guys,

    Epic pictures and article.

    This was our first time putting on an event of this magnitude. We went in with a reach for the stars mentality and really wanted to offer Durban something she had never had before. In many aspects we did just that, but in some areas we missed our targets and for those we really do apologize.

    The first Interpret Durban event was held last year and consisted of 1 band, 250 attendees and was a far more intimate affair. A mere year later the guest list of bands, plus ones, media and staff exceeded last years total attendance by 21 people, our bands increased by 9 artists and 4DJ’s and our venue quadrupled in size.

    We checked with officials and no event even close to what was done on the night has been held at City Hall in at least 22 years. We did have some lapses in the time line of the event and we aim to address these and ensure it doesn’t happen again. But overall we were super stoked with what came from it and how it went down.

    We really want to thank everyone who pulled through, from the artists, to the bands, from the models to you the public. It was an event intended to show case our city. I know I speak for the entire Street Scene team when I say we are totally besotted with Durban and it was a massive win for us, even if just for one night, to bring Durban’s youth and artistic talent back to the city center.

    Rest assured, we are already working on Interpret Durban 3, and with your patience and assistance and most importantly support will continue to grow and perfect this project and concept.

    Viva 031 viva!

  15. Whatever says:

    The venue was too big, the sound too small and the art wasn’t displayed properly. Cool that you tried. But probably should have tried harder.

  16. Negatron says:

    I totally agree with Whatever, there was so much hype around this event that everyone expected an amazing night and were sadly disappointed. There was just too much going on that it ended up being like a church fete that looked like a Crawford Matric Dance. I don’t think any thought was given to making the venue look proudly Durban. Instead of paying people to make those “Durban’ cushions, they could have employed people on the beachfront to create beaded artworks that would have been cheaper and generated income to people who need it most. There were alot of unecessary gimmicks that cost alot of money. I’d hate to see the budget that was spent in comparison to the money raised for Umthombo. When I walked into the venue there was nothing special or unique to the 031. Instead of trying to do 10 things, more time should have been spent on doing 5 things really well. What happened to the auctions? That would have raised alot of money for Umthombo but it was sidelined. And there was talk of submissions being lost, im sure that realization must have happened during the day and there was no Plan B made for all those people who took the time to create something. The design aspect was punted really hard and for many people that was the main attraction of the night. You can’t expect people to be amped to send in work for Interpret DBN 3 if no one really cared about Interpret DBN 2. Like Whatever said, the art wasn’t displayed properly and it seemed like an after thought. As for the music the whole lineup should have been only Durban bands. No need for JHB thank you very much. And the drinks were hellishly expensive so much so that it was fuckin ridiculous. I hope Street Scene learn from this and come correct next year as they made enough mistakes to know what not to do next year.

  17. Bob says:

    I don’t think that’s really fair to say. They put on great event, all things considered and have already said that they’ll work on the problems they faced for next time. And fuck that, BLK JKS were amazing.

  18. Stathi says:

    Yeah i agree with Bob, there were hiccups but shit happens dude!

  19. tam says:

    I wasn’t disappointed at all. I had an awesome night and thought the turn out was great. Fair comments in the actual article and all constructive. I disagree with “Whatever” about the venue, that made the night for me.

  20. Jonas says:

    Ahoy all. Many thanks for all the comments – both pro’s and con’s. If one only receives good pointers you can never learn how to make next years event bigger, better and an all round more epic experience. From our side we sure learnt loads from Interpret Durban 2 but overall are stoked with the event and feedback.

    Regarding the above crits we’d like to give the following feedback.

    Our initial intention was to run ID2 around the same time as last year but the City asked us to throw the event with a 6 week time line instead of the intended 3 months, which did leave monstrous amounts of work and not all that much at our disposal. With the option of using our epic City Hall we couldn’t resist the challenge to make it all happen. As part of the Celebrate Durban festivities the following day – Saturday 24th Sept – the Miss Ethekwini show took place which resulted in some of the decorations up at ID were actually nothing to do with us but in place for this event. We are super stoked with our Durban sign and although this was a cost it is something that can be used over again so we decided the investment was worth it – you will see them again this Saturday at our Durban Sandcastle Contest on New Beach (blatant self punt but entry is FREE, pull in!). Regarding the beads – we really like this idea and will look into how we can get these important people part of the event next year. Perhaps their own division? Really shine a spotlight on their talents? Our mind are ticking. Please feel free to throw ideas our way. Hit us up at [email protected]

    The Auction is the one area we were disappointed with as we were super excited to do this on the evening. We have however found what promises to be a great alternative. The judging on the night over ran the time we had allocated which meant that prize giving had to be pushed back – bummer. This resulted in us deciding to hold the auction in the foyer but soon realised that the pieces were only going to fetch peanuts and no where near their true value which would be unfair to both Umthombo and the artists, so we had to make the tough decision of cutting it. After consultation with Tom (the founder of Umthombo) and the organisers from Sketch Warz and the Flexfit Live Art Jam we came to the decision that Umthombo will auction off the pieces at an upcoming corporate day fundraiser where the pieces are far more likely to receive figures of what they deserve and thus Umthombo and the artists will gain to the extent as we had initially intended.

    Music lineup was always going to be a tricky one with City Hall having a capacity of 1800pax (more than double the size of any other Durban venue that has bands) our goal was to fill that. We love our city, but have also been involved in the music scene directly for long enough to have seen events with 5 epic Durban bands on the bill get 150 people rocking up. We know Durban will get to the stage one day where a solid all Durban line up will bring those kinds of crowds and we await that day eagerly. But a certain amount of realism is needed as well, and though we believe we will get there, and soon, we are not that city just yet.

    Once again thanks to all who got involved, all those who shared and to all those who attended.
    Keep the flame burning.

  21. Stathi says:

    I think it was safe to say all points brought up by Negatron were covered.
    Haters can’t hate with reason. I hope that has cleared the air!

  22. Samora says:

    Ay these pics are fiya!!!

  23. kif says:

    Yo yo!

    I had an absolute blast at this jol! So rad to party in City Hall, it was epic!

    Don’t share your view on Blk Jks though…. SO DAMN BORING!

  24. G says:

    Please can Russ write all the reviews, No comparison! Brilliant writing!

  25. G says:

    Also, amazing photos! Well done!

  26. Bob says:

    Agreed, I wish Rus could write everything, the dude has a way with words that mere mortals can only dream of.

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