What If This City
What If This City is what happens when artists in this city come together, if you weren’t there, here’s what you missed.
The diaspora of Durban creatives is something we’re all unfortunately familiar with. Over the years, many, many of our friends have packed their bags and headed anywhere, anywhere but here. Some overseas; England, Australia, Thailand, South Korea, and everywhere in between for the yachties; some to Joburg, but most to Cape Town. I don’t really blame them, pursuing a creative career here is asking to drive a scooter and live with your parents until you’re 30. I miss my friends but I get it, you gotta make that paper. Sellouts.
But, what if this city did appreciate it’s artists? What if this city catered to you, young creative? What if this city brought many, many, artists together, across disciplines, for a night that celebrates creativity and self-expression, dedication and passion? What if this city actually showed up to take it all in? Would you stay? Probably not, if the expats are to be believed, CT has like 30 of these events a night (liars), but it’s a nice thought and #Whatifthiscity was a step in a direction that may see this city keep and develop some of it’s talent. Wouldn’t that be nice?
The people who organised the youthful arts and culture jol did an absolutely stellar job of shining a high beam on the talent this city has to offer. As I arrived, I was treated to the unusual combo of Wren Hinds and Matt Vend who usually play very contrasting versions of folk – Matt more on the punk side, Wren, very much less so – but who turned out to compliment each with their gruff/gentle dynamic. Imagine the folk version of The Viper and The Mountain, but they’re playing together and not, you know, squashing heads and stabbing each other. Also, Matt’s not really brutish at all so I guess that reference doesn’t work but it’s topical and I needed a juxtaposition to reference. Hopefully the two of them play together more so you can hear it for yourself.
The setup of the entire jol was overwhelming, there were a couple hundred people spread over two floors with two stages and more art to look at than I ever had a chance of being able to analyse and critique accurately. I took in a minute of the Capoeira on the grass before having a squiz at Mook Lion and his crew’s mixed paint wall (part spraycan, part brush strokes), both briefly drew my attention before I headed inside to catch some more art.
A couple hey-howzit-goings later and I was inside DUT’s art department where people were painting and drawing everywhere. Imagine your high school art class, but with adults and no teacher. Members of the public, invited artists and a tattoo artist got a chance to express themselves, just on different scales and canvasses. The artists had large boards to flex their imaginations, the public got asked to interpret #Whatifthiscity as they saw fit on pieces of paper, the tattoo artist, well, you know…
A walk up the stairs revealed a man wearing a dress and high heels playing the role of a mannequin, further up were a group of ladies in corsets. I think I get the man as a woman gender swap but not so much what the corsets were all about.
I doubled up on drinks at the crowded bar before heading towards a gallery with a sign saying there’d be nudity. My kind of party. I got to see a naked dude and a naked woman just chilling in public whilst anyone who wanted to, could draw them (no photos though). Definitely my kind of party. S/O to the models, you’re doing the lord’s work. There’s obviously no photos of the naked models and we didn’t get any of the portraits either, but here’s some of the other work that was upstairs.
The night was still young as I headed downstairs to catch some interpretive dance from the Flatfoot Dance Company, apparently I was witnessing anxiety being acted out. It looked about right, what with flailing arms and disjointed movements all over the stage, personally I usually just crawl up into a ball under the duvets. Up next was Seb Goldswain who has recently been kicking it out on his own after doing his time in Juice and Sir Walrus Band. Seb is one of those guitarists that every other guitarist hates because he can shred on anything, I even overheard a dude next to me say “I’m going home to smash my guitar and never play again.” He was joined by Rogan van den Burg for the last song and the two music students got more out of their two guitars in one song than most bands do in their whole set.
I’m not sure exactly at what point in the night I caught the Floor Assassins break dancing but it was definitely the highlight of the night. The Assassins are next level B-Boys and have been putting in the hard yards for years which is immediately apparent any time they take to the floor. The Floor Assassins arsenal of moves had the crowd going buck with every flip, headstand, spin and whatever else they pulled out the bag. If you ever see their name on a poster, just go and watch the poetry in motion. Closing the night were Nje who often play more intimate shows but they revved up the couple hundred people in front of them with their Fugees cover and then kept it going by collaborating with one of Durbans OG hip-hop heads, Ewok.
It’s hard to accurately write about an event like What If This City, there’s just too much to take in and talk about with depth and nuance. There was something for everyone, which gets said a lot but was actually true this time, and that means everyone is going to find value in something different. No doubt other attendees would have been drawn to different things, but that’s what made it so great, the sheer diversity of it all. I hear the team have already started working on the next one so maybe hold off on buying that ticket to Cape Town until then.
*All images © Russell Grant