Oppi-flu Will Get You
Holy shit, this is so overdue. Bob Perfect finally gathers his thoughts on Oppikoppi.
They say Oppi-flu will get you, but I never expected it to have me this long. I left Oppikoppi with a sense of zen and general excitement about life. I was going to do things, I was going to write, I was going to get tick bite fever, get dumped and then kinda just mope about in my sadness for a while. So yeah, this is a little overdue. I mean, most people have published their Rocking The Daisies reviews but I have a bunch of photos and notes to convert into some sort of story and if I don’t fucking finish this thing, I’ll never get my mojo back.
Oppikoppi is fucking far from Durban. This isn’t a short trip into the lush mountains. It’s a trip through four provinces that ends in what I can only assume is a thorn farm where dust roams free. Nothing can really prepare you for Oppikoppi, unless you’ve been to like Glastonbury or whatever, then sure, it’s not THAT big. But driving into Mordor, I was overwhelmed off the bat by the intricate maze of fucking dirt roads everywhere, all named after something to do with the festival’s history, I assume. We found ourselves camping on Two Bop. I was stoked because I have a Two Bop cap. I didn’t have it there, which was a missed photo opportunity, but whatever. Once we set up camp – and I’d resolved that I was sleeping on the rocky floor because the mattress I’d organised didn’t make the trip – we headed into the music area/s to get a lay of the land.
Oppikoppi has six stages, all of which seem to be semi-permanent fixtures, and one of which I only found on the second day. They vary in size, from the miniscule Bruilof Stage which Cat Power played on, to the 20 000 capacity (at least) Wesley’s Dome which hosted Wolfmother. There’s the Skellum stage which is located behind the beer area next to Wesley’s Dome, for those who ventured slightly away from the main stage. They were rewarded with acts like The Frown, Dookoom, Reason, HHP and Spoek Mathambo’s latest musical project, Fantasma. The Top Bar Stage is the one I only found on the second day and which I only went to like twice, so I can’t really comment. The Redbull Stage is over this rocky hill that I assume the festival is named after. I found myself tumbling down it a couple times until I found there was an easier path. If you go to Oppi, just take the fucking path and save yourself the pain. The Redbull Stage hosted most of the electronic acts and the backstage area was where most of the industry types found themselves once all the stages closed. Lastly, the James Phillips Stage seemed to be the one with the most history, I don’t really know, but the giant bull’s head attached to it, the thatch roof over it and the acts booked on it – Squeal, Wonderboom, Springbok Nude Girls, Hugh Masekela – made me think that maybe this stage had some historical significance.
The James Phillips Stage is where my festival began. At 16:00 on Thursday afternoon, Black Math played. I wish I could say thousands bowed at their feet and praised their musical mastery, but in reality they turned a small crowd that was sitting down into a couple hundred people rocking out in the sun. That’s about the best you can do as a new act playing the third slot of the entire festival. I felt proud to see them pull it off. They’re the one band that everyone in the Durban scene wants to see “make it”, and their showing at Oppikoppi was a step closer to whatever that is.
Wrestlerish played their last show ever two hours later. As one band steps up, so another bows out. It was an emotional affair, with lots of committed fans in the audience of maybe a couple thousand people – I dunno, it was sizable – many of whom sang along to every word. I’m pretty sure I saw a few teary eyes when Werner thanked the crowd and the band walked off stage for the last time. Apparently Werner is starting up something new, so that’s something to look forward to, and I’m sure the rest of the band members will find themselves making music soon again.
The rest of my Thursday night is a straight up drunken haze. I’m sorry, I took notes but they’re meaningless. I know I caught Yesterday’s Pupil and felt some type of way about it, but the rest of the night was spent getting hammered drunk with friends from around the country.
Oh yeah, that’s totally one of the best things about Oppi, and festivals that you have to travel for: you get to meet up with friends from the internet, previous festivals, tours, holidays and those who just moved. Being so far from Durban, the safety blanket of an 031 team member wasn’t always there and new teams were drafted constantly. The flux of a party crew is a beautiful thing. The conversations shift from who you all hate on twitter to who you hate in real life. But as you drift through the night, new people join, names are exchanged, the greater network gets larger and we all bond in the jol. We might hate each other if we lived in the same city, but the quick catch ups and jovial exchanges mean everyone will always think “He/She is the raddest.” It’s why jol friends are more fun sometimes, if they cheat on their girl/boyfriend, you don’t have to give a shit. “Don’t tell anyone you gave me drugs…” Why would I?
Uh, so, Friday. Friday was fucking fun but I barely watched any acts, again. I feel like a doos for missing Dookoom (and a bunch of other acts) because I was looking for (and later doing) drugs with the Dr in a car for hours. I didn’t mean to, we just got a bunch of kat and the good Dr is a rather popular chap, so every time someone came to say “hi”, it was my job to rack them up some. Three hours later, the Dr was changed into his night outfit (the reason for going to the car) and we were officially on the jol with some kat power coursing through us. Such is the nature of music festivals. You’re never going to see everything you want to, and it never goes according to plan. That’s okay though, it would devalue the experience if you spent all your time ticking off each band like it’s a to-do list. You have to allow for the chaos of humanity to take over from time to time and succumb to the heartless disorder of a Friday night. Still, I wish I’d seen Dookoom, I heard they were terrifying.
The highlight of Friday, and I think of the entire festival, was hands down, PHFat. This site has been responsible for a fair number of negative PHFat reviews and there’ve been countless sarcastic tweets from me (S/O to Mike for bailing on the Chad Muska backpack), so when they put on the best performance of the whole damn festival, I wasn’t expecting it. Their current incarnation is a whole new rap beast. Since Disco left, Mike has had to become a whole new man on stage. No longer does he get to hide behind Disco’s natural charisma, he’s now 90% of the stage show, and in the last year, he’s grown to the point where he can command a 20 000 strong crowd into going harder than they did for any other band. Even Wolfmother, who were probably most people’s act of the fest, didn’t inspire as much jumping and joy from the crowd. Credit where it’s due, PHFat came out with big production and a tight as fuck set that they clearly worked poes hard on, and it catapulted them into the upper echelons of current local live acts.
After the show I landed up with Mike and he was glowing, it was fun to watch him go. It was the biggest show of their lives and they killed it. We celebrated it by drinking fucktons of Tequila in the backstage area of the Red Bull stage where I met a bunch of people whose names I’d only seen online. There’s no networking like 3am booze and drug fuelled networking. Eventually we found ourselves in the glow of dawn, polishing off the third bottle of Olmeca whilst watching the sunrise before I headed back to lay my weary head on the stoney floor.
After about four hours sleep, it was time to get back in the game. It’s impossible to sleep at a festival during the day, especially when there’s a Trojan horse roaming the streets blasting Wolfmother. Saturday was the main reason I even went to Oppi because Cat Power was playing, but before her, I was treated to BCUC and Hugh Masekela. Whenever someone brings up BCUC, they inevitably say “You just have to see them live.” And you do. In my notes about Hugh Masekela, I have “The Nelson Mandela of music.” I have no idea if that is accurate but he gave me goosebumps and put on a charismatic show.
Finally though, it was time to watch Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power. This was my reason for applying for press accred to the festival in the first place. I’ve got an emotional relationship with her music. Certain songs are attached to certain people to me, very important people, and so getting to watch the woman who wrote those songs live was monumental.
The one thing most people who watched Cat Power said is that she looked visibly uncomfortable and was incredibly awkward on stage. They’re right, and while that turned some people off, her vulnerability turned my heart to mush. There were mistakes, the sound kept fucking out, she’d abandon songs halfway through, it was a mess. But in the middle of this mess were these moments that cut deep, she’d push through and multiple times her voice brought me to tears. Actual tears. Bet you didn’t know I was so sensitive?
After the show I found myself last in line to say a few words and get a quick photo as a momento. I just wanted to ask her if she knew that Blacklisted had a song with the opening lines “Please just give me a Chan Marshall eulogy” but she was tired and wanted to go back to her backstage room, so she invited me to come with. There was a guy from Just Music there too but I can’t really remember his name. He had a record he wanted signed and they spoke about equipment that I knew nothing about. We chatted for an hour about South Africa, evil spirits, music and how she had to have an AK47 carrying bodyguard last time she was in Durban in 1996. She was polite, open, candid and curious, asking questions and regaling me with stories and free backstage drinks. It was easy to see how she makes such heartfelt and endearing music. I eventually had to leave. Cassper Nyovest was about to start and I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. She gave me her artist pass and signed it, shoved a bottle of wine in my bag, took down my email address and asked me who I thought she should catch later in the day. I said Fantasma and bid her farewell, thinking I’d never see her again.
Cassper Nyovest showed up about half an hour late, performed four songs and then bailed, but I didn’t really mind ‘cause I got to turn up to Gusheshe and sing “Middle fingers to my exes, ring finger to my next chick” with my ex standing next to me. No hard feelings or anything.
I didn’t really bother with the big international acts, although I did catch Wolfmother play Woman and people seemed to enjoy themselves. A teenager even got her tits out (S/O to Hanna Mae). The Editors were lank boring though and Champions of the Sonarverse (DJ Invisable’s new band) were a much more rewarding choice even if I didn’t really know what the fuck was going on. Nomadic Orchestra also put on a fun show and had people dancing. Their tuba player has to be the strongest musician in the country.
The last important act for me was Fantasma, Spoek Mathambo’s new band. That’s not really a fair description, they’re more than just Spoek’s band, as he said on stage, they’re his brothers and each of them have serious musical chops. While a lot of it is reworked Spoek songs – Mshini Wami, The Judge etc – they’ve got fresh material too. As you’d expect, it’s a fusion of western and African sounds and a progression of the afro-futurism vibes that Spoek has pioneered. It’s a bit all over the place, but it works and for the last time of the festival, I danced.
After the show, Chan Marshall came up to me. She’d been watching. We briefly chatted about the gig (she enjoyed it, called it “arty”) before we awkwardly hugged and she walked off into the night. Two guys immediately came up to me afterwards and asked “Do you know who that is?” I smiled to myself and for that brief moment, I felt like I’m not a complete kook.
*All images © Bob Perfect.