Events, Reviews

The Odyssey Continues: Oppikoppi 2014 Review

At Oppikoppi, everyone wonders around asking each other the same question, “Oppikoppi?” and the replies are all the same, “Oppikoppi!”.  A passionate, fired up chant that resonates throughout Northam Rock City and to the borders of Limpopo as the epic festival plays out over 3 dusty days in the hills.

The energy building up to this festival is intense. It is not easy to walk around Johannesburg or Pretoria without overhearing a conversation about the the festival, and of course it all makes sense once you arrive. A difficult drive through small shantytowns into Limpopo on rough roads brings thousand of people together. This dust bowl that has made its own legacy, from tiny origins to the country’s biggest music festival. Based on the atmosphere within the grounds, an eclectic crowd of people come together to celebrate music and generally lose their minds: it was a collective effort to take literally the phrase “party till you drop”. An apt description of the festival by a fellow festivalgoer gives the gist of it: “A wasteland of fuckedness”.

This, of course, leads to questions of whether the festival is about music or just about substance ingestion. Many people attend not knowing or caring who is performing, an excuse to party 3 days straight and get lost in a glamorously dirty world of sound. But as the festival progressed, it was interesting to notice how many people were there for what could be deemed an ‘experience’. To experience a festival, to experience music, to experience the Koppi, and, of course, to experience various narcotics. The state you are in when you are there is defined by everything that proceeds it.

Hilltop Live, as the Koppi organisers, did a pretty good job with the line-up, catering for music lovers of all genres. It is tough to make a judgment on the line up because of this, but the diverse, broad choices of acts are respectable nonetheless.

Bittereinder were definitely the highlight of the Thursday night as they closed the main stage with their enormous sound. They boasted epic beats, intense, crystal clear bass thumping in your chest and fantastic production with a live performance to match and a front man of note. Wonderboom, The Drift, Diamond Thug, Bittereinder member Yesterday’s Pupil, Shout Hey! and French DJs The Wrestler, The Slut & The Dealer were of the other artists to dominate their stages that night. At this point in the night, as it is on every night of Oppikoppi, the whole festival migrates to the Red Bull Stage to sleep dance the night into day.

Friday saw the population of the festival rise exponentially as the weekend chased those unable to take Thursday day off work into the hills of Northam to join the dust mites, otherwise known as “prawns”, of Oppikoppi. And with it brought some exciting acts. The Muffinz, Mr Cat and the Jackal, Taxi Violence, DJ Danger Ingozi, Christian Tiger School, Mr Sakitumi and the Grrrl, Crazy White Boy, P.H.Fat, Sian from Ireland and American country folk/blues guitarist Willy Mason were among the many eclectic musicians to perform that day and it was almost overwhelming to try and catch all the best performances.  Willy Mason set a mystical vibe at the Ray Ban Stage, which lies on the highest koppi at oppi. People were chilling in tress, sitting along the ground and taking in sweet tunes from a simple but excellent songwriter. Christian Tiger School played the sundown set at the Red Bull Stage, and by golly that shit was good. The Red Bull Stage lies at the foot of a layered slope, entertaining tiny dance floors within their own boundaries of rock. Grooving, schmoozing and jiving was the call at the Red Bull Stage, and the artists provided the perfect beats that made the landscape dance with the crowd.

P.H.Fat ended Friday night with an utter bang. Although the intimacy of their show was lost on such a large stage (they played main stage), they brought ammo to boost up another level. Mr Sakitumi rocked out with Mike and Narch, playing live bass and drums. By this stage, P.H.Fat are seasoned experts at winning over a large crowd.

Saturday saw the festival hit its ultimate stride with unshowered, stinky fans wondering the festival, sure to find good music wherever they went. Yano$$ opened the Red Bull Stage on Saturday afternoon and did it justice by setting an unbelievable tone that didn’t stop until 5am Sunday morning. He was playing his first Oppi and put on a chilled eclectic set of ambient electro, experimental electro and good old-fashioned hip-hop. Next act brought to attention was the Dutch 3 piece, psychedelic 60s rock n roll group called Birth of Joy. Hosting a drummer, guitarist/vocalist and a keyboard player, these guys brought the 60s to Oppikoppi. Their sound makes use of progressive modern ideas combined with a classic sound and a strong psychedelic influence. Playing extended, improvised jam sections showed true virtuosity and they were completely engulfed in the performance, taking the listeners with them.

BCUC, The Watermark High and Shortstraw were some of the few acts that continued leading the festival on a high note into the international headliners. Cat Power, Aloe Blacc, Editors, and of course Wolfmother were still to come along with locals Das Kapital and Sibot headlining the Red Bull Stage.

During Cat Power, something awfully wrong happened with the sound and she was having difficulties performing. It is embarrassing that an international artist’s performance was hindered by the untrustworthy sound engineer that catered for the show but that is not all to blame, as Chan Marshall clearly could not handle the stage or herself very well.

Aloe Blacc’s performance was tight and powerful but in some ways missing something. It left a discontented feeling of “Is that it?” Nonetheless, the majority of the crowd went wild and sang along happily to “I Need a Dollar”.

Editors pulled off an incredibly energetic show with an insanely tight set. As a band that have just come from playing Glastonbury and one of the few remaining pioneer indie rock n roll bands , they left a definitive imprint of themselves in the Oppi dust.

Wolfmother were the last international act to perform and by this point almost the entirety of Oppikoppi was at the main stage. The crowd was hectic. But without even hesitating, ‘Dimension’ brought a roar and a wave of movement throughout Oppikoppi. Classics like ‘Apple Tree’ and ‘Joker and the Thief’ were thunderously executed and more recent material such as ‘California Queen’ and ‘Heavy Weight’ exploded through the people-covered-slopes of Oppi. As a 3-piece outfit their sound was full, powerful and immense and Andrew Stockdale’s stage presence echoes a wise old rock’n’rolla lost in his guitar and band’s transcendent show.

All in all it is impossible to describe Oppikoppi from one perspective and one experience. The festival holds so much for each individual, leaving it truly overwhelming to comprehend its size in all respects. It has been 20 years since the first Oppikoppi and it is clear that over the years the festival continues to improve each year; from the acts booked, to the running of the festival and the effort that goes in to supply the festival’s lucky attendees with a reason to go absolutely inexcusably bat-shit-crazy.

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