Events, Reviews

Live Review: CTEMF 2014

The third annual Cape Town Electronic Music Festival was always going to be a…


The third annual Cape Town Electronic Music Festival was always going to be a serious challenge for its organisers. With the combination of the first two being relatively successful and the ever reliable and positive brand association with sponsor, Red Bull, the festival had earned itself a reputation which had to be lived up to. However, it goes without saying that when you are sponsored by Red Bull it is not by mistake and their global involvement in electronic music is by no means a secret.

Electronic music is able to push the boundaries of production and create sounds and energy that have never been experienced before. Innovation and progression are at the forefront here. And, of course, this plays perfectly into Red Bull’s values. Therefore, by extension, the same applied to CTEMF. It could not just simply live up to its reputation, it had to surpass it. It had to be progressive. It had to be innovative. It had to push the boundaries and create its own calibre. Given its Cape Town context, the progression and innovation also had to be applied socially, not just musically. The issues of inequality, the city’s historical/current geographical divide and its desperate need for integration have to be considered for the festival to even possibly be seen as holistically progressive. The workshops leading up to the festival (held in the new Red Bull CPT studios in Bree Street on Tuesday and Wednesday and Guga S’thebe in Langa on Thursday) hinted towards this actually being accomplished. Anyone was welcome to attend for free, which already broke down the age old barrier to entry for integration. The individuals chosen to be part of the various panels were brilliantly curated, providing an inclusive-as-currently-possible outlook on the Cape Town electronic music scene.

Friday afternoon saw the beginning of what was to be a great festival (there, it had to be said right up front). The crowd grew gradually and was fairly substantial by 19:30 for the first notable performance of the night, delivered by Crazy White Boy and their unbelievably skilled collaborating vocalist, Nonku Phiri. Clouds had been looming around the mountain and swelling out towards the Grand Parade throughout the afternoon and the inevitable rain arrived. Maybe it was the R200/R500 that people had paid to be there, but in this case it was more likely the music and the really early arrival of that (nowadays) rare sense that you can get at a festival of something truly shared, that prevented people from leaving. In fact, after an initial few minutes of frustration, the rain was welcomed as Nonku first began to sing and interact with one of the more diverse festival crowds that Cape Town has seen lately; and everyone seemed to just revel in it all.

Crazy White Boy’s set was the kind that has any sceptics (myself included) thinking “Okay, I get it now. They’re good.” And they really were, with significant credit going to Nonku’s vocals and appropriately confident stage presence. They were followed by all-round-nice-guy Justin Martin…and more rain. His set was a dance inducing mix of big-club tracks and on point production. The rain was heaviest during his set and is most likely the culprit for the only glitch of the whole festival. Luckily, his infectious feel-good energy kept the crowd entertained until the sound was back to full health. His Dirtybird label buddy, J.Phlip was up next with her insanely badass brand of “acid booty-tech bass and beyond”. With help from her sassy stage partner and Justin Martin to keep the crowd visually entertained, J.Phlip could afford her oh-so-smooth (again, badass) presence behind the decks, cracking the occasional smile in between the impeccable mixing of her Chicago inspired acid house productions. The two artists that followed, Protoculutre and Hobo, whilst being incredibly impressive examples of their respective big-sound commercial trance and techno genres, didn’t quite match the groove of J.Phlip. However, it was an electronic music festival. Therefore, it would be remiss of me not to say that they were mind blowing sets, because they were.

The first notable set of the menacingly exciting Saturday line up was Fever Trails. The timing of their set at 17:45 – easily the most left field of the festival – was well placed as they were a bridge between the afternoon’s more relaxed sets into what was to be a very intense evening. Fever Trails, the brainchild of Nicolaas Van Reenen, is a one man show on the production side, but is then divided amongst four musicians for the live show – Van Reenen on the decks and keys, Sebastiano Zanasi working the decks alongside him, Skye MacInnes on guitar and Dylan Jefferys on drums. The set felt like a sustained swell, with experimental percussion, bass work and intricate piano/keys composition keeping everyone on their toes. MacInness’s minimal (yet necessary) guitar contribution may have been less visually distracting if he stood behind the decks, but that really is the only criticism of an otherwise great set.

Cid Rim, who reigns from Vienna, took the stage and immediately installed the energy needed to get the party started. His productions were really impressive and he displayed some well needed innovations in funk grooves, which was a pleasant surprise for anyone having a dance right in front of the stage. As a drummer for nu-funk band, JSBL, he took some time to show off his drumming chops on a great piece of equipment which was incredibly receptive to his quick-moving fingers and crisply presented the complex rhythms he was laying down. Sedge Warbler took the stage with a nostalgic set of their glitch-boom-rap fun. Dank’s (DJ Caviar) bold and beautiful production was enhanced by the insanely good sound system and Disco’s (Expensive Drinks) rapping was the most enthusiastic and well executed it’s been for a very long time. This was followed by something really special.

Dirty Paraffin have been on the scene for a while now and have been just the right amount of busy; so you don’t get bored of them, but you also don’t forget about them. Their live shows have never been something that critics have raved about, but this set should change that. The duo, comprising of Okmalumkoolkat and Dokta DJ Spizee, greeted the excitable crowd with a 45 minute kwaito dream from the future. The production value and the duo’s chemistry on stage suggested some serious effort being put into their live performance. Okmalumkoolkat oozed cool as he panstula’d, young-smart-mampara’d and zulu-kompura’d his way into the crowd’s hearts and had them call-and-responding “It’s a paaaarty tiiiime!” throughout the set. Their sound may not filter its way into the mainstream hip hop market that is booming at the moment, especially in Joburg, but it is fresh as hell. Having experienced international exposure through collaborations with UK trio, LV, it seems only inevitable that big things will happen for Dirty Paraffin. The world needs more kwaito anyway.

They were followed by DJ Jazzy Jay who bought a myriad of old school and new school tracks which had the hip hop kids and rap heads loving life for an hour and a half. However, most people took it as an opportunity to socialise away from the stage, which seemed like a good strategic move for the organisers’ line-up planning. Caspa was up next. He brought bangers and on the whole (and when I say whole, I mean the masses were pleased), the godfather of the dubstep movement bought the goods. However, at the workshops earlier in the week, he had taken a firm stance in defending the fact that dubstep is not dead and that he will continue to play it because he loves it. This was apparent for the first half an hour of his set where he dropped some organic and groove-inducing, wobble bass, old school dubstep… and then he played Skrillex.

Haezer followed up with his adrenalin rush set of electro punk madness. It was tagged as a ‘live performance’, which included a tailored lighting set up and an admittedly unnecessary appearance from PHFat’s Mike Zietsman. The closing set from Noisia was wild. It was the kind of set where if you stood off to the side it just sounded really heavy, but if you took the brave step into the middle of the crowd, or the even braver step to the front of the crowd, your head could not afford to think. You just did. And the ‘did’ that was ‘done’ was going bat-shit crazy.

Sunday saw a predominantly house line up, and it also faced competition from the Mad Decent Block Party and Kendrick Lamar. Shimza was the first notable set of the day with some intriguingly grimy house production and a team of high-spirited fans who entertained the crowd with synchronised pantsula and gees. HVOB, another Viennese export, delivered a relaxing and meditative set with live vocals and drums to add to the production value. While the interaction between the decks and the drums for the set intro was extremely interesting, it set up the expectation for some complex drumming throughout the set which was then dismissed as most of the drummer’s contribution was repetitive and disappointingly-straight indie-groove. They were followed by Portable who, although doing some interesting pitching work with his already strange lamenting vocals, was not as impressive. Jullian Gomes and Culoe De Song were next with a really enjoyable set leading into the final few hours of the festival.

Black Coffee had the penultimate set of the festival. It was a truly spectacular hour and a half. His reputation precedes him, but if there is anything to be learnt about house DJs this past weekend, is that most of their reputations don’t actually do them justice. His set was a display of a guy with a vision who knows what’s what and how he’s going to get there – so smooth. Producing and mixing with only one hand, the godfather of South African house played what was arguably the best set of the festival to a surprisingly full house, considering the competition from the other events mentioned previously. Dixon, the German DJ who hails from the legendary Berlin DJ scene, ended the festival off perfectly. To say that his mixing was impressive would simply be a terrible understatement. His feel for the music and understanding of the system, crowd dynamics and layering is like nothing I’ve ever seen before from a DJ. It is laughable to note that the following words were mentioned by someone close by “Ja, I dunno dude, this guy doesn’t drop hey…” Needless to say, the festival was closed with class.

CTEMF 2014 was a monumental success. Not only was the set up well executed, sound and visuals the best they could be and logistics wrapped up nice and neatly and ready to go, but the line-up attracted one of the most diverse crowds Cape Town has seen in a long time. The Grand Parade is a fantastic venue which proves that festivals no longer have to take place on a farm 2 hours out of town, but can take place in the CBD, where the ability to see world class music is far more accessible. CTEMF definitely surpassed its reputation. Progression, check. Innovation, check. Integration, a ‘check’ which might not be fully grown yet, but it certainly set the bar pretty high.

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