“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me”. A famous writer once famously described his routine with that line, and, okay fine, its wisdom as a credo may be a little doubtful. But if nothing else, it seems like a pretty decent guideline by which to evaluate this year’s Rocking the Daisies festival. Actually, what it really seems like is a checklist that every attendee is handed upon entering the festival: you have two choices, pick your preferred combination from the above-mentioned list, muddle them together far too quickly, and go completely fucking nuts. Or you have option B, hang back and watch the crowds eddy into chaos around you.
No one ever picks the second option.
Rocking the Daisies has grown into one of South Africa’s largest festivals, with approximately 21 000 attendees this year. I’d guess that this has quite a lot to do with its remarkable consistency and supreme (as South African festivals go) level of organisation. But the words ‘consistency’ and ‘organisation’ bring far more pertinent questions to mind, like ‘did the everlastingly-shirtless bros have beef with their technicolour vest wearing equivalents?’, ‘did they plan separate occupation times of the Beach Bar?’ or ‘were they in fact one and the same group in various forms of disguise?’. Unfortunately these fundamental questions are doomed to remain unanswered due to the vociferous and all-encompassing fear of entering the Beach Bar that remained with me throughout the weekend.
What Rocking the Daisies’ steady progression toward catering for a larger crowd (within the white middle class, obvs) has meant – and this is in keeping with the topic of my deepest darkest fears – is that it’s becoming quite a lot like the lovechild of some enormous Rugby Fest and an entirely unhinged trance party. It’s incredibly accessible, exhausting, cramped and tumultuous, but mainly just a shitload of fun. And as with both of the above: the music is entirely optional. But we’ll get to that later. The combination feels surprisingly natural, and creates the character atmosphere of joviality, debauchery and “good vaabs” that sees each of its attendees become regulars. These all blend into a complete emotional rollercoaster: managing to destroy months of anticipation in a single moment, before always, always, redoubling them in the next.
A couple of these excitement-obliterating moments occurred as the crowds swarmed in on Friday midday. The enormity of the numbers, twinned with a new ticketing system, meant that thousands of attendees were left to swelter for hours as they waited to enter the festival. And although the line was a widely criticised shortcoming of the festival, it was an understandable one. I was more viscerally affronted by the team of local workers who had to haul the luggage of the residents of the Heartbreak Hotel (really RTD? Really?). Added to this was being confronted by the minor discomfort of having had my tent (which a friend had graciously set up for me the previous night) stolen from our campsite.
But then, as things always seem to at Daisies, everything took a turn for the better. Our tent was found and reclaimed, and in one piece (more or less). I have to admit here that the details of how this occurred evade me, as I had taken a more gin-based approach to dealing with the loss. Such lubrication helped me leave behind any hesitations I had held until this point, and dive head first into the strangeness of festivaldom. The layout had been redone this year to accommodate the increased crowds, and to the festival’s enormous credit, it was restructured perfectly. They managed to make every stage, campsite and amenity seem significantly larger without overly extending the walking time between the three (this, as you know, is often the bane of any festival). Between a superlatively-varied food tent, a plethora of comedians, the ill-omened Beach Bar, and whatever the fuck they were doing at the Hemp Stage, it was difficult not to spend afternoons bumping around from activity to activity.
Alright I hear you there at the back, I’ll get around to it. I know I’ve made it seem like it isn’t, but Rocking the Daisies is still ultimately a music festival. And it’s one that gives back almost as much as you’re willing to put in. As the dust settled from the chaos of the lines of Friday afternoon, the beautiful and hassle-free music of both Thor Rixon and Fever Trails provided some much-needed respite. This respite was subsequently turned on its head as Okmalumkoolkat provided the festival with all the explosions of energy that a Friday night festival bacchanal required. However, the catalytic flare that was his set ended abruptly, after what felt like no more than half an hour, as he felt that his energy wasn’t sufficiently reciprocated. Now, that may or may not be true, but what it did do was set the tone for a night that descended (rather ascended) further and further into dissipation. This trend was echoed by my memories, which become less and less clear and only begin to re-emerge over a life-inducing breakfast roll the following morning. That being said, Saturday morning was spent between the haven of the Media Centre and ever-increasing trips to the food tent, all with the intention of finding ever-more creative means of bringing myself toward myself. These measures proved insufficient, and so it was that I found myself taking refuge under the intermittent shade next to the Main Stage. And look, it might have been the considerable strength of my hangover, but it so happened that Bongeziwe Mabandla began playing as we settled down, and his music sounded downright fucking perfect. It felt like inner music, and everyone who was there to see and hear it was completely transfixed. Unfortunately this sense of serenity was disrupted by a band who I’m fairly sure were a grating Placebo cover band, and we were forced to move hastily on.
The characterising feature of the Saturday afternoon at Rocking the Daisies was a healthy dose of South African talent; Cutting Gems was given a well-deserved opportunity to grace the colossal Electro Dome with a cacophonous set of shuffling post-dubstep. Similarly large-looming electronic sets were provided by Felix Laband and Christian Tiger School, whose laser-sharp sets were just the galvanising force required for the upcoming apex of the festival, Saturday night. But if we’re being honest, Saturday afternoon belonged to Beatenberg. It was a set that flitted from hit to giddying hit, each sung along to more and more vociferously, and peaking with my personal highlight of the festival, as they unspooled ‘The Prince of the Hanging Gardens’ with the gradual crescendo of a New Year’s Eve firework display.
But Beatenberg provided more than just the knee-bustling potency of their set: they give an insight into what the music at Daisies is really aimed at. The mood at the festival burgeons during the larger electronic acts, and it’s surprisingly receptive to (slightly) heavier rock iterations too, but where it really finds its flow is with anything that allows for the swaying of arms in the air, preferably from atop of a boyfriend’s shoulders. And so we arrive at Crystal Fighters, who were fronted by a man in a Native American headdress, and who sounded quite a lot like a band fronted by a man in a Native American headdress. They were, in other words, a bona fide wet dream for anyone in a flower crown. Daisies know how to play to their crowd, which means finding the harmless consumer-friendly indie acts who fit the event to a tee.
An added bonus, for Daisies, is if these bands provide an outlet for those with more, um, psychedelic interests too. I don’t feel that proper justice can be done to MGMT from an unaffected vantage point, and so the following experience comes directly from a dear friend, Acid Jesus:
“Fucking fuck. That was an emotional rollercoaster. The visuals felt like a manifestation of my inner soul. There was this insane discord happening where I was, on one plane, connecting with the most intense psychedelic experience of my life thus far, and on another plane, trying to ignore the selfie-taking boet who kept intentionally bumping into me and screaming at the stage in Afrikaans. It got to the stage that, by the time they played ‘Kids’, I was convinced MGMT were involved in a psychedelic performance art piece, using the audience as props – the thinning and swelling of the crowd turned into an elongated joke which everyone else was the butt of. MGMT became the metaphorical nexus of everything both right and wrong with the world, or at least Daisies. And Jesus, did I mention the visuals?”
The fact that the MGMT set was as punctuated by confrontational visuals as by the songs that made you realise that holy shit I used to love MGMT, meant that there was a palpable sense of unease as their set drew to a close. This amplified as an hour-long break in acts followed it. But Rudimental dispelled this almost instantaneously, as they confidently inspired a level of energy that stole the weekend.
By the time Rudimental’s set was coming to a close, the effects of what had been a turbulent, adrenaline-charged and, most of all, unrestrained weekend was taking its toll. And sometimes there are single moments during these times that serve as the perfect mirror of the general mood. Such a moment was provided by another friend, Vincent, who saw it fit to ‘baptise’ himself in the lake at 3am, to wash away both his – and all of our – sins of the weekend. He then realised that this baptism, for all its symbolism, was occurring in a lake that had been occupied by thousands of alcohol-fuelled bathers for three days, and all they had left behind. And so, much like the droves that would make similarly graceless exits from the festival in a few hours time; he pulled up his pants, looked around in bewilderment, and crawled back towards comfort.
And I guess that’s the whole point of the festival. It’s not really about what you liked before you got there, it’s about getting as involved in it as you can, ignoring the people (and bands) you don’t like – safe in the knowledge that the positives will always far outweigh them. At the end of every Rocking the Daisies you hear a variation on the same line, “I know we say this every time, but this year was the best one yet”. And there’s no greater compliment for a festival.