In Review: Malkop Rock Festival

We hurtled along the strandveld of the N7 for four hours to the Malkop soutpan and the heat became increasingly relentless with every kilometre we ate up. Like lurkers at the edge of a circle of scummy, smoky light pulsating to LCD strobe-stroke EDM, we’d hunkered in the dark long enough for someone to take note – they were waiting for us at the entrance. They were Christ-figures with tattoos. They were dishevelled and disorganized and amazing. They were offering themselves to us, the last of the takhare. It was a sparse crowd, a sparse field, a sparse surrounding redolent with rooinaeltjies and the smell of the ocean and ample space for a lot of fokol to grow in. The pan was a frying pan and we flew up amongst the heatwaves radiating from it, navigating pockets of hitte from shade to shade like scuttling lizards. With us were the very old and the very young, the very high and the very sober, the bric-a-brac of Cape Town, the Wes-Kus locals with nothing better to do, the giants of genuine, great, authentic South African rock ‘n roll. There was Koos Kombuis, who played 2 sets, and there was Valiant Swart, the Mystic Boer himself. There was Piet Botha in his various incarnations and there was Jan Blohm, the addict-turned-troubadour tortured soul left out in the cold by the death of MK. There was Sons of Trout, a 90’s nu-grunge band come together for a reunion show. There was Gerald Clark and Arno Carstens and The Young Folks and The Plastics. And then there were some of the best of Cape Town’s burgeoning push for real, raw, radio-less music – Retro Dizzy, Black Lung, The Valleys, and Beast, the inheritors of the torch, the reluctant – or unwitting – flame-bearers of substance and authenticity in Saffa music. It was, all things considered, very much a tale of two times set in one country, united by lust and a need for everything to stay the same and also change unrecognisably and as quickly as possible.

People were talking, whispering, that this festival was exactly like the ones they held a decade or so ago. Certainly there were no boets, beach bars or bouncing balls. It was dry, deserted, poorly attended, bursting with a kind of delicious, misguided nostalgia that had everyone reflect at least once on how bad things had become for us to be forced up the West Coast to see music that doesn’t require vast quantities of MDMA to digest. The sun circled the pan like a halo hovering over Christ’s head on the cross, and most every set was better than the last. We were the sacrifices and the die-hards and the bittereinders. It was like the organizers had brought along the Cape Town bands in the hope of instilling some kind of work ethic in them that extended beyond niche fame and underground cult status if only to make some kind of break and get the fuck out of the Dodge that the lifestyle fests had become. Break down, build back up again. Like a crop cycle, we were sprouting, hardened by hopelessness, alwyne breaking through the crust of an earth that’s been stomped flat and lifeless by millions of wifebeater-wearing wankers. It was at times old, bone-dry, a crackle from the past over a draadloos – Valiant performed solo, as did Blohm, in his now trademark two-man band act, and although the class was there, the message has become scratched and faded over the years – great for greatness’ sake, but no longer vital or capable of driving anything forward other than booze down throats. And yet, bands like Beast and Black Lung yanked us straight back into the now and did so dancing on feet with blood in the cracks from making the journey, waving at the old-guard as they did so. It’s fresh, fast, furious, but missing the essential politicism of the Voelvry brigade. Yet here, in the dusty arena, in the face of 30 kids screaming themselves hoarse for more vitriol, more fire, there is some kind of baptism. The old becomes the new, and the seed is sown, and so the cycle continues, and the essentialism of it all might look different, but as long as it’s not measured in BPM or amount of women harassed during, by god we’ll take it. Even if we have to hang ourselves on a cross of heat in the desert to do so.

 

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