Photographs by Aaron Polikoff
The journey to Cloof Wine Estate has become something of a pilgrimage; Rocking the Daisies an annual October ritual for the vast majority of music loving millennials. The festival has raised the bar consistently and astutely over the years, their greening initiatives stoically kept, and the sheer magnitude increasing every spring.
It’s a Thursday now, eleven years down the line, a less-than-comfortable breeze is blowing and by 4pm it has manifested itself into a howling gale. This has done nothing to deter the masses from arriving in droves. A winding snake of cars is visible as far as the eye can see; the campsite is crawling with tents battling the wind and a line of rainbow flags fringing the dam flap furiously. The brand new Bridges for Music stage is bravely pumping out electro beats while echoing thwacks announce the Campsite Stage sound check. Rocking the Daisies, it’s good to see you again.
I can only brave the icy wind long enough to catch The Tazers’ rollicking psych-rock extravaganza. Within minutes the Joburg-hailing rockers have riled the crowd into a mosh-pit mood and I dodge flailing heads and elbows for a good half hour before heading back to camp.
Friday dawns, chilly but bright, and a wander into the now open main arena reveals just how much the festival has expanded. The Green Village has been transformed into an open, vibrant trading zone, quaintly decorated with hanging plants and adorned in temporary thickets of shoulder-high trees. About 20 people are exuberantly hula hooping, and to the left you can cycle up a smoothie. The Superbalist activation station offers both bedazzlement and rope swings, while the Main Stage area is massive, a flapping roof of multicoloured flags forming the striking backdrop. I choose to give Red Tape Riot’s slightly underwhelming quintessential set a miss after one song, but Diamond Thug usher me back with their charming tunes the moment they take to the stage. Chantel Van T is a darling in over-sized rose-coloured glasses and lilting vocals. Their set is slick and slips past with effortless grace.
Several hours later finds me shouldering my way to the railing in anticipation of Native Young. This is their second year gracing the Main Stage and with both an album and a European tour under their belts the African-psycadelic-pop outfit has been high on my schedule since they were announced. Armed with marimbas, bongo drums and an array of guitars, they proceed to play a captivating set of deliciously groovy tracks until they are cut prematurely short by the adamant sound guys.
The Hemp Stage is alive and electric and I arrive just in time for the tail-end of Wandile Mbambeni’s charmingly bouncing set. He’s followed by Well Done Sun, whose unfortunate technical difficulties are offset by their eclectic melodies and satisfying tempo changes.Back at Main Stage Mac Miller is late and pretty underwhelming. I have secured myself a sideline vantage point and stay for all of three songs before turning away. It’s icy, and even the promise of Das Kapital can’t keep me from my tent.
Saturday is off to a slow start and the dismally chill wind prevails. The Lemon Tree Theatre provides some shelter and belly laughs courtesy of Deep Fried Man and his collection of droll parodies. Now it’s 2pm and Matthew Mole has raked in one of the biggest daytime crowds the Main Stage has enjoyed thus far. Backed on drums by Josh Klynsmith (Gangs of Ballet) he powers through his set with the gentle confidence of a musician still slightly perplexed at the attention he has received. His stage presence is undeniable. His performance is unrivalled. The crowd know every word, shriek delightedly when his dad joins him on stage, and roar as he concludes explosively: balancing a water-soaked drum on the hands of the audience and proceeding to beat it till the final note.
An hour later I am back for Hugh Masekela, worming my way into an impassioned crowd as Bra Hugh, slightly stooped but fiery-eyed as ever, soaks us in a glorious collection of deeply African songs. “Welcome to the township furnace!” he calls halfway through his set, and we roar in jubilant return. This performance is a treat of note.
The sun drops and the temperature with it. After donning the necessary multiple layers of clothing, I proceed to divest myself of them as Crimson House’s Hemp Stage performance spins the audience into a frenzy of fun. Abandoning them halfway through we skid into the packed Main Stage crowd just in time to catch Mango Groove’s final tracks. It’s over 30 years down the line and Claire Johnson has lost none of her verve. The pennywhistle is as sharp as ever, the energy is electric and the crowd, old and young, knows almost every word.
It comes as no surprise that Grassy Spark proceeds to play one of the most riveting performances of the entire festival. These guys know how to make a crowd move and they stop at nothing to get there. They are on fire from the moment they step onto stage, brimming and overflowing with unparalleled energy. Khaos Cotterall and Rudebobobos (The Rudimentals) saunter on only to add to flaming sparks, and by the end of the set I half wonder if Foster the People can top this.
They can’t. Despite their slick performance, unrivalled professionalism and crystalline psych-infused sound, there is something distinctly lacking. Dressed all in white and vaguely resembling a collection of clones or scientists, they barely interact with the audience and slip quietly from one song into another. Even “Pumped Up Kicks” doesn’t quite have the necessary kick and they depart the stage with little fanfare save for the multi-coloured firework display which goes up minutes later.
Sunday dawns, bright and sunny, and we can finally peel off the layers and venture with confidence into the open. The Plastics and Desmond and the Tutu’s wrap up the Main Stage with impressive vigour and in spite of the general mass evacuation of festival goers the two raked in remarkable crowds for the festival’s explosive conclusion. The Beach Bar is thumping but my feet are far too tired. Daisies darling, we’ll see you next year.