Photographs by Shae Frank.
For those less inclined to take the annual big trek up north for Oppikoppi this year, One Night in Cape Town has you covered. The international acts of the grungy rock festival are hosted over the span of several days over various stages throughout the Mother City; and South African-born, USA-relocated KONGOS, high on the list for those of us who have known and loved the alt-rockers for years, are aptly hosted at Hillcrest Quarry.
Located at the mouth of the rehabilitated quarry in the heart of Durbanville Hills, this venue is something of a hidden gem which deserves far more attention and could easily play host to some of the worlds’ biggest musical names – if it weren’t for the somewhat limited capacity. The parking lot is situated right at the top of the quarry, and by the time I arrive Sannie Fox’s lilting timbre is floating from the dusky purple stage below. I take a moment to appreciate the rocky walls, thrown into sharp relief by roaming lights, before beginning the descent into the venue.
Despite being the middle of Cape Town winter, it’s a balmy night and early-comers are spilled across the lawn, swaying gently to Sannie’s rolling sound which is wafting from the stage. We haven’t eaten and made our way to the scanty food stalls in search of fuel. An overzealous trader and a definitive lack of self-control on our part see us leaving with a bizarre chip-salad concoction which we pick at gingerly as Sawagi prance onto the stage.
The Japanese four-piece toured with Shortstraw during their Japan tour in 2014 and the local indie-rockers brought them to South Africa early last year as special guests at their “Youthless” launch – so I am a little peeved when the underwhelming MC informs us of our apparent lack of knowledge of the group. If nobody knew who they were before, however, they certainly will now. Their infectious, genre-breaching blend of dance-funk anthems are some of the most original and eclectic I have come across of late. Fizzing with energy and simply ecstatic to be here, they plough through their set, pausing only to eagerly greet us several songs in. Their energy is contagious and I laugh as the front man delightedly raises his hands in a heart at the close of their set. We pass them later in the crowd and trade a congratulatory high five.
Taxi Violence is up next. Twelve years in the running and with a wealth of accolades and awards under their belt, one can always trust the Captionan rock ’n rollers to put on a good show. It’s been several years since I saw them last and while they have lost none of their zesty stage presence I feel their latest offerings have a slightly watered down quality. Their bubbling energy is enough to bring even the last stragglers to their feet, however, and even two technical glitches part way through their set do little to quell their vigour.
It’s getting chilly now and we squeeze deeper into the crowd both to secure a decent vantage point and steal some warmth as we wait for KONGOS. The last time they toured South Africa was in 2012, and now with a brand new album, Egomaniac, hot off the press, their set promises to be a memorable one. The four brothers grew up in London and Johannesburg before relocating to Arizona several years ago. A lot may have changed since they last graced our stages but their energy is as palpable as ever – and from the moment they bound onto the stage behind a thick screen of white smoke the audience is wrapt.
A selection of oldies eases us into their set and the die-hard fans filling the core of the crowd are screaming along to “Sex on the Radio” with impassioned grace within seconds. A selection of old and new tracks create the bulk of their set and they bounce neatly between them. The heady, pitching vocals of “Take it From Me” follow up on the grinding baritones of “Come With Me Now”. Their live performance is as gritty and polished as they come. All four brothers contribute in varying degrees to the vocals while Johnny’s piping accordion transgression contributes perhaps the key element in what makes these guys so different. Although their sound smells vaguely of the twisted stylings of the Black Keys and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, there is a solid, foundational edge which is wholly theirs.
They invite their stage manager, Mo Gordon to join them about halfway through their set: tiny and donned all in green he proceeds to wow the entire audience with a mash-up of an original rap verse and a collaborative rendition “Come Together” by The Beatles.
We decide to leave one song early, in order to fully appreciate just how well the quarry actually serves as an acoustic venue. It takes all of five minutes to climb and gain a decent vantage point: of the blue-lit quarry and a sea of heads, as the band bring their set to a tumultuous close on, “I’m Only Joking” – and it is quite something to have their poignant lyrics thrown up at one from the lookout of a cliff edge.
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