What Hipsters Have Taught Me About The Cape Town Music Scene

You see them everywhere. They flock to vintage stores like moths to a flame, drawn by buzzwords like exclusive, one-of-a-kind retro pieces. They hang out in places that are deemed ‘cool’, not because they are popular, but rather for the playlist, the crowd and the notion of being in the know. This is the Cape Town hipster music scene, and I’ll be your guide.

Studying in Stellenbosch meant that the music undercurrent that was infiltrating Cape Town a couple of years ago took a bit longer to reach our bubble. But little by little, it spread, and we heard how psychedelic rock was all the rage. Now, the genre has been around since the 60s (an understandable point of origin due its intimate relationship with psychedelic drugs) however more and more bands started emerging that were taking on the genre and making it relevant again. And if there’s one thing a hipster likes, it’s revival. Bands like The Black Angels, Tame Impala and Wooden Shjips formed, drawing in fans with their neo-psychedelia inspiration. This resulted in other genres emerging, allowing for psychedelic-pop, metal and other colourful interpretations to form. Sensing an opportunity here, the ever popular Psych Night at the Assembly was born. And the genre was about to reach full-mainstream.

Capetonians have been treated to the likes of Night Beats, one of the bands I usually use as a point of reference when trying to describe the genre, who made their merry way to Cape Town in 2013 for a packed show with every hipster and their diverse crew in tow. I remember the ticket price being around R140 and for a talented international band, that felt like a steal. There were a number of local bands performing, which drew a varied crowd, all excited by their mutual love of the genre. The local line up featured the likes of Bilderberg Motel and Wild Eastern Arches, two bands that readily set the stage for the performance that followed.

But something has changed in the movement. It could have been after The Black Angels announced their tour of South Africa, only to cancel and refund all the sold tickets, or more to do with mediocre bands who detract rather than add to the psychedelic-rock genre. Towards the end of last year, The Black Lips were the headliner for Psych Night. I was surprised by the number of fans that popped up (considering I had never heard of them before) as well as the type of crowd it drew at Assembly. Having listened to some of their stuff before the show, I hoped that their live performance could maybe explain what their music could not – why were they worthy of a headlining show?  Most of the fan-base seemed to be made up of very young students, who were willing to shell out for the very expensive tickets- costing about R400. Inflation’s a bitch. I realised after watching their performance, which personally felt like a lacklustre, watered-down imitation of other psychedelic bands, that the hipsters knew something that I didn’t, and that was that the movement had moved on. In that sense, you have to give credit where it’s due. Hipsters, for all the pretentiousness that is associated with them, have the right idea when it comes to music. Their quest for originality and authenticity is a noble one, in that those qualities are what we should be getting from the music scene, on a local and international stage. This allows for talented bands to actually thrive, rather than an oversaturated average music scene.

2 Comments

  1. Julian

    March 7, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    “..we heard how psychedelic rock was all the rage. Now, the genre has been around since the 60s (an understandable point of origin due its intimate relationship with psychedelic drugs)”
    That sounds more like a description of hippies.

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