Johannesburg is a formidable city, a city of gold, of danger and now recently – however unlikely it may have seemed – a city of rock gods. On 5 October Vodacom Unlimited In The City launched what is to become an annual event. An event that sees international artists brought to South Africa to cure the nation’s post-Oppikoppi depression.
Mary Fitzgerald Square was transformed from its everyday monotonous existence into a contemporary Cinderella and the crowd partied way into the early hours of a derelict Jo’burg morning – praise be to Newtown and Red Bull.
The stage loomed over the crowds, high enough for everyone to get a good view, supplemented by a large screen on the right. The smoking area was more of a suggestion filled with attractive couches, serving more as a kiosk for cigarettes than a designated area for the addicted. Despite there being only a single bar, the bar fridges were full and the bartenders eager. Let the entertainment commence.
Shadowclub popped the evening’s cherry, a little worrying as the three-piece band tends to either blow minds or fly over them. Despite the nail-biting anticipation, Shadowclub proved to be the pied pipers, seducing the crowd towards the apex of what was slowly morphing into a crowd bent on getting its live music fix. The boys played a set of hard-hitting, up-tempo tracks, only slowing it down for the afterglow of sex and rock and roll. There was one last spurt of energy, leaving the crowd to manage their heart rates.
Then calm before some Peaches (Yesterday’s Pupil) and Tumi. It was like having dessert before dinner – a little naughty but absolutely delicious. So scrumptious, in fact, that a bra found its way to the stage and pretty much became a prop, hanging over Peach’s mic. Although, it was just a white T-shirt bra, not exactly the vessel through which groupie passion is usually presented. But the duo impressed and the crowd bounced to the hip hop-electro beat. It was a little saddening, however, when Tumi retreated for a lengthy period in the middle of the set, but order was restored once he re-joined Peach, their individual styles melding effortlessly. Definitely one of the best collaborations witnessed this year.
Die Antwoord was next and the prospect of seeing Bloc Party almost tangible. The crowd became tenacious, tension filling every edge of Mary Fitzgerald Square and a lot more excitable than the one and only bar had anticipated. Spending an hour waiting for a drink was irksome and tiring but nothing could dampen the waves of electricity flowing from and to the stage.
Say what you want about Die Antwoord, but they sure as hell know how to put on a damn good performance. The bass was deafening in the front, the masses bathing in the eccentric and the profane.
The pair are right at home on a large stage and Yolandi bounced around on every inch of it like a little girl on a sugar rush, her shirt reading “F*ck You F*ckin F*ck”. And wouldn’t you know it? The Evil Boy icon inflated during the “Evil Boy” track, emasculating every male within a five-kilometre radius. Although Ninja seemed unperturbed, gyrating with his manhood noticeably … unrestrained.
The lights go out. A haze of herb-infused delight hangs over the audience. They’re getting restless and anxious as they surge to get as close to the front as possible. All the symptoms of pre-international act jitters. After what feels like a lifetime, the London boys of Bloc Party step onto the stage. The crowd is excited, but who could have anticipated that the next hour would be pure musical ecstasy?
However dramatic it may seem, the experience of watching Bloc Party live was damn near spiritual. “Are you having a good time?” shouts Kele Okereke into the mic, “Of course you are, I can smell the marijuana from here.” And back they dove into the set, unrelentingly, no mercy for the meek until they suddenly walked off the stage. The disappointment raged through the crowd who screamed, “Encore!” A few minutes later and the boys are back, Matt Tong looking like a nerdy version of Tom Sawyer, shirtless and in cut-off jeans. Okereke announces that it’s now the second half of their performance and the audience loses it. “Do you like it hard here?” asks Okereke to a surge of affirmation. “I warned you,” he cautions and he wasn’t lying as the mic stand is smashed to the ground, the Bloc Party crew scrambling on and off stage trying to keep up with Okereke’s whims. By the time the second half is over people are emotional wrecks. It was only fitting that “Helicopter” was the last track played, although some might have been disappointed that “The Prayer” didn’t make the set. After an act like that, who really cares?
In the aftermath, worn out, dazed individuals wandered Mary Fitzgerald Square trying to find themselves once more and not even the 500m walk to the Oriental Plaza was daunting, though the security must have been in camouflage with barely two perceptible along the path. But beer seemed to cure that hesitation most effectively as birds of, if not rather ruffled, feathers flocked in groups and reveled in the excitement and sights of the evening.
In The City has set the standard quite high for themselves with expectations of a line-up that needs to match this year’s mind-boggling performances. It looks like In The City has an annual event that will become a staple in every gig addict’s diary.
Photos: JP Nathrass