The brainchild of composer Johnny Ray, Rockville 2069 is a rock musical which tells the tale of a society’s struggle to make sense of, and stay alive in, the post-apocalyptic world in which they find themselves. In an innovative attempt to promote the musical, the creators of Rockville 2069 have released a graphic novel along with a soundtrack of the songs that were performed in Cape Town earlier this year.
The Story Set in the year 2069, the rock musical centres around a centenary celebration of the iconic Woodstock Festival of 1969. All goes wrong, however, when the earth is destroyed by climate change caused by man’s neglect. One small archipelago of islands, Rockville, survives. Its inhabitants are a group of peace-loving musicians: the Drummers, the Hippies and the Rockers. A protective force field separates them from the uninhabitable conditions caused by the apocalypse but they have to revitalise the shield every day by playing music. Every story needs a villain and in this case it’s the TechnoRemnants, who wish to invade Rockville and keep its sought-after resources for themselves. An epic battle of the bands ensues between the two factions in which there can only be one winner.
Although set in the future, Rockville 2069 tackles interesting issues that we, as society, are dealing with now. There is, of course, the very relevant question of climate change and how it will affect future generations. Moreover, in the beginning of the story, some of the characters debate how the internet has helped musicians. They agree that it has allowed them to distribute their music to a wider audience but that “the culture and passion that birthed” that music has died. This is sci-fi at its best, where an alternate universe is used to describe our own, even if that reality may sometimes be harrowing.
Disappointingly, the plot relies heavily on worn stereotypes to run its course of action. The hippies – who don tie-dye, free-flowing skirts and headbands – use every opportunity presented to them to preach a tiresome mantra of peace and love. This makes way for banal lyrics like “Love one another, like sisters and brothers” on the song “Love Grows”. How many times have we heard that one before? Far too many. As a result, the message the hippies are trying to convey pretty much flies over your head in the same way as that of a relentless Bible pusher.
Then there’s the battle of the bands, with the two factions representing rock and techno music. Pinning the two very different genres against each other is slightly trite and undermines the relevance of electronic music with one character asserting, “That’s not real music,” while another proclaims, “Dance and music? Are these people actually capable of emotion?”
The Soundtrack The soundtrack consists of 22 songs performed by various artists of different backgrounds. Highlights on the soundtrack include “Dance My Friends, Let’s Dance”, a reggae number sung by Tidal Waves frontman Zakes Wulana and Monique Hellenburg. The laid back track, which includes an impressive brass section, is one of the few songs on the album that stays true to the genre that it’s supposed to represent.
“Love Grows” is a jaunty number with a chorus that injects life into it and yet another mighty brass section. It’s the song’s so-called techno counterpart, however, that stands out as an instantly likeable track. Sung by Monique Hellenburg, it sounds like something off a Goldfish album (the songstress having collaborated with the Cape Town duo in the past).
One would think that with Woodstock being at the heart of the plot, the soundtrack would include adaptations of Jimi Hendrix’s wiry guitar and Janis Joplin’s gritty voice for musical theatre. Sadly, this is done meagrely, and disappointingly so, as it could have made the musical really stand out.
The Graphic Novel With the musical’s script on the one side of the page, and illustrations interspersed between it, the graphic novel is not entirely one in the true sense of the word. The illustrations are simple yet striking, but would have benefited from the use of speech bubbles, as in the traditional format of a graphic novel. This is somewhat understandable, though, as Rockville 2069 is a musical first and a graphic novel later. What the format did allow, however, was little character profiles between the script. This is helpful in making sense of the plethora of characters which sometimes makes it difficult to keep up with.
While Rockville 2069 is not entirely flawless, there is no doubt that the concept of releasing a graphic novel to accompany a musical is pioneering. Hopefully, the refreshing initiative to do something like this will pave the way for similar ventures in the future.