The South African music festival scene
13 January 2016
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Brad Brown: Welcome back onto Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now, talking music once again here on the podcast and taking a break from the National Choir Festival, looking at some other music festivals that take place around the country. I must say, my first exposure to music festivals in SA was many years ago, a festival called OppiKoppi.
Which was a small little festival back then, but it’s really grown into an institution on the South African music calendar. It’s put on by an organisation called Hilltop Live and joining us now is one of the guys from Hilltop who is very involved with OppiKoppi, Misha Loots. Welcome, nice to touch base once again, thanks for joining us.
Misha Loots: Thanks Brad.
OppiKoppi has grown into an impressive festival
BB: Misha, OppiKoppi has really grown into something else. I remember when I first went, I don’t want to say it was small and clunky because it was a fantastic festival many years ago, I’m not going to give my age away now, but it’s definitely grown and expanded into probably one of the must-attend festivals in the country.
ML: Yes, very early on the thing sort of got a life of its own and we’ve just been trying to hold on for dear life. A lot has happened, almost all of it has happened very organically and naturally. We’re not very clever people, we just like rock n roll, so we can’t take too much credit for it. It’s something that just sort of grew.
BB: I’m going to share a memory which probably will give my age away, but I was MC’ing one of the years. I can’t remember which year it was and I was up on, I think it was the main stage. I had to introduce the band Sugar Drive – that shows you how long ago this was – I got up on stage and was revving the crowd up. Just before I was supposed to announce the band, I forgot the name of the band that I was actually introducing.
ML: That’s not uncommon! Lots of things get forgotten at OppiKoppi.
BB: Exactly, let’s talk about the state of music festivals in 2015 and 2016 now, is it in a healthy place Misha? They grow and we see it from the outside, I haven’t been to an OppiKoppi or a RAMfest for a while. But is it continuing to grow or have the numbers plateaued and it’s always new people coming in? What’s it looking like right now?
How are festivals going?
ML: At OppiKoppi, it’s a unique beast because it’s very harsh conditions. What we did was to bring the bands in, actually going on 10 years now, we’ve been adding bands and that’s been growing and that’s sort of opened it up to people who got over the totally being drunk and falling around on the campsite.
But people who actually want to come and watch the music. We’re lucky in that sense and we have people who come now, who bring their kids who were conceived there, sort of going into the second generation. If it wasn’t for that, then I think the numbers would have stayed where it was because you can only do it yourself up to a certain age.
A lot of the other festivals that’s a bit more, I’m not sure what the correct word is, ‘easy’ on the body. A lot of it is linked to the environment that the festival takes place in and a lot of it is linked to the line-up. The festival industry has been growing in a sense of there’s more festivals and there’s more festivals that actually make it.
There was a while where there were a lot of new ones popping up and they’d be there for a year and then they’re gone. I mean a an other festival they turned 10 already, RAMfest is turning 10 this year. Splashy has been going forever. I don’t know if I’m answering your question Brad, I think I’ve lost the train a bit there.
BB: Absolutely, I think you definitely hit it on the head there. Misha, looking at some of the other festivals, you talk about the amount of competition, does that put pressure on you guys as an event organiser to keep raising the bar year after year? You talk about OppiKoppi and you’re given the canvas on what you can work on, is it difficult to come up with new ideas and new things to bring to each festival each year?
How to you keep on innovating?
ML: I don’t think it’s difficult, I think it’s essential. We’re in a creative industry and it’s not just the artists that’s creating. We create experienced and memories for people and for us, that’s very important. With OppiKoppi specifically, we spend a lot of time figuring out how we’re going to interact with the audience. How we’re going to move them around, how we’re going to add value to them and that’s all part of the creative process. I think it’s crucial for festivals to do that.
The pressure is what we put on ourselves almost. We don’t want to have a festival that looks the same next year as it did last year. We don’t sit and think, oh did Splashy do this, this year, so we must do that next year, that’s never part of the thought process. It’s about creating the best festivals we can. It’s not always easy, but that’s part of the fun.
BB: As far as the state of the South African music industry, with regards to artists and musicians and bands, are we in a good space as it stands right now?
Artists lack venues to perform
ML: It’s a tricky question. I think there’s more artists that make a living with playing music than there’s ever been, but there’s a lot of them that’s really struggling. I think the biggest problem that we have at the moment is the lack of sustainable venues. If you’re an artist, it’s very tricky to find a lot of venues.
I think that’s a big problem. If we had a nice circuit of venues, you know in America or Europe, there’s a circuit. You start by playing the 50 capacity rooms, then you go to 150 capacity rooms and you build your way up like that. For us, we don’t have that.
If you look at Jo’burg, there’s a couple of small clubs and there’s the Baseline at a 1 000 people and then there’s The Dome, 17 000 people and then FNB Stadium with 90 000 people, that’s the biggest issue I think at the moment. In terms of recording and talent and creative musicians writing amazing music, we don’t have a problem, we’ve got lots of that. It’s where do they perform that gets tricky.
BB: Let’s talk about the festivals that you as Hilltop Live put on. We’ve mentioned OppiKoppi, we’ve also mentioned RAMfest. Tell us a little bit about RAMfest for people who haven’t heard about it and don’t know much about it. Give us a bit of background on that one.
What RAMfest is all about
ML: RAMfest was actually started by the Fourie brothers in Stellenbosch and we are partners with them on the event. It turns 10 this year, we actually just announced the date yesterday with the first artists, which is the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and that happens next year in March.
We do two shows, one in Cape Town, one in Pretoria or just outside of Pretoria, so we’re busy working on the rest of the line-up and we’ll announce people as we go along. RAM stands for Real Alternative Music, so over the years we’ve had great rock acts, some really nice acts play at the festival.
BB: Brilliant. As far as other festivals that you guys are involved in, what else are you up to?
Hear Jazz at the DRUMBbeat Soweto Festival
ML: We do the DRUMBbeat Soweto Festival which is a jazz festival, it takes place at the Soweto Theatre, which is in August next year. We do the Hart van Windhoek Festival which takes place in Namibia. We’re involved with the Dullstroom Winter Festival, which is a small folky, bluesy festival that takes place in Dullstroom in the winter. Which is lovely, like 1 000 people, but it’s a whole weekend of fishing and mountain biking and trail running and Blues and lots of whisky.
What else? I’m missing something. Around OppiKoppi we do the One Night in Cape Town, which is more like a small one-day festival, just because of the acts we bring out, we do the One Night in Cape Town, it’s become a brand on its own. That’s it now.
BB: It sounds amazing. If you want to find out all the details of what they’re up to, the website to get to is hilltoplive.co.za, that’s where you can get all the details. Misha, thanks so much for your time once again here on Old Mutual Live, we look forward to catching up again soon, all the best for 2016 for you and yours.
ML: Thank you Brad, you must have a good one.