Cape Town Electronic Music Festival brings the noise

The floorboards of the Cape Town city hall swell with youthful enthusiasm on Saturday night during the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival. As I ride tide beneath my feet, I can’t help but get swept up in the moment and join the throng of people jumping up and down to Mr Carmack’s trap set. A loud cheer escapes when he switches to dub-step through a quick break-beat. Meanwhile, outside on the terrace the sun has just disappeared behind one of the looming buildings and the Munnibrotherz are playing a very energetic electro-house set. The terrace is packed and the queue waiting to get in is almost static, but I make it in time to witness the same revered respect that I witnessed for all the other South African DJs that have played before them. Munnibrotherz display some hip-hop finesse and scratch in the kick of a second track with a deep electro house sound that was the product of the setting. It’s a sound that appeals to everybody on the terrace, as it pulses its way through the floor all the way to the people in the back. The outside system does the duo justice and they rinse every last drop out of the bottom end without distorting their sound. It’s remarkably loud and incredibly clear for the outside space, and it’s not even the best system in the house (but more on that in a bit). The bass-bin shakes against my pelvis and I realise I might have to pee if this carries on. But I can’t. I don’t want to risk the queue back onto the floor since DJ Mujava and Spoko are up next. Even my media badge won’t guarantee entry back onto the floor through the egalitarian security guard who has everybody’s safety as his principal concern – I even saw him turn away one of the organisers earlier – and its a DJ duo I wont get to see again soon anytime in Europe. DJ Mujava appears suddenly, without much warning, atop a bass-bin, donning a red tupac-esque bandana, sunglasses and a black over-sized t-shirt with the line #amandla (power) on the front. His stern physiognomy dictates a cool air while he dances in pantsula to the first track selected by DJ Spoko. He’s back behind the decks in hurry though and mixes in the next kwaito-infused house track. It’s a sound completely unique to South Africa and it’s the first time I really feel like I’m in an exotic music location. After jumbling through a few mixes, some of which are a little crash-bang, we find ourselves at the reason DJ Mujava is such a known entity outside of South Africa. He slips in Township Funk somewhat haphazardly to an ecstatic audience and returns to his pedestal in front of the booth. The audience is in rapturous awe, and even though Mujava’s Dj skills betray him occasionally, he gives the audience the spectacle that his introverted counterparts aren’t inclined to give from behind their laptop screens. I stay for Robot vs Rocket, which features Bruno Morphet as one half of Killer Robot. There are five people behind the decks, it’s a back-to-back-to-back-back-to-back and there’s very little room for the guys to manoeuvre around each other. They take turns building their set through some progressive house, but just before it starts teetering on the tedious, Mr Morphet drops in a big Techno kick that stops me dead in my tracks. I suddenly recall the night before.

My Friday night began looking up at the main hall’s organ, completely in awe of the work that had gone into the lighting and stalactite projection screens dropping down from the ceiling of the old building. Even the red-bull logo, which masked the organ pipes, didn’t seem to spoil the general appearance from my unimpeded view on the sparsely populated dance floor. HVOB, an Austrian group that have a few followers in SA it seems, are playing their brand of vocal fronted techno. It’s the perfect start to the festival for me as their floating synths and visceral vocals ease me in to the festival and especially the sound system that I would fall in love with by Sunday. My first spiritual sound experience came by way of Anja Schneider on the night. After the somewhat lacklustre Tech-house that preceded the German DJ, she introduced the festival to the capabilities of the incredible sound system by coming in hard and fast at around 130BPM with a sound that would bring Berghain to its knees. I was expecting her to continue along the lines of HVOB judging from her own work, but the DJ held nothing back as she pushed the main hall to that next level. The next level being the platform from which Loco Dice would destroy any bit of sanity left in us and crush CTEMF. We should’ve known better when the DJ appeared on stage with a noise warning on his cap. The Cape Town audience welcomed the international DJ on stage with deafening applause nonetheless and we were soon reminded why he is a superstar DJ. We are so quick to dismiss DJs who’ve garnered popularity, suggesting that they conscribe to a mainstream sound that doesn’t appeal to our left-field sentimentalities, but Loco Dice showed us immediately why some DJs deserve the accolade when they are clearly on top of their game. He brought a heavy techno sound with rapid, hard-hitting kicks to the Cape Town city hall that had everyone on their feet and thrusting uncontrollably. He seemed to have an inherent knowledge of the sound system tweaking the tracks just right to interlace effortlessly with each other – a skill that alluded slugabed the next day when he appeared to be playing you-tube-ripped samples sporadically. Loco Dice’s set might have been somewhat functional, with very little deviation from the prescribed formula, but the formula worked in the setting and it did feature a consistency that never had a dull moment. Even a swung hip-hop beat made an appearance and when he played a heavy techno edit of house of god, I was in complete awe. I looked to my right at some stage and I realised Bruno Morphet was in the same frame of mind, pumping his fists while cheering Loco Dice on. I believe it might have had an influence on him the next day when he broke out the Techno while the other guys still wallowed in their progressive house phase.

The Sunday came upon us somewhat abruptly and it was with a heavy heart and a thick head that I staggered back to the Cape Town city hall for one last night of musical bliss. The beer I consume hastily upon my arrival stems the advent of the excesses from the previous nights to a manageable level. I find myself outside on a packed terrace again. The excellent weather continues to shine down on the festival. Everybody is dressed in shorts, some shorter than others, and sporting a luminescent glow only the sun could outshine. Burn to Tape are deep into their house set and once again the packed terrace is bobbing up and down to the local DJ duo’s set. If Cape Town Electronic Music festival has shown me one thing by now, it is that there’s a wealth of South African talent out there that fit seamlessly alongside some of Europe’s DJing elite. But the crowd know this already and although someone like Loco Dice might get the big cheer, there’s no end of support for their local acts. The way the festival is programmed is also ingenious and highlights much of the local talent in the context of what is essentially an international festival. I make my way back to the main hall for precisely this reason. Four Tet will be on within the hour, but local legend Felix La Band will be opening the floor for him. Felix’s music is distinctly South African, using rhythms serendipitous with kwaito in a down-tempo house format. He often includes samples from the annals of South African history, whether it’s the correct pronunciation of the Xhosa tongue or a speech that cuts close to the political bone of the country. When I had met local artist James Webb earlier that week, he described Felix’s music as a collage, and the imagery that was flitting over the projection during his set only bolstered Mr. Webb’s opinion as cut-outs floated around the screens. I had seen Felix at Cape Town’s Sonar a couple of months earlier and I looked forward to hearing his music through a superior system, but nothing could prepare me for what was about to unfold. His beautiful arrangements, which effortlessly moved from acoustic samples to electronics, soothed my retreating hangover and delivered me into a euphoric bliss I had not experienced in that situation since Nils Frahm. He would occasionally tease with a beat, while retreating to the rear of the stage, lazily plunging his head into his chest to the rhythm. The crowd responds and the front row sway in unison. I notice the same man in the sequenced fedora from the night before and am reminded of what a contrast this is to riot that ensued when Lazer shark, raised the roof with their heavy breed of drum bass, a mere 18 hours earlier in the same venue, to a crowd that fell into perfect sync to drum and bass’ pummelling. It is Sunday after all, and the reverential setting might have stirred a musical veneration in some. Four Tet takes the stage shortly after to the same rapturous applause that sees Felix la Band off and the lights and the setting all work in his favour. From the gallery, I see the audience swell exponentially, but I’m not surprised the mostly South African audience is still as enthusiastic as they were on the opening night. Even the languid South African summer does little to curtail the crowd’s excitement. Four Tet riffs through For these times as he squelches the track out through the mixer’s filter, and when the big beat eventually returns, the room explodes with exaltations over the rumble of low end frequencies.

I take this as my cue to end my evening and the weekend. I want to end it on high. I want to savour that particular moment as the final moment, the moment that all that has come before has led up to. I don’t want to corrupt the memory of the event with the drunken fatigue that I will no doubt endure if I continue on my current path. I want to enjoy the memory in sober clarity as I spill the words into my keyboard. CTEMF is with out a doubt one of the best festivals I’ve been to in recent years. The venue, line-up, and lighting were above par. The sound was better than anything I had experienced of late and many of the artists knew how to bring out its best qualities. There was no mid-range cut or ridiculous noise restriction that often occur through the gentrified systems of Europe, and even though it was loud, it never left you with the irrepressible ring of tinnitus in your ear. I’ve been introduced to many new South African acts I look forward to hearing more from in the future. I’ve also been subjected to what a superstar DJ is capable of in the right circumstances. It’s world-class-event and It has all the makings of a destination festival. I just couldn’t be critical about a single aspect of it. Even the ticket prices are reasonable and the drinks are, well they are potent and they are cheap. I could stay longer and watch Culoe de Song or Octave one to see things through to the bitter end, but I want to get all this out before it falls into the abyss of my scattered recollection. I’ve almost  I make my way home through the refreshing breeze blowing in from the ocean and Four Tet’s set still ringing in my ears.