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In Review: Winter Solstice at Mercury Live

A progressive feat for Cape Town's local rock scene.

4 Jul 2016 / Opinion / written by Marike Watson / James Stein Photography

Another Mother City Music event marked last Saturday’s calendar slot as four Capetonian outfits brought an incomparable amount of talent to the fore in a showcase pieced together as an evening of good-natured rock ‘n’ roll during the same week of the annual Winter Solstice. Jerseys, jumpers, and jackets intermittently shuffled through Mercury’s doors as a growing crowd gathered in the venue upstairs, patiently awaiting the first act of the night.

Caelo ignited the evening’s hard-driven sound with a forceful and dynamic set that harnessed an incredible level of volume despite the group’s comparatively smaller size as a three-piece. Their performance instantly outstrips expectation, moving along phrases led by both guitar and bass parts in an edgy, yet equally melodic manner. Their melodies match one another at times, intricately scaling across the separate fretboards as they play off of each other. Caelo’s overarching style is surprisingly heavier than what the recent release of their first single, ‘All You Need,’ is indicative of. The audience welcomes the additional grit, eagerly nodding away at the boldly delivered rhythms sustained in each track. Lead vocalist and guitarist Joel Bronner occasionally falls to his knees as he unreservedly shreds through certain instrumental interludes packed within the duration of their act. Tim Moolman, vocalist of The Dirty South, joins the group onstage with sharp roaring vocals for a hard-hitting finale of a fresh set that undeniably secures a handful of new followers in its wake.

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After a short and efficient gear change break The Sleepers comfortably take control of the platform in a discordant rendering of sound undoubtedly chaotic in form – and purposely so. ‘Porcelain Jaw’ and ‘Relic’ off their latest EP serves as the ingress of their set, both tracks fluidly unearthed from a turbulently structured introduction. The room is dimly lit as only a few select lights cast their glow against the now silhouetted figures of the group. Daniel Botha’s vocals emerge in an arresting manner, proven malleable as it moves in either coarse or powerfully clean directions.  An equivalently arranged ebb and flow extends throughout the instrumentation of each track in which a bolstering pattern of fuzzy rhythm guitar or a meticulously timed drum fill contribute towards an imitated push and pull likened to a tug-of-war regarding sound. The audience appears engrossed by this motion whilst hanging on every last syllable and line of progression The Sleepers uniformly produce. Their act advertently comes to a less progressive close in the culmination of a gentler ballad, Botha admitting beforehand how they “tried to stay up-tempo.” It affords their performance an avenue of calm that cleverly subdues its foregoing dimension of chaos.

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The overriding setting, however, quickly transitions back to its former standing in the buzzing and hardened strain of the evening’s final two outfits. Vocalist and guitarist Chris Bornman opens Stoker’s set, gently strumming and singing the first few bars of ‘A Stranger Throne’ unaccompanied until the first instrumental break where the group’s remaining members swiftly make their way to the stage. A new wave of energy immediately injects itself into the surrounding crowd as bodies begin to moderately sway and then jump in a dancing frenzy throughout the entire length of Stoker’s set.

Bornman’s enthusiasm is infectious as he encourages the mass of folks in the space before them to continue moving. Tufts of hair fly about beneath the platform in archetypal headbanging fashion as each proceeding hook is crisply attained. It’s an unapologetic vibrancy, relentless in its execution from a bracing cover of Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’ to the integrated ring of a timely cowbell. Morgan O’Kennedy skilfully presents his drumming precision in a monstrous percussive feat through the rather uncommon use of a minimally assembled kit. Their set ends triumphantly as stage lights hung at the centre of the room’s ceiling sporadically flash upon gleaming faces of the audience attuned to the final gripping rhythms and groove Stoker indisputably leaves in the trail of their departure.

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Within minutes The Dirty South passionately launch their set just after the stroke of midnight, regardless of a now visibly emptier venue. Moolman’s raspingly sung vocals and raw screams compliment the classic-flavoured rock that encompasses their decidedly harsher sound. Those who’ve elected to stay are clearly as passionate and dedicated as the band is to the ensuing mayhem of this specific breed of rock. Moolman’s fellow bandmates fervently sing along to every word, connecting with one another onstage in kindred and brotherly spirits. Their affinity for the city is discerned in distinct explanatory intros to ‘Devils Playground’ as a track about “a little place called Observatory” and ‘Mother City Blues’ as a song concerning the city of Cape Town itself. A single “Fuck yeah!” or “Rad!” is remarked after each number, demonstrating an extent of keen satisfaction cheerfully withdrawn from the act of jamming alone.

The remaining crowd is hurled into a fast-paced concluding state, aptly depicted in the lyrics of ‘Crossroads’ as a wild vigour following the submission of one’s “mind to rock ‘n’ roll.” Their set successfully ties into the evening’s line-up and subsequent turnout, consequently debunking any scepticism of a vibrant and thriving local hard rock scene through an event that offered its attendees just exactly that.

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