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Mercury Live: The Old Ship That Just Won’t Sink

A closer look at how Mercury Live has survived where other live music venues in Cape Town have not.

20 Oct 2017 / Interview / written by Richard Liefeldt / Pics by Josh Rijneke

Starting out as The Jam over twenty years ago Mercury Live quickly won the hearts of live music lovers in Cape Town and has gone on to outlast almost every other music venue in the Mother City. Things hit a bit of a snag in 2015 after Kevin Winder and Sean Wienand sold the business, but since its reopening under new ownership it’s been business as usual. We spoke to the current part-owner of Mercury Live, Tim Moolman, about the current state of affairs and the future of everyone’s beloved music venue.

Richard Liefeldt: So it’s 2017 and Mercury is still alive and kicking when so many venues in Cape Town have died. Who do we have to thank for keeping the ship afloat?

Tim Moolman: There are quite a few names I could mention. There are many that have come and gone and left their fingerprints all over the place. I got involved with organizing events at Mercury halfway into 2016 and started working with people with the same hunger and passion for music as I have.

The people in and around the scene, the amazing staff members that we currently have who are always on their toes and are always prepared to work, those are the ones to thank in my opinion. The ones who have faith in the venue Mercury was and the venue Mercury is becoming. They’re the ones who’re really driving that progress.

RL: The scene is forever evolving and morphing in Cape Town, with genres fighting for dominance. How do you as an owner of Mercury stay involved and in touch with the fickle beast that is our scene?

TM: During my first few years in this scene I was lucky enough to start working at Kill City Blues which allowed me to meet a large majority of the bands that perform in and around Cape Town.

Meeting all these new people and creating friendships with them has allowed me to have my feelers, for lack of a better phrase, in most genres. I can’t think of anything better than live music and the entire experience involved in making and performing it. As the scene evolves and morphs, so do most of the people in it. I have dived to the bottom of it and I will evolve and morph as it does because I have an undying passion for this industry.

RL: Mercury has had good relationships with a few event companies over the years. Who are you currently working with to host events and why do you think it’s important to keep the relationship between Mercury and these events companies so strong?

TM: We don’t discriminate, we work with everyone. Our current partners are From The Hive, The Metalist ZA, Now Now Just Now, That Other Booking Company, Mother City Music – everybody deserves a chance.

Mercury is a diamond in the rough that I believe can bring people from all corners of the industry together.

Things in this industry are at a turning point right now. There is so much unbelievable musical talent in South Africa and we must all work together so that everybody benefits and progresses.

RL: Over the last 2 years Mercury seems to have had a show every 4 days. What’s been your most memorable show to date and why?

TM: It’s very difficult to have to choose the most memorable event, but I would have to say the two shows that absolutely blew me away this year are Springbok Nude Girls (literally still recovering from their set) show we had a few weeks ago and Southern Wild’s album launch they had in June.

While most other shows I generally have a good time at as well, those two events really hit the nail on the head for me. The line-ups were spot on and both events were perfectly executed from start to finish.

RL: What’s essentially the 5-year-plan with Mercury?

TM: Without trying to give too much away, my plan is to take away any negative stigma or stereotype that Mercury may have picked up on the way. To turn it into something that becomes a pinnacle point of the industry spanning all genres. Mercury can’t just be a platform for rock, metal and psych. It needs to be a platform for everyone and everything that comes into play in this industry.

Mercury will be a platform for big and small, hip hop or not, rock or not and it will be a place that makes everyone feel comfortable and at home.

I would like Mercury to be at a point where we can become a bridge between, not only genres, but completely different scenes from around the world.

RL: As a regular performer and customer of Mercury, I do have to say the current vibe there is very welcoming. How has Mercury worked on curating an atmosphere that allows for the magic of live music?

TM: Cape Audio College is a powerhouse. They have really outdone themselves with the sound set-up at Mercury. Some venues I’ve been to before are extremely rad but when it comes to watching live acts the quality of sound isn’t on the same level as the vibe.

We also have a great team of like-minded people who understand how to deal with customers. However, that being said, there are always going to be ups and downs when it comes to the entertainment industry because you can’t please everyone all of the time.

RL: Not much is left of the strange year that is 2017. What does Mercury have up its sleeve for the remaining few months and what can we expect for the looming cloud that is 2018?

TM: We have Alien Ant Farm at the club on the 3rd and 4th of November. We also have a Tweak reunion show and Bacon Fest which is a tribute to the late, great frontman of Hog Hoggidy Hog, George Bacon.

There are also some crazy projects that we’re working on with various promoters going into 2018.

I have a really good feeling about next year. I feel like, if we all work together, 2018 could be a defining year for our music scene in Cape Town.

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