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Rocking The Daisies 2017: Howling At The Moon

Every Moment Matters at South Africa's most forward-thinking festival.

11 Oct 2017 / Opinion / written by James Freemantle / Feature pic by Tash Montlake

It started in the car with a couple of tame Deezer playlists containing 2013 alt-J RTD memories, and it culminated in a real life simulation of Dance Dance Revolution on Sunday at the Corona Beach Bar. Weaving the whole experience together, inevitably, were the magic musical moments. Rocking the Daisies 2017 was the best Daisies yet but that seems to be what we always say, year on year, about a production that continues to improve and grow with its supporters.

Upon disembarking my chariot, I linked up with Shai (my host for the weekend from Howler) and he strolled me to my tent which was comfortably about three times bigger than any structure my body had ever occupied at Daisies. Complete with 2 beds, drinks and even a couple of carpets. Wild. By festival standards this was luxury in excess and I was half surprised to not be fed grapes and fanned with banana leaves at this stage. My festival bangle was already pre-loaded with all the currency I needed to sustain my various activities during the weekend, which meant no cash, no wallet, no hassles. The Howler system is a dream for festival-goers and organisers. 2017 was the second cashless Rocking the Daisies and it has turned out to be an inspired move by the powers that be. I’ve since seen the RTD ‘lost property’ Facebook post (I always look forward to that because some super random shit always pops up) and wallets were conspicuous by their absence. Nice one. Every Moment Matters at a festival, and it’s so much easier to enjoy those moments when the small things are taken care of.

I sat and processed my surroundings for a few minutes, scoffed a few Pringles and psyched myself up for the inevitable adrenaline surge that would follow. My first foray into the fest. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction, joining hundreds of jollers while we all screamed Sketchy Bongo lyrics in unison and bounced in the afternoon sun.

I moved on to the Trap House stage (hip hop stage 2.0) where short samples of well-known tracks were the order of the day, as if they knew I have a terribly short attention span. The staccato style kept us guessing and wanting more and that’s what we got. The Beach Bar and Electro Dome, naturally, hosted the rest of the Friday festivities.

Saturday morning was an early start, because that’s how it works at Daisies. I got up to survey the scene. Sure, some fairly broken betties and bros sauntered almost lifelessly past, seeking the solace that the showers and a dollop of toothpaste would bring, but excitement was in the air. I went to check on my neighbour’s swollen ankle because evidently I am a good person. She was fine, her ankle was more of a grapefruit by now but what can you do? Speaking of fruit, Maxine (my new festival bestie and other neighbour) brought out a Tupperware with sliced pineapple and strawberry. I’m always astounded at the varying levels of preparation – for every pineapple person there is an idiot who only brings Pringles. We need the pineapple people. This should serve as my only piece of advice.  

A word for the weather: Daisies was blessed with sensational conditions for a change. Not that cold and wind deterred hardened festival fans last year, but it’s a bonus when a light drizzle breaks up a still, sultry Saturday. From the idyllic beach bar (quick word on that: the work that has gone into this revamped arena must be applauded. It was always jam-packed but never felt uncomfortable, and to quote the RTD IG story “we felt like we were dancing in the sky”). I now felt it my duty to check out Southern Wild on their main stage debut. This is a band for whom I have great respect and adoration – their set was short but it was equally electric. Every onlooker was airborne for most of the time, belting out each lyric in perfect harmony. So many groupies, including me. Saturday night’s gold medal, however, goes to Black Coffee. An international star back on his home turf, casting spells on enchanted onlookers.

RTD actually starts to become a bit of a name-dropping exercise, come to think of it. The lighting at Flume was mind-boggling, The Naked and Famous produced an unsurprisingly emotional and moving performance and no one doesn’t sing along to Two Door Cinema Club. Italian super producer Sam Paganini brought the heat long after the sun had vanished in the electro dome in the evening’s golden hour. 5am rolled around and I was spent.

Sunday’s breakfast was hard. Well, the chicken burger was tender and the chips were fluffy, but it was just hard man. At a festival with over 250 artists, RTD is a musical banquet so satisfying that people generally forget to eat. The food court was littered with bodies sprawled across benches like casualties of war, but there was one more battle to fight. The Sunday Dance Battle of the Beach Bar. Gentle orchestral melodies morphed into funk, morphed into techno, morphed into a full Sunday – I had long since missed my lift home but almost serendipitously ran into the guardian angels from the Howler team again. They patiently hosted me while meticulously tallying up a bunch of data on a bunch of machines I couldn’t really begin to comprehend. We then embarked for one last rodeo on a golf cart. Obviously.

Sitting to reflect now, I firmly believe that Rocking the Daisies has always been about the music but it’s so much more than that. 2017 brought with it a genuine friendliness and affection from total strangers that didn’t exist in previous editions. People were even giving ridiculously generous tips to bar staff, which should most definitely be a trend that continues. I left Cloof Wine Estate after 10pm on Sunday with a full heart, an empty phone battery and an inestimable amount of memories to cherish. There really aren’t many things better than music because music is the glue that bonds friends, old and new.

Rocking the Daisies: Thank you, thank you, thank you for the music and allowing us to be werewolves on a wine farm for a weekend at least.

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