The Odyssey – this year’s Oppikoppi theme and also the title of my route to the festival. A 4am taxi, a 6am flight and an 11am lift brings my travel tally to 9 hours of commuting, where the only way one keeps sufficiently entertained is through drink.
I’m already a half jack of gin down when I arrive and it’s all a bit deurmekaar – at Kreef and in my head. No bed or bedding. I spare a thought for those who’ve chosen to marinade in Mordor. God bless all the prawns, the real soldiers.
I offload my bags and follow the tooting of Grassy Spark’s brass section to Bruilhof. I’m amazed at how many people are standing in the blazing sun at 3pm, I even spot The Kiffness raising their arms, in a true Capetonian salutation. I pledge my vocal solidary to the reggae rockers before going to check out the Red Bull Stage, where people are already ceremoniously staggering down the craggy hill. Shout out to the girl who face-planted on a rock before 5pm.
Wrestlerish’s second last set as a group is played out with pomp, ceremony and a beautifully big crowd and as predicted, Werner brings me to tears. Now that the curtain’s finally fallen and I’m waiting for applause. Always alive in music.
Nothing keeps me away from Dead Lucky’s set and my first taste of Wesley’s Dome for the weekend. The rock ‘n’ roll fivesome whip through their tales of loose women, whiskey out the bottle and the allure of the open road. Highlights include the guitar-driven groove of ‘Sin City’ and a killer gruff-as-hell vocal from Kyle Lucky during the fast-paced, ‘Favourite Kinda Women’.
Durban-based rockers Squeal attract a surplus of ballies and I have a vision of myself 20 years down the line at a Fokof reunion. It scares the bejesus outta me, all while Catherine screams grunge 101 in my face: “They were our answer to Nirvanaaa.” It’s not really my thing and I leave to seek out an alcoholic watering hole. I find my better half instead, who tells me I missed a peak performance from The Kiffness. Fark.
After a recharge and regroup I head to Skellum for Stoker where the crowd is measly. Chris Bornman’s power stance and chords are dominant and even as some fokken prawn throws ice blocks down at him from the adjacent tower, his composure is god-like. They’re the pioneers of the inevitable swing of the genre pendulum, all that’s needed is a vital dose of self-belief.
Over the hill, DJ Doowop & Lex Lafoy are breaking down to some killer dancehall-laced beats, Doowop lashing her colourful tendrils all over the place but the entertainment factor wanes and after three tracks I mission up to the Top Bar Stage where something sounds majorly amiss with Shout Hey! The lead singer’s misplaced vocal pitch lasts for one song and then it’s over, and so is my night as I decide I wanna rock that Friday fresh look.
Breakfast consists of Kobus Se Gat and tasty melon & pomegranate slushies before I take my place stage-right for Holly & The Woods. After 8 years of giving her vocal chords a good beating, Melissa Conradie’s voice hasn’t lost any of its gleam, which she shows off on their new single ‘Fighting Back’, working the stage and whipping the mic chord into shape behind her.
Afterward, Flint Meet Spark is swallowed up by the enormity of Wesley’s Dome and their cutesy acoustic ballads don’t translate well while over at the Ray-Ban Top Bar Stage, Hinds Brothers Band’s set is being murdered by the sound engineer who’s having great difficulty in mixing their intricate set-up of two acoustic guitars and vocals. But like true pros The Bros persevere. The neo-folk storytelling of balladeers Wren and Aden (who has the most interesting vocal timbre that suits his harmonising role second to none) goes down swimmingly at there are deserving back-pats all round.
Down at James Philips and nobody can make a move waiting for acoustic pop artist Matthew Mole. It’s actually a bit ridiculous how popular and widespread his appeal. “From boets to bints,” as one onlooker so eloquently puts it. Halfway through his set Mole confesses how ran over someone’s foot in Mordor and just carried on driving and people start laughing. “Ah shame, whadda sweet guy.” Brainwashed I tell ya.
The setting sun hangs between the slat-like clouds as Gangs Of Ballet take to the stage and it’s a routine set that evokes a resounding response. I stumble upon Australian indie pop artist Sarah Blasko at the Top Bar and two of her successive tracks are dark in their lyricism and quirky in their arrangement and I begin to fall for her trio. She breaks before her next song, moving to her keyboard as a hippie-as-all-hell girl pushes to the front and throws at her what looks like an Oppikoppi flag. Blasko proceeds to be unnecessarily rude, handing the flag back to the girl who slinks away totally mortified.
I forsake Blah-sko for Zebra & Giraffe’s 6 year anniversary celebration with 12 000 devotees at Wesley’s Dome. It’s a visual lighting spectacle from front of house and when they hit the chorus of their new single ‘I’ve Been Bad’ people lose their collective shit. They’ve never sounded better technically – or more rock ‘n’ roll. Amidst calls for Fokof, Van Coke Kartel take to the stage and it’s basically the Wynand show here. How that man hasn’t dislocated his kneecaps is beyond me.
I trudge back up to the Top Bar for neo-country and blues singer-songwriter Willy Mason, and it’s so full that one has to weave through the arms and legs dangling from the courtyard tree. I eventually hijack a bench where, to my left is an elderly man with a blood red bandana tied around his scraggly grey locks. Halfway through Mason’s set he pulls out his weathered harmonica and starts jamming along. A quintessential Koppi peaker. And all the while Mason’s dishing out his well-worn lyricism: It is tempting to fight when you know that you’re right/ It is hard to lie down if you don’t trust the ground. En route to Kreef I stop to pay homage to Springbok Nude Girls’ hits ‘Bubblegum On My Boots’ and ‘Blue Eyes’ aka the Pappa Wag Vir Jou Track before passing out.
The big day dawns and I’m off to get a good space at the Top Bar for Flint Meet Spark’s Take 2. Their subsequent set is sublime and unknowingly, Adelle Nqeto makes that crowd her bitch as she coos the opening words to Florence and the Machine’s “Shake It Out”. I stay for Lucy Kruger’s opening track but I’m not in the correct mellow mindset so I mission down to the Bos Sessions to jam to Cape Town indie newbies The Liminals, who deservingly won their slot.
My whole experience is short-lived as I remember BCUC on Wesley’s Dome. “Ladies and gentlemen we’re like a train, and a train needs to build up momentum before it can get going,” their strong, charismatic frontman spits at us. Each BCUC song is 15 minutes long so they only end up jamming three. A hotchpotch of two bass drums, congas and insane shredding guitar, coupled with the two singers’ hypnotising movements across the stage make this a contender for best set of the fest. AND THEY SHALL NEVER COME BACK.
Over on James Philips, Shortstraw kick off their set with a new track that’s not as upbeat as what I’ve come to expect, but I keep getting distracting by their mad visuals (see: a cheeky dog harassing women sun tanning by sticking his nose in inappropriate places and a montage of people getting mad high). Minute of silence for the organisers of the Red Bull Stage who’re having a tough time trying to sort out a replacement for DJ Marky.
At Bruilhof, Inspector Cluzo is making mad promises to rock the fuck outta everyone, but I’m too tempted by the sweet, funky wafts from Aloe Blacc’s band. Upon closer inspection, I find the groove permeable. Pre-crooning, he gives a short sermon about the history of ‘The Man’ before adding – “This song ain’t just for the men because ladies, you can be the man too.” HALLELUJAH.
aKING’s following set structure is all-inclusive as they tentatively test out some material from their upcoming album and ease our hunger for hits with “Dutch Courage” classics. I get as close to the stage as I can for UK rockers Editors and the deep whizz of bass from opener ‘Sugar’ feels and sounds like I’ve got “The Weight Of Your Love” playing, except these speakers boast world class sound. Tom Smith’s near-flawless vocal induces a slight intoxication as I begin to sway from side to side. I hear people moan about his lack of “crowd interaction”. I write them off as candidates for institution.
Halfway through I mission to check out DJ Invizable and his Champions of the Sonarverse collective and it’s opulently theatrical, complete with interstellar costumes and exquisite, comic-style visuals. But the promise of Rival Sons makes me restless. They crash onto stage, sans MC or intro and into the first four tracks of their new album “Great Western Valkyrie”. Scott Holiday (guitar) and his moustache stake their claim on the rumbling melody of ‘Play The Fool’ while Jay Buchanan taps into his emotive vocal storytelling. Before ballad ‘Jordan’, Jay pauses and with a soft guise declares, “the gap between you and I might be a little too wide for my heart to handle,” in reference to the jump between the James Philips stage and us. For his safety it’s probably better that way. “EVERY SONG IS SEX.”
As the only original member of Wolfmother, Andrew Stockdale (vox and guitar) is the clear star here. His Plant-esque runs and range on ‘Woman’ and ‘New Moon Rising’ pierce through the dust clouds and I go glassy-eyed when they play the folky, foot-stomping ‘Vagabond’. The trio pack Wesley’s Dome like a 12-piece outfit and it’s sheer rock ‘n’ roll class.
In 2015 Koppi turns 21. Key to the city, Pappa. Nah, they already have that.