There’s a good chance that I’m going to receive some form of flack or backlash from this quick little purge of perspective, but before we get into the sticky bits, allow me to give you some information as to where my perspective is coming from?
My name’s Kieron to some, Bam Bam Brown to others. I, like many others, have worked in the music and entertainment industry for around a decade now. And I, like many others, have felt the sting of the global pandemic and it’s (c)rippling effect on our events industry. A few weeks before this whole thing hit, I was headlining a major festival with some of my best friends, and had an entire tour and album release plans in the works. That was then – this is now.
I’ve never been one to linger on the negative. In fact one of my most annoying traits is that I’m a sucker for silver linings. And in the midst of this seemingly endless nimbus of show cancellations and closing venues, I thought I’d offer some of my humble observations based on my own experiences as a working musician in South Africa. They probably won’t apply to everyone’s situation.
The Shake Up
I love our music industry, in the same way that you love a family member or best friend. They may not always get things right, but you know that if you make the effort to push through each other’s mistakes, both ends will benefit from the relationship. Before the pandemic, live and electronic music had been experiencing a lull in growth and integration. Our current infrastructure only really allows for a precious few to rise to the top, and opportunities for new acts to grow from weekend club act to festival headliner were few and far between pre- pandemic.
Attendance for live shows were dwindling in consistency, and it’s safe to say that being an entertainer was and still is seldom perceived as a serious long-term endeavour in SA. It’s been surreal watching a house burn down that I spent so many years adding bricks too. But with that in mind, at least I know I can help restructure the foundations on which we rebuild this whole thing – which we will – because somebody has to.
I’d been lucky enough to secure a short string of shows a month prior to the 3rd wave. My final booking of that string was a beautiful outdoor Sunday set opening for Jeremy Loops. I severely underestimated what the turnout would be and rocked up (very hungover) to find a full field of eager ears and eyes yearning for some local music. Cape Town audiences can sometimes be a bit… tricky – if you don’t know how to approach them as a live performer. However after learning of my fragile state, this crowd decided to cheer me through every song as if I was some kind of epic sporting event.
Every show I’ve managed to squeeze in between the lines of lockdown has included these kinds of lucid interactions, where attendees seem a lot more appreciative of the music they’re taking in. Hunger is the best chef, and our local community has been all but starved of good, consistent live music during lockdown. There is a demand building for when things do open, and this should give you enough motivation to prep your next best live performance.
That New New
When the virus and lockdown first hit us, I spent some time looking through sections of history to see if I could find behavioural patterns for similar instances in our past. My most enlightening find was The Renaissance. If you don’t know, this was a period of European economic growth that centred largely around the blossoming of Arts and Culture. What many people overlook is that this period came off the back of a devastating phase of disease and famine.
I’ve already witnessed the birth and amazing relentlessness of new establishments like The Armchair Theatre or 44 on Long that have given musicians a new space to do what they do. Similarly, some prominent acts in our local scene have had to call it quits, or put their plans on long term hold in order to survive. This means we’re entering a new era of music and a new scene altogether. Trends come and ago, and so will line-ups and popular hangout spots. Lean into it, and I guarantee you’ll find a crowd, a community and most importantly – a purpose.
For Real This Time
At some point festivals and nightclubs are going to open up and the show will go on. However things will never feel the same way they did before, and the scene is going to experience a defining paradigm shift over the next decade. Hopefully wherever you go watch a band or jam to some DJs, there’ll be something tangible in the air that we can all relate to, something that puts us all on the same level. Covid-19 didn’t care if you’re rich or poor, black or white, straight or otherwise. It came and it took loved ones, relationships, work opportunities and most importantly – time. We all went through this together. And fortunately for us entertainers, our job is to remind people that when we gather, we all go through this – together.
Look, by no means would I choose my current employment circumstances over the rhythm I had prior to Covid-19. But I also understand that we can only go forward. Being a middle class entertainer in South Africa has always meant you’ve had to make the most of what you’ve got. And in my personal experience – for all that’s been taken away – our scene still has a lot more to give.