RAMfest Johannesburg happened last weekend. At least I think it did. In a flurry of rain, mud, tears and arguably one of the best festival line-ups South Africa has seen thus far, there’s a lot to recall. The variety of people who were all gathered for the sake of music was ridiculous. The hardest metalheads with green coloured pseudo-mohawks, along with middle aged folks, paired with teenage girls from Joburg who knew three Foals songs and have tumblr blogs were all there.
I do remember driving into the festival grounds at Witfontein (somewhere near Bronkhorstspruit) with unrivaled excitement. Foals, Biffy Clyro, a sterling local line up, and a bunch of metal bands was waiting for me. Arriving just after noon on the Friday due to a never-ending muddy gravel road, I was super eager on getting my groove on.
After setting up tents in a mixture of mud, grass, and cigarette butts we were ready to watch some bands. Mr Cat & the Jackal finished their set just as we got to the Stellenbrau stage, which was incredibly small. After a quick chat with the band after the show, we’re happy to share that the band’s got a new album in the works, and they’re excited. Their previous releases have been proper alternative pleasure, and we’re looking forward to seeing these guys tour up a storm. The rest of the Friday was awkwardly quiet, with only drizzly rain and the bars to keep festival goers company until 17h00. Luckily the rain didn’t last long, and only pitched again on Saturday morning.
Vuvuvultures were up first on the main stage. YOH. They’ve got a definite stadium sound. Lead singer Harmony Boucher was all over the place with groans and moans over the dirtiest bass you’ve imagined. They were tight, and it was a pleasure seeing them live. Their set at Park Acoustics was enjoyable, but their set at RAMfest was something else.
Next up were Gangs of Ballet. Now, I’ve heard a bunch of good things about this Durban band, and I’m not swayed by hype. I was super critical on their clean cut features, radio-friendly sound, and general nice-ness. Brad Klynsmith’s a great frontman, with his little hand gestures and astonished looks at the crowd singing his words back to him. I feel like they’re going places. I’d call them the South African music scene’s best export product at the moment.
ISO were up next. They had matching overcoats and they delivered what they always do. A hella tight performance, a Skrillex cover, and all round musical genius. Hardcore fans loved them, and a drunk guy with a wifebeater, shorts and gumboots grabbed me by my face and asked me, ‘Do you realize how good these guys are?!’ I nodded. They deserved their prime spot.
By the time ISO finished their set, girls with backpacks and flower crowns (apparently that’s still a thing) and their Cape Town haircut boyfriends were flooding the main stage, eagerly waiting for Foals. I popped by Taxi Violence‘s show, and they had a pretty huge crowd as well. RAMfest had a lot more people on the festival ground than I thought.
Foals kicked off their set after what seemed like an eternity. I remember bits and pieces of the set. Their set as subtly powerful, with no crowd surfing, Blue Blood or Electric Bloom. I remember Tom from ShortStraw crowdsurfing a little. I remember lead singer Yannis Phillippakis miming slitting his wrists on Late Night, and ending of their set by saying, ‘Baie dankie’. I remember how angry I got at the random Joburg girls who exclaimed after every song, ‘THAT WAS MY FAVORITE’, and how livid I got when people threw glow sticks on stage. That isn’t a welcoming gesture, South Africa. Act civil, even if it’s not in your nature. They were my highlight, but I’m obviously biased.
Then came Biffy Clyro. I needed a moment to recover after Foals, but Biffy granted me none of that. They walked on stage covered in tattoos, not shirts, and started off with an elaborate blast of an intro. They had a guy who did their lighting, who’s done work for Lady Gaga and Eminem as well, and it was insane (for a genuine lack of a better word). This Scottish band was the tightest outfit I’ve ever seen. I’m not exaggerating. Everything you’ve heard about them live is true. Lead singer, Simon Neil, charmed his way into the crowd’s hearts by telling them, ‘This has been a long time coming, and everything we heard about you is true.’ They played close to two hours, which brought quite a couple of people to tears.
The only option festival goers had at this time of the night, was to head on to the Olmeca Stage to catch Haezer ripping things up. The dirtiest. That’s all. The king of thrash electro had a good time mixing crowd favourite Raw x Lion King ‘Mashup to entertain the troopers. There were fire dancers and folks with lights. And lazers. Killler lazers. The Olmeca stage was a stock standard experience at a well organized rave. I saw a guy walk to the middle of the fire dancers, sit down, and stare wide eyed at the flames, trying to catch them now and again. He didn’t know he was literally five metres away from them, but that didn’t matter.
As festival goers emerged from their tents and headed to the plenty of food stalls, I saw a couple of people re-evaluating their life choices. Burger Express had a bacon bun with a truckload of bacon and onion rings on a bun. The best breakfast for the broken man, which cured many of the broken men and women. What didn’t help the broken men and women were the comedy acts. The comedians reenacting alternate movie plots, by combining Inception and a totally irrelevant 90s classics were tiresome and boring. A hungover girl in the queue for a Panini remarked: ‘They are stupid.’ A harsh comment from a broken festival goer.
The rain settled in around 11am on the Saturday morning, the same time Yo Grapes hit the Stellenbrau stage. He played a quick and enjoyable set, and relied on his awkward solo-act to keep people entertained. His track That Girl is Satan was the highlight of his set, with muddy feet shuffling to the lyrics: ‘If I had a dog, she would kill it. If I had a cat, she would skin it.’ I left soon after, not because I didn’t feel safe, but I had appointments in the city. My RAMfest ended too soon.
Real Alternative Music festival. That’s what RAMfest apparently stands for? That’s totally what it was. You can see some photos from the festival below, taken by myself and Lourens.