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Written byJosh Raynham

Rock and Punk in South Africa has made a comeback!

Rock, punk, psych, these genres are what have built cultures in South Africa, surrounding themselves in an aura of sound that resonates throughout their histories. Today as South Africa grows in its youth, Cape Town has grown in its appreciation for music that’s a little bit heavier!

The punk and rock subcultures have been popular in South Africa since the establishment of bands like Wild Youth and National Wake in the late 1970s. The birth of these anti-establishment/anti-apartheid movements paved the way for expressionism in the music scene. Since then bands have been able to create an image that resonates with the diversity within South Africa. The scene has opened up but has still a long way to come when sharing the spotlight with the now more popular genres of music, such as EDM or Pop. Bands such as Springbok Nude Girls, Van Coke Cartel, and Fokofpolisiekar have been pivotal in allowing for the movement toward an appreciation of the rock scene that now has spread into the ebbs of the modern music industry. Punk has also seen its revival but the main difference is that bands are forming regardless of skin color or ethnic background. For many years, the punk scene in South Africa has been thriving through a hands-on DIY attitude in which bands can foster their own homegrown audience without relying on mainstream culture. Now bands like National Wake showed the way and TCIYF are following that path and making punk more relevant than ever in this country.

Bands such as Retro Dizzy, Sold Ash, and Tough Guy are coming out of the Cape Town scene and there has been this need to showcase these artists who are carrying on that voice. This revival has always been just under the surface, waiting for an opportunity to make its mark on the music industry in South Africa. 

With the  second rendition of Helter Skelter drawing ever closer, Nic and I sat down on a call with the organizing team, comprising of Lara and Cobus of Live Sessions and Tristan of the Lah Dee Das,, to chat more about the dream that has been birthed out of Shambala Park and what the future holds for the live rock scene in Cape Town and the surrounds.

Different spaces I feel curate different experiences and so like outdoor places, it would be pretty cool if we could have a mini-Kirstenbosch. Where it is small enough to be intimate but also big enough to get bigger parties involved. – Cobus

Nic: So let’s get started on a bit about you and the concept that is Helter Skelter.

Tristan: So I got the farm three years ago and basically, within two weeks of having it I contacted Dan and Kohen from the Glue Factory, before they even set up the Glue Factory and they started doing the light shows and everything else, and I was like “guys listen I don’t know you that well but I know you guys love like the scene so why not throw a festival, why not, YOLO”, and then we came together we started grafting. We threw a festival called Manafest Live, we had like Man Motel, and Systematic before she was a band. Sort of like almost holistic, Indie, like sort of everything, like a family festival and everything. We lost a shit ton of money because it was our first festival and we didn’t know what they were doing, but it was still great. 

As we started going on we started hosting open mic nights at the farm called All Glued Up where you had to sign up online and then kind of just show up and play. It was a very small and intimate gathering, and we still had the liquid light show, which made it very fun and relaxed, like anyone could join. We also had jam sessions, where anyone could join. We then started hosting another sort of thing called Sinners Alike which I mean is probably still on Glue Factories Instagram page, but you know more like underground sort of rock or like alternative sort of stuff. Sold Ash where playing, but in more of a smaller, more intimate setting. After like one and a half to two years of doing those smaller things, we were like “alright now that we have the confidence, we have the face, we know what the fuck we are doing”, like we then decided at the beginning of the year to put together Helter Skelter. We were all friends by that time and had been collaborating on the other small events and some stuff in Cape Town and the surroundings and we just came together and were like “alright we can do something bigger, like we can do something crazier.”

Nic: I like that progression, I think is so important with each event and with each engagement that you do you get a little bit more confident and you’re like “OK let’s  up the stakes a little bit” and I think with that it helps to grow naturally and organically and I think the other important thing is that that first event has to always be a loss like it has to be a trial by fire. It comes from passion though and you know hearing you guys talk about the event spaces and the passion that goes forward as well the creativity and the small details, the love, the care, the intimacy that’s created for the event. The event is an experience as opposed to being an event.

Who are groups that you know that are representing this scene? This is a further question but it’s just it’s come up so organically now that I feel we can talk about it and bring it up now.

Lara: Probably like Revival Co., which is Richard and Sighle, they hosted the big show here in Obs, they’re doing some cool things. And like Glitch, which is not just a rock show, like there are also little stores that people do, and little fun art installations.

Cobus: Josh from Foul Play is doing a lot of events at District. Without Josh from Foul Play, there would be no place for gigs, and he has pioneered the scene in Cape Town. Like more independent shows, and he’s really bringing in more bands. Like Springbok Nude Girls and other huge bands in Cape Town.

 Nic: I feel like this segways super nicely, like a lot of these sorts of acts you’ve mentioned are groups that are going to be playing at Helter Skelter, I mean you’ve got Black Math, Retro Dizzy, Tough Guy, Sold Ash, so that these are all names that are now getting noticed more in the Cape Town scene. So, what is nice is that there really is a sense of interconnectedness between groups that are now merging.

Another question I must ask is like where would you guys like to see more live spaces in Cape Town? If you could have a dream space for live music, where would you put it and you know where the dream would be?

Cobus: I mean different spaces I feel curate different experiences and so like outdoor places, it would be pretty cool if we could have a mini-Kirstenbosch. Where it is small enough to be intimate but also big enough to get bigger parties involved.

Tristan: Yeah, that’s what’s great about District, like there is a bunch of space inside but it’s just getting like the same every week. They have bands there but it’s just sort of the same thing. So now you’re either going to District, you’re going to EVOL, you’re going to Armchair or Trench Town and that’s all it’s been for the past three years since COVID. Maybe House of Machines for a couple of things, but you can only get like 20 people in there.

Lara: Like a different kind of venue, not just your average bar, maybe something like what’s happening in Stellenbosch, maybe something like Daisy Jones. It’s got an amazing setup inside, it’s just a bit further out and I think a lot of people from Cape Town aren’t going to go all the way for the mission.

Tristan: That’s what I am trying to push with Shambala Park. Like it is only 20 minutes from Cape Town and so we can push for something similar to what the Factory is doing in Paarden Eiland.

Nic: So, guys, tell us about Shambala, tell us about the venue, tell us about the space.

Tristan: So, it’s a space we got about three years ago. My dad bought it on auction, and we had no idea what to do at the property. I had just finished university. I studied a BCom, like business and computers, then we got it and obviously as I said we’re in the scene and I’ve always loved events and festivals. I want this whole idea for the park to be this sort of collab space, where I have lots of little different areas that people can both rent out for the short term or long term and the end goal is to just have this completely off-grid park with 20 businesses there, fully off-grid, everything is just you know stays inside of there.

I want it to be a place of education. We already have someone doing woodwork, already have someone doing metal work, we have a car company there and then you know I’ll choose people to come in here and then on the weekends I’ll say OK you have to open up some sort of learnership program to your apprentices and then teach people so that they can actually learn and see what people are doing inside the workshops. I also would love to, in the future, have a permaculture garden to feed the restaurant and maybe brew our own beers there and have this little ecosystem or community inside there. Where people can come and meet other creators and other artists and help each other out and then at the end of the day they finish at like 4/5 o’clock have a beer and chat about different ideas and then they say, “alright well why don’t we host a festival right here on the property or open day or market day or something?” I want it to be this big hub of creatives and ideas and inspiration.

Nic: So where is Shambala Park?

Tristan: It’s basically at the back of Parklands, sort of down the N7 just off to the point where the dump is, just on the urban/suburban fringe. So, we will do shuttles, and we also allow camping for people who want to camp.

Nic: What are your numbers and what’s your ideal sort of ticket capacity?

Tristan: Well, we want to try and get about 500 people. That’s sort of the dream of what we want to go with. If we do get 500, we’ll probably open ticket sales just to go until about 800 and then cap it because we still want to keep it an intimate experience.

Nic: And where are tickets available?

Tristan: Quicket.

Nic: As you said ticket sales are going well you know and that’s amazing because in our experience the majority of ticket sales really occur within a day or day before of the actual event itself like you know it’s a slow ticket process until the day normally.

Lara: Yeah, that’s what we’ve also experienced in the past I mean we didn’t expect the ticket sales to look this good this early, and I feel like the conversation that’s going around I mean everyone is so keen and like Oh my God yeah you know I think everyone is just really excited for something different and I think the fans are also just excited. I mean we’re trying to make it special with you know the Glue Factory that’s going to do some cool trippy lights and stuff we’re getting a 3D mapper, and like we are going to get a tattoo artist who is going to do some flash tattoos,  we’re getting a body painter so you can get some cool stuff painted on you, we’re also getting a girl that’s going to do like punk haircuts. So, we’re trying to make it something different and also something that we haven’t experienced before.

Nic: Epic, no it’s sounding so exciting it’s sounding like something and you know what’s nice is that loads of one day, like future frequency, now seem to happen multiple times in one year, like there are loads of one-day electro festivals and absolutely zero one day live events, so I think like the scene is ready and I think that you’re going to see 800 rather than 500 because I think people are excited and they’re ready for it.

Lara: Exactly! Like every time I go out there are people asking like when are you going to be doing a live event? Where are cool live events? So, there’s this desire to engage in live music.

Nic: Going back to sort of what we were talking about earlier and the question I want to ask you is you know because of the limited spaces for live music do you feel that this is impacting on the success of actual live music in terms of people listening to live music?

What I’ve also noticed is that it feels like there’s not enough space to see these bands and so people aren’t really listening to these bands. There’s a move going into more electronic based music which is now more and more of an up now than it ever has been, and I think that’s largely because our scene doesn’t account for it. Do you agree and what are your guy’s thoughts about it?

Cobus: We definitely agree on that I think like going back to the first time that we started hosting events we would go out at night and watch all these lekker bands that we have now actually got to play at Helter Skelter and these guys are actually on international level like yeah you can compare them you can put them on the stage in America or Australia or the UK I know they would absolutely nailed it, but a lot of people, like you said now don’t get exposure they don’t know where to see live music. 

I think the electronic scene has taken over in the last couple of years because I think it is easier and more open to everyone.  I mean you pay a DJ R800 – R1500 for 2 hours of a set, and now you have to pay each member of a five-piece band R800 and for a one hour set, so I mean it’s way harder to get.

But we feel like the talent here in Cape Town is too big to ignore. There are all these sick bands and we kind of wanna show people how great Cape Town is, how good the artist you are, and yeah just make like a lekker community vibe for everybody to enjoy local music.

Lara: From the ticket sales it just shows how much appreciation there is for what we’re doing. We have sold so many tickets and we looked at the names and you’re like “Oh yeah most of these people are the ones that actually came at the beginning of the year to the first Helter Skelter and are now like wow another one”. I remember the first one people were saying like you know “I saw it and I wish I’d gone”, like that’s the conversation I had with a lot of people, they didn’t hear about it because we didn’t push it because of this whole event licensing and everything.

We are putting in all the risk, but it is worth it to make something special and something as sick as possible so that we can keep on doing it and get bigger and bigger.

Nic: A question I wanted to raise with you guys is if you know, in terms of like, if you guys remember MK and the different platforms that were so prolific for live music, I mean it was particularly Afrikaans live music but at the same time it was still good live music. Now it’s almost created this passing of the torch and it feels like it’s now our time. When we were younger there were cool events that were being hosted and now the reality is that those events are gone now and it’s like the torch is being passed to us, the younger generation who are like involved in it and who want to see it happening.  So, do you guys feel that it’s almost sort of incumbent on us to, you know, create that world that we want to see?

Lara: I mean it was kind of obvious and there is this sense of why not us.

And it is as simple as that… “why not us?” Those words have created what has now become a rising seed in the rock world, where representation is the key element in opening the doors and opening the minds of the music industry here in Cape Town. To create a space where the sweatier the mosh pit the better, and where to dance like no one is watching is encouraged; where freedom isn’t set in the ways of societal boredom and where appreciating a chord goes beyond a single strum, Helter Skelter brings an energy that is far above a predetermined gaze.

Helter Skelter is gearing up to be an event not to be missed. The sheer determination that this group of individuals has come with in order to showcase the very best in rock, punk, Cape Town has to offer is truly incredible. What will take place at Shambala Park on the 3rd of December is going to be hard rock and no stop, but it too will be an experience that Cape Town needs. Carrying the metaphorical, or physical depending on fire permits, torch that will carry rock into its rightful place within the world of music.

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