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Written byTyla Burnett

An ode to the beautiful chaos and radical inclusivity of Evol.

In every city I’ve ever had the fortune of visiting anywhere in the world there has inevitably existed a venue with black walls, a DIY attitude and a massive heart. The counterculture will always use it as its headquarters of operations as well as a breeding ground for creativity and subculture subversion. In my home town of Durban, this was undoubtedly the legendary and debaucherous Winston Pub, or as we knew it: THE PUB. And in the sister city of Johannesburg the equally mythical Bohemian, AKA: THE BOH. Sadly neither venue has remained through our turbulent times, but Cape Town calls itself home and holds close its rhythmic heart beat, its pulse of queer pride and musical innovation, the one and only, immovable and enigmatic EVOL.

EVOL has proved a cultural cornerstone through the ages for all groups, genders and races. A place to share, create and make lasting friendships. It represents a kind of parliament building for the disenfranchised youth, empowered entrepreneurs and seekers of safety, inclusion and most importantly fun. With this kind of starry eyed love I set out to dig into the building’s history, mythology and people. In a brief chat with Bernard, its custodian, we unpack safe spaces, warm embraces, blurry nights and musical delights. 

EVOL has proved a cultural cornerstone through the ages for all groups, genders and races. A place to share, create and make lasting friendships. It represents a kind of parliament building for the disenfranchised youth, empowered entrepreneurs and seekers of safety, inclusion and most importantly fun.

Tyla – “Can you illuminate the history of your intriguing building.”

Bernard –  “The bar has been in our family since 1991, so there is a lot of history there. In the beginning it was a Cop and Biker bar, funny how that always seems to go hand in hand. I know the building has undergone a lot of physical changes in the last 30+ years but it has always had the same spirit and layout with the pub at the bottom, club in the middle and rentals on top. Before my pops had it Ferdinand Rabie who won Big Brother SA owned the building. I also know on the original floor plan that the hallway to the pool hall was a kitchen, I’m not sure what for but I know at some stage the whole building was a set of rentals, then a backpackers and now we use only the top as rooms for long stayers.”

T – “Besides the Sonic Youth reference where did the name come from?”

B – “When I took over the place had several names like 69 on Hope, Hectic on Hope, Stags Head and EVOL. But everyone was calling it EVOL, so in 2016 I thought, what do I call it online? Everyone’s calling it EVOL, let’s call it EVOL.”

T – “Who is Bernard Fourie and how did you come to be custodian?” 

B –  “I started working at the bar in 2015 and quickly fell in love with the space. I began helping with the basic sound setups which has progressed into me becoming the Sound Engineer for the venue and around 2017 becoming the events manager as well.”

T – “The staff are always an interesting and eclectic bunch, who are they and how do you find each other?”

B – “The staff are like family, we’ve all been working with each other for so long that I would really have to sit and think back to how we all met. They make the space what it is and most people know them by name at this point. It warms my heart when I see people walk in and greet the bartender like you would an old friend.”

T – “Tell me a wild story from the backpackers.”

B –  “No Comment.  Let’s just say that there was Ice-Cream involved and it was a birthday to remember.”

T – “How and why did you forge the safe space for all that defines EVOL?”

B – “When I was younger I always saw club culture portrayed as a scary and unsafe space. I have tried my best to create an environment where everyone is accepting of each other and where people can feel free to express themselves with no reservations. You could come in heels and panties for all we care if someone fucks with you…OUT!”

T – “What challenges (aside from the omnipresent financial ones) do you face?” 

B –  “In a business as diverse as ours you always have challenges to overcome. The only thing I would say weighs on us a bit is the safety and security of our street. We have stepped up and are dealing with it as best we can but it takes a lot of resources to manage effectively.” 

Bernard went on to explain in detail how meticulously he searches out bouncers and new staff members he feels he can trust, not only to keep a standard of safety inside the club and on the street but who also handle the partygoers with care, who understand the vision he holds for the space. It was truly inspiring to hear him value safety, inclusion and ethics above profit. From the passion and depth in which he spoke on this subject, I left understanding a quality in him that I haven’t seen from other businessmen in his position. We all know what it’s like to walk down Long Street or Obs main road on a Friday night, and the threat we might face on a night out is ubiquitous in our city, but it’s truly refreshing to see the care Bernard feels towards not only the safety of his patrons but also their ideology and freedom. 

T – “EVOL is often thought of as an ancient house of hedonism and abandon as well as a safe space and cultural hub. What is it to you?” 

B –  “I always thought of Evol as a blank canvas for anyone to come in and make their own. Using a bit of decor, some creative lighting design and an idea you can transform the space into something completely new and unseen. It makes me so happy to see the teamwork and sense of pride people have after building something and feeling comfortable enough to express themselves through their music and performances.” 

Here Bernard touches on one of my favourite aspects of the venue. Painted all black the building is basically a giant chalk board, and it is. Bernard leaves out chalk and markers all over the venue for patrons to paint it like an ever changing graffiti chameleon. The event organisers have similar ideas, from mazes in the pool room set up by Glitch Culture, photo booths on Prom Night by Goblin Party and all the colours in between from the endless rotation of creatives that grace the space. I’ve yet to see the Cathedral look the same twice.

T – “EVOL to me represents a microcosm of Cape Town at large. What do you see in the mirror?”

B – “I’m seeing a shift away from Pub culture to innovation and inclusion in spaces. It’s not so much of a cool kids club anymore. With events like D.O.G, EMO night and the reemergence of the new band scene I see the same punks from a Cistamatic gig one week at a Poppers Event the next.” 

T – “What’s next for EVOL and what would you do with an unlimited budget?” 

B – “What is next for Evol…I would say we will just keep doing what we are doing, which might not be the most exciting response but I think we have found a formula that works for us and we enjoy what we do. I would like to build a deck outside the pool area for people to be able to sit under the stars and enjoy some fresh air, and I’ve got plans to add another stage for more intimate shows or a seamless flow of performances around the club.”

When I first brought my dad to a show at EVOL he instantly recognised it as the same place he used to rave at in the 90s. There may be an extra layer or 2 of crust on the walls but the heart that beats in them remains. I only hope we collectively keep the space alive, help it to thrive, and with a bit of luck my own kids might bring me to a Rave there in 30 years time.

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