Words by Dean Jones
The last time I attended CTEMF was back in 2015. Unfortunately, I only managed to make one of the nights – so as it stands, that was my last true memory of it (a great one at that!). In 2016 I did some extensive travelling through central Europe, so I managed to quench my festival thirst there, but needless to say, it has been a while since I’ve attended a music festival in South Africa (especially one of CTEMF’s nature). As such, my anticipation levels for this year’s festival were at a serious high. With a promising line-up and a huge buzz on social media, the consistent level of interest for the event over the years has been nothing short of impressive. With pen and paper in hand, I was ready to experience all that the three days had to offer, and here’s how it went down:
I knew I had arrived when stepping out my car in front of the City Hall I was greeting with the remaining bass frequencies of some solid grooves resonating in the distance. No need to ask for directions, I followed the thump straight to the main entrance. On my way there I found that it was none other than Toby2Shoes who was responsible for the beginning of a trail of sound that would pave the path for hoards of electronic music fanatics to one of Cape Town’s most iconic venues for a weekend of aural delight. Once I put my bags down I made sure to quickly get accustomed to the venue layout, which included a main stage (the Auditorium), an outdoor stage (the Terrace) and three smaller indoor floors (the Club, the Mezzanine and the Chill). Whilst Toby continued to do his thing on the Terrace, X-Ray was warming things up in the Auditorium with some lighter tech sounds. After taking a bit of a walkabout and bumping into many familiar faces, it was back to the Terrace where DJ Invizable was taking over. As a veteran of the scene who has been involved with many influential projects and artists over the years, he took centre stage to showcase his unique solo performance that combines an eclectic DJ set with costume and performance rooted in themes of Africa and its mysticism. Highly entertaining and highly energetic, he certainly set the tone for the festival. Hereafter, some of the smaller stages began to open inside, one of which being the Club, which had Fultron Bass at the helm with some thoughtfully selected liquid drum ‘n bass. However, back at the Terrace the festival’s first international act was taking stage. Based in Berlin and having released on heavyweight labels such as Mobilee and Cocoon, Re.You gave a techno-hungry crowd the exact treatment they were looking for. With the sound-system turned up a notch, he took those in attendance on a journey of big drops, rolling grooves and melodic interludes in a set that would definitely be considered a highlight for many. At the mainstage STAB Virus were up doing a similar thing. The boys from Langa have been on an exponential rise over the past year and are easily one of South Africa’s greatest success stories of recent times. With more and more impressive bookings on the horizon, they proved their worth with a set of strong techno. Back upstairs in the club however, the scenario was somewhat different. From the predominantly four-four beats downstairs, some of South Africa’s premier bass artists were rattling the windows in the Club. When I returned Grimehouse was rinsing it to a crowd of avid fans (some of whom were sporting his merch) and, for those who could handle it, Haezer was up next to keep the energy high. As one of South Africa’s longest lasting Electro producers, he didn’t disappoint! From a crowd-friendly ‘We Are Your Friends’ acapella intro to some seriously heaving thumpers thereafter, it only took a few minutes for the sweat to start pouring. Next up on the mainstage was another international, this time in the form of Hungarian minimal techno producer Mateo! One of the lesser-known international artists on the line-up he still duly delivered the goods and undoubtedly gained plenty of new fans. With rolling, bass-heavy beats with a dark edge he primed the crowd for one of the most anticipated sets of the festival… Not much needs to be said about this man, and as a legend of the old school and one of the pioneers of the harder sounds of techno it was no wonder why the impending closing set of Dave Clarke was on everybody’s lips. ‘The Baron of Techno’, as he is affectionately known, began in the early 90s (a period widely considered as the heyday for the genre) and has since been at the forefront of the scene through all of its ups-and-downs (something only a handful of DJs from that era can say). Needless to say, he gave the main room a serious sonic workout leaving some people confused but ‘the heads’ absolutely delighted. With his signature DJ style influenced by the techniques of turntablism, he dished out an education on techno, hard house and vintage electro par excellence. Truly amazing! While all of this was going down I unfortunately missed Hessien+ in the Mezzanine as I was fan-boying too hard to the Baron. But word from the grapevine is that they were a wildcard highlight, and I don’t doubt that for one second.
Personal Highlight: Dave Clarke
Saturday’s line-up was by far the most diverse of the three days. With a handful of iconic international headliners and local heavyweights all representing different sounds of the globe, I was very interested to see how everything would come together on this second day of the festival. When I arrived, it was Blanka Mazimela who was halfway through his set on the Terrace. Part of Ryan Murgatroyd’s Bantwanas collective, he skillfully dished out a classy selection of his own. Deep, soulful and groovy, he is definitely a name to look out for. After closing out with the Martinez Brothers’ ‘Back to the BX’, a personal house favorite of mine, it was time for the changeover into Portable’s live set. Cape Town native and current Berlin resident, Alan Abrahams has been involved in the electronic music scene since the turn of the millennium and has since then racked up an impressive amount of productions (from singles to EPs and full albums) on some stand-out labels. The evolution of his Portable live set has been a consistent development and has gained him critical acclaim amongst house heads all over the world, so it was no wonder why he was invited back to CTEMF for a second time. With an original take on the sounds of house and disco, his vocal-centric live-set is something to behold – and with friends, family and followers there to support he really managed to get the vibe going as the sun began to set. In the Auditorium, however, it was Joburg’s Kid Fonque who was taking the reigns. Easily one of South Africa’s most underrated DJs, his transitions from house to trap to juke/footwork and back were pulled off with ease and finesse. There’s word on the street that he will be more involved in the Cape Town scene in the near future – all I can say is, I’m excited! Back on the Terrace it was Jazzuelle up next. After a power set from Portable, he took it down a notch, but only temporarily! With the crowd in his back pocket (especially off the back of his legendary Boiler Room CT set) his selection of emotional deep house and recognizable classics was a real treat, as to be expected. At the same time it was Zaki Ibrahim who was doing her thing on the main stage. With a soulful R&B/urban vibe she wowed the crowd with angelic vocals, costume changes and slick choreography – a fierce performance indeed. Thereafter, the Auditorium began to fill up even more for another highly anticipated international headliner, this time in the form of Ryan Hemsworth. A name synonymous with the modern development of hip-hop and bass music, he put on an eclectic audiovisual treat that had the die-hards spellbound and the new ears fascinated. Whilst all of this was going down there was yet another international star taking stage at the Terrace in the form of BBC Radio 1 resident Heidi. As a legend in the jacking house scene (with her Jackathon brand), she duly kept the vibes going for a floor that was packed to the rafters – a definite favorite amongst many of the attendees. Upstairs in the Mezzanine the house jams were continuing as Fosta & Diloxclusiv had their set under way. Representing the Afro end of the sonic spectrum, they kept things real and made sure we didn’t forget that we were partying in Africa! With a great energy on stage and on the dancefloor they got almost everyone attempting a bit of Pantsula during the course of the set, although some were clearly able to pull it off better than others! Keeping things proudly local, it was Youngsta who was up next in the Auditorium. Whilst it seemed that the average festivalgoer was more drawn towards the house-orientated beats on other stages, the main floor continued its foray into the sounds of hip-hop and bass. With a real ‘no-fucks-given’ approach, Youngsta systematically tore the roof off for his hardcore fans. His blend of Kaapse-culture with more American-style beats and themes is truly unique (without being cheesy). His passion for what he does is abundantly clear, and this shows in the way that he interacts with his audience and through his profound lyricism and skilled flow. The man is no joke, and he proved that on the night. His performance may not have been everybody’s cup of tea, but it undoubtedly left its mark on anyone who was there to witness it. Continuing on the hip-hop front, up next was none other than Stones Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf. A hugely prolific figure in the industry, Chris Manak’s contribution to music is second to none and his DJ set was a pure reflection of that. Throwing down classic after classic, it was a truly once in a lifetime experience to watch him (especially from the gallery where I could sit and appreciate each track and it’s accompanying video). And then, as if that wasn’t enough, to close off the night we had the privilege of witnessing Ninja Tune founders Coldcut put on a truly exceptional display. A wildly eclectic audiovisual treat, they chopped, screwed and mashed everything from Jungle to footwork, dub and breakbeat into one of the most diverse and unique sets I’ve ever heard. Again, this was not everybody’s cup of tea, but for those who understood the duo’s history, it was an absolute spectacle and a particularly nostalgic moment for the older generation of attendees.
Personal Highlight: Youngsta
Sunday marked the final day of the festival and is usually the day dedicated to unadulterated house music. This year was no different with some fine house acts from around the world. Upon the Terrace stage when I arrived was none other than Bruce Loko. Based in Johannesburg, Bruce has been garnering a steady following through his strong productions and equally impressive DJ sets. Known for an exuberant stage presence, he took the Cape Town crowd on a journey of melodic techno and house with subtle ebbs and flows that kept them on their feet past sunset. Thereafter, Berlin-based Till von Sein took things deeper with some tribal Afro-House eventually transitioning into some disco and funk. The SUOL Records mainstay showed his diversity as a DJ and eventually closed with Mos Def’s ‘Umi Says’ (which coincidently got played by Peanut Butter Wolf the night before – the spirit of Yasiin Bey was clearly in the building). At this point, things were beginning to heat up in the Auditorium with Leighton Moody who was setting the scene with some deep, groove-laden house. Thereafter it was all Julian Gomes who took flight into house heaven and was clearly enjoying every minute of it. As one of the country’s younger stars, his musical maturity exceeds many of his counterparts and this showed in his classy set. With a phenomenal extended closing track (the name for which I wish I knew) it was ultimately time for the final set of the festival… With the scene perfectly set, it was up to Âme (Frank Wiedemann) to guide a full-house Auditorium through to the end. As one of contemporary house music’s most prolific producers, it was fitting that his live-set acted as the culmination point for all the wonderful performances that took place over the three days. After a solid two-hour voyage with encores and all, I felt like I could finally say that I got the full CTEMF experience.
Personal highlight: Âme
As a festival with so much variation in the musical narrative, things can often go awry. A diverse line-up usually translates into a diverse crowd, and with a diverse crowd of course comes vast difference in musical opinion. To say that this is always a good thing would be naïve, as there is often the potential for a party to lose its structure as people struggle to maintain interest over a long period. One of CTEMF’s most redeeming features over the years, however, is the way in which they manage to avoid this kind of collapse. The Cape Town scene is notorious for its trend-driven mentally, yet year after year CTEMF manages to transcend this and bring people with entirely different music tastes and cultural backgrounds together in a space where the music is always put first. In this way, people are guided (not forced) out of their comfort zones. They are given the opportunity to experience something new on a non-confrontational, ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ basis. So, where some may criticise the event for being musically confused, in my opinion, the line-up is a reflection of the musical landscape of our country. South Africa’s history is rooted in diversity and this is directly translated into our club culture, which doesn’t necessarily fit into or follows one particular scene. This is why it is principally important for the house-heads to experience hip-hop and the techno-heads to experience dubstep. It removes us from our isolated perspectives and fundamentally makes us realise that we are all part of one greater family that relies on a network of interdisciplinary support to survive and grow. So, let us take a page out of the CTEMF book and start to put their ethos into practice on an even greater scale. Let us step out of our comfort zones and begin to solidify our scene amongst the rest of the world’s leaders!
All pictures by Aaron Polikoff (Closure)