Words by Dean Jones (aka D_Know)
Almost exactly one year ago I attended a music journalism workshop as a part of CTEMF 2016’s #CreativeHustles initiative. Considering the fact that I was due to do some traveling through Europe in June that same year, I decided that I wanted to make the most of the educational programs that were on offer. The panel discussions were highly enriching and I left feeling like I had some extra ammo for my excursions up North. The following day I attended another workshop, this time at Gugu S’Thebe cultural centre in Langa. With a keynote interview from Drum ‘n Bass legend Goldie, I left feeling highly inspired, so I decided to put into practice what I learnt at the journalism workshop and wrote a piece based on my experiences of the day’s activities. Once I had my final draft ready to go I decided to send it off to Craig at MyCityByNight who also happened to be one of the panelists who shared their story at the previous day’s journalism workshop. To my delight, Craig was happy to post the article for me, which later that week got shared by Goldie himself and hence managed to amass a decent reach on social media. Why do I mention this? Well, essentially, this anecdote shows the power that a simple gathering such as a ‘workshop’ can have on inspiring an individual to take action. In addition, this moment paved the way to opening up other opportunities for me, particularly during my travels (which I will expand on below).
Part of my itinerary in Amsterdam was to go to both Dekmantel and Loveland Festivals. After the success of the CTEMF article, Craig suggested I gave it a shot at getting media accreditation via MyCityByNight for the abovementioned festivals. To be honest, it hadn’t entered my mind to do so (in addition to the fact that I thought they would have no interest in some random, part-time writer from the opposite end of the world in any case). However, to my surprise, both events got back to me saying they were happy to get me on board! Attending these legendary events as a ‘fly on the wall’ proved to be one the most eye-opening experiences of my travels. Having the opportunity to go backstage and meet artists, booking agents and event organizers felt like a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience and really gave me a whole new perspective on the global music scene. The skills that the initial workshops gave me also went a long way in assisting my methods for capturing the details of both festivals. After Amsterdam I also had the privilege of experiencing some of the best clubs in the world from Berghain to Concrete and Watergate to Fabric (and much more). In addition, I managed to attend ADE, which further enriched my musical knowledge bank. Having had all these wonderful experiences, I was ultimately destined to go back to Cape Town towards the end of the year. My experiences have been catalysts for many interesting discussions since I’ve been back, and with CTEMF around the corner, it feels like a perfect time to continue the discourse.
Returning home after a few months of travelling is a notoriously difficult adjustment. For many years, Europe has been considered as the ‘mecca’ for the global dance music scene, and as an electronic music enthusiastic myself I couldn’t help but think along the same lines. And in many instances this notion felt true as I traversed European soil – from the purity of the techno scene in Berlin to the wild eclecticism of the nightlife in London, Europe seemed to have it all going at the highest level. Admittedly, I felt rather underwhelmed coming back to Cape Town, perhaps even slightly cynical. Yet at the same time, there was always one thing that stuck in my mind that shifted some of my pessimism, and that was the fact that I kept on going back to this memory of finding it almost impossible to escape African influence no matter what country I was in. From Gqom in Berlin to the African Street Style Festival in London, to Afro-House and Traditional African music on at least two stages at Dekmantel, to seeing Goldfish host their own festival in Amsterdam and Bridges for Music take over a Boiler Room session at ADE I kept feeling as though the support of African music overseas far exceeded that of its own core audience back home – and in general I think that this is true. But we must indeed ask ourselves ‘why?’ Of course one of the main arguments (on a more philosophical level) has been around notions of fetishism and exoticism, in other words, the idea the Europe has always had a particular interest in that of the ‘other’ – however I would like to steer the discourse towards something slightly more practical. Whilst I don’t discredit this idea at all (in fact I agree that it still plays a large role), I do feel that there are a whole host of other factors that need to be highlighted in greater detail; ones that CTEMF in particular has the potential to address.
Since its inception in 2012, CTEMF has always aimed to bridge the gap between those who have been disadvantaged by the system, those who are fortunate enough to be able to make a living within the creative sector and those who are looking to establish themselves as professionals within the scene. Whilst travelling, it became evermore apparent to me that South Africa seems to lack the same infrastructure and level of collaborative-community that one may find in a place like London for example. There you have a culturally and socio-politically diverse territory that embraces ideas of creative sharing, warehouse-living and imaginative spontaneity. Sure, the place has problems of its own too, but their appreciation for the arts is undeniable and clearly improves the standard of living of its creative population. People aren’t scared to share or find interest in cultural difference. In South Africa I find that we still have a tendency to want to work against each other – and because the pie tends to be so small, most want to hold on to their own slice (so to speak). In addition, government budgeting has lost its sense of prioritization long ago, which makes it even more difficult for the creative community to co-exist simply due to lack of funding and government initiative. Having said this, CTEMF is that one time of year where the possibilities for networking, collaboration and social cohesion are at their peak for the local industry. It pushes aside all the current problems that we have to create a six-day musical utopia that goes beyond the superficial. The workshops promote the sharing of ideas whilst the diversity of line-up attracts people from a broad social spectrum. As a model, this seems to be a viable solution, and in many ways it is, but we must also remember that there are only a handful of committed individuals who, every year, take huge financial risks to get the event running. That means, booking reputable headliners (whose flights alone cost and arm and a leg), finding willing sponsors, improving production value and securing a venue all whilst trying keep the venture financially sustainable. In addition, if you look at the history of artists booked for the event, CTEMF clearly isn’t looking to be the next super-EDM-festival. It favours quality over quantity and also looks to provide a platform for emerging artists. Historically, these kinds of events are rarely given their due appreciation, yet they are often the most important – which is why we need to be more aware of the fact that by buying tickets and supporting we are directly contributing to its longevity and thus the improvement of the local music market. In addition, we need to start claiming and being proud of what is happening in the local underground – it’s not an easy task, especially when we constantly compare ourselves to our international counterparts. By all means think beyond the confines of your own space, but also don’t forget the importance of making an impact on those within your immediate surroundings. We will only start to be taken seriously when we take ourselves seriously, and CTEMF is that event that shows that we care and have the potential to be just as strong as any other major player in the global scene. If we look at the past few years alone, the amount of artists who are begging to tour the country has grown at a rapid rate, and as I mentioned earlier, the interest in African music overseas is at an all-time high with more and more of our artists touring abroad. The only way to take advantage of this, however, is to support existing local structures that are playing their role in putting African artists on the map.
During the festival period, for example, we have local DJ, promoter and radio host Angela Weickl (aka Ang) who has again put in the effort to run Syncopate, a platform for local producers to submit their tunes which will be complied onto USBs and handed out to CTEMF’s international headliners. We have Red Bull Studios and Gugu S’Thebe hosting workshops and listening sessions – the perfect places for networking and sharing. Just a few nights a go I had a chat to DJ Invizable about the importance of collaboration as method widening one’s listenership. As a stalwart in our scene, he still couldn’t stress enough the importance of working with people who have mutual desire in creating exciting material irrespective of genre. If one takes advantage of the structures in place, there is plenty of opportunity to take a step in a positive direction (a lesson I learnt last year). If I didn’t make the effort to go to the workshops I wouldn’t have had the same opportunities that I did whilst travelling. It’s simply a matter of taking one’s passions seriously enough to do something about it. With that said, I encourage every fervent South African muso to put their egos aside and use the opportunities that this wonderful festival provides. It’s time that we all started to play a part in solidifying a scene that is on the brink of world domination!