Review| Flamjangled Beyond Recognition 2012

Our lives have soundtracks. You know when you hear a song that you once loved, but haven’t heard in ages, and you get magically transported back to an earlier period in your life? You suddenly become overwhelmed by a flood of familiar sights, smells, emotions, experiences and thoughts; as the song plays out you find yourself not merely remembering a time in the past, but re-experiencing the very essence of that time.

Well, this weekend I stumbled upon a highly suitable soundtrack for being a young person in Cape Town: London Sixteen 66 by Goodluck

In years to come, hearing this track will surely transport me back to the greatness that was the Flamjangled Tea Party of 2012. I’ll reminisce about the spectacularly colourful owl-themed stage, and the feeling of straw under my bare-feet; I’ll feel the cold night air on my skin and the burn of brandy in the back of my throat. A smile will come to my face as I picture all the unusual decorations and remember the feeling of dancing side-by-side with an amazing group of happy, friendly, open-minded and creative people – most of them dressed-up and behaving in a way that would warrant admission to Valkenberg psychiatric hospital, but great people nonetheless.

The party kicked-off on Friday evening with a screening of classic silent movies, and what was described as “an intimate evening with friends”. This surely creates the impression of a relaxed, sit-down session, sipping on tea and chatting to close ones, right? Wrong. Before we knew it we had dug into our alcohol rations for the weekend, and were kicking up sand on the dance-floor, whilst Toby2Shoes and Maorginal graced us with the freshest bass-saturated Balkan and Swing tracks on the market.

Saturday morning was spent nursing monster hangovers and watching in amusement as an odd assortment of characters made their arrival. The people are really what make the Flamjangled party – there was such an eclectic and diverse assortment of characters, their bizarre personalities accentuated by their even more outlandish costumes. From toddlers to grandparents, artists, musicians, travellers, hippies, gypsies, leprechauns, praying mantises, horses, students, pirates and a gigantic baby (not me, I swear); it was as if mainstream society’s dregs had collected in Durbanville, and had been used to brew a massive tea-pot of creativity and eccentricity. There were more smiles floating around than at Mavericks on a Friday night, and everyone was exceptionally friendly, conversational and eager to share whatever toxic treats may be nestled within their tea-cups.

But the tea-party is really all about the music. Given that the event is marketed as somewhat alternative, I was rather surprised to see that a pop-based and commercial act like Goodluck were headlining. Nonetheless, their performance absolutely blew me away. I cannot emphasize how much fun was had on that dancefloor on Saturday night – they absolutely exceeded all of my expectations in terms of musical tightness, production, stage presence and exuberant energy.

However, Goodluck were not the only radio-friendly act on the line-up; a popular electro-rap act called ‘iscream and the chocolate stix’ played on Saturday night. These guys win themselves the title of “brats of the tea party”. Granted, there were some issues with the sound, and the band had every right to be indignant when their pre-recorded backing-tracks didn’t get played in the way they had hoped. However, they handled the situation in a completely un-professional and immature manner, by restarting tracks repeatedly and unnecessarily, and by using their microphones to castigate the sound guy excessively before storming off-stage. This reminded me of Adolf Hitler’s reincarnation, who I met at Pick n Pay recently – an obese little toddler who lay flailing and screaming in the sweet-section, admonishing his poor mother for not buying him Nik-Naks.

A much more mature performance (musically and otherwise) was put on by a new act called Rumpspringer – consisting of a DJ, a three-man brass section (including Ross Macdonald and Lee Thompson) and a live percussionist. These guys played an exceptional sunset set, fusing livejazz and electronic beats in such a way that bridges the age-old divide between the ‘dirty band-hippies’ and the ‘electro-kak fans’.  Their upbeat tunes have enough “oomph” to get people dancing like any good electronica should, and yet the instrumental components give the live performance a wonderfully improvisational and organic feel. Look out for this act – they are definitely going places.

Another act that got an amazing response was Hot Water, with their Johnny Clegg-inspired brand of proudly South African tribal-rock. I expect to get slack for saying this, but I thought their general performance was a bit luke-warm, or watered-down (see what I did there?). Don’t get me wrong: musically, these guys are tight; I’m just not the biggest fan of this neo-colonial exercise of drawing superficially on traditional culture in order to give the music an ‘African’ feel. Apart from being socially questionable, it just gives the act a bit of a hackneyed feeling. My own cynicism aside, they certainly knew how to get the crowd going, and when they finished everyone was smiling widely from the combined effects of patriotism and general intoxication.

After being carried through the early hours of Sunday by some superb techno-swing, courtesy of Dusty Human and James Copeland, I found myself stumbling through the cold darkness towards my tent. It was at this moment that I happened upon an interesting sight: a man sitting alone in a tree, wearing a red cape and holding a megaphone. He caught sight of DJ Fletcher, who happened to be walking ahead of me.  The drunken man’s eyes lit up, and he spoke into the mega-phone using a deep and slurred-yet-celestial voice:  “hello there, Fletcher”. The DJ stopped walking, and glanced around him, evidently confused and potentially questioning whose drink he had sipped on earlier in the night. The voice continued “No Fletcher, this is not god. You are god.” Having seen Fletcher’s set earlier that day, I was inclined to agree. I suppose the fact that I was hardly surprised at this debacle demonstrates just how surreal the whole Flamjangled experience was. People try to describe the event with reference to trance-parties, outdoor music festivals, Balkanology events and LSD trips, yet none of these comparisons do the tea-party justice (though the last one is probably closest to the mark).

Having attended the previous Tea Parties in 2010 and 2011, I must admit I was slightly apprehensive about the 2012 event. Not unlike the hipsters and antsy artists who find a social scene, claim it for themselves, and subsequently spend the rest of their lives bitching about it becoming commercialized, I was worried that the Tea Party might sell out. With growing popularity and sponsor-interest, would it become just another commercial rave, replete with ever-pervasive branding and corny slogans, which get forcefully superimposed on each and every genuine moment of human interaction? Would the artistic quirkiness and eccentric characters be replaced by overzealous social photographers and hordes of boyjtjies hunting for “banging beats and a kif jol”?

Thankfully not: the Flamjangled Tea Party of 2012 was bigger, yet better than anything I have experienced.  Never before have I been so overwhelmed by fantastic sounds, outlandish costumes, surreal décor and beautifully bizarre people. This was only the third Flamjangle, and already the crew seem to have perfected the art of hosting what cannot be called a music festival, but must be described as a massive social experiment. One from which you are likely to leave feeling musically satisfied, socially inspired, creatively re-invigorated and fully expecting your alarm clock to go off at any moment, safely depositing you back into your familiar, mundane reality.

All pictures by Kyle Mijlof (click here)

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