Why CTEMF isn’t just a ‘jol’ – MyCityByNight Review of CTEMF 2019

Image: Mik Motala


All words: Lu Makoboka
All images: Mik Motala Photography / Mik Motala

Me: So, are you coming to CTEMF this year?

Acquaintance/Hater: Na bru it’s not the same as last year. It’s only one night, there aren’t any international acts, it’s at The Castle blah blah blah

The weeks preceding Cape Town Electronic Music Festival 2019 (CTEMF) were mixed with confusion; part of the reason why people lost interest included a variation of the reasons above. The 2018 instalment of the festival was my first time and it was such an incredible experience that I’d repeat it to my children for their bedtime stories. The location, the acts and the type of crowd will always arouse a smile when I stroll down that avenue of memory lane. So, what was the difference this year? Why was such a household festival in the city losing its credibility?     

Honestly, whoever was present during this year’s CTEMF and the last would tell you that there wasn’t much of a difference. The acts and location may have changed but the good vibrations which reigned over The Castle that night are still one for the books. If somebody were to include the word ‘jol’ and ‘CTEMF’ in the same sentence, a part of me would take offence. This year CTEMF proved that their showcase goes beyond a ‘jol’ and just by looking at the line up one could tell. It wasn’t just local but the lineup portrayed the essence of demographically inclusive, probably the most welcoming festival I know of. The crowd consisted of people I’d see at places like Caprice, Observatory, Yours Truly, Crew Bar, Stones, Mzolis… I think you get my point. CTEMF acts as this centre of contact between people of widely different backgrounds. The fest is tagged as alternative, but that is partly because there is such a high level of inclusion that other festivals struggle to meet.                    

 Décor is quite an important part of any festival as it plays on our first impression, and this year organizers set up three stages; namely the Joox, Red Bull and Budweiser stage. All three had their own atmosphere with the Budweiser stage being the most popular as audiences assembled like sonic disciples to experience the range of Techno and House the DJ’s were dishing out. Cornelius VS Dwson certainly made an impression during their set. I’ve come to know of Dwson’s works as melodic and ‘chill’, but the audience saw a different side of him as he played music that was quite upbeat infused with drums that’d knock your socks right off. I could imagine it was the Cornelius influence. All I can say is that it was HARD. Phat Jack can’t escape mention too and was definitely one of the crowd favourites, particularly because the tracks he played were imbued in ethnic rhythms and were really joyful. Additionally, the Budweiser stage was pleasing to the eye. A massive fountain was turned into a dance floor and as soon as the sun collapsed the visuals emerged which contributed even more to the entire experience, particularly for those who indulged in psychedelic substances.

Personally, I felt more at home at the Red Bull stage by virtue of the kind of music they were playing. The moment I saw Muzi on the lineup I knew that stage was going to be the one. Besides being an amazing producer, he always manages to interact with his crowd in a stunning fashion. Acts like Morena Leraba and gender/genre benders FAKA also owned that stage. It was great to witness their sets flow appropriately into each other. I’ve mentioned all these amazing artists previously, but one of the best sets actually came from what one may consider an ‘underdog’. Si’ Noir’s set had us sweating! Her stage presence would inspire audiences to lose it and be free. She had her squad of dancers plus I saw some acrobatics which of course wowed audiences.  The only problem that was present in the Red Bull stage was the conveyance of acoustics. At times the bass was overbearing and the rest of the mix would just get buried in rumbles of bass (R.I.P vocals).

As for the Joox stage… I didn’t spend much time there although just by the low ceiling and the darkness one could tell it’s the ‘Techno kids’ hang out. Thor Rixon and Cody Meyer had fantastic sets there, but the set where things became heated was during the arrival of Fogshow vs STAB Virus. I didn’t know who Fogshow was before but after that night, I certainly won’t forget. The spell they cast over the crowd was an exhibition of sonic wizardry, I even saw friends that never dance breaking a move or two. The combination of the two forces was certainly among one of the highlights of the night. Interestingly enough, some of the people who stated they weren’t coming to CTEMF received texts and arrived for the much anticipated Fogshow vs STAB Virus. I must include though, part of the reason the dance floor livened up was that the Budweiser and Red Bull stage closed early, leaving the masses to flock to the light-deprived Joox stage.

Whether or not CTEMF continues to be a one-night event with only local acts, that’s perfectly fine as the organizing committee and audiences came out on top to make the night a spectacle. ‘Public Enemy’ said it best. “don’t believe the hype”. This festival is a jewel in our country and I’d advise anyone to go and grow with the changes regardless of public opinion.

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