Review: RAMFest


BiffyAbout halfway up Sir Lowry’s Pass the car was assimilated into a large, pure white cloud, and my slight misgivings about RAMFest solidified into pure dread: it was going to pour with rain, and I’d just committed to spending the next two nights in a tent. Ah well, what’s a festival without a little rain, right?

This year’s venue – much like last year’s – was pretty much second star to the right and straight on till morning…  i.e far enough away to remove festival goers from Cape Town city life, without being too far to drive after a long Friday at work. But sign posting was, unfortunately, non-existent, and halfway to Caledon we became slightly concerned about whether or not we could possibly be being led up the garden path. But eventually, happily, I could see the lights that surely signified my being in the right place. Tents set up (in the dark, nonetheless), it was time to hit the arena.

Friday night on the main stage was reserved for the big metal acts, Trivium and Killswitch Engage (both USA), a metal fan’s dream come true. But if you weren’t into that, you could have made your way to the Monster stage for the reunion of locals Foto Na Dans, followed by other South African favourites Black Cat Bones and Fuzigish. For the dance and electro fans meanwhile, Niskerone and Camo & Krooked entertained on the Olmeca stage.

Saturday morning dawned surprisingly bright and sunny, with not a cloud in the sky, and the sound of cows to wake up the hungover campers.  Cue thoughts of “Where am I, what happened and why the heck are there cows in my house?” crossing the minds of many before they realized they were on a farm, in a tent… and seeing Biffy Clyro live in less than 12 hours.

With the entrance to main stage set to open at 3pm, and not a lot going on before that, the morning provided the perfect time to lounge around the campsite, almost fall asleep on the grass whilst nibbling on delicious mini doughnuts, or – for the braver souls – take a dip in the dam or river. As the day progressed, however, the temperature dropped significantly and the  storm clouds grew darker and more ominous, leaving the happy campers to dash back to their tents for jackets and waterproof shoes.

Lunchtime saw the Nomadic Orchestra’s horn-based sounds, followed by a comedy line up, and last Mr Cat and the Jackal on the Stellenbrau stage. I will admit that the first time I saw the latter, I found them quite strange. They are definitely an acquired taste, but it’s one I have acquired. Endlessly entertaining with a variety of instruments and narrative lyrics, they were a clear hit with the audience.

But that’s when things got weird. The first act was set to play the main stage at 3pm, but the gates had still had not opened, and eventually said band (The Flaming De Villes) appeared on the (tiny) Stellenbrau stage. By the time the second main stage band (the UK’s VuVuVultures) followed, rumours were flying.

The other bands played on regardless  which, while great,  put a dampener on their performances. For one, everyone was expecting these bands to play the main stage, so wouldn’t have seen them at all unless they happened to be in front of the lesser stage when they appeared. There were no announcements, no line up schedules anywhere all weekend, and absolutely no cellular signal, meaning that no one was able to check for announcements online (let alone tweet with the official hashtag.)

aKING too, played the smaller stage rather than main stage. A perennial favourite, being in a crowd when ‘Safe As Houses’ is played is always a beautiful moment, for the crowd’s singing almost eclipses that of frontman Laudo Liebenberg. The band also treated fans to a few new songs, meaning that we can surely look forward to a new album soon.

But finally, all issues apparently resolved, the main stage gates opened just in time for performances from the truly talent ISO and Gangs of Ballet, the former of which is growing in popularity due in part to the success of their single ‘No Fire’. From their live mannerisms to the style of music, they’ve obviously taken inspiration from big names such as Muse (keytar and all) and Coldplay (matching military attire included), but still bring with them a fresh flavour of indie rock. Gangs of Ballet, too, are hitting commercial success hard, and gave the performance their all and then some.

Changeovers between bands feel longer when you’ve been standing for hours, and when you’re cold, hungry and exhausted. But then again, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to see some of the best live acts in the world. And by 9pm when Foals took to the stage, the audience had forgotten all about those aching feet. The crowd went wild for their infectious hit single ‘My Number’ and later in the set, lead singer and guitarist Yannis Philippakis lived up to his reputation for stage antics when he jumped off the stage and crowd surfed, putting his trust quite literally in the hands of a town which he had never even played in before. On a personal note, he announced that his late grandfather was from Cape Town and would have turned 101 that day (8 March) and dedicated the next song ‘Late Night’ to him.

Scotland’s Biffy Clyro launched fans into the next dimension with their headline performance at 11pm. In all their shirtless glory, and with Scottish accents so thick that it was best just to grin if they asked the audience a question, they gave a new meaning to the word ‘rock’. Like a true rockstar of years gone by, lead singer Simon Neil commanded the stage from beginning to end. Jumping, thrashing, and brandishing his guitar, hair flying and tattoos seeming to glow in the dark, the band – who have headlined such international events as the Reading Festival in the UK – treated Cape Town to some world class entertainment. Even Zebra & Giraffe’s lead singer Greg Carlin could be seen in the crowd, singing along to every song. From ‘Biblical’ to ‘Sounds Like Balloons’, ‘57’ to ‘Opposites’, even casual fans stayed riveted until the end, when an explosive performance of their biggest hit ‘Mountains’ ended off the show.

And so the campers traipsed back to their tents, and the ominous clouds finally opened up around 2am, with the rain setting in and leaving the majority to pack up tents in soaking wet conditions the next morning. So yes, there were problems, but there were also solutions, and RAMFest remains one of the best (and least disgusting) festivals I have attended anywhere in the world. Hats off the them, until next year.

Farah Barry

Ramfest 2014 took place 7 & 8 March 2014.

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