Review: CTEMF

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ctemf hallThe Cape Town Music Festival (CTEMF) has established itself over the last few years as the showcase for the top electronic music artists in South Africa. This year – even months in advance – the festival had more buzz than ever, and together with its shiny new venue came raised expectations for it to boost its standard (and its disco ball).

Friday’s kick-off to the festival at the Grand Parade ensured the three day event started with a bang.  Crazy White Boy produces music which takes you by surprise with its sharp, tight rhythms, African drums and kwaito flavour, and inventive contrasts in the colour of the sound and the instruments. Most importantly, this is one of the most energising acts I’ve come across in a while.  Justin Martin gave a majestic, confident set which had old and new fans singing praises throughout the next two days. His music is a technical showpiece of walking bass lines, a huge array of percussion, meandering harmonies and big bass bounce. Everything from drum ‘n’ bass (including liquid and Jungle) to complex electro, falls into place under his hands.  And the harmonic trip of the night came from Capetonian trance and house producer Protoculture. For those of us who crave beautiful, melodic, song-like electro, this is bliss. Protoculture consistently delivers seamless and epic sets and this was no different.

On Saturday I arrived as the sun started setting behind the City Hall, one of Cape Town’s most beautiful pieces of architectural heritage. It was easy enough to find parking on the parade despite the growing crowds, and I made my way into the structured space to settle into the strange intimacy offered by the crowd in the square.

Fever Trails had just come on stage, a band of four: Nicolaas van Reenen, the writer and main man at the decks; a button player offering consistent bass and harmonies; a guitarist, and a drummer. The crowd could sense this was something different; music to pay attention to, to listen to. They made us listen – drawing us in with extended harmonics at the beginning and picking up into a full on instrumental and electronic journey, with complex rhythms, figures and grooves. The highlight was the band’s leading track ‘Vacuum’, which originally caught the attention of listeners a year ago, making them an outfit to watch out for. Romantic piano passages develop into strange and beautiful melodies with synths, and then a big groove comes along and interweaves itself. With van Reenen on keys and the groove building, the audience responded joyfully to the surprising size of the rhythm, and soon everyone was bouncing. The end of their set saw big applause and a new team of fans.

Cid Rim was up next, bringing the sound back to house with a push and a shove. This guy should be dubbed  “the kid who loved to make noise in his Momma’s kitchen”. He’s a percussionist who would have done just as well with a selection of pots and pans in the place of the drum set-up keys. Not to say there was no harmony, but the drums and rhythms seemed to override everything else. A little wake-up call after Fevertrails to say “Hey, don’t get too dreamy, there’s a long night still ahead.”

Sedge Warbler gave Saturday its dose of deep urban grit. One of the most established and respected electronic outfits in Cape Town, Sedge Warbler is a full on professional assault of dirty bass, synth and rap, and the crowd loved it. There was definitely a big bunch of people there to see them specifically. And also to move their hips specifically.  Dirty Paraffin took it another step further into our roots with full on kwaito, before we went back to the Bronx with Jazzy Jay. This man is not only legendary, but humble, friendly and happy: one of my friends interviewing him asked what to call him, and got the chuckling response “You can call me what ever you want!” His long set was more than welcome. The 80’s are alive and kicking in Cape Town.

Caspa then picked up the pace and got some serious foot stomping going, and by the end of his set the space was jam packed with heaving masses. Moving smoothly from house to dubstep to drum’n’ bass territory resulted in a wave of release for a big portion of the crowds, especially for a girl standing next to me, throwing her head and arms up – “AAAAAH! FINALLY!!!!”. Personally, I didn’t feel that he really offered anything fresh or interesting to the house scene– no single element in the music grabbed or impressed me or the crowd at large.

Haezer is a Cape Town producer/DJ with possibly the largest fan base in the city (arguably in the country) when it comes to dubstep and bass. Although his sets are geared towards hardcore, his ability to bring in new patterns, instruments, builds and drops catches the attention and demands respect even from the more harmonic-minded. When it’s got its grip, it doesn’t let go easily, re-inventing itself at every turn. The kids came out of the woodwork for this one.  Haezer was the perfect build up to Netherlands trio Noisia, which takes hardcore industrial drum’n’ bass to a whole new level. Noisia frequently score music for trailers and games, and bring a tight, fast paced set to audiences.

Sunday brought the only female vocalist at the festival; she of the small, breathy voice.  HVOB stands for “Her Voice Over Boys”, and it is so well fitted.  A distinctly melodic relief from the other acts, the outfit performed songs that started as less-adventurous versions of Portishead numbers, before each track made its way into house where it settled comfortably.  A delicious trip-out Sunday vibe. The audience loved it, but it wasn’t particularly inventive.

Portable, and then Julian Gomes and Culoe de Song, kept us going until the night-time heavyweights, Black Coffee and Dixon.  The turnout for Black Coffee was massive, and not surprisingly so. It is very, very hard to stand still once he gets on stage, flipping different house and kwaito beats at the rate of pancakes, each with a different flavour. Everyone from black to white to Thai was dancing, smiling, laughing, hugging and generally creating warm fuzzy South African feelings.

Dixon was good, but didn’t deliver anything mind blowing or body bending. Solid, dependable house gave the masses just enough energy to keep happy, drinking and dancing.

There seemed to be greater volume of house and a lesser volume of drum‘n’bass than in previous years, which may have been disappointing for the DnB fans in Cape Town. That said, there was variety in each day and the schedule was well planned with acts beautifully timed.

The visuals and lighting played their own independent game. The displays were huge, vastly varied in colour and scope, and interactive with the music. On Saturday night in particular, the level of artistry was astounding.

This was a world class festival in many ways, proof that Cape Town can host a festival with facilities which are more than adequate. There were plenty of bar areas and sections, excellent security, ample parking, sets that ran on time, and a diversity of acts which catered not only to our numerous South African tribes but also to all our international guests who can now see that Cape Town is most assuredly  on par with all other party capital favourites.

Marie-Claire de Villiers

Marie-Claire is a writer, blogger at www.restlessmusingsct.wordpress.com, singer and songwriter at www.soundcloud.com/marie_e, composer, and music sourcer for productions at www.imagenheart.com.

The Cape Town Electronic Music festival was held on the Grand Parade, Cape Town on 7 to 9 February 2014.

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