Electronic music is not new to Cape Town. From its origins within and around the underground scene, it fast spread onto the commercial club circuit and over recent years to regular three-day long outdoor festivals. In short, electro is everywhere.
The real question is whether it is appreciated, celebrated and understood as a bonafide musical form, forged and fostered by producers who are artists and musicians in their own right. This was the core essence of last weekend’s Cape Town Electronic Music Festival, which paid tribute to those musical innovators and pioneers who have made South Africa’s electronic music scene what it is today, while leaving room for emerging DJs and producers to make their own mark.
In the week prior to the main weekend event CTEMF offered, in collaboration with Red Bull Studios, a series of workshops, talks and smaller events around the city with an aim to illuminating and documenting the cultivation of electronic music culture within a distinctly urban setting.
But of course the main event was the big attraction – the pumping heart of the CTEMF that had given rhythm and pulse to the events of the preceding days, and promised an odyssey through every aspect of electronic sound from lounge and house to dub, glitch, hip-hop, minimal, techno and progressive.
Walking towards the Breakwater rooftop at the Waterfront, with Table Mountain as the backdrop on one side and an expanse of glistening ocean on the other is a serene experience in itself. Add the smooth symphony of an electro-infused dub beat and you have pure poetry of sight and sound. This, combined with an all-star line-up, two LED screens for ambient visual effects and seemingly flawless organisation, resulted in an event of international standing, infused with the flair, courage and vigour that only a South African festival could achieve.
As people filtered through the gates, the smooth sounds of Remy Gold, Dank and Bigfoot set the mood and tone. The crowd swelled to a sunset session of deep wobbly bass from the fathers of dub-step, Step Up Soundsystem and Richard the Third, followed by new kid on the local and international scene, Das Kapital.
Even newer on the scene, female duo Blush n Bass, picked up where Das Kapital left off but then hit a plateau of commercial, gimmicky sounds that didn’t quite cut it for CTEMF. The real action came from Haezer, one ofSouth Africa’s top exports, followed by dreadlocked phenomenon Niskerone. As if that wasn’t enough, it then culminated in a Drum n Bass set of note from Hyphen and SFR.
Saturday took off with a similar mood and tone, paying homage to electronica’s classical roots and exploring the sounds that have defined South African electro: the kind of spirited Afro-Electro fusion that goes all too well with sunshine and Savannahs. The afternoon melted away into instrumental electro bliss, tinged with eager anticipation of Sibot. Finally the king of electronic sorcery and enchantment took to the stage, clad in googly eyed get-up and a mask that resembled a meringue from outer space. Pure musical talent aside, it was a performance that rivalled some of the best local and international electro acts I’ve seen.
This was by far the hardest act to follow, but luckily the members of PH Fat have got their own thing going, and with the cult-like following they’ve procured over the past year alone they had the crowd overdosing on glitch-hop rap revelry. It didn’t stop there either, peaking again with Monique Pascall’s sweltering techno set which left the crowd digging deep for final reserves of energy to embrace the beats of Bteam who outdid themselves with a set that defied earthly definition.
The first half of the Sunday session was solely dedicated to sultry house beats, perfectly suited to those with aching limbs and mild heart palpitations from all the RedBull. While my body only just made it through Black Coffee’s soulful deep-house set there’s no doubt that another afternoon of first-class acts followed: Dean Fuel, Digital Rockit and all-time South African-turned-international lounge jazz favourite Goldfish to name a few.
The Cape Town Electronic Music Festival was a defining moment for the local electronic scene, now clearly marked on the international map but more importantly in the hearts and minds of its South African followers. With the long-term goal of working alongside the International Jazz Festival, which falls on the same weekend, it’s no stretch of the imagination to see CTEMF in the next few years competing with Detroit Electronic Music Festival or Sonar inBarcelonafor the electronic music pilgrims of the world. See you there next year.
by Julie Anne Pocock
The first Cape Town Electronic Music Festival took place 30 March – 1 April 2012.
View our photos of the event.