Dancing with the Diaspora
                                                                                                   

 

Oppikoppi Music festival in the platinum mines of Limpopo showcases the best in young South African rock music amidst dust and thorns.

2016 was a
terriific musical showcase including the smooth vocals of Bongesiwe Mabandla, the timeless Tidal Waves, strong voice of Ben Ben and rock of Wilem and some great shows I never watched like Bye Beneco and On Broadway. From the rock music of 'Follow me Follow You,' The Moths, Straight and Jackal to Afro-jazz's
Asanda, ska band Grassy Spark / 7th Son, collectors Go Barefoot, MC Yellowwolf (US), IDM Sawagi (JPN)
to the acoustic skills of Off the Wall and Matthew vd Want there is enough music for everybody.

Including also some photographs of the complimentary Raygun Royal, Friends of Charlie, Hip Replacements and the burlesque Bombshelter Beats collaborative.

Plus rocking with the acoustic sounds of the Sextons and Nathalie Poppy, whilst taking note of the DJ era still going strong with Ready D and newcomer The Kiffness on the decks (with trumpet in one hand) playing classic dance songs.

 

Interview Oppikoppi Festival Promoter: Misha Loots & Festival Director: Retha Hoffmann

Retha: Tess, my mum started it. She organised the first band weekend with Valiant Swart. Carel was there from the start. He attended the first band weekend. He was an engineer on a mine close by. That was the first Oppikoppi 1995.

My mum always listened to rock n roll and was a big Bob Dylan and Rolling Stones fan. There were a few SA bands they followed. When Koos Kumbuis played in Thabazimbi, she saw the show and asked them to come and spend a weekend with us. They rocked up to the farm, it was like a holiday resort. After the band we invited a few others like Piet Botha. We attended Rustlers Valley festival and new about Grahamstown and all of those and she wanted to host a festival like that. We had only recently bought the farm at that stage. We had it for a few months, not even a year. It started as a bird watching resort. We are surrounded by Platinum Mines. The contractors on the mines stay there throughout the rest of the year. We start to prep the farm through January and February, but we still use it for the contractors throughout the year and then ask them to leave for a week or so for the festival.

At what point did Oppi expand to Oppi productions?

We had three festivals. We had Oppikoppi in August. In the same year we started the New Year and the next year we started with Easter. And then we started doing other festivals as well in the late 90's. And then after then, we changed the name to Hilltop Live, six years ago.

Misha says: We started expanding. We were doing work with Huisgenoot and then people hear Oppikoppi. They think we are going to do drugs and slaughter cats. So when we are trying to find a venue in Namibia to do a Huisgenoot show, if they hear Oppikoppi they don't return the call.

What is the drive to become a full time music company?

Everybody wants to do a job that you really love. We all are into music. That is how it started and morphed into something else. And now it is a big company with different departments. If you are really into something you will try and make it work. It is not easy trying to make money out of music, but you juggle and do other stuff to try and make up for the loss you made at the festivals, and do all sorts of different things to try and make it work.

Misha: And at the end it turns into a company. We didn't start with the idea of doing productions for people. If you are trying to keep afloat for a year, you can't just do it on one show, so you start looking where-else you can get money. You start renting out fencing to people, or doing bar services because you have got the infrastructure. It has morphed by itself.

How much has Oppi developed rock music in the country?

Misha: I think it plays a big role in the country. A band feels that they have made it when they play Oppi. If a band has never played Oppi there is always a big tick missing on their career.

Retha: In the first year we only had 16 bands, my mother booked all the bands she could find that played original music. It had to be original music. Now we book 170 sets over a weekend. By the time Oppikoppi started there weren't other festivals. There were arts festivals, Grahamstown. Splashy Fen was running at the time. It was a small hippy thing. We helped to create that circuit and make it more worthwhile for a band to tour. If you are travelling to Pretoria or Johannesburg it is worthwhile for a band from Cape Town to tour.

Misha: Because we want to keep the business going, we do a lot of other shows in the year. We are constantly working on new ideas. We felt it a responsibility on our side, apart from trying to keep a business going, but create a platform for music to be shown.

Retha: We have an exchange with Belgium festivals. And the interaction with international artists that come to South Africa, trying to expose them to as many people as possible.

Misha: Right now we don't do that many shows, but we have done a tonne of shows over the last 15 years. Hilltop Live is a music company. A lot of these things are linked to sponsors. If a sponsor pulls out from a four year running music series then there goes the music series. It is impossible to keep these things afloat without sponsors.

 

Then how do you keep Oppi going?

Misha: Sponsors and a lot of hard work.

Retha: We have had small sponsorships and partnerships with infrastructure.

Your number of artists has grown 10 times, has the business grown 10 times?

Misha: No, the music industry in South Africa has grown. We can book 170 sets of music now when 22 years ago we could book 16.

Retha: We get close to 1000 submissions. It is easier to access the acts. In the filtering process you can find a lot of info online. It is easier for bands to reach us. All of that was really difficult in '95 to get hold of artists, and just to get to notice them. The industry has really grown. I think a lot of that stuff was underground. A lot of the good stuff was super underground in the early 90's. A lot changed in '94. Oppi started at the right time. And the whole country changed and with that the music industry.

Is Oppi a leader in sustainability?

Retha: What makes Oppi difficult as well is it is hard to change the culture. We try very hard to encourage people to bring their own water. Try and recycle, but it is hard to try and change that culture. We have people from Gauteng, their lifestyles are really stressful with long days. When they get to the farm, they go completely crazy. There are no rules. They are in this bubble for the weekend. It is difficult to change that. And you sit with the country's problems. All the issues of Limpopo and Gauteng we sit with that in a microcosm for a weekend. Like our own little municipality.

Misha: Also if you were to think of the most difficult site to build a festival we got that right. It is not a friendly site to operate on. Everything you do must be brought in: water, power, diesel, everything.

Retha: We have tried to move it to Pretoria, ten years ago, but it didn't work at all. People like it rough and harsh. We did it in Pretoria in 2000 and 2001. And then we did one in Worcester.

Misha: If we were to get rid of the dust and the thorns they won't come anymore.

Is there a possibility to take a festival off the grid?

Well, it is off the grid. We don't use municipality power. We have got bore-holes. Everything gets taken in. Now there is cellphone signal because they put a tower up, but three years ago there wasn't even a cellphone signal. It is off the grid; powered by generators.

What about sustainable energy?

Misha: Glastonbury might have sections that are off the grid, but that entire festival is definitely not off the grid. We have 170 acts which we can tell them sorry we can't give you a bunch of beer back stage. But, they sit with acts that dictate every bit. If you get a big act, they spec down to the generator. I can't see them being off the grid.

Retha: Think of South African solutions. We use a lot of local labour. We have got the clean-up teams that come in afterwards. We have had the recycling conversation but it is really tricky. The local communities claim most of that. People leave a lot of stuff, they leave couches, and we distribute it between the people. It needs to be fair. We have got local stores at the festival. You need to balance all these things. If you exclude the local people from the services, it is actually the only big thing that happens in Limpopo.

Misha: The clean-up takes really long. We keep everything there and it gets handles by the local community. It goes into their recycling programmes, and also all the stuff that people leave behind. On the last day, when we shut down the campsites, we have patrols going through so the campers don't scavenge. All the camp chairs and stuff that get left we try and reclaim so that it goes back into the community as part of the whole recycling thing. But this year we had white lighties from Sandton driving around bakkies just picking up stuff. They don't need second hand camp chairs and water bottles but they do it anyway.

Have you done any impact reports?

There has been stuff done by the University of North West. It is a big thing for that town; especially now with the mines going down. I think that KFC and Shoprite, that is their peak for the year.

Music and the local community - is their development?

Retha: It is difficult to say. We have got a project at the local school there. We always book local people as well. We had a really nice act from Northam this year. People from the surrounding area if they are a DJ or an act, they always end up asking us to come and play. They know about us and attend the festival.

Any tourism statistics?

Misha: Very few. It is mainly local. We are good friends with a few festivals from Europe. With some of the Belgium festivals, in the past we did artist exchanges, so there are some conversations to see how we can link the tourism people in South Africa. Is there a way we can link it, so if you buy a ticket to festival A that happens a week before us or a week after us, you can buy a package, you go to that festival, then you get on a plane and come to this festival and then you go to a game farm and a Soweto tour. There are conversations like that but it hasn't happened yet.

Retha: There are a few tourists every year. We don't always get to meet them. And there always nice stories like those Italian people that came and they named their race horse Oppikoppi. We picked it up through social media, where Oppikoppi had won this race in Spain. We don't get to meet all those people, you can see it on social media stats or you can see it where they are buying the tickets from. Then there is this huge content generator we have got on our social platforms and the way we run our online communities. There is a lot of people that follow us. They have not necessarily attended the festival.

Misha: And one year we said all Australians can come in free. We had 60.

Retha: Yes and we have done it with the Greeks as well. We had the Oppikoppi Odyssey in our 20 th year.

Misha: This year if you were over 65 you could come in for free. We want to keep that regardless. We have actually had quite a few people taking that up.

From the business side, how is it to be in the music business?

Retha: Attendance; 2500 in the first year, then we climbed to 12000 in 2005 and 20 000 five years ago and is hovering between 20 000 and 17 000.

Misha: Our biggest issue is water. There is enough space, we can have more people there, but water becomes a tricky thing because of the dust. We have three hotels where people use more water because they pay for a special shower. We need to water the roads to keep some of the dust down a bit. And inside we have to keep it wet, because when you have got 20 000 people bouncing in front of a stage, it is hectic. That is the big limiting factor.

Retha: You don't want to expend more water because this is such a dry continent. This is Oppikoppi - use less water. Bring your own water, don't shower, wipe yourself and go without water for three days.

Misha: There was a point where we sank new bore-holes almost every year. But there are developments around the area as well and everybody is sinking bore-holes. The water that is there is getting spread thinner. There are dams on site. Each hotel has their own dam and that gets filled up throughout the year. They have their reservoir and that is what they have to work with.

Are there still gaps for entrepreneurs?

Misha: It is a tricky hard business with very small margins. It seems easy, people do the calculations 20 000 people at R800 a ticket these guys are laughing all the way to the bank. It seems easy, there are a lot of people who come in and try and do stuff and totally get it wrong but that has a lot of impact on the industry as a whole, with people over paying artists or people not paying suppliers, or not paying the artists.

Retha: There are festivals we know of that have written off their debt. It happens.

Misha: Sometimes I think there are too many things happening out there. People think it is too easy to get involved. Because from outside it looks like a lot of fun; let's drink beer and listen to music and have a rock show. But it is a lot of hard work and it can go wrong. If my kid comes to me and says dad I want to be a rock n roll promoter I will probably tell him I don't think that is a good idea. And also don't be a band member! Music is good for people but the music business is not always good for people. We are also not the cleverest people out there.

Retha: We receive support from Limpopo province but it is not something that we can rely on. We need to do what we need to do. We can't wait for them.


Off the Wall


Mathew VD Want


Striaght & Jackal


Charlie


Raygun Royale

 


Medicine Boy


The travelling stage


Willem


Ben Ben

 


Tidal Waves


7th Son


Go Barefoot


Bombshelter Beast


Bombshelter Beast Opera singer


The Moths


Asanda

 

Interview Gareth Wilson

Something I always wanted to do was own a music venue where I could express little bits of my personality and people I have hung out with. I played with Southern Gypsy Queens for 12 years. Toured all over and met so many different bands all over the world, my whole idea changed. If you look at the programming we do at the Good Luck Bar it comes from those travels meeting new people new music and coming back and rediscovering Joburg and realising I have gone to so many places a boiling pot of culture, music and fashion. Ten years ago I started focusing on what is happening in Joburg and having a club that can showcase everything that is happening in Joburg.

Myself and Nicol were working for Hilltop Live and I was doing the artists booking for them for quite a while, still do but on a different basis. It is my favourite show to book. We brought what we felt at Oppikoppi to an every weekend style kind of thing. We are from the same background and wanted to experience a little bit of Oppikoppi every weekend.

I went to Jacques Moolman the lead singer of Shadow club, his wedding and I saw the space and Michael Camfield the drummer put me in contact with Jan one of our other partners. It took a bit of convincing as it is a great spot and there was not a lot happening. It was a beautiful bar that people would filter to from the market. Nicol and I bought half the business a year and 3 months ago.

The Good Luck Bar was established in 1895, the oldest shed in Joburg they did the Charles Glass launch for the 1895 Castle Draught. It is the only remaining venue that used to sell the beer. There are rumours he sold his first beer there but we can't confirm that. Bu we like to claim that.

Craft beers?

The Good Luck Bar has a lot of locals that come to a lot of shows. But it is not a local bar, it is a bit of mission for that. It is big space it it's not cosy. Everything is show dependent even to the beer. Jeremy Loops or Matthew Mole you are going to sell a lot of craft beer. Nomadic Orchestra they are more organic guy's big dancing band and get it going. A night like science fiction when we did all the drum and base stuff you are selling black labels and water. It is hard hitting music, a whole different sound. Beautiful watch like Chaos Pierceful Mellow get together dancing and drinking beer.

Trend in venues not sustaining?

It is a labour of love. It is much easier for us. We love music, we love hosting it, and we want to keep it fun for ourselves. It is a constant battle keeping live music going, but it is definitely on the up again. People are verging toward live performances over DJ performances for the first time in a long time. I feel we are making a lot more money off live performers than DJ's.

We do everything. Our favourite nights, I am not sure of you are familiar with Femi Koya? Dance wise the traditional afrobeat kills. And there is a break off of Afro-indy bands like Urban Village, BCUCU, Brother Moves On, DMDC, bands like that get the dance hall pumping. And you can get bands to collaborate. We mix bands like Go Barefoot and Urban Village or Bye Benico and BCUC, Diamond Thug and Brother Moves On. We have done amazing collaborations like that. The Black Cat Band and BCUC performed a set together. That is where we are going we had the youth orchestra come in and play with Bombshelter Beast. The place had this marching band taking over, half the band on the dance floor half the band on the tables, bar counter standing at the door, taking over. We try and give the people an experience they can't forget, not that is the stage that is the show.

This is why live is making a comeback?

There are great DJ's, if you look at Sibot and Toyota, people like that that go to the trouble of doing visuals, it is still static. There are some great electronic shows that create experiences within the venue. We haven't delved into that on the electronic side of things. That is the great thing about live, using the space, using the room to your advantage. Basically some nights giving the people a 360 degree angle where they can see and hear the music from everywhere.

How does it become sustainable?

What is sustainable about is people support the acts they believe in more so than the venue. It is great when people get behind the good luck bar, we got a lot of support like that. But always say support the bands you want. We will make sure we have the right bands playing the Good Luck Bar that you are following. What makes it sustainable is the musicians. They give us something to work with and we can work with what they give us. The more you can give them the more we can work together.

Social media?

Social media obviously exploded and now it has got so flooded that we have reverted back to flyers and posters in town for some of the bigger events. It is greeting bands to understand that if I book you and you bring 10 people, next time I will pay you for 50 that faith is how I book. I don; like anything for free from artists, I like to pay them something but I like to know what I am paying for.

If you have got shows bring the people you are with because that is your currency.

What about rock?

There is a beautiful scene coming out now because there has been nothing exciting for a long time. You have got Black Cat Band and Taxi Violence and Fokof polisie car and they are all killing it. Prime Circle Parlotones have moved onto Adult contemporary scene but also doing amazing. What we haven't seen for years is young kids, 19 21 years old, in varsity, packing places with rock n roll bands that not a lot of people have heard of. That is a sign of a healthy scene. We have got bands like Go Barefoot, Tazers, Boxer, Black Math from Durban. They are getting people to the show, they are not headliners but are proving that this could be the new wave of rock. It has its foot in the psych rock scene. It is a stoner rock psych rock scene, Soul Jam is a great example who are pushing the psych rock genre and breaking away from it. Up until now Cape Town has dominated that scene, Joburg is about to add a whole new flavour internationally.

Rumours, Arcade Empire in Pretoria.

We got the place loved it and new we would have issues with the sound and keep on treating it as we go. We have treated the roof. And now we want to do bass traps and get a new rig in there. It is getting better all the time. Once we get more money we do more and it is improving all the time. Friday night it sounds amazing. There is a sweet spot in the room.

What is your vision in terms of the music industry?

I book so many festivals and events. My whole vision this year is I am looking for guys who stand out and last year I was looking for a lot of local flavour. I am looking out for elements that make someone sound different. That act you know you have to book but you don't know where to put them. We don't always book the hippest shows.

Festivals?

We rushed into a festival idea called a Place in the Sun which was going to be a festival for the good luck bar. We had so much issue with the neighbours it was put on hold going forward to this year or 2018. We still need to cement the Good Luck Bar and then definitely. Our background is festivals. Place in the sun is a one stage festival, beautiful surroundings, smaller audience, boutique festival.

 

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