EQUINOX Experience 2018: The Enchanted Forest

Magical. EQUINOX 2018 definitely tops my list of festival experiences – the attention to detail, organisation and production was second to none. The intimate, recklessly abandoned crowd, together with the mystical venue created one truly enchanting atmosphere. The musical progression from techno to psytrance to progressive on a single stage is also not something I’ve seen before for a weekend event.

I’m going to approach this review a bit differently by trying to build on an analogy that was running through my mind constantly over the weekend. Lately I’ve seen a number of movies/series that have emphasised the enhancements of virtual reality (VR) and gaming – creating alternate worlds for us to explore and experience things we wouldn’t normally have access to. Well, perhaps it was just the recency of watching these shows, but throughout the weekend, all I was visualising was how the EQUINOX team had built an entire new world for us to explore and enjoy.

Sculpted Woods.

Video game and VR designers spend months designing their worlds; they have absolute freedom to create whatever they want. It’s all just 1s and 0s, thousands of lines of code, where they ultimately try to create a world that they feel you, the consumer, would get the most enjoyment out of. Well – this is exactly what the EQUINOX team did. Those woods were completely transformed. There were visual cues everywhere – from a massive chameleon in the trees to secreted deity faces sculpted onto random trees; small figurines scattered around the grounds to the immense eye of the stage. Countless artworks all contributing to building a unique environment for us.

Giant Chameleon by Artescape Decor (photo by Adam Metcalfe)

Now, the best games often provide you with an open world – this is where the limits or boundaries of where you can explore aren’t easily perceivable and you have freedom to progress as you want. However there is always a singular theme or purpose that ties everything together. EQUINOX provided you with a similar freedom with the stage being the focal point and dancing being the main theme. You could go wandering in the forest, bounce on the jumping castle, laze in the ball pit, walk the tightropes, rejuvenate in the campsite, gaze up at a sky perfectly lit up with stars, interact with the numerous dogs – almost like in game critters, watch the fire dancers or just gambol about. All whilst being constantly drawn back to the stage where we had pure freedom to dance and let loose.

Your Tale.

Each attendee could also create their own characters for the weekend. You could be anyone you want to be with no predefined culture fits to consider. Now, a lot of people find it easier to interact with others through the guise of a computer screen – here in this fantasy land there was no need to hide. There are none of the boundaries society seems to place on us that limit our interactions to those from our friendship circles or workplace – you could easily walk up to anyone and just start up a conversation. One of the key aspects to many games has to be the interaction with other characters; you can hear their tales, receive some knowledge or get clues on how to progress further.

I honestly think this was core to what made this event so special – everyone was freely communicating, constantly sharing stories and laughter, motivating one another, etc. This was aided by the incredible Funktion1 sound system – with more than enough volume and clarity for you to fully immerse yourself in the music, yet you’re still be able to hold a conversation with the person next to you. Quick side thought, while mentioning the music: so games also always have soundtracks right? Well, you could see the stage as providing us with an absolute treat of a soundtrack that was audible from anywhere on the grounds – a constant backtrack to our weekend.

Angelique gathering some helpers to return the lost balls to the play pit, Saturday midday

Total Unity.

All together this created an extraordinary unity in the crowd; one that provided everyone with a sense of comfort and freedom to be themselves and dance however they pleased. Why worry about how you’re dancing when everyone around you isn’t – zero judgement. We were all on that floor for one reason – to dance. The floor was also incredible spacious – allowing the crowd to easily move in an almost Brownian motion resulting in a constantly flowing dance floor full of energy. For instance, if you zoom into the cover photo for this review here, you can easily identify every single person in the crowd – all with faces of pure bliss. There was no more spending hours lost trying to find your mates.

I’m sure most of you know that EQUINOX also run their ticketing system with quite a unique invite code structure. This is were previous event attendees get a code that they can share with a few friends who will then be able to buy a tickets and in turn be able to invite their friends to the following event – building a network or tree of people (the concept behind the EQUINOX logo). This is also very similar to how a lot of games run their pre-release testing and allows the organisers/developers to track users and cultivate the experience to include only like-minded individuals and keep out any problem causers. The organisers were also actively engaging with the crowd over the weekend to build their own perceptions of their attendees with the goal of also implementing a reward system for those that help contribute to the quality of the experience.

Layered Production.

There were also so many layers to the production – every aspect could be interpreted in many different ways. The most obvious being the stage: as a whole it was a huge eye, but each element of the eye was an artwork of its own – all working together to create a living stage. However, the visuals didn’t just give the impression the stage was moving, the quality and layers of effects gave it texture. It was almost as though you could reach out and touch it – the inner rings’ lashes ‘feeling’ like soft feathers.

Mogey, Friday evening (photo by Anja Oosthuysen)

Practically every game is designed to tell a story; to provide entertainment through a series of chapters and levels. Well, EQUINOX managed to curate their line-up in such a way that there was a constant progression of musical energy, going through different stages, with each set being provided by a new storyteller. A conglomeration of some of the best artists from around SA – featuring many names well known in the Joburg scene that we don’t often get to hear in Cape Town. And every single act playing utterly top-notch quality music – taking full advantage of the expertly tuned Funktion1 rig. The passion and dedication Dale and Hugo have for those speakers and programming them to sound the way they do is phenomenal.

Chapter One.

We started off with Chapter One – an intro to the weekend initiated by a debut live set from VO who provided some ambient sounds that built into an amalgamation of deep and tech elements. This deep, techy progression continued through the afternoon/evening with artists Bameano, Patrick McCreanor (ES), Craig Shacid, Mogey and Daniella Da Silva each providing us with their unique styles that flowed perfectly between one another.

The evening peaked with Weekend Heroes (ISR) and Nick Grater bringing the slightly harder techno selections while Defuse and Bander & Lewis continued this, providing tracks for the more ‘industrial’ techno lovers. And closing off the first chapter, Erebus brought in some more melodic elements with his sound. All together, a chapter mostly focused on the different styles of deep house and techno.

LEEU, Saturday morning

Chapter Two.

And so began Chapter Two – my personal favourite. Things kicked off with LEEU who played a downtempo/chill set – easily adding an extra hour to the already 90 minute live set – something anyone that’s prepared a live set knows is no easy task. Almost providing a musical reset to the dancefloor and playing to a select few didn’t hamper LEEU from performing one of the most impressive sets of the weekend; a perfect backtrack to those chilling in and around their tents – easing everyone into the Saturday. 

From here the day just escalated. Artists that usually play at night were playing morning and early afternoon sets, but the energy from the crowd allowed them to do as they pleased. These names speak for themselves: Wulfsohn, Ryan Hill, Mark Valsecchi, Stab Virus, Deadbeat FM and Stereotype all played an exquisite selection of absolutely powerful, banging techno. As a techno lover, I really couldn’t have asked for a more star studded lineup of local acts. Every layer and element of their tracks perfectly reproduced on the Funktion1 system – telling a constantly evolving aural story.

And even though the music was slightly slower than the trance most of the crowd were used to, everyone was easily able to find their own groove. Ending off the first half of our experience was a special techno set from internationals: Sawlead Ground (ISR). I could honestly write an entire paragraph on every artist that played this day, but to refrain from boring you with that detail I’ll blanket it as a chapter of sonic excellence and powerful, psychedelic techno.

Sawlead Ground, Saturday evening (photo by Anja Oosthuysen)

Chapter Three.

Chapter Three – the beginning of the trance so many were waiting for. But first we had RoomMush who absolutely blew me away – seeing this man progress over the last few years has been incredible and he left no question that he is the king of the Minimal Psy genre in SA. He even played his new Crash Bandicoot Bootleg to add to my game analogy. From here we had Sawlead Ground (ISR) play their second set. The duo having spent a great deal of the event hanging out with festival attendees had a great connection with the crowd which was clearly evident in the way they interacted with and controlled the crowd – throughout both their sets.

And just like that the proper psychedelic trance had arrived. Positioned perfectly between the Israeli internationals we had the two main guys behind EQUINOX playing an incredible live set as Quantum Project. Timelock (ISR) and Gonzo then followed with some no holds barred trance kicking the energy in the crowd up to its definite apex. This all leading us, in under 6 hours from the end of the techno, into someone I personally rate at the forefront of the South African psytrance scene, Rubix Cube. And Kieron definitely gave the crowd exactly what they were waiting for – some full on psy madness. Closing off the psytrance focused chapter was Deliriant & Dan Scot – two names synonymous with quality psychedelic music.

Sunday Funday.

And so we reached the final chapter of our euphonious journey – the progressive Sunday Funday. Phixius’ and Bongi’s energetic sets lured the crowd to the dancefloor and set a great tone for the day. This was followed by festival favourite and super enigmatic Portal building a truly electric atmosphere on the dancefloor. We then had 34° South playing a, as he describes, prog-monster set leading expertly into the Sunday Funday legend – HEADROOM. Having seen almost 10 sets from this man this season so far, I’m always in awe how he still manages to completely blow me away – both with his track selection and mixing – every single time. Watching him experiment with his mixing and his joy when it works is truly inspiring – a true master at his craft.

HEADROOM, Sunday afternoon

And finally we had German’s progressive maestro – Querox. He kicked things off in full throttle – breathing even more life into that dance floor with an incredible fusion of lyrics, synths and driving bass lines. And for those of us that made it through to the end, Querox even spoilt us with a bonus round! When he saw the Sunday crowd he told the organisers he’s playing an extra hour and a half – doubling his set length – and the organisers just couldn’t say no. It’s not everyday an act of this size has the opportunity to play for such an intimate crowd – it was a truly emotional experience.

One of the aspects of a festival I, and most people I know, always struggle with is when the sound cuts. Most of the time we have a massive artist closing, playing a full power set – and then it just ends. Music off. Crowd chants possibly get an encore or two and we’re mostly left feeling slightly dumbstruck – not knowing exactly what’s going on. Well, not at EQUINOX – we were spoilt with an emotional progressive journey in which Querox eased us down – only ending at 8pm on the Sunday evening!

Team Passion.

But an event like this doesn’t just happen – it’s the culmination of a lot of hard work, planning and mostly passion. Everyone involved with the organisation and running of the event are absolute experts in their fields – logistics, venue, sound, visuals, etc. The sheer amount of preparation the organisers put in is also definitely worth mentioning; building an entire new ablution block with mesmerizing views of the landscape while you showered, two new bridges over the empty river bed (probably the only thing I could think could make the event better is this being full of water, but since it’s a seasonal river there’s not much that can be done to help this) connecting the festival area and the camping site as well as the ridiculous stage build that took weeks of on site development. The venue was also kept perfectly clean; constantly having cleaners walking around, picking up stompies from the dancefloor, emptying bins, etc that kept the venue looking immaculate.

Querox, Sunday late afternoon

And finally, to Ryan, Jéan and rest of the EQUINOX team – thank you. It was an absolute honour to be a part of this magical event. I look forward to seeing how your concept and goals for the event play out over the next 5 years at this magical venue!

About a certain Creek…

Ever so slightly I shift my feet from side to side in anticipation, palms sweaty, heart palpitations fire up a notch, stomach butterflies, an amalgamation of physical signals goes through my whole body in mental preparation for what is about to happen next. In the mounting moments I know I will be seeing a band live, one I’ve dreamed of seeing.  Still, I remember the first night my mother made me sit in front of those brown Kenwood speakers to hear Claire Johnson belt out perfect vocals. Here I was, aged 33, finally to experience all that energy and talent in action. Continue reading About a certain Creek…

REVIEW: Rez Fest NYE 2017 – 2018

Hectic. There’s no point denying it – that was a rough weekend. Heat, cold, sandstorms, a torrential downpour – we had it all. What was, only a few years ago, a lush landscape next to SA’s largest dam, was now a barren, dusty badland. But what an atmosphere the setting created… It’s always been a dream of mine to attend some of the massive international psy festivals such as Boom, Ozora, Doof, etc and it felt like this weekend gave us a tiny taste of what those events would be like. Continue reading REVIEW: Rez Fest NYE 2017 – 2018

We Love Summer ft Pillowtalk

Still buzzing from the phenomenal experiences at the We Love Summer stage at Daisies, I got a strange sense of excitement when someone told me to go have a look at We Love Summer’s website for details on their season opener – before things were released on Facebook. As I hoped – We Love Summer was returning to Blue Rock! My first ever WLS, and still my favourite to date, was at Blue Rock and walking out of last year’s ‘Final Blue Rock’ was slightly emotional, but the trek (somehow I always forget there isn’t a path on the right, through the top bushes, and end up bundu bashing) down this weekend felt idyllic.

Continue reading We Love Summer ft Pillowtalk

Psych Night x Red Bull: God Save The New Wave

God Save The New Wave – a title that had me reminiscing my National Anthem, although thankfully the similarities ended there. The album comprises 5 eclectic tracks, which complement one another with surprising ease. Continue reading Psych Night x Red Bull: God Save The New Wave

SA Music Scene does #RTD2017

It’s been 3 Years since I have attended the annual Rocking The Daisies, and wow has it changed. They have definitely bumped up the catering for different music lovers, aiming towards the main market, which is about time.  It saddens me that there was hardly any live rock ‘n roll acts this year, but hopefully, they will bring back the Rocking part to the Daisies Festival with female headliners, along with the variety that they have incorporated now. Continue reading SA Music Scene does #RTD2017

[REVIEW] FPK – Selfmedikasie: The result of our youth!

Francois, Wynand, Hunter, Johnny, and Snake have delivered another album so perfectly crafted and relevant to the time of its release, just like they always have when we were still teenagers – angry and desperate to find ourselves.
We don’t have to shy our faces when people talk about being Afrikaans, there’s only a handful of Afrikaners holding onto racism and apartheid – we’ve shown the middle fingers to our parent’s ways, the wrongs in Christianity and we’ve formed our own persona’s in the new South Africa. We aren’t pissed off anymore, we are proud of who we’ve become! Continue reading [REVIEW] FPK – Selfmedikasie: The result of our youth!

Vortex: Phoenix Festival of Fire 2017

Winter Vortex. With the season having ended roughly a month ago, the hype that built for Phoenix: Festival of Fire was insane. Every seasoned trancer I know has been telling me about Winter Vortex for as long as I can remember and this year I knew it was about time I made the mission and attended. Continue reading Vortex: Phoenix Festival of Fire 2017

ALBUM REVIEW: Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

After listening to “Burn the Witch” on loop after its release I can safely say I was slightly underwhelmed, but with the release of this album my feelings started to change, each second more perfect than the last I cannot fault A Moon Shaped Pool in the slightest. The album being almost therapeutic is amazing. “Burn the Witch” fits into the album as a whole and I feel that is what bands struggle to do these days, release an album. Bands nowadays focus on an album which is more filler than killer and this album is an absolute masterpiece.

“Identikit” is thus far my favourite song on the album, with weird guitar tones, and Thom Yorke’s chorus of “Broken hearts make it rain” the song is great and feels like a meeting point between all of what Radiohead do. At the same time, though, that is just my preference. Jonny Greenwoods String writing ability is unparalleled, it is pure and I will say rather genius.

Their albums tend to become a personal experience for all those who listen to them, each person will give you a different answer when asked which is the best album they have released.

Each album makes you feel something different, from the angst on The Bend to the pureness and truth of In Rainbows. They have a talent for writing albums that make you feel something, which once again I feel like not many artists are capable of these days. To me, this might not be my favourite album they’ve released (In Rainbows takes that award) but it’s bloody brilliant.

This album is a very human album, instead of reinventing themselves, they’ve almost taken the best of what is Radiohead and made something beautiful. All in all, it’s perfection, it’s human, it is the human mind at work, it is beauty and this is what music and musicians needed an inspiration to be yourself.

9/10

LIVE REIVEW: Of Monsters and Men Live At Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Photograpy courtesy of Jono Jebus 

Dark ominous-looking clouds loomed above the prestigious and spectacular Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. A torrential downpour seemed imminent but this did not dampen the spirit of the 5 500 fans who managed to purchase tickets to the debut performance of Of Monsters and Men in South Africa. Peals of laughter and excited chatter rang up down the long snaking queue of people who were waiting for the gates to open. It is rare to hear such excitement accompanying a long wait to enter a venue and it even remained after the brief delay to open the gates. A delay that was done so that people queuing at the top gate could enter without colliding with those making their way into the concert grounds from the main entrance.

Minor spats occurred between couples, and friends, as people made their way into the concert grounds and tried to decide where to sit. These spats were quickly resolved when somebody decided to take charge and forcibly command how the seating arrangement shall work. Sharp terse comments of “Put the blanket down”, “Nee fok, moenie daar sit nie”, and many others rose above the crowd as order was eventually restored by the self-appointed seat ushers. Once order had been restored, people settled into the usual routine that accompanies a South African picnic concert: drinking copious amounts of alcohol and stuffing one’s face until the main act took to the stage.

Gangs of Ballet promptly took to the stage and humbly understood that they were the band to which everyone shall eat and drink. There was no expectation on their part that the entire crowd was about to clamber to their feet and dance along to Gangs of Ballets’s spectacular fusion of ethereal alt-pop, anthemic alternative rock and aggressive alt-metal guitar riffs. It is an attitude that is a testament to their resilience in a harsh musical climate and their set only further proved why they have been so successful.

The band powered through some of their smash hits like the ethereal synth-pop anthem of “Always” and gave an interesting alt-rock meets alt-metal to the delightfully happy singalong of “Don’t Let Me Go”. It was their performance of “Hello Sweet World” that truly impressed me. It is such a slow, melancholic song when heard on Yes/No/Grey but the live performance saw the song straddling the gap between a melancholic musing and a soaring alternative rock anthem that matched the seething mass of ominous clouds above. The technical skill of the three piece came through on each song as intricate guitar riffs were matched to rhythmic percussion and layers of synthetic padding. The choice of Gangs of Ballet as the opening act had been criticised by many, but if one considers the role of an opening band to be warming up the crowd before the main act then Gangs of Ballet did just that as they loosened vocal chords and warmed swaying bodies

Much excitement descended upon the crowd as the tech team strode onto the stage and began setting up the array of instruments that would allow Of Monsters and Men to conduct an absolutely mesmerising performance. The set-up seemed over so quickly and the crowd immediately clambered to their feet when the lights went black and the smoke machine poured smoke onto the stage. Band members began to make their way through the mixture of artificial and natural mist to their respective instruments. Ominous tendrils of synth reached out to the crowd as if beckoning them to acknowledge the spectacle they were about to witness. Whispers of violin and muffled guitar riffs soon joined the synth tones as the band launched into the sombre opening of “Thousand Eyes” – a song that reached a dramtic crescendo as Nanna Hilmarsdóttir hammered away at a snare drum after drawing us in with her lilting vocals and enchanting hand movements. The song ended almost abruptly and as the cheers died out co-singer and guitarist Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson exclaimed “We are Of Monsters and Men. This is our first time in Cape Town and it is fucking cold”. An ironic statement considering the band’s Icelandic origins and the fact that Raggi sported a t-shirt.

I could go into much detail about each song that was performed by the band but I rather want to focus on the nature of their performance. What interested me was that, proportionally, the band played the same amount of old and new songs. Raggi had stated in our interview that they would most likely play their older songs and just a handful of new songs, but a close to two-hour set allowed the band to power through the majority of each album. Each song was unique. Each song was accompanied by Nanna’s ever-so enchanting stagecraft and Raggi’s swaggering charisma. Nanna bounced around the stage on each song and sought to draw the crowd in with intricate hand movements while Raggi often encouraged sing-alongs and conversed between songs with the crowd.

The band delivered the songs in such an entrancing yet ominous fashion as their indie-folk roots were tempered by the ferocity of alternative rock. “Wolves Without Teeth”, dedicated to a praying mantis that caused Raggi to recoil with diva-like shock and horror as he proclaimed to not be used to bugs, was delivered as purely alternative rock anthem as intricate licks of guitar propelled the synths and drum into a crashing crescendo upon each chorus. The lilting indie-folk anthem of “King and Lionheart” was delivered as exactly that straight after the haunting energetic performance of “Empire”. It was at this moment that the crowd was awoken from their gawping stupor as an awkward mish-mash of voices sought to drain out the already strained sound system.

Unbeknownst to us, the boiling mass of clouds above us were plotting to soak us with a torrential downpour but Mother Nature seemed to temper their intentions until the perfect moment: the main chorus of “Little Talks”. 5 500 people screamed and danced to the song as the lights burst forth towards the crowd and raindrops were illuminated. It made the song seem 100x better than it already did and served only to increase our spirits. The final four songs of the night were performed in the on-off downpour and as the band closed with the exquisite “Yellow Light” the rain seemed to wear off.

It was the perfect end to an absolutely perfect evening. My legs may have felt like a jelly and I may have sat in the parking lot for half an hour while waiting to leave, but it was all worth it to experience such an ominous yet whimsical evening of pure delight. I sat blaring Enter Shikari while feeling very chuffed with myself for being able to attend an indie-folk concert and drive off blasting metal.

 

 

Black Lips: O-Fuck-Yeah

Crawl from bed to the couch. Aches and pains, bruises, beer hair, smoker’s cough. Death. Will I ever reach the kitchen? Monday feeling cocoons itself around me and being (f)unemployed makes it easier to carry the last two days decadence. Yesterday I was hastily texting unsure if I could physically and mentally handle the now, not so Secret Show. Continue reading Black Lips: O-Fuck-Yeah

[Review] Carly Rae Jepsen – Live at Grand West

Last week Wednesday, my cousin and I set out for the girliest of girls’ nights. We had two tickets to see Carly Rae Jepsen live and we were excited! By no means am I a Carly Rae Jepsen fan. I know two songs which I sing along to with tons of fervour in the privacy of my bedroom, but that’s about it. If asked about it, I would have previously denied it due to trying to be cool. I’m not cool though. I have a pop stash stretching all the way back to the early 90’s. Continue reading [Review] Carly Rae Jepsen – Live at Grand West

In Review: Blood Brothers – Live at Grand West

The Blood Brothers, South Africa’s first super group, consists of Francois van Coke (Fokofpolisiekar, Van Coke Kartel), Arno Carstens (Springbok Nude Girls), Albert Frost (Blues Broers), Hunter Kennedy (Fokofpolisiekar, Heuwels Fantasties), George van der Spuy (Taxi Violence, Goodnight Wembley), Isaac Klawansky (Shadowclub), Jason Hinch (Black Cat Bones), Loedi van Renen (Taxi Violence), Rian Zietsman (Taxi Violence, Beast)& Kobus de Kock Jnr. (Black Cat Bones). Continue reading In Review: Blood Brothers – Live at Grand West

In Review: One Night In Cape Town with Gogol Bordello

The world’s leaders of gypsy-punk, Gogol Bordello, graced our shores and many South Africans had no idea what they were in for! Continue reading In Review: One Night In Cape Town with Gogol Bordello

A Sweet Ending to The Affair | Ben Howard In Review

Music is a very personal experience. Like buying a watch or perfume. Most people love to wear it, but only in this manner and only with this or that.

However, along comes Seed Experiences and bowls us with yet another amazing production, always knowing exactly what the people need. To read your audience and know who will attract a crowd of all ages is not an easy task, but Seed Experiences can give themselves a round of applause. Continue reading A Sweet Ending to The Affair | Ben Howard In Review