This month saw the massively anticipated second installment of the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival play out in studios, streets, parking lots and townships across the Mother City. Last year was a resounding success, especially considering it was the first festival of its kind in South Africa, and for this reason much of the format remained the same. There were some new things, however, the most notable being an international headliner to augment the substantial local lineup. 2012 was entirely local, but for the benefit of everyone involved—and thanks to the Bridges for Music initiative—this year Richie Hawtin joined the lineup and rounded off what was an accurate reflection of the scene in early 2013.
CTEMF is the amalgamation of experiences had both locally and abroad by the four primary organizers. In some ways the week is like Sónar, with a program that includes workshops, lectures and "sessions on the couch" with industry leaders. In others it's like Movement in Detroit, in that the last three days are 12-hour dance music extravaganzas. This part of the festival happened on the rooftop of the Breakwater Garage, a venue that combines raw steel and concrete with an ocean lapping the northern edge and Table Mountain to the south—a fantastic place to dance, and reason enough to make it out to the festival.
Thursday afternoon brought an exciting twist to the format: the sessions were moved out of their home at Red Bull Studios to an open-air arena in Langa, a township 20 kilometers from the city center. Around 200 people from all walks of life sat in the African sun and were treated to a discussion between Hawtin and the man who is undoubtedly SA's biggest DJ, Black Coffee. A truly magical afternoon unfolded as these two masters sat and compared notes from what couldn't be two more different backgrounds, ending in a comprehensive demo by Hawtin on his setup that shed light on how he constructs and deconstructs music live. Following this was a late addition to the week's proceedings: a special edition of Boiler Room. Sibot, Shangaan Electro, Floyd Lavine, Killer Robot and Black Coffee all got onboard and a pre-party of the highest order ensued until the wee hours of Friday morning.
Photo credit: Sydelle Willow Smith
The three-day lineup had been clearly split into the most prevalent genres pervading the local scene: bass and nu-disco took Friday from daylight to sunset, while techno was the name of the game after dark, leading up to Hawtin's headlining slot at midnight. Expectations were obviously high, and he did what most locals had hoped for, playing an unrestrained set of techno filth. After the insights he'd shared that afternoon, it was a pleasure to listen and watch him in full flight on a well-engineered and powerful rig, silhouetted by mind-bending visuals. His set culminated in Platikman's "Spastik," which sent those in the know home grinning from ear to ear.
A perfect summer's day greeted the red-eyed punter who made it down for the midday kickoff on Saturday, and an eclectic lineup kept smiles on the faces of those relaxing in the surrounding beer gardens and shaded dance floor. A mix of trip-hop, hip-hop and deep house set the stage for the weekend's second headlining act: Shangaan Electro. Though largely unknown in SA, it was the organizers' inspired decision to book the crew for what was their first ever show on home soil. Although locally misunderstood (he plays music that ranges between 160-190bpm), they have appeared on Honest Jon's and Caribou's Jiaolong label, and have obviously captured the imagination of an international audience. All who heard the mania in the music and witnessed the fervor of the dancers were humbled by the skill and raw African energy.
Photo credit: Sydelle Willow Smith
Aching bodies and bent minds were greeted by record heat and windless conditions on the third and final day, which was focused on two genres leading the way in Cape Town's scene: dub techno and deep house. A perfect way to end the weekend, the lineup led beautifully to the weekend's third and final headliner, Black Coffee, who delivered what can only be described as a master class in local deep house. What was truly magnificent about this was the level that the artists playing around him brought themselves to. Even with an audience bigger than what most deep house acts usually draw, no one tried to out-play anyone else, so deep is where it stayed, right up until one of SA's most experienced techno jocks, G-Force, closed off proceedings, sending many a battered body to bed.