I put the city and the setting sun in the rearview mirror. Frank leans back in the shotgun seat as if we’re about to ride into battle. I point Alice’s nose north and watch the reflections of the streetlights rush across her windscreen.
Our motivation is live music, our destination is the “Rabbit Hole”… Alice approves of the name. Personally, I’m not sure whether calling your venue a hole – any kind of hole – is necessarily wise.
Only 20-odd kilometers from Cape Town city centre, but Durbanville – I’m dubbing it The Ville – is another country.
There is presumably a special society of copywriters that practise their craft out here. I cannot decide whether they are masters of sublime irony or utterly oblivious to it. Exhibit one: a recent gig poster that uses “delectable” and “metal” in the same banner headline.
The first band is scheduled to start at 9pm, but when we arrive at 8pm the stage is a shadowy edifice where a lone headlamp silhouettes a techie frantically fiddling with cables. Not a power outage due to loadshedding, but judging by his body language he is dropping a figurative load of his own. Speaking of dropped loads, the smell of that crappy euphemism “technical difficulties” is so pervasive that nobody even bothers saying it out loud.
Eventually the first band start their set at 11pm. The sound system that took so long to rig up is easily the worst I’ve ever inflicted on my ears…let’s be clear; these ears have been to some of the lowest dives this side of the Thames. The stage lights are pretty though. Unfortunately they reveal – in lurid flashes of neon pink and blue – the teenage faces of the first band. The phrase ‘garageband’ springs immediately to mind. Yes, yes, we all have to start somewhere, but the idea is to stay there until (if) you get to a certain level of proficiency. To their credit they don’t freeze up, although I run a bet with myself whether the desultory crowd will riot and lynch the kids on stage, or whether the lead vocalist’s mother will appear before that to drag him off by the ear for being up after bedtime. We stand in the empty space before the stage and valiantly try to make encouraging gestures, while the rest of the Rabbit Hole continue their drinking with a palpable passive-aggressive atmosphere. Three songs into their set we decide it’s best not to stand between the stage and impending doom (my internal bookie declares odds heavily favouring a lynching). We seek refuge in the smoking section – where there is less smoke and smokers, because clearly The Ville is the epicentre of irony.
The walls of the backroom in the smoking section are covered with magic marker signatures and logos of musicians that have performed at the venue. Many names are as unfamiliar as they are intriguing. A plethora of penis sketches are scattered in-between: public toilet chic. The kids finish their set, but immediately launch into an encore, presumably mistaking sarcastic applause for encouragement. Or perhaps just proving their own proficiency in the local (martial) art of irony. They unleash another three songs on the audience. Irony at 140 decibels should be classified as an inhumane war tactic under the Geneva Convention. On the wall behind Alessandro my eyes keep wandering back to the sketch of a huge penis ridden by a smiling elf and signed by the one and only Ninja. No sign of Yolandi’s signature, so it’s uncertain whether “Die Antwoord” actually performed here. Sweet blissful silence from the stage breaks my trance-like contemplation of Ninja’s elf-mounted manhood. (‘Ninja Dong’ is this installment’s first addition to Ye Stupendous Compendium of Free* Potential Band Names)
Oh, Cruel Fate is a 4-piece, but since we have slipped into an alternate reality made of static feedback and irony, fate would have it that the band’s drummer fell ill at the last minute. With no time to find a replacement, the act would be performing as a 3-piece, with Alessandro seemingly unperturbed at carrying percussion with his bass alone. On lead guitar, Louw cuts a laconic figure. Vocal duties are performed by Dani. Off-stage she’s about 50 gallons of personality in a 5-gallon container. On-stage she pours it all into the lyrics and aims it at the audience. All the band members are seated. Dani is perched gracefully in an armchair, for all the world like an empress holding court.
Two bars into the first song I know the preceding events were a small price to pay. This isn’t the Rabbit Hole anymore…we’re in wonderland now.
A faulty mike connection does not break Dani’s stride. Mid-song she deftly adjusts her grip on the mike and sends a look the sound guy’s way that would halt a charging tiger in its tracks. The smile accompanying the look promises violence gruesome enough to make Tarantino blanche. It’s a moment unnoticed by the audience,, who are tapping feet and swaying to the magic being woven.
It takes more than talent to do this with one band member missing and hamstrung by a sound rig one faltering step above two tin cans and a piece of string. This is what skill and experience sounds and looks like.
It’s a genre-defying repertoire, weaving an intricate tapestry that straddles rock, blues, folk and cabaret-punk. It’s not a blend, or a hybrid, but a whole far greater than the perceived components. If you feel the need to say ‘steampunk’, I’d suggest that you remove those ridiculous spraypainted welding goggles in order to notice how far your head – dusty top hat and all – is up your own ass.
Their set concludes at midnight. In this fairytale midnight also means noise-restriction regulations prohibit further live music. Not kidding.
The third act is visibly upset as they carry their gear off. Their guitarist is a volcano in a blue minidress; stalking to the front door, the crowd parting before her like a school of fish before a shark. I don’t notice whether a single glass slipper stays behind or a pumpkin coach departs the scene in haste.
Meanwhile, for the tenth time, my eyes catch sight of the girl wearing the curtain. Surburbia man; it’s a disease and Von Trapp clothing is a telltale symptom. (Curtain Dress is this installment’s second addition to Ye Stupendous Compendium of Free* Potential Band Names)
We make good our escape.. As Alice reels the city in with her wheels, I still hear Oh, Cruel Fate echoing in my mind: “Nah nah nah, don’t go down, down to the river.”