Up The Creek
Sex dolls as flotation devices. Also, some bands.
Friday, 4 February
So I almost didn’t make it to Up the Creek this year because I am a directionally challenged anger-monkey, and so is my Drinking Companion. We also possess no time management skills, as our ten-minute liquor run in Stellenbosch stretched out to two hours of us giggling at costume shops and dumb shit in Big Blue. I never walk into Big Blue, so of course my curiosity would be ignited today. Detailed books about types of poo and stationary shaped like cat buttholes, you know?
Two hours later we had a sheet full of fake furry moustaches, a bottle of rum and a bottle of brandy both carefully disguised as innocent two-liter Coke bottles, and a trashy mojito papsak stowed in our tent bag. Trash that we are, we actually found boxed mojito. It was now 15:30, and the gates opened at 16:00.
We’d be fine.
I had a map which I’d printed off the Up the Creek website, a roadmap, and my excellent friend had a Tom-Tom GPS in his iPhone. If I’ve learned anything about anything from experiences, it’s that GPSs always know where you want to go and know what’s best for you. You see, we were fooled by the novelty that came up when we entered the geographic coordinates into the system and it told us that we were looking for the Up the Creek Campsite, which made as all giddy and we high-fived the Tom-Tom and went “Dude, it’s like you know us!”
Our drive is a happy one. We drive past signs for Hermanus and I point out to my Drinking Companion what a hilariously dumb name “Hermanus” really is, and he realizes the joke for the first time, going almost paralytic with equal parts shock and delight.
So, 17:00 finds us driving through Swellendam and turning right onto a bumpy dirt road, which takes us about twenty kilometers off the main road, past a quiet white farmhouse with meathooks hanging from the back of an old truck. I’m getting skeptical, while Drinking Companion insists that the Tom-Tom knows what it’s doing. Suddenly, the voice sighs, satisfied and proud: “You have reached your destination.”
We are on a dirt road and there is absolutely nothing to the left and to the right of us.
I eyeball Drinking Companion and try to remember what I read like maybe once in a book about deadly pressure points.
As I lurch my car forward in preparation to make a fuck-u-turn to go back to civilization and ask for directions, and we suddenly see what’s happened: we can see the camp.
The GPS has sent us to the other side of the river.
Our hearts sink as we remember the roadblocks we patiently sat through before, and drinking companion wordlessly retrieves a tin mug and the rum disguised as fizzy pop.
By the time we arrive at the actual camp, we can hear Dan Patlansky being an effortlessly cool dude, his guitar wailing like a sexcat on heat. We untangle ourselves and set up camp, arm ourselves with our stoway Coke bottles, and stick on our fake moustaches. As we wander into the music area, Patlansky has left and Karen Zoid is up on stage, and I’m suddenly bemused by the memory of Beeskraal. All the power goes out halfway through her set and I can suddenly sense furious groping happening around me, so we move out of the depths of the tented cover and find a place with a little more light. The lights go back on, and everybody’s hands are pinned to themselves like alarmed meerkats.
I’m not really sure what the deal with Karen Zoid is anymore – I know she holds occasional gigs and every time I’ve ever mentioned this to anyone, they kind of snort in a way which indicates that no, they would not like to go and see Karen Zoid. I’m not sure if I would, either, although I don’t particularly dislike the lady. I actually own her first CD, although I realize that it’s about ten years old and was trying to make a statement that doesn’t need to be made anymore: Afrikaans music can sound cool too, guys! Mostly I’d play it for my foreign friends, who’d laugh and then trick me into looking at Goatse or something. Her songs are catchy, she’s bouncy on stage, and while nobody seems overtly unimpressed, I’m not overwhelmed by her.
A band called Hot Water sets up and explodes with a lot of… cultural energy. What kind of words can I use to convey what they are? Ethnic? The sort of stuff that makes great live performances but you’d probably never buy on CD? They play a guitar made out a paraffin tin, a sitar, and feature an occasional dude on a trombone. They stage a didgeridoo and drum duet, and at some point the lead whiteguy guitarist and singer goes a little nuts and pulls his shirt halfway up and starts kicking his knees high up as he flails a grass brush about his head. They sure have the crowd going nuts over them and that didgeridoo guy really does something crazy with that wooden pipe, but I’m alarmed and a little relived when they finally calm down and finish their set.
Okay. I guess I should apologize for never being able to tell the difference between aKing, The Dirty Skirts and Taxi Violence without looking at pictures and notes I’ve made. I’ve actually seen all three of these guys at different gigs and venues, several times, and I’ve probably danced like a loon to their sets, and I’ve probably left without remembering a single song.
In no way am I calling these guys bad musicians. They’re sort of the headline acts of Up the Creek, and the crowd gets all screamy before they even play anything – but their music is a generic brand of stuff I wouldn’t turn off from the radio, but wouldn’t rush to try and steal off of the internet, either. Like, ever go see a sort of obscure band who play a bizarre show and have this one haunting song that you and everyone else half-remembers some of the chorus to but can’t, and then try and stalk them on MySpace or Facebook and get all annoyed that they haven’t put that song up so you can listen to it over and over until you get sick of it? I guess I’m grateful for bands like aKing because I don’t have that frustrating problem with them at all.
Look, these guys are great on stage. I’m a big fan of live music and they make for a great atmosphere, but I’m actually consciously aware that I am steadily forgetting what I’ve heard, like watching a bridge crumble behind me. So I’m willing to accept that I am maybe possessed of some mild form of retardation, that’s okay too.
The Rudimental follow aKing and the Dirty Skirts, and their performance has the same effect on the crowd as every other show of theirs I’ve seen (and for some reason, I’ve been to a lot in the past year, without being a particularly big fan of the genre at all) – they flash some grins, slip into their first number, and then everyone falls in love with each other and delicately moshes against everyone else. You might get your nose inconsiderately mashed into somebody’s elbow, but they won’t get mad at you, because they love you for the next hour or so. The Rudis are a vibrant and consistently good stage presence, but they always seem to play forever. Or maybe it’s just because their songs cold probably all quite effortlessly segue into each other and actually become one song. Unless they’re actually doing that already.
The main stage wraps up at this point and our cranky old-man MC directs us to the smaller bar stage, where Elvis Blue is setting up with a guitar and a harmonica. The dude is an Idols winner, and while I tried not to make a predictable tit out of myself, I last for exactly one song before I have to peel myself out of the crowd and go sit somewhere and wait for the Wild Eyes. Sorry Elvis, not my bag. Supposedly George van der Spuy from Taxi Violence had something witty to say about Elvis and apologized for it the next day, his eyes darting above a grin.
The Wild Eyes were a weird band for the Up the Creek line-up – these guys seem to prefer dark, confined spaces and clubs, and seeing Nikhil Singh during the day seemed unnatural. They left the crowd either wowed or weirded out – they get their creepy electro-sound by appearing to play instruments in ways they shouldn’t be played and generally manhandling whatever they have on stage without making any introductions or eye contact with the audience, and it works for them – the Wild Eyes don’t stand around grinning behind a microphone looking all bashful on stage like they’ve never done this before.
Saturday, 5 February
Drinking Companion and I wake up at five in the morning because we have apparently fallen asleep on a pile of rocks. Granted, we put a tent up, but around the perimeter of what might be a rich fossil deposit. We smell like a brewery.
“Did I… dude, check for me, am I… Ke$ha?” I croak.
“Where’s that mojito papsak?” Drinking Companion mumbles, not moving.
We feebly gather ourselves up and take a look at the rest of the camp, seeing everything for the first time in daylight. We find an early-bird coffee vendor and gratefully accept something that’s like chicory and mud, and we gulp it down. We lurch over to the river and make ourselves comfortable on the sandbanks. We strike up conversation with and share our mojito breakfast with a friendly dude who we later learn is James Klopper from Captain Stu. We muse out loud about whether we woke up hungover or still drunk.
By 10:00 AM, more people have gravitated towards the river and have made themselves comfortable. It’s silly, but can’t help but feel creeped out because I know the river doesn’t get deeper than waist-high anywhere, but everyone is fully submerged up to the neck, so I try not to think about the fact that everyone is scuttling along the river bottom with their, well, bottoms.
Suddenly a guitar crackles and yowls out a whiny rock-anthem wedding march as a canoe appears downstream, with a hairy, shirtless man rowing a veiled figure. A red carpet appears from the river stage, trailing to the river edge, and two hideous transvestites help a pink-haired, tattooed bride out of the canoe, and usher her up the red carpet to her blue-haired, top-hat wearing groom. An elaborate sort of Rocky Horror wedding ceremony is conducted by a dodgy man in a cummerbund, and during this, one of the bridesmaids publically changes her underwear and throws up over herself. Pronounced man and wife, and presumably off to conceive children with purple hair, the bride and groom stride arm-and-arm down the red carpet while the bridesmaids start removing the clothes of the “priest”, who has collapsed on the stage.
By the next hour the “Anything that Floats” competition begins, and it’s pretty much just that – people creatively assemble things that float in a couple of categories, “most romantic”, “most people”, and then I forget what else. I’m uncomfortable because a little girl is walking around with what I am sadly recognizing as an inflatable bottom half of a woman, from the waist down. I later see that she’s figured out that she can use it as a floating mattress by comfortably spreading the legs around her, under her arms, while resting her head on the pelvis. In the distance, a group of dudes are trying to figure out how to best pilot a giant inflatable penis, while girls around them shriek.
I frown at people who bring kids to places like this – not only do I worry about their goddam hippy parents accidentally exposing them to “we don’t have to drive anywhere till Sunday, go nuts” sins, but they hurt my head when I overhear them pose philosophical questions like “Gee Dad, do you wonder how many steps you’ve taken in your life?”
Captain Stu plays at twelve, (here’s we suddenly realize that the frontman is the friend we made earlier in the morning), and showing enthusiasm is a little awkward – they’re on a stage at the top of a low hill, and everyone is in the river, trying to decide if it’s hotter in or out of the water. Captain Stu is a lively ska act and they’re good – but the crowd is preoccupied with balancing on inflatable whales, keeping an eye on their floating cooler boxes, or peeing and side-shifting out of the warm spot without anyone realizing.
I probably should’ve made more of an effort to stay and watch Fox Comet and Akkedis. I wanted to, but Drinking Companion and I found a private house with a green lawn we could trespass and nap on, so we did that.
At around six we shifted our slumber party equipment back to the main stage, where everyone had the same idea as us: peacefully passed out in the heat. We make ourselves comfortable under the shade of a side stage and watch comedian Nik Rabinowitz talk about being Jewish and stuff, and afterwards a band called No One’s Arc from Nelspruit, who describe their sound as “…fusion”, which I guess kind of summarized what they were. They’re lively and energetic, and they try hard get the crowd involved, but their Mango Groove thing isn’t really catching – it’s also kind of weird because everyone is still kind of sleepy and sitting on blankets while the play, despite their efforts.
Before Jack Parow comes on, Drinking Companion and I have the foresight to put our shit back in our tent, and come back to a crowded herd of anxious fans.
Cape Town loves their Jack Parow, and I think he’s a pretty entertaining concept, too. His whole image came from the honest desire to shirk himself of pretentions and glorify his own honest-to-goodness zeffness, and now he’s kind of a big deal and his zeff bling is possibly maybe actual expensive bling. What hurts me the most, though, is the audience who try to be like him – or at the very least touch him. Seriously. People go nuts trying to get close to him. One girl climbs onto a dude’s shoulders and actually has the idea to use him as a base to leap the ten meters or so she needs to make it on stage. She did not succeed and her male friend was visibly unimpressed. One kid has the same long, signature leopard-print cap Jack Parow has and walks around hitting people on the head while he bobs his up and down. The rest of the audience screams his songs right back at him. I’m not sure what else to tell you about Jack Parow. I saw a show of his at Mercury once and he forgot the words to Cooler as Ekke and his girlfriend drew a dick on my friend’s arm with a permanent marker. If you’ve ever read a copy of SL Magazine or One Small Seed, you probably know as much about this cat as I do.
Jack Parow departs as the inner crowd-surfing reaches dangerous levels and the members from Boo! begin to set up. Now, I have to confess, while Chris Chameleon is not an unknown name to me, he’s always pretty much just been that. A name. A name I’d file away under “Not Worth Thinking About” because my thought process works like this:
So, I’ve gone my whole life totally oblivious to the fact that Chris Chameleon is a total drag queen when he’s performing in Boo!
Why have I kept myself so ignorant? They do a pretty good job of creeping out everybody in the audience. Two guys behind me inhale sharply through their teeth and mutter “That’s, uh, that’s a bit much, hey”.
Chris Chameleon is wearing a black spandex catsuit with pink chameleons all over him, and one big smiley lizard on his crotch. He’s wearing pink lipstick, eyeliner, and I’m sure I can smell the glitter in his hair. He bats his eyelashes and pops his eyes out, coyly pursing his lips. He’s too good at this. Drinking Companion leans over to me and yells, “His thing used to be a flirty nurse’s outfit! Guess he’s trying to tone things down lately.”
With a wiggle of his hips, Chameleon launches into his first song, with Ampie Omo on the keyboards and occasional trumpet, his blonde hair whipping back and forth and looking radiant in his flame-print bellbottoms; Princess Leonie, their massive drummer, is wearing something white and baby-blue. They are incredibly camp and bubbly, and due to their clever name, it’s difficult to gauge if the audience is enjoying them or trying to lynch them – the audience hisses “Boo!” which is a clever trick to play. I once told a lady in a coffee shop that my name was “Free” because what they’d do there, is write your name on your paper cup and pass it on the staff, who’d make your drink, and then place it on the counter and holler “Mocha latte for _____!” So when they called out “Tall Americano for Free…” you know, I made a scene and demanded a free tall Americano. I was asked to leave. Anyway, good game, Boo.
And their music is catchy. For one of the last songs, Chameleon asks, “Anyone old enough to remember the Bee Gees? Elvis? Okay… Nirvana?” He then sings in three different voices - a passable falsetto, a crooning Elvis, and a more Chris-like punk-rock wail. Not at the same time, but to each other.
If nothing else, I’m impressed that the band’s been together since 1998 and have apparently been as flamboyant from the start, especially from a pretty Afrikaans background.
Bed on Bricks and Taxi Violence follow Boo!, and my mind goes into the same kind of non-save autopilot. Fun show, forgettable music. People bumping into each other to the beat. George from Taxi Violence apologizes to Elvis Blue, and snickers into is fist. Dave Ferguson, who looks seriously cool, arrives with a briefcase full of harmonicas which he plays while hunched over in a white muscle shirt with slicked-back hair, tight blue jeans and a pencil moustache. We can’t hear him over Taxi Violence at all, but gawddamn does he look cool.
Two girls weasel their way to the front of the stage and enthusiastically run their tongues up and down it. We ask them why they’re doing that, and they grin and do it again. Drinking Companion drags his finger over a dry spot and holds it up so they can see how black it is. Their smiles flicker. A kid in suspenders and skinny jeans shows up and gets his hair in everyone’s face and tries to loop his bony arms around everyone’s neck.
This is kind of all I want to say about Bed on Bricks and Taxi Violence. Well done for being bands, guys, you’ve all worked very hard and you are from Cape Town.
Flash Republic is like a late-night movie we’ve stayed up past our bedtimes for. The first thing that panics me is that Martin Rocka is nowhere in sight and that they’ve already done two songs. I figure out he’s not coming, after all, and that the live bass will be played by a doughy dude in a dirty white fun-run T-shirt who they’ve hidden behind some of the bigger speakers. Tamara Dey is sporting an alternative lifestyle haircut, which need not necessarily be indicative of anything, and when she smiles at the audience her eyes twinkle. They screw up a couple of times during the set, with Tamara singing completely the wrong song and stopping abruptly to whisper at the musicians and start a new one. I’m convinced by now that Martin Rocka isn’t going to be here.
Altogether their set smacks of being unrehearsed and shaky. But everyone forgives them because Tamara Dey occasionally reaches out into the audience and touches people’s fingertips with hers, and sometimes even hangs around for a few seconds, holding onto random hands while singing. So mostly people are distracted by them messing up and are focusing in trying to touch Tamara. Foto na Dans is supposed to perform a final song with them, and they apologize for their absence and sing the song for them, anyway.
Alls I can say is, it’s a good thing everyone seems to know their songs anyway. I remember being tired but blown away by them at Rocking the Daisies, and while technical problems were recurrent throughout Up the Creek, I was cranky, but just jazzed enough by my leftover excitement.
Sunday, 6 February
My mouth tastes like stray cat. I think we put our tent on something mummified.
The one stall that sells vegetarian stir-fries and curries has run out of food, so I got to the schwarma guy, who make this fried thing with bacon and egg and sausage, and ask if maybe they could make me one with just salad. The guy gives me a pitying look and drops a pita onto a pan full of bacon grease and ladles some sloppy coleslaw into the pocket.
We watch a bunch of hairy guys who call themselves the Blues Broers playing, well, pretty much their namesake. They’re not terrible but I’m half-asleep. Drinking Companion and I are aware of initial plans to look forward to Dave Ferguson, and we stick around for him, mostly because we’re too catatonic to get up do anything else. Unlike his sideline act with Taxi Violence, we can hear him clearly, and he does his thing where he beatboxes into his harmonic and records and loops it, and plays something new over it, until he’s got enough music going on for him to start singing along to himself. He’s a seriously, painfully cool guy. This guy actually does like a show a week, usually at La Vie in Seapoint on Sundays, and he’s a regular at the Grandaddy Trailer Park rooftop deal. I recommend this guy. I just feel bad for falling asleep behind my sunglasses during his show.
Drinking Companion flicks me on the forehead and I try and reflex-backhand him, missing completely and actually falling over with the inertia of my own feeble backhand.
It’s time to leave.
I’ve enjoyed Up the Creek. On a much smaller scale than, well, Rocking the Daisies, what this means at the very least is that there were always a few flushing toilets that were stocked with toilet paper, and the crowd was manangeable enough for a decent clean-up to be done in the mornings, unlike, again, Rocking the Daisies, which trapped seagulls and pandas in litter.
So, yeah, that was my weekend. Saw some bands. Saw some trannies. Saw some trannies in bands.
I recommend it and all but next time I see a kid using a sex doll as a flotation device I’m making a scene.