Though the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (or “Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees” – KKNK – in Afrikaans) is known as a mostly Afrikaans festival, many of the plays, productions and of course live music is thoroughly accessible to those who don’t understand or speak Afrikaans. After all, guitar solos and snare drums speak only one language …
The KKNK is one of those festivals that, in a funny way, has been criticised and vilified as much as it has been revered and loved. Held in late summer, it’s certainly one of the most lucrative and well-respected arts festivals in South Africa and plays and musicians that debut at KKNK often continue to great things. As the spotlight shines so brightly on the festival, the expectations are as different and varying as the people who attend it. In the past, a punk group needed police experts and dogs sniffing for explosives at one show after they’d received death threats for making supposed sacrilegious statements. A pop singer with right-wing sentiments was publicly informed by the festival that he would not be welcome there, to some members of the public’s great disappointment.
So the KKNK is an arts festival unashamed of claiming its own place on the South African political landscape. But what about the art itself?
Though the “Kaktus op die vlaktes” (Cactus on the plains) music night – a pioneer in terms of South African music festival organisation – has sadly been discontinued, the KKNK programme still offers an almost complete range of Afrikaans music. From folk music shows through the hacks doing their backtrack thing on the sidewalks , to intimate shows with incredible artists who tell the stories behind their music, the KKNK is worth looking into if you want a peek into the good, the bad and the ugly of the Afrikaans music and culture scene.
The KKNK takes place in a town called Oudtshoorn, about five hours’ drive from Cape Town. Oudtshoorn is known for the incredible Kango Caves and its strong ostrich industry. So if the arts on offer turn out to not tickle your fancy, you can always go for a ride on an ostrich…
Every night, music lovers unearth hidden gems in the form of raw original talent – folk, rock, indie, electro and more – at The House of Machines in central Cape Town.
Hidden in between Cape Town’s Bree and Loop Streets,, on the pedestrian path of Shortmarket Street,, you’ll find something different happening every evening at The House of Machines. A live music venue run by musicians and music lovers for musicians and music lovers, this venue is all its facets are geared towards an intimate, authentic music experience.
Boasting a simple menu, premium coffee and delicious cocktails fashioned by master mixologists, this tucked-away live music venue is a haven for undiscovered acoustic talent. Every week the musical atmosphere changes – and they’re all-inclusive with the styles of music that they host – : from the obvious folk, alternative indie, rock to hip hop, r’n’b and electro; even spoken word, poetry and comedy!.
With its Tuesday night Songwriters Showcase being curated by legendary local legendary singer-songwriter Andy Lund, these nights are a staple and a must-see. “The vibe is always incredible,” says Andy. “It is a destination night, people come for the whole evening to settle in and experience the evening and absorb some of the finest talent in Cape Town. For performers it’s a welcoming, supportive and appreciative crowd and Tuesday nights are all about the performer and the song! It’s a music evening, by musicians for musicians and music lovers.”
If you’re itching for a night of reckless abandon accompanied by a soundtrack of quality dance music, Cape Town’s city centre offers many options and they’re all within walking distance of each other.
At the upper end of Long Street (the city’s main nightlife drag) you’ll find Fiction DJ Bar, home to Cape Town’s best underground and non-commercial dance music. There is an age restriction of 21 for every event night other than Tuesdays, which features the club’s longest running student night, Untamed Youth. Thursday nights feature drum ‘n’ bass while weekend nights range between DJs playing house, techno and bass music. The venue comprises two floors, with two bars, one dancefloor and balconies overlooking Long Street.
Vice City is situated on a side street around the corner from Fiction. The basement-like dancefloor area creates the sense that you could be in a club in any city in the world. Thursday nights host psy-trance while Friday is for techno and Saturday for house.
Era on Loop Street is Cape Town’s premium clubbing experience, so expect to pay a higher cover charge than at the other dance clubs. You pay for the experience as well as the entertainment. Open on Friday and Saturday nights only, the venue features two dancefloors. You enter on the lower level and are greeted by a tunnel-shaped dancefloor with a ceiling adorned with L.E.D light strips that move to the pulsating rhythm of the techno played on this floor. The upstairs Groove Bar hosts an array of house music DJs and is also the smoking-friendly dancefloor. Each floor has a bar with efficient and friendly staff. Both floors have bathrooms — take note that the upper level facilities are unisex. The age restriction is 21 for ladies and 23 for guys, proof of identity is essential and their dress code is strict.
Across the road from Era, COCO is a decadent nightclub run by experienced members of the local dance music scene. It caters to deep house, hip-hop and commercial music lovers. The venue offers VIP experiences and premium bottle service. The dress code is strict, there is a cover charge and entry into the club is discretionary — don’t even try coming here in flip-flops.
Photographer Laura McCullagh, who has been documenting the live music scene in Cape Town for nearly a decade now. She gives the scoop on the best venues.
It’s an interesting time to be shooting live music in Cape Town. A few years ago at virtually any random gig I’d be among at least three or four other photographers. But nowadays I’m often the only one – unless it’s a big event. So it feels like we’re in a bit of a dip at the moment – but like anything, it comes in waves and I’m looking forward to the next upsurge, whenever it may be.
I hardly ever go to gigs without shooting these days, so I often end up judging a venue or show by how I found the shooting conditions. I have a soft spot for ROAR and its honest dinginess – and many musicians have told me they think ROAR has the best sound in Cape Town.
The (newly revamped) Mercury Live is also an old favourite, and the renovations include a great lighting rig – which is a vast improvement. Assembly has maintained its reputation for hosting some of the biggest acts that come to Cape Town, and always has good sound and plenty of seating, which is getting more important to me as I age, I’ve found.
For sheer entertainment I’m enjoying our local metal acts more and more, with all their energy and hair and head headbanging fans. iIt’s great fun shooting and watching metal.
From a purely visual perspective I tend to prefer the energetic rock, metal and punk acts and the antics of their respective fans, though sometimes you get that beautiful combination of a really emotional performance from an acoustic or gentler artist in a moody venue.
Publicist Liny Kruger has worked with some of this country’s top musicians over the last two decades and knows what it takes to put on a well-orchestrated event. She shares her top three summer music festivals in Cape Town.
RAMfest (Real Alternative Music) is a raucous spectacle of sound and light, an adrenal delight of the fun and chaos that alternative culture brings to a solid community that loves this music. It showcases the best in local and international alternative music. The Fourie brothers, who started RAMfest 10 years ago (and partner with Hilltop Live), take special care with the infrastructure of the festival, which has no determined venue (the 10th anniversary event takes place at Coetsenberg Stadium in Stellenbosch in March 2016), Whatever the venue, expect big impressive stages, only the best tents, gear and even fencing – I love that they love their festival.
To my knowledge Up the Creek is the only festival in South Africa that has a stage on a river. Set on the banks of the Breede River just outside Swellendam, about 200 kilometres from Cape Town, festivalgoers get to watch bands while floating on an array of colourful lilos. The capacity is limited to 3 000 people, so it almost feels like a VIP weekend away for all who attend. It’s a festival that has grown into its skin over a period of 25 years. The organisers could make it bigger, but have decided against it. The small size of the festival has much to do with its personality – fun-loving, water-based, dance vibes; a fantastic riverside venue that is not overcrowded. One of the best weekends away you will ever have – and child-friendly too.
Rocking the Daisies is an established annual rock music festival with a blooming future. Set on Cloof Wine Estate in Darling, just an hour’s drive from Cape Town, it is also at the forefront of innovative growth and design that includes green initiatives, impressive apps and ticket down-payment options as part of the festival experience. From folk to electronic, Rocking the Daisies caters to all musical tastes, and makes for a fabulous weekend of musical delight.
Live Music Guide (LMG) founder and music enthusiast Mike Smith, one of the Cape Town music scene’s biggest champions, gives the low-down on his career triumph with LMG magazine and his venue preferences.
I started LMG on my return to South Africa after many years abroad. I found it extremely difficult to get any cohesive sense of what was going on in Cape Town with regard to live music. Facebook was in its infancy and information on the internet was sporadic and disconnected. I realised there was a need for something similar to the free street magazines I had picked up in other cities while on my travels. So essentially, it started out as my own personal gig guide!
A couple of the bigger bands – and industry folk – initially viewed LMG with a bit of scepticism. Apparently many magazines had come and gone in previous years and they wanted to see if LMG had any legs before getting too excited. But once they understood how serious we were about putting out quality music journalism, we had their full support.
It’s no secret that I’ve always loved Mercury Live’s ethic of providing stepping stones to any young band trying to “make it”. From their Sixgun Sessions on Monday nights for brand new talent, to the more intimate Wednesday shows downstairs and the main Friday night shows, a band could progress through the ranks if they were good enough.
The Assembly is hands down the best all round venue for a medium to large crowd. Like any entity in the music industry, including magazines and bands, venues have a tough balancing act between running costs, production costs, musician costs and revenues. For The Assembly to have maintained their position and reputation takes immense effort.
Other favourite hangouts are R.O.A.R. – still the best sound in Cape Town – in Observatory and Blah Blah Bar in Gardens.
We are blessed with great acoustic venues. The Waiting Room rates very highly, but if you also want a meal, then Café Roux and Alma Café are also fantastic. For interesting line-ups that will introduce you to new talent and often leave your jaw on the floor, I really enjoy the weekly Barleycorn Music Club shows at the Villager Rugby Club in Claremont.
DJ and live music lover Angela Weickl recommends a diverse mix of live music venues in Cape Town’s city centre
Recreating the comfort of home, while showcasing talent from across Cape Town and beyond, The Waiting Room on Long Street offers the best location venue to experience live acoustic music on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The intimate space, scattered with armchairs and couches, creates a relaxed setting for audiences more inclined to listening than rump shakingdancing. That said, there are nights when the energy is so contagious that chairs are pushed aside and the dancefloor is opened up for a bout of midweek revelryboogie.
Housed in an old warehouse, The Assembly on Harrington Street in District Six is the largest music venue in Cape Town. The venue’s capacity alone qualifies it as the destination for any local or international band with a large following too large for its counterparts (but not quite large enough to fill stadiums!). Although the venue places a lot of focus on electronic music, the live music contingent of line-up ranges from pop to rock and includes metal, too.
An institution within Cape Town’s city bowl realm, Mercury Live and Lounge remains is thea venue that has launched many an iconic local music career. Large enough to meet the needs of bands with avid big followings, the space club is designed to not feel cavernous on intimate nights, but is also works for conducive to sweaty mosh pits and euphoric fist- pumping crowd anthems.
If your music taste is more discerning, The Crypt jazz restaurant is an ideal choice. Situated deep within Cape Town’s St George’s Cathedral, the venue hosts an array of live jazz music from Tuesday to Saturday nights, the only venue in the city that holds this claimto do so.
Pack a picnic, gather your favourite people and get set for a blissful Sunday at any one of the fabulous Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts.
The majestic Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage site on the slopes of Table Mountain, is a crucial stop on any tourist’s itinerary. It is also an essential Sunday summer destination for many Cape Town locals.
Thousands descend upon the luscious green lawns with overflowing picnic baskets and blankets. With their families and friends in tow all who have attended a Summer Sunset Concert agree, there’s nothing better than kicking back against one of the most picturesque views in South Africa, with top-notch musical entertainment to complete the experience.
A showcase for the best local – and quite a few international – musicians, these concerts have played host to almost every legendary South African artist from Johnny Clegg and Mango Groove to Freshlyground and more. Kirstenbosch’s line-up also caters to a variety of musical tastes, from jazz to rock to classical – and include the beloved Carols by Candlelight in December.
The Summer Sunset Concerts season runs from November to April and gates to the concert area open at 4pm. Tickets almost always sell out, so it’s wise to buy online to avoid disappointment.
Always at the forefront of quality entertainment and sound, Sundays at Kirstenbosch are flawlessly orchestrated and are highly recommended for any music or nature fan.
Cape Town’s West Coast is spectacularly beautiful, largely under-developed, rugged and a little wild. So are the locals, who can party with the hardest. It’s no surprise, then, that the West Coast was chosen as the location for the annual Malkop (loosely translated as “crazy-head”) Rock Festival, which takes place each year in the December summer heat. Frantz Birkholtz, founder and organiser of Malkop, explains why the West Coast is the perfect setting for this new festival on the circuit.
The decision to launch Malkop happened by accident and then shaped very organically. We were a small group of friends sitting around the fire just outside Lambert’s Bay (on the West Coast) enjoying some drinks, when we started talking about music and how this spot would be perfect for a festival, seeing that there is a huge demand for live music and festivals on the West Coast. The idea became more and more attractive as we went along and the rest is history.
The best part of starting up a new festival is actually working with the artists, seeing how everything is falling in place and feeling the hype of all the people.
The culture on the west coast is very unique and raw. The people run that part of the coast like cowboys. The fishermen like referring to the party goers as ‘malkoppe’. We want the people to have a good time at the festival and to enjoy the culture of ‘malkoppe’ in Lambert’s Bay.
Malkop’s line-up will always be a brilliant combination of old and new. A surfing competition also takes place — the camp site is a mere 200m from the ocean and the world-renowned Muisbosskerm restaurant, where festival goers will enjoy a buffet seafood meal on the last day of the festival.
The reasons for both tourists and locals to regularly drop in at Kirstenbosch, the botanical gardens of Cape Town, are plentiful: the magnificent scenery (Kirstenbosch lies at the foot of Table Mountain), the wide variety of flora, the excellent hiking trails…but for many, the Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts series caps the lot.
When attending one of the Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts in Cape Town, you might just find your different senses battling your attention. It’s hard to tear your eyes away from the slopes of Table Mountain, yet the smells of the wonderful plant mixture in Kirstenbosch needs you to close your eyes and focus on that…and to top it all, an excellent live band is demanding your attention with their music. This infighting between the senses could be the most satisfactory battle ever experienced!
Taking place every Sunday in the botanical gardens for a whopping four months over Cape Town’s peak summer period (November to March), the Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts series has quickly become a favourite among locals and tourists — a perfect way to wind down after a weekend that may have contained more energy -sapping activities.
Concerts start around 17h30 and continue until 19h00. A world class stage has been erected for the series and some of the most well established and widely loved musicians and singers South Africa has to offer are booked for the mellow Sunday shows (not all are mellow —a popular punk-rock band was once reprimanded mid-performance because a few of their headbanging fans were trampling on the foliage).
Pack a picnic basket and find a spot quickly — the area where the concerts are held fills up with enthusiastic garden visitors. Then sit back and enjoy the battle of the senses.