Cape Town’s music scene: an insider’s perspective

Cape Town is a creative melting pot of talented musicians, a potpourri of styles, and a host of great venues. Music editor Tecla Ciolfi, of popular music blog Texx and the City, gives us her scoop.

For live music, my favourite venue in Cape Town has to be The Assembly in Harrington Street. For almost eight years it has hosted every kind of event imaginable; from metal to hip hop to staple student parties.

For something a little different, I do believe that Manila Bar has to be experienced at least once. Even on a night when there isn’t a live music event happening on the top floor, there’s bound to be crazy karaoke shenanigans happening on the floor below. I also really like The Annex in Kalk Bay. It’s great for a chilled sundowner after a day at the beach, or dinner and a show later in the evening.

The word “iconic” means different things to different people, but in my opinion progressive rock group BLK JKS are iconic in a South African context simply because there is no other group quite like them. For me, they challenge the conventions of the genre pigeonhole, while creating a space and sound all their own.

Koos Kombuis is another iconic artist, not only because of the incredible body of Afrikaans rock that he has produced, but because he was one of the forces behind the “Voëlvry” movement, an anti-establishment group of Afrikaans artists that stood against the atrocities of apartheid at a time when it was not a safe or fashionable thing to do. A band like Fokofpolisiekar immediately springs to mind as legendary. They’re pretty much the bastion of South African rock ‘n’ roll, having spawned a movement and given voice to a disenchanted group of South African youths.

Cape Town abounds with young up-and-coming bands and artists. Ska/rock band Grassy Spark is currently probably the most exciting band on the scene. I’m also really enjoying rapper Dope Saint Jude’s material.

Whether you’re a visitor or a local, a Sunday afternoon concert at Kirstenbosch Gardens is simply a must-see. The venue’s location is unparalleled and the acts are always local stalwarts. If you want to experience a South African music festival in the Cape Town area, then Rocking the Daisies would probably be the pick. This festival, held in early October, is an institution and has grown to become the biggest weekend festival in the Western Cape.”

Is The Waiting Room the best live music venue in Cape Town? Maybe…

While managing a popular live music venue in trendy Observatory in the late 1990s, Angela Wieckl developed a passion for South Africa music. Today she’s a premier DJ who shares her tips for top venues, and memories of events gone by.

As far as my favourite live music venues go, after years of trying I still struggle to match the energy of The Waiting Room. The intimacy of that space when you’re watching an emotional performance is chilling. And when it’s packed to the brim, people singing along to their favourite band, the unity is euphoric.

I also think the real secret with acoustic shows is to follow the punk or ska kids, they were band nerds in school so they have really great music knowledge. They’re in pubs, coffee shops, crazy little joints where you grab a table and three beers later you’re part of the gang.

In terms of live music it’s no longer about the venue, but rather about the artist. People will go where the music pulls them, so the trick is to find the band you enjoy most and go out of your way to see them in as many places as possible.

I have been fortunate enough to be on the support line-up of a few very popular artists. What that leads to is a lot of mania — I’ve seen girls cry and hyperventilate. I’ve seen metal crowd barriers crumple like paper. I stand in awe every time a group of a thousand people shout out song lyrics at the same time.

Live music lovers unite at The House of Machines

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.”

My most rocking live music venues

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.

My top live music venues in the city

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.