By 19h00 there wasn’t much more to say. Sundowners’ baptism of fire was well and truly underway as the scorching African sun had surrendered to a scintillating atmosphere of fist-pumping, body-wrangling, and shadow-dancing figures lighting up the Alberton night sky; with Bryan Binneman’s vocals vividly encapsulating the mood. “…on top of the world, not giving a fuck” wasn’t just a clichéd set of lyrics, nor did it ring hollow to the sea of people squashed between the railings and heaps of plastic debris at the far end, singing their hearts out. No! At that moment, every soul seemed to radiate the words, pulsating through feverish veins and seeping out of every pour, soaking into the trembling turf below their feet. Johannesburg’s very own Facing The Gallows were injecting their lubricated fists into proceedings and orchestrated the crowd as if an international headliner themselves. As I stood back to evaluate the scenes, I couldn’t help but succumb to a very palpable feeling of pride, astonishment, and sheer gratitude for the spectacle unfolding, constructed from the crafty minds of the Turning Tricks Entertainment crew and executed to absolute perfection. On Saturday 24th September, Krank’d Up 2016 had truly arrived on the big stage, and so did South Africa’s finest.
My journey into one of South Africa’s fastest growing alternative music festivals had already started two days earlier. Flying in from the “Isle of Cape Town”, I quickly paid my prescribed dues with estranged Jozi family members, and later met up with a few local metalheads to finally be swept off towards Sundowners to break my seal. There were nerves abound, but I trusted he would be gentle.
If wandering in off the dirt road at around 12h00, you would have been welcomed by the reception of smiles, friendly faces and the curiously named Thundermerwe thrusting a delightfully familiar electro rock amalgamation into ones sideburns. If anything was worth a trip from Cape Town it would be Jozi’s shady selection of band names, and the “Merwes” were exceptionally high on any such list. But for anyone unfamiliar with the Krank’d Up format, the festival – now in its fourth year of operation – sports two stages. One inside providing entertainment around the bar and more confined spaces, plus the main stage which is a fair walking distance away; and overlooking a vast open space for the masses who would later descend to witness two heavyweights of the ‘metalcore’ and ‘prog’ scenes respectively, “melting faces”.
There was a full roster of local artists still on the menu though, as Cadillac Sun blazed and the Mother City’s Crossfire Collision simultaneously opened up main stage to a tepid crowd; still finding their way about, grappling for hugs and “how have you been” gestures flinging across every inch of the balmy festival terrain, teaming with activity.
Back inside, Adorned in Ash had just seized the stage and with it, my notions of extreme metal’s limitations; blasting a sumptuous torrent of frenetic riffs in broad day light, rendering the corpse paint less intimidating and more an interesting application of sunscreen. But who cares? At a festival consisting of on-the-go cone-shaped hot chips holders and giant Jaggermeister metalhorn foam hands, the enthralling feel-good factor reigned supreme.
Riddlebreak roared, Only Forever rocked, and like a polite one-night stand, the Sun begrudgingly pulled out. As sunset ensued, Facing The Gallows took to main stage like an overcooked cheese sausage, grooving from end to end, oozing all kinds of “sausery” with anthem after anthem to electrify the growing mass of a crowd. Boargazm and Zombies Ate My Girlfriend were also attempting to rip up the Sundowners foundation back on the inside stage, with beer-infused moshpit scrimmages ramping up the temperature to full-out “hold on to my cell phone” mode. Chaos, chaos, chaos!! Absolute entertainment crammed into just a single day, and we were loving it.
After finding a moment to recharge, it was finally time for Norma Jean to step into the spotlight. Not that their very casual presence around the festival area went unnoticed by fanboys, but it’s a whole different sack of potatoes when Cory Brandan emerges from the main stages cloaked “backstage”, greeted by a crescendo of cheers and swathed in the misty glow of bright lights and smoke effects as if Michael Bay himself were tweaking the switches. Extremely dramatic; but its what we came to see, damn it!
Moshpit number-one opened up somewhere in the distance. I could tell by the plumes of dust circulating upwards and clanging of moist middle-class suburban flesh colliding. To the delight of every long time fan, the set list was a dynamic mix of some of their biggest hits as well as a few off the new album Polar Similar. ‘Robots 3 Humans 0’ went down particularly well, so a second moshpit opened up. Twin moshpits is life!
An hour later, Periphery were up to similar tricks and enticing the crowd to go nuts as Spencer started to feel the effects of good ol’ South African wine. In his defense though, he only dropped the mic once and also spoke a few choice NSFW Afrikaans words. The crowd loved it; the band seemed to love them; and the orgy of musical magnificence resumed, thumping into the heavens and pummeling Alberton into fine grains of dust.
Both international headliners were quite the spectacle to behold and I doubt Sundowners has ever hosted an event quite like that before, but much can also be said for the local acts who stood shoulder to shoulder with their foreign counterparts in many ways and often threatened to steal the show.
I quickly learned that in Johannesburg, the blistering afternoon heat is rivaled only by its frigid, logic-defying evening temperature drops; which must have encouraged fans to start their migration in search of warmth, food, or perhaps another ‘dop’ as soon as the bands packed up. I, however, seated perched on a stool close to the exit – and with aforementioned giant jaggermeister metalhorn foam hand fitted – watched all the weary faces as they passed, tired and drained, but also noticed them brimming with a fervent sense of satisfaction. Turning Tricks Entertainment served up a whopper here and are no doubt already scratching their heads trying to figure out a way to top it. I do not want to be in their shoes right now.
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