This would be a whole lot easier if we could plug into our computers and you could read my mind. My feelings. Writing my experience will require a whole lot more. Experience that is. If I had to put it down to one thing, Synergy was dominated by noise, of every variety. From organisational short falls and the resulting complaints to standing 15 metres from the best performance I have ever seen in my life, guitar riffs and bass waves blasting through my chest, deep into my very being – it was all about the noise, and Synergy 2011 brought the goddamn noise.
The new setup this year, the only negative beside the apparent lack of tequila (this is rock n roll goddamnit!), was, to me, more surprising than anything. It seemed there was no thought put into it. ‘Let’s get them to park at the very end of the festival, then they can just carry every single thing they need for the weekend all the way up to the festival ground, through the entire thing, then up and over the far hill on the horizon. It’s not too far. 3km as the crow flies I’d say.’ It was nothing short of mind bottling and incredibly frustrating for everyone I spoke to. We ended up camping by the cars, under a clump of trees, which ended up being an incredibly wise move.
That was the only negative noise, and it was heard for no longer than the first hour. As soon as we were set up it was forgotten. We had beers in our hands and music to listen to. We cruised the new set-up, lapping up and taking in those things we come to festivals for. The fair feel of Synergy sets it apart from other festivals, and after ten minutes of walking around the end of year noise – the stress, the December plans, the year fatigue, is drowned out. It’s replaced with laughter, smells from a selection of food stands, cold beer, countless cigarettes, and, depending on where you are, Main stage acts, oblivious kids on the electro floor or the familiar, darker, crowd of the LMG tent.
By the time Ashtray Electric took the stage on Friday the bar was set pretty high. Sabertooths unabashed effort at reviving the 80’s rock band was incredibly fun to watch and the boys held nothing back – long curly hair, headbands, wind fans, a packed stage, great tunes and covers that did justice. They turned up the noise, and the crowd ate it up. Then Ashtray took the stage. We moved in. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, these boys are pure quality. If you want to watch a band in SA that knows how to deliver something of complete quality, these are the boys to watch. Next up was another favourite of mine, Taxi Violence. As usual, these dudes put on their festival performance wich resulted in a very alive crowd. A crowd that eventually ended up in a swirling, flailing, jumping orgy of madness, throbbing and pulsing below front man George as he urged them on with the support of his band.
From there we headed off in the direction of the LMG stage, in search of a band that Texx has been making an incredible amount of noise over – Shadowclub. I had refused to listen to them online until such time as I had seen them live – I wanted the hype to be real. They’ve been a band that has managed to remain off my radar, even after doing a Studio 1 show with their lead singer Jacques. I finally managed to see them the the night before Synergy at Down South Food Ba, and I can safely say I was well impressed. I was not going to miss them at Synergy, and I’m glad I didn’t. These boys have got it right. A charismatic frontman with just the right amount of arrogance to place him in that ‘he’s a bit of a dick, but man I love his stuff’ category that seems to prove a winning formula. Besides that, the man has a fucking amazing voice. The band puts on a good show, packed with energy and noise that, no matter who you are, will get you moving, smiling and following them on Facebook just to know when they’ll be playing next. Make sure you see them.
Saturday kicked off early with another Joburg favourite of mine – Southern Gypsy Queen. They’re another three-piece that, through variation and talented members manages to put out some awesome noise. One brother on the drums, another on guitar and the very sexy female bassist provide something we’re not used to seeing here. Vocal responsibilities are shared by all, which means each song is something new. That combined with a great energy made sure Synergy was awake and ready for another day.
The line-up for the rest of the day was top quality, but I’m going to pick things up again with a band that is fast making it’s way up my all-time favourite SA bands – Desmond & The Tutus. Frontman, Shane, may well be the coolest frontman in SA – this, of course, is a story on it’s own, but everything about the dude, and his blatant ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude – without being a dick, similar to legends like McQueen, Depp and Brando, make his general stage presence that much better. Their show was once again nothing short of awesome, and like the last one I saw, had much more energy, and a hint more aggression. Isochronous were the next bad we watched, I can’t say much more about these dudes that I haven’t said already. They are so musically talented, such a tight band. You can’t help but stand there and take in all the well rehearsed, technically mind blowing noise.
After a solid performance by The Narrow we stood and watched as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club took the stage, none of us really sure what to expect. Then it happened. The best musical experience of my entire life. For what felt like two hours, we were treated to something that we, as South Africans, very, VERY rarely, if ever, get to see. Even Rick (my Professor of Music), who has watched some of the worlds biggest acts overseas claims that this performance, on a wine estate at the tip of Africa, was the best show he has ever seen in his life. It was, as this posts theme suggest, all about the noise. The stage was hardly lit, and only shapes were responsible for the sounds. The lyrics fell away completely, for me at least, melting into simple, solid drum beats, and sounds from guitars that brought me right back to why I have such a passionate love affair with music.
Take this as you will, but it was spiritual. I saw a tweet the next day that said ‘for the first time in my life I felt like rock n roll could really save the world’ and I couldn’t agree more. If everyone could have been there, at that time, when our live music high-water mark was set, somewhere high on the Simonsberg mountain range, I truly believe their lives would have been changed in some way. Whether it was their pinnacle experience in a well traveled musical journey, or their awakening to what music can do, deep down in your soul, that show meant something so much more than the culmination of a weekend of excess in a hidden valley of the Western Cape. It was a beautiful noise, the best I’ve ever heard.