RAMfest 2014 – “Oh misty eye of the mountain below. Keep gentle watch of my brother’s soul” the opening lyrics of the song ‘I see fire’ written by Ed Sheeran for the movie ‘The Hobbit 2’. These lyrics haunted me the whole weekend. I live in Pretoria and usually go to the Johannesburg RAMfest. This year I decided to switch it up – and man am I glad I did.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not hating on the Johannesburg RAMfest at all, but the Cape Town showcase is definitely something to put on your bucket list, especially if you are a keen festival attendee. I don’t know how cool the past locations for the Cape Town show was, but “Ladies and gentlemen, we have found a winner”. Elandskloof Farm in Helderstroom (About 24km from Greyton), set in a picturesque valley, with beautiful, green, mountains as a back drop. The first thing you notice when driving through the farm-gate is 4 stages setup parallel with a river (that’s right when the heat gets too much, you go for a swim in the river). As you pan to the left you see a forest, which on closer inspection you realize is where you will be camping for the weekend. I felt like a Hobbit setting out on an adventure with my friends galloping through the forest – Aaaah that’s why that song was in my head the whole weekend.
We setup camp underneath the lush tree-top canopy, poured a couple of drinks and headed to the stage. And so the unexpected journey began (Ok that is the last The Hobbit reference).
I can admit that I am not the biggest Trivium fan. I had a copy of ‘Shogun’ and ‘The Crusade’ and I liked it, but I never really got into it in a big way. One word captures Triviums set ‘Presence’. They rocked the stage with a presence that demanded the crowd’s attention. Trivium has definitely become one of those bands that has matured musically as the years have gone on. Matt Heafy (Lead vocals and guitar) and Corey Beaulieu (Lead guitarist) share a synergy that creates an expectation in the crowd and keeps all eyes glued to the stage, anxious to see what happens next. At times the performance lacked a bit of energy, but not long enough to lose interest. Trivium definitely did not disappointed and I hope they enjoyed the South African crowd as much as we enjoyed them. 8/10
2. Killswitch Engage
Personally, this is why I decided to go to RAMfest. I started listening to Killswitch Engage in 2008, a good 4 years after the release of the ‘End of heartache’ album. Howard Jones was the vocalist and the title track ‘End of Heartache’ was the theme song for the movie Resident Evil (released in 2004). I became obsessed with Killswitch Engage, but never thought they’d ever play in South Africa. What a show!! It had all the bells and whistles; Seeing Justin Foley rip a modest drum-set to shreds, Joel Stroetzel smashing a shitload full of squeals on the guitar, Mike D’Antonio giving the crowd a fair share of devil horns from behind the bass, Jesse Leach screaming passion filled lyrics from the top of his lungs and Adam Dutkiewicz coming up with the funniest one-liners a metal act can conjure up e.g. “This next song is for all you fat girls, with your swollen titties” or “This next song is about masturbation”. Killswitch treated the crowd to almost every song we could’ve asked for – I would have loved it if they jammed ‘Breathe Life’ and the Ronnie James Dio cover ‘Holy Diver’ though – yeah I know I’m never satisfied, some would say it’s ‘My Curse’. What fascinated me the most is that these guys run around on stage, they make jokes, they engage the crowd all while they are instrumentally tighter than a Margaret Thatcher’s asshole. It was a honor. 10/10
I might get a lot of criticism for my opinion about Foals performance, but that is fine by me. Foals lacked serious energy at times. The only time the crowd got going was when they played ‘My Number’. I understand why people would go to RAMfest to see Foals and there was nothing wrong with their performance. I do however feel there could have been a bit more in it for the crowd. After all, why do we go to festivals? We want a performance; we want to see a show. If I wanted to only listen to the music, I would have popped the CD into my cars front-loader. Instrumentally they were good and I can definitely admit that. 7/10
4. Biffy Clyro
I’d suspect that Biffy Clyro is the reason for 75% of ticket sales for the RAMfest shows. I was never a fanatical Biffy Clyro fan, but man I now get why people love Biffy Clyro. I have never seen a band that can create total chaos and palpable intimacy in the same set. Simon Neil can stand alone on stage plucking away on his guitar and the next song all hell breaks loose. I’d like to make special mention of Biffy Clyro’s drummer, Ben Johnston; I was really impressed with his skill. He beat that drum like he was going to war. I thoroughly enjoyed Biffy Clyro, it is not the type of music I usually listen to, but I will not diss good music; and Biffy Clyro was exceptional. As we walked back to our tent after the show one of my friends made a remark that put things into perspective for me. He said: “I don’t really know the music, but the show was really entertaining”. That to me is the perfect criteria to determine whether a band was good or not in terms of live performance; if you where entertained although you are not familiar with the band’s music, then a band was really good. 9/10
5. Red Huxley
You cannot get a better band to open a festival and get the crowd pumped up for what is to come. If you have never had the pleasure of seeing a Red Huxley show, I take pity on your soul. The South African music industry…wait let me re-phrase; the music industry needs the type of music that Red Huxley makes. Old school rock and roll!! We have had enough of electronic sounds and synthesizers; we want guitars, two if possible, bass and drums. They are entertaining to watch; the music is good and gels really well. Plus the front man, Dylan Jones, looks like Dave Grohl and the bassist, Matthew Pullen, looks like Shaun White (The ginger X-Games, snowboarder). This band is going to go far; well at least I really hope they do. 8/10
6. Foto na Dans
I don’t know whose idea it was for Foto na Dans to play a reunion show, but it was a stroke of genius. The crowd started off small, but as the set got into full swing the crowd grew as well. The sound of Alex Fourie’s trumpet and Leroi Nel’s classically trained voice is elements that were sorely missed by the South African faithful. They played all the crowd pleasers and a couple of new tracks. The sad part however is that there are no signs of Foto na Dans getting back together permanently, but as front man Leroi Nel pointed out “you never really know what tomorrow holds”. It was awesome watching a Foto na Dans show for the last time (but hopefully not). 8/10
7. Taxi Violence
How are these guys not an internationally recognized act yet? How good are they? I have always loved Taxi Violence, the blues influence and their uncompromising rock and roll sound is tangible. Taxi Violence makes you want to drink whiskey shots, smoke a pack of filtered cigarettes and rock out all night, New Orleans style. George van der Spuy (Taxi Violence front-man) is great to watch and is definitely underrated as a vocalist. The best part of their set was the cover of Johnny Cash hit; ‘God’s gonna cut you down’. Now kids here is something you can learn from Taxi Violence; if you ever cover a song by another band or artist, do not be afraid to do something different and give the song a unique twist. Taxi Violence took ‘God’s gonna cut you down’ and gave it a blues rock feel that really suited the song. Well done gents! 9/10
What a great festival. The only criticism that I have is the fact that the ATM facilitated by Standard Bank did not have internet connection and was offline. When every stall at the festival only accepts cash, this will create an issue every time. And why only one ATM point? Is it really too expensive to maybe have 2 ATM points? But, that is really all that I could find fault with RAMfest Cape Town. I hope the festival organizers can make the location a permanent one. RAMfest is slowly but surely becoming a beast that will be not be detained. RAMfest has gradually grown more popular over the last couple of years and I still maintain that RAMfest can overtake Oppikoppi as South Africa’s premier festival. Keep it up guys.