Cape Town Electronic Music Festival: Coming of age  

by Evan Milton

The inaugural Cape Town Electronic Music Festival sees the city come of age as a global contributor to - and destination for - this burgeoning music form, with a host of DJs, live acts, industry workshops and satellite events.

Who would have imagined that the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, innovative and eye-catching as it may be in the world of shopping centres, would ever play host to a festival of music with tongue-twisting, and genre-bending names like dub-step, glitch-hop and kwaito-house? It is a mark of the growth of electronic music - both as something people want to listen to, and as a form that increasing numbers of South African creative minds are making - that this has come to pass. The mastermind behind it is one Duncan Ringrose, co-founder of sShadoworkss, and commercial and logistics partners like Resident Advisor, Soundcloud, Conduit, Makhulu Productions, Virtual Architects and Say Thank You, not to mention city entities like Cape Town Tourism, Creative Cape Town and the Western Cape Government.
"A fundamental aspect of the festival is right there in the name: 'Cape Town'," says Ringrose by telephone, driving home from another day of organising this breakthrough festival, and perforce interrupting the interview to take calls from the office, get flyers out of the boot of his car and answer an urgent query about a contact number. "There are lots of places in the city where you could host an event and it would be beautiful, but you could be anywhere in the world. Table Mountain is such a well known Cape Town icon that it was a pre-requisite that we have that as a backdrop. There were a few venues that we looked at in town; at the Stadium and just outside it. The V&A was always a long-shot because we thought something like an electronic music event would be a little bit too forward thinking for what is, essentially, a shopping mall. We were blown away with how receptive they were."
He cites the moment of sitting in the executive boardroom of the V&A's marketing division and getting head nods around the table as a moment when the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival was "confirmed and reaffirmed". "We know this music is out there, but it's starting to be taken seriously as something that's not Mickey Mouse or fly-by-night or underground or defined as 'that weird sh*t' that kids are listening to. People might understand all the nuances of what goes on inside electronic music, but business people can see that it has a value and that it's a commodity. To get the V&A on as a partner, with them seeing the direct benefit of the festival going well - it made everything fall into place. You've got a venue with Table Mountain, with Devil's Peak and Signal Hill and the Stadium. You turn around and there's ocean everywhere behind you - and even the Waterfront's own Millennium Eye styled ferris wheel. There's no mistaking where you are, and that will translate into photo's and videos."
It's an inaugural event, so all concerned are "seeing how it goes", but there's no mistaking the long term vision for CTEMF. Rightly so, given that it received a stamp of approval in no uncertain terms by Resident Advisor, arguably electronic music's most important global publication. 
"They have been hugely cool about it," says Ringrose of the publication which was started a decade ago in Australia, but soon grew to cover the emerging electronic music scene worldwide, and now boasts offices in London and Berlin, hundreds of global contributors, parties across the world to celebrate its tenth anniversary and a "People's Voice" Webby Award. "The founder is actually in Cape Town over that period, so we've got him in one of the workshop sessions. A chance for locals to have a conversation with the guy who created probably the most highly respected electronic dance music website. This piece in the Argus will be valuable to tell people in the city what's happening, but Resident Advisor is communicating globally that Cape Town is here, and is developed enough to warrant attention from them. There are numerous music tourists that travel around going to events like Sonar, and Big Day Out and the Detroit Electronic Music Festival. Hopefully, we'll help to put Cape Town on that world map."
Earlier this month, Design Indaba hosted a teaser for Sonar, arguably the pinnacle of electronic music festivals held annually in Barcelona, and gave the City Hall one if it's finest nights in years. Was that a catalyst for the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival? Ringrose pauses, no doubt considering the many months before March that have gone into planning CTEMF. "We decided to create our festival because we went to Sonar in 2005, and Detroit after that. These are the cornerstones, the inspirational influences showing how to host an event like this in an urban context. It's a different animal entirely to an outdoor festival, and the way this music is usually presented there, on a second stage. When the Real Estate Agents (the seminal local electronic pairing of DJ Sibot and producer Markus Wormstorm, which Ringrose managed) played Sonar, I knew we had to do something in Cape Town, but the scene was not developed enough yet. We've learned a lot in the past seven years. Now, the scene has come of age, and the time is right."
The Cape Town Electronic Music Festival runs from 3pm on Friday 30 March to 11pm on Sunday 1 April at the V&A Waterfront on the roof of the  Breakwater Parking Garage featuring Black Coffee, Felix Laband, Goldfish, Sibot, Jullian Gomes, Richard The Third, Blush 'n Bass, Monique Pascal, Pascale & Pearce, Haezer, Markus Wormstorm, Das Kapital, Ivan Turanjanin, PH Fat, Step Up Soundsystem, Killer Robot, Fletcher in Dub, Kalahari Surfer and more. More on and
* The shows are preceded by industry workshops featuring speakers from Soulistic Music, Jump Media, Cape Music Industry Commission, Creative Commons, Rolling Stone South Africa, BPM, African Dope Records, Nokia, Griet, Trigger Isobar and sSHADOWORKSs, amongst others (Tuesday 27 - Thursday 29 March, Red Bull Studios, Planet Art Building, 32 Jamieson St, from 3pm; doors open 2pm; seating unreserved).

First appeared in the Cape Argus "Good Weekend" of 2012/ 03/25

Music journalist, Digital marketing strategist, SA Music Awards judge and radio DJ for Fine Music Radio.

Click here to view my blog

Popular this week

Events near you

Check out our Instagram feed #thisiswhatson