Witchfest 2008 - Mooi River, South Africa

By A Headbanger, Do You Bang Head?
Monday, November 3, 2008 @ 8:19 PM

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Reviewed by Holly Lucian

I arrived to Witchfest in South Africa one day late. The festival began on Thursday Sept 25th and I strolled in on Friday. Rumor was that I didn't miss much, so I took the group opinion for what it was and rode with it. Before I dive right in and tell you what I saw, let me first describe what Witchfest is- a rock and metal festival held annually in South Africa. It began as a touring festival, but this year became a three day campout affixed with a bar, camping grounds, bathroom and shower facilities. After missing the first day of the festival on Thursday, I hauled ass in the morning with a South African friend to drive and get to Witchfest before festivities really got going on Friday morning. After driving 4 hours outside of Johannesburg to the middle of fuck-knows-where-we-are South Africa, we arrived in the middle of a field and were greeted into Witchfest. It was cold, dusty and vacant. There was only one food tent, one tent selling beer (no liquor), and just one vender selling band merch-all of which was bands that were NOT at the festival. Were we at the right place?

At this point I was one of about 200 people at the festival…. tops…. and I am including workers, and band members. Despite the dinky turnout, we quickly parked the car and ran to catch our first band of the day- aKing. Being my first taste of South African rock I wasn't sure what to expect, but I wasn't disappointed. aKing are your basic 4 piece band whom for the most part sounds like radio-friendly rock that metalheads might not hate. Without sounding over-dramatic, I would like to say that they reminded me of a dulled down, slightly more dramatic (aka girl-friendly) version of the Foo Fighters. However, the crowds during the day were small as hell, and despite the fact that aKing has a solid following in South African the crowd consisted of only about 50 people. Now, when you are in a tiny club, 50 seems alright, but standing in the middle of a seemingly endless and empty field, the view is a bit different.

Next up was Hokum and Knave, both heavier in sound than aKing, but not commanding attention from the crowd or me (and honestly I am not sure why I bothered mentioning either, other than the fact that I was there and did witness them play). Now, Friday was designated as the 'alt rock day' and Saturday was the 'metal day', so being a metalhead I am biased, and at the time I was much more excited for the following days lineup. However, there was a solid Johannesburg based metal band that played on Friday- Agro. With long hair and growling vocals they stood apart from the rest of the acts of the day. Typically, I am not a fan of bands that seem to rely on covers as their most crowd-wowing numbers, but for these guys something was a tad different. The sense of sincerity and pride in their Dio and Priest covers definitely caught my eye. It was doing these covers that also made me interested in their set as a whole and made me pay extra attention to their own songs (which surprisingly did not suck!). In the end, these guys did in fact turn out to be a highlight of the festival. With solid guitar solos, a kickass bassist, and a vocalist who could interpret Halford without trying to sound like him, I was not disappointed. Most of their own songs relied heavily on thrash drumbeats- which is obviously something that to me is NOT a bad thing. Check out http://www.myspace.com/Agro to hear some of these guys tunes.

After Agro's set the crowd died down a bit. It was also dusty as fuck and beginning to get colder and colder. Most of the people stuck it out to listen to the next few bands, but I must say besides the headliners, Agro's set got one of the largest crowds of the festival. Most of the time people spent by their cars or in the beer tent.

The next band to make a splash Friday night was Martin Rocka and the Sick Shop. Coming out to the crowd dawning Mexican wrestling masks and flashy suits, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. But it was nothing short off of quick-songed rock n' roll (leaning towards rockabilly) that stood out from the rest of the bands in the festival. They weren't the best band to play, but they were one of the more memorable and fun to watch.

After Martin Rocka's flaunty appearance it was back to basics when Taxi Violence stepped up to stage. This band I knew nothing about, but ended up liking. Who would have known! With quick garage beats and catchy lyrics, these guys were not metal, but definitely rock 'n roll. Despite Taxi Violence's quality in songwriting, Agro's quality in metal, and Martin Rocka's quality in stage show, the band that was clearly the crowd pleaser and headliner-for-a-reason was Fokofpolisiekar. Led by singer, Francois Van Coke (who additionally fronts Van Coke Kartel, a band who played a non-memorable set earlier in the day) Fokof does well in the South African charts. They sing in Afrikaans- the predominately Dutch native language of the whites in South Africa- and the content of their songs reflect the changing time since the Apartheid. Afrikaans is also a religiously based language and community, so for a band whose name translated directly means "Fuck off Police Car" you can imagine that there is some controversy involved. I liked their set because it was full of energy and the songs actually had a melody to them, but judging from the crowd’s reaction, lots of the songs meanings were lyrical which was obviously lost on a non-Afrikaans speaking person such as me. Either way, I was happy to enjoy the radio friendly punk-ish melodies and share a beer with the guys after the set. They headlined the Friday night part of Witchfest and had a great reaction from the crowd. One thing to point out though, was that even though they clearly were the headliners and had the biggest draw of the night it seemed that when I was talking to people in the crowd and at the bar the opinion on them was split very 50/50. People either loved or hated them. Go figure that I seemed to be the only one there that just thought they were 'ok'.

Saturday, September 27th:

Day 2 of Witchfest began with me waking up in a car with dust boogers and a kickass hangover and led to Carcass playing a reunion show to a crowd of about 300 people. Before I skip straight to Carcass Saturday in the middle of bumblefuck, South Africa did show me some quality bands that are worth mentioning. It was the 'metal day' ofthe festival and the crowd certainly reflected that . Folks drinking beer for breakfast and Mayhem tee shirts were the common sight. Nearly 20 bands hit the stages (2 stages were set up directly adjacent to each other) and bands played from morning till night with little or no time in between acts. He's a brief summary of the winners and the losers:

All Forlorn- terrible thrash metal band. Check 'em out if you like mocking bands.

Warthane-One of the day’s best. Very heavy with thrash riffs and death (almost black) metal vocals. For a band that looked so young they sounded tight and played in-your-face original songs. I later found out they formed four years ago. You could tell after seeing them play, but damn- did they begin the band when they were 14? Crowd reaction was great, especially considering they played so early in the day. Check them out at http://www.myspace.com/warthaneband

The Horror Cast- Coming out wearing a Gorgoroth tee shirt, lead singer, Keenan Oakes, was clearly influenced by Gaahl’s vocals. For a band that no one seemed to know before the festival, they sounded good and had a nice stage presence.

Erebus-Clearly one of the bands that spent the most time primping before hitting the stage, Erebus came out looking like Cradle of Filth and sounding like shit. Next, please.

Wrust- Solid death metal served up from an all black band from Botswana. Crowd liked it, and so did I.

Carcass- The reason that 98% of the people came to Witchfest was to see these guys headline, and Carcass certainly made them work for it. Throughout the day I kept hearing rumors go around the crowd that Carcass was not going to show because of the festivals under-whelming ticket sales and turn out. So, when Carcass took nearly 2 hours for soundcheck people got very nervous and antsy. I checked my watch and they began their set at 1:45am, with the crowd eager and cold from the wait. Carcass' epic intro music played and smoke filled the stage for what seemed like the longest minute ever before the guys actually came crashing onto the stage and tearing it up. Right away the crowd went nuts, and after the first song frontman, Jeff Walker, commanded the crowd to break down the barrier and come right up to the stage. Before he could finish saying it, everyone was pressed against the stage singing and headbanging along. Despite some sound difficulties throughout the day, Carcass sounded great and went quickly from one song to the next keeping the energy level high. They played a mix of older and newer songs, leaving out some of the mid-years. Only problem was that the set was short, and there was no encore. To die hard South African fans that rarely get to see international bands live, I thought the band could have played longer than 50 minutes, and certainly should have played an encore. Ah well, most people were drunk at that point anyway.

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