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Friday, May 21, 2010

Smirnoff Experience South Africa - Mashup Street Review

Johannesburg. The name is often greeted with a sharp intake of breath through gritted teeth and the quoting of some worrying crime statistic or other. Sure, the sprawling, disparate city has its share of problems, but to glance beyond the well-documented socio-issues is to find a vibrant community which - from the super-cool urban clubs to the corrugated homes of Soweto - has a fire in its heart and music in its soul. So, while JoBurg may not be afforded the same glamorous image as the other places that Smirnoff has stopped off at on its worldwide “Be There" experiences, it is with justification that this South African city found its way onto the circuit.

The warm people of JoBurg were certainly suitable hosts for such an occasion. While the general vibe is laid back to the point of being horizontal (order food from any restaurant and see if your stomach doesn’t try to eat itself during the seemingly interminable wait for its arrival), they sure as hell know how to party here. The local music scene buzzes with artists you and I have never heard of, while Sunday afternoons in Soweto are about as far removed from lunch at your Gran’s as you could imagine. Little wonder then, that, when news that Smirnoff were bringing international superstar DJ Tiesto to town, everyone wanted to be there.

While the world could watch the event - entitled Mashup Street due to the coming-together of different styles and cultures - online via a live-stream, the 3,500 folk who were lucky enough to score tickets (of which a chunk were international competition winners) found themselves, late on Saturday night, heading to an aircraft hanger 45 minutes out of town. As a cavalcade of cars drew closer to the venue (the location of which had remained secret until just a few days before the gig) the darkness and silence of the surrounding nothingness was punctuated by beats and baselines bouncing off the walls of the hanger. What started as a rhythmical hum steadily increased to an infectious, cacophonous dance-beat as the line of punters snaked towards the entrance.
Once inside, party-goers didn't know where to look/listen first. Djs SPECtacula, Dean Fuel and Ashton Abels spun the tunes while, at the 'Afro-Preppy' and 'Electro-Punk' themed bars, trendy young things were able to design their own cocktails on touch-screen stations and have them instantly conjured up by mixologists (whose eye make-up made them look like a cross between Michael Stipe and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle). Between the two main rooms, graffiti artists and breakdancers brought a sense of Newtown to proceedings with some live installations. On stage, female dancers looking like Jessica Rabbit let loose in a fancy dress shop stirred up the crowd while trapeze artists wearing not much at all intertwined arms and legs. Smirnoff's plan to "remix South Africa," was clearly going to be one helluva party.

While playing to so many people in their home city made this a seminal gig for BLK JKS (below) they were always going to have a fight on their hands trying to retain the attention of a crowd that wasn’t necessarily their demographic. Especially when there were so many other distractions in a venue so gargantuan that it would swallow most indie bands in one fun-sized gulp. Despite this, they put on a fine show which represented an intelligent coming-together of psych-rock, ska, alternative, reggae, jazz, and plenty of prog. With foreign influences such as TV On The Radio segueing with African sounds, it is obvious why Smirnoff chose them to open this mash-up themed party, and why they are doing as well outside of their country as they are within it.

Several extravagant vodkas later (fashionistas sipped from cocktails that had rubber ducks floating in them), the place was rammed as Tiesto appeared behind his decks and proceeded to play a surprisingly commercial set. Spinning the likes of Justice, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Florence, the Dutchman created an accessibility that suited the festival-type atmosphere, and his set was enjoyed equally by the hardcore gurners at the front, the liggers nibbling canapés behind the VIP rope and the parents at the back who, before tonight, probably thought Tiesto was a brand of washing powder. In keeping with the mash-up idea, he debuted Dreaming, his collaboration with BLK JKS.

Three hours of drinks, confetti canons, lights, video screens and partying South Africans hanging from the rafters later, it was all over (after a quick encore). Post-gig, the DJ gushed: "It was such a pleasure playing to the crowd in Johannesburg. I had such an amazing time playing at Mashup Street, I didn't even realise that I played an hour-and-a-half-longer than I was supposed to."So, while Tiesto's entourage went to find him a watch, everyone else piled into cars and headed back towards the lights of the big city, where afterparties would pop up throughout the night. Whether at official shindigs in swanky bars, impromptu get-togethers in hotel rooms or edgier gatherings in the labyrinthic streets of Soweto, Johannesburg buzzed with life long beyond the apologetic arrival of sunrise at 6.30am.

Once the cloud of hangover fuzz that blanketed Joburg lifted deep into Sunday and the foreign attendees began to brave the volcanic ash on their journey home, locals started gearing up for the next big occasion - The World Cup. If Mashup Street is any indicator of JoBurg’s ability to celebrate other cultures while proudly displaying its own, then it is going to be amazing.

And so it was time for the Smirnoff Experience to wheel itself out of town and to start planning its next big Be There occasion, safe in the knowledge that it had well and truly rocked Johannesburg to its very foundations with a party that went way beyond global branding. The inventive Mashup Street was so special, so commendable and such unadulterated fun because it amounted to much more than a mere promotional event. This was an opportunity for people to shed the shackles of their comfort zone and have a real one-off experience.

5 comments:

Bobby Six said...

Oh, and for more reviews, video and photo content from this event, check out some of the blogs on my blogroll, just to the right of the post...

Owl and the Grapes said...

Very well written article. Made me feel suitably jealous - sounds like you had a blast.

Bobby Six said...

It was indeed a blast!

韋于倫成 said...

hello~ nice to meet u..............

韋于倫成 said...

失去金錢的人,失去很多;失去朋友的人,失去更多;失去信心的人,失去所有。..................................................