Last weekend, 21-24 March, was the annual Mieliepop Festival, held at probably the best festival venue this country has to offer, Tolderia Resort in Lothair, Mpumalanga. This was my second time attending the festival, so I knew a bit more of what to expect, but the weather threw us a massive curveball by having rain for two solid days on end. This did not deter the majority of people who were there to witness an amazing local line-up (seriously, probably one of the top three local line-ups at a festival I’ve seen), a befokte, though relatively unknown to the majority, international band, and of course, party ’til they could no more.

This is my experience of Mieliepop 2018.

The die-hards in our camp arrived on Wednesday afternoon to grab a decent camping spot and to get into the party before the hustle of a full three days of watching bands started. Beers cracked, tents set up, first bottle of Sambuca finished we made the trek down the to main bar with 5L pre-mixes in tow (obviously, student budgets had to be taken into account) for one of the sickest, though unexpectedly fun nights I have experienced at a festival. The main bar had a bunch of DJ’s spinning tracks ranging from classics like Johnny Cash to current dance hits which I am unable to name, and they kept the party pumping until at least 02:00am. It might have been later, but that was the point at which I was safely tucked into my sleeping bag and shielded from the rain that started slowly dripping down upon us.

Thursday arrived, and with it came the start of a non-stop downpour of rain for a solid 36 hours. For the majority of the morning we shielded away underneath gazebos and canvas tenting, until we decided to mission to the Cool In The Pool stage to have a look at what was going on there. Opening up was Disco Cam x Duard Musk, and what an epic surprise their set was. It was pissing down with rain, but their combination of disco and bass seriously got the party started.

Next up was Werner Bekker, opening up the Willow Stage for the weekend. It was my first time seeing him perform, and throughout his set I could see how he was influenced by Ben Howard, and lo and behold, he ended off his set with one of the best covers I’ve seen in my life, Empty Corridors by Ben Howard. We enjoyed Werner’s set, but it was time to get the party started up again so we went back to camp for refills before checking out Die See. A very calm atmosphere hung over the Willow Stage as they performed, as people hung on every word vocalist Henry Ferreira sang. Their set was in total contrast to what followed, as Strait Jackal opened up the main stage for the weekend.

Strait Jackal basically blew the tent off the main stage. Their set was high-paced fun, and with the addition of the Brass Bras, Deon Bakkes and Garnet Muller, they have added a new dimension to their set. Also, the smoke grenades had people entertained while they blew out colourful smoke. Back to the tent to warm up a bit and off the Albert Meintjies on the Willow Tree stage we missioned. I had no prior knowledge of who Albert was, but his story-teller brand of folk/blues was a real treat. I felt as if I was travelling along with through Namibia as each song wore on.

Due to a scheduling I was unlucky not to be able to see Jonathan Peyper, as Deon Bakkes and The Stolen Horses performed at the same time on the main stage. And although The Jonathan Peyper Trio were one of my highlights of Mieliepop 2017, I didn’t want to miss Deon Bakkes’ brand of gypsy jazz-punk. As usual, they had everybody bouncing and jumping, as well as enjoying the theatrics of their set, which include a hugely impressive drum-off between drummer Adriaan Cruywagen and guitarist Stephen Kosterman.

I unfortunately also missed Apocalypse Later’s set, which I am majorly bummed out over, as the main stage was a bit behind on schedule and the Willow Tree stage was running on time. Nonetheless, it was time for Easy Freak up next. Although I can see the appeal to fans of electronic music, it was not my cup of tea so I missioned over to Raygun Royale and I could not have been more satisfied with my choice. I have not heard Raygun Royale before, so witnessing their set was a first for me, but definitely won’t be a last. It was fast, loud, and unapologetically rock ‘n roll, and I couldn’t enjoy it more if I tried.

A slight confession I have to make is, I still don’t know if Van Pletzen is a comedy band or not. I am a huge fan of Peach and all his work, from his drumming on Van Coke Kartel’s Skop, Skiet en Donner right up to Yesterday’s Pupil and of course Bittereinder, as well as Matthieu’s work in kidofdoom. But I just don’t get Van Pletzen. One thing I can say, though, is that Early B is a hugely talented rapper. Regardless, it was the day before their album officially launched so I had to skip Made For Broadway, unfortunately. Their set entertained to crowd to no end and it was evident that I was one of the few who did not get it. It proved again to me how subjective music taste it. Invizable closed the main stages for the night, and I have to admit, I don’t remember much from the moment Van Pletzen’s set ended, as it had been a long day and the vodka flowed freely. I’m sure I visited the Rave Cave before heading to my tent, swearing profusely at all the mud covering my shoes and almost slipping and falling a hundred times, then called it a day… or night.

Day three was upon us and I awoke to the sound of the rain pelting my tent, which made it incredibly difficult to get out of bed. If it wasn’t for the rest of my camp having morning beers I probably would’ve stayed in my sleeping bag until noon. As is tradition, we trekked down to the A-Maizey-Ing Food Village for the standard panini, which might be the best addition to festival food in recent memory. The first act I saw on Friday was Half Sister. Jaco mentioned it was their first show as Half-Sister, but I’m assuming it was the first show with their new members, as I saw them at OppiKoppi last year. Anyway, they had a thoroughly enjoyable set, with the harmonies of sisters Imke and Anika Reinecke accompanying Jaco’s rap and singing perfectly.

 

Photo by Michael Celliers

Boxer kicked off things at the main stage afterwards, and this was the Boxer set of theirs I enjoyed the most out of the past shows I witnessed. They had to deal with a lot of jeering, which was surprising as it came from their friends in Raygun Royale, and who enjoyed the show the most out of the crowd. The next act I was looking forward to was Native Young, who could unfortunately not make their set as the roads into the farm were completely wrecked. So off to Sutherland I went, another band who I have never seen live. They played a decent set of indie-folk/pop which reminded me quite a bit of a more electric Matthew Mole.

Femi Koya was supposed to be on the main stage after Sutherland finished on the Willow Tree stage, but the same problem caused their set to be moved after Hello Beautiful’s. In come the absolute legends that are Hellcats and they put on one of my favourite sets of the weekend to ensure the main stage wouldn’t be vacant for two consecutive slots. They melted all in attendance’ faces, as is standard with any Hellcats set. Directly after them came The Moths, who play an infectious brand of surf-rock that makes it impossible not to jam the fuck out.

Friday’s headliners, Aussie dance-punks DZ Deathrays were up next and the excitement was palpable as this was the fullest any of the stages were up until this point. I was unaware of them until Mieliepop announced them last year, but they sure know how to bring a party. There were no ballads, barely any pauses and minimal chit-chat. They were there to rock the hell out and they accomplished that. So much so, that I will be going to watch them again at Arcade Empire, along with Raygun Royale, Hellcats, The Moths and We Are Charlie. After DZ Deathrays it was time for the current queens of rock ‘n roll in this beautiful country of ours, Cortina Whiplash.

Cortina Whiplash are one of the bands that I cannot recommend highly enough. If they are ever on a line-up you should definitely make sure to go see them. Mieliepop was no different, as they were on fire. At least 50% of the stiffness in my neck the next day could be directly attributed to their fiery 45 minute set. The rest of Friday was a slight blur, as I trekked to the Rave Cave after Cortina Whiplash, but I do recall hearing Femi Koya finally play their set as I went back to my tent for some much needed sleep.

The final day arrived and what a day it was. The sun was shining, the bands on the line-up were immense and this day showed what Mieliepop is all about. The first band on my list was Gunshot Blue and they were such a cool act to kick the day off to. Dressed to the nines and the accompanying music didn’t disappoint. Their folk/blues with just a hint of rock ‘n roll was exactly what the doctor ordered. Next up was Wolfgang Marrow, who continued with the folk/blues vibe that Gunshot Blue started on, except they got everybody up and dancing to the melodies frontwoman Sandy Little were belting out.

Having the sun out on the final day meant we needed to take advantage of the swimming facilities on offer, which meant I unfortunately missed out on The Valley, although I heard their set was immense. The swim got cut short when the sounds of the Jagermeister Brass Cartel drifted to the swimming pool, and we hurried to catch them perform. It was honestly such a jol, their brass covers of radio favourites ensured nobody close to the main stage was able to stand still. After their set ended we made our way back to the camp to refill before the evening started, as I did not want to miss any of the amazing bands playing that night.

Photo by Michael Celliers

We were treated to a raft ride from the camping area to the front of the Willow Tree stage. The raft ride also had a bloke playing bag-pipes, and it was one of the coolest experiences of the weekend. Luckily they delivered us directly to Rambling Bones, whose set was just getting started. They are in the middle of a nationwide tour along with The Shabs as a split album launch tour between the two bands.

Klopjag was up next on the main stage and their show was my personal highlight of the festival. It was nostalgic without being dreary, and had the entire crowd singing along throughout. Having seen them live at Park Acoustics last year for the first time, the fact that they didn’t play the exact same set as then was equally impressive as their actual set. Runaway Nuns were next for me, and they blew my mind. Another band I knew nothing about heading into Mieliepop, I was not expecting them to become one of my favourite new finds of the festival, but here we are.

Boo! was up next and I was shocked to see how big the crowd was for their show, as well as how many people knew the words. This was one of the bands I missed out on as I was a mere 2 years old when Boo! started, but the crowd were practically eating out of frontman Chris Chameleon’s hands during the show, so their appeal to the older alternative fans was plain to see. Retro Dizzy followed, and like Runaway Nuns, they instantly turned me into a fan. I have been wanting to see them live for a while now, and to finally get the experience did not disappoint. Loud, fast and psychedelic was everything you’d expect from one of the leaders of South Africa’s budding garage/psych scene.

Crimson House, as always, played with aplomb. They bring the party with them wherever they go, and Mieliepop was no different. They got everybody bouncing, and the entertainment factor was through the roof. Special mention has to made to their two sax players, Nick Becker and Gareth Harvey, for their always entertaining alto/baritone sax-off. Not too much can be said about Hellcats’ set that hasn’t already been said, as they played the night before as well. But it was just as rock ‘n roll as the previous night and ensured I had to make the drive home the next day with a headbang-hangover.

Bombshelter Beast had probably the largest band I have ever seen. There were so many elements on stage at the same time, and I don’t know how, but it just worked. It was confusing at first, but after the shock wore off you couldn’t help but dance and jive along. The final main stage act of the weekend was the mammoth that is The Black Cat Bones. Nothing I write here can adequately describe how good their show was, and nothing can do it justice. They’ve always been a fantastic band to see live, but this was their best performance I’ve witnessed. The perfect way to end off an epic weekend that showcased some of the country’s best musical talents and proved rock ‘n roll is alive and well in South Africa.

Credit has to be given to Henk and his team, as their crisis control and management was impeccable over the course of the festival. The weather could have cancelled lesser festivals, but they made a plan and tried to make everything as pleasant as possible. The tents over the stages, the hay strewn over the mud, as well as the (initially failed) attempts to flatten the roads that were overflown with the rain. Even the food village was insane, with a wide variety of options catering to everybody’s wants and needs. I’ve said it before, and it rings even more true now, Mieliepop is the best organized festival in South Africa.

Until next year, Lothair, you were beautiful.

PS. Be sure to look out for Dizzy Khaki’s aftermovie, as their videographers worked tirelessly to try and capture as much of the madness as possible for our viewing pleasure.