Just after 22:00 on Sunday night we left the makeshift bushveld refuge called Mordor (or Oppikoppi if you’re not a local) and I couldn’t help thinking that those dusty cars and half set up tents between thorn trees and rocks, was what I imagined an end of the world refugee camp would look like. Hopefully everyone would be as happy as they were that night, but then the liquid courage had a lot to do with the merry mood that hung in the air with the dust.
Oppikoppi turned 21 years old this year with another eccentric name, The Fantastic Mr VosVos. The book nerd in me was very impressed that this year’s theme was based on Roald Dahl’s children’s novel, The Fantastic Mr Fox, and Oppikoppi can definitely be defined as a kind of fantasy world. For those who have never been there, you have most probably heard that it is a place where students go to drink and be reckless, and in many ways that is the truth (one of the flashing images on all the big screens at the festival said proudly “responsibility should only be taken when needed”), but like any festival Oppikoppi is magical in its own way.
This was my second time at Oppi and it was definitely different. My introduction to Oppi was three years ago when I was a full blown student and did Oppi in perfect student spirit. We skipped class to get to the festival early, had a flat tire as we got there and decided to have a beer before attempting to fix the tyre, and lived on noodles in a cup and vodka and Play. It was amazing and I wanted nothing more than to go back. The next three years there was something hindering my return with the rest of the Prawn, until this year, and a small part of me wishes I had not ruined my idyllic little music paradise.
Oppikoppi 2015 was both good and bad (like most things in life) so I’ll start off with the bad and end with the great.
The thing that made Oppikoppi a very unpleasant experience was the dust this year. It was so bad I had to use my asthma pump at some stages. Everyone I met would talk about how bad the dust was this year compared to before. Now of course we need to remember this is the African bushveld, in the winter, it is bound to be dusty. In previous years however, a little truck would drive through the campsite spraying the ground with just enough water to settle the dust. This year the only water being sprayed on the ground was in the festival area by some very lonely looking old man with his hosepipe. And this brings me to my favorite memory of my original Oppikoppi experience, grass. The festival grounds used to be a little oasis with big trees and lots of grass, this time around you had to watch out not to have some mielie stronk poke into your ass. After three days of people walking the wet mielie leaves into the ground, the ground became very soggy and stinky. Not ideal when half of those people haven’t showered in the last three days either.
This year there was another disappointment, and possibly the one that could mean the end of Oppikoppi being seen as a world-class music festival, the lack of support services. Support services is a very big phrase for a festival that tries to exude the ultimate air of “nothing matters here”. Unfortunately, services such as security, vendor support, and sanitary facilities are essential to any event where a massive group of people, and even more so drunk people, are involved.
Listen I understand we are supposed to be roughing it, but if you build me a toilet please make sure it doesn’t spurt out water at the top. Providing toilet paper (from time to time) and semi-clean ablutions is a start, but I would love the lock on the door to actually match the latch on the wall. Security was so lacking that by the last day I felt sorry for the tiny women and men trying to keep big drunk men from walking into the festival grounds with bottles. If Mr Man wanted to go exit through the entrance the security simply needed to be pushed out of the way. We also witnessed two girls working at the water stand (thanks Oppi for at least making sure we didn’t dehydrate, as long as we bought your bottles) and two big guys walked in, pushed them aside and took as much water as they wanted. All the girls could do was shout at the guys to stop, but there was no security or official in sight to help them. During the shows the security was lacking as well and as drunk people many times do, it was “funny” to throw things. It ended in a girl getting hit in the face with a shoe. It was shocking to me that the safety and health of the people working for the festival and those paying to attend the festival ment to the organisers.
So in terms of the festival itself and the organisation I was very disappointed, however it wasn’t all doom and gloom and a hand full of bands and the people we camped with made up for this.
The highlight of my Oppi, music wise was definitely Twin Atlantic. It was widely felt that they should have played later on the Sunday as they were one of the few international bands and their show was amazing. It was such a fun show, but what made it even better was seeing how much fun the band was having and how happy they were to be there (exactly the opposite of one of the headlining bands Brand New who acted like they had somewhere much better to be as the lead singer threw down his guitar and stormed off the stage, hoodie over his head).
The Tweak reunion show was another high. It was like being that kid trying to skateboard (and of course falling on my face) again. The band members even dressed in baggy shorts and pulled up socks and did some Blink 182 covers. So much fun! The last of my top three performances was by an unknown UK band The Curious Incident and boy did these guys kill it. Their over the top, fun loving stage presence and the lead singers crazy stage dive (he tried twice after the crowd dropped him the first time and ended up drenched in beer) made my first night at Oppi. Definitely a band to keep on my radar from now on.
One thing that can spoil your Oppi very easily is camping with people who don’t get your Oppi vibe. We were lucky that our camp mates were super chilled, like us and having the most prepared boyfriend in the world (think solar lights and chargers, mini webber, gas, braai pan for breakfasts, a axe and shovel, and enough blankets that we were actually hot during the night) made for the best camping experience yet. It also didn’t hurt that one of our camp mates was a citrus geneticist and the best naartjies and oranges were available in abundance. It is extremely important to camp with people who are like you and don’t diss you when you want to go sleep and they want to keep on kuiering, otherwise you paid all that money to be pissed off for a whole weekend, in the dust.
So ultimately Oppikoppi was an experience, but much more because of the people I was with than the festival itself. As I am able to talk about what was and what I experienced now, I can honestly say that Oppikoppi is slipping. We justify the R750 as not too bad because you get to see a bunch of bands, but how many of those would you really pay to see individually? Maybe it is time that the price goes up, if only to ensure better facilities, controlled dust and grass in the festival grounds. Justifying the cost solely on the bands is no longer relevant with the huge number of music festivals in the cities.
People will not stop going. Oppikoppi is a place many young people feel they’re not judged, but it’s important that the organisers don’t take advantage of the idea of Oppikoppi and provide less and less services each year. Maybe it’s time for a sake up; put the main acts on the Saturday in stead of the Sunday, update the bathrooms (or just provide doors that lock), or simply provide light in the camp grounds. I challenge the organisers of Oppikoppi to do one thing different next year, I promise you with so many Prawn yearning for the dust you can’t go wrong too badly. At 21 it is time for Oppikoppi to graduate to stay relevant for the hugely individual generation they are trying to put in a box of “not caring”. I believe Oppi can innovate, because as we always say, IN DUST WE TRUST!