Edge of Wrong Cape Town 9.2 Friday 30 January 2015
Maitland is an odd place to be on a Friday evening. It abuts the edge of glossy Cape Town, and for a lot of people the offramp into Maitland is only taken for utilitarian reasons – to look for a panelbeater, or for some other proto-industrial purpose. In a city that privileges the pretty and elevates the eclectic, Maitland’s gritty, uncurated aesthetic doesn’t strike quite the right note, no matter how many developers stir its soil with “aspirational” flat complexes. It echoes with the unruly clang of service, unfriendly and unpromising and inaccessible to the fun-seeking citizens envisioned by the people who deemed Cape Town a World Design Capital last year.
But might there be something worth hearing in Maitland, some new impulse worth exploring beyond the routes and pathways dictated by The City? Taking the offramp from the N1 mainline into Maitland this past Friday night was a disappearance enacted by those who attended a unique intervention against received sense that took place in Perth Road among warehouses and depots, the oily mechanics of utility and convenience. Titled “Edge of Wrong Cape Town 9.2”, these words signify the locally-inflected continuance of a festival that started in 2006 and has been running for nine years. It aims to forge contingent, provisional spaces of artistic experimentation. It began in Norway, but the current underpinning the event moves rootlessly between there and South Africa, forming a collaborative network between the two countries.
Friday’s first act, conjured by Dawn Carter and Mro Fox, is a provocative improvisation that invites the audience to stand under the nearby flyover, where the friction of traffic is drafted into a medley of cello and saxophone, a creative becoming which proceeds via the unexpected and the unusual. The sweeping wind troubles one’s position as “audience”, displacing one’s passivity: feet shuffle, backs hunch against the intrusive self-consciousness occasioned by nature’s participation in the act. By all accounts, it’s a winning event.
This is my second Edge Of Wrong. It’s also the second one to be held in Cape Town, after a successful run in Johannesburg. The first one I attended took place in the shadowy between-space of a disused movie theatre and a local conceptual artist’s ironworks in Observatory. Connecting the dots between that event and this one, I find the Maitland event more relaxed, less self-aware, better-lit. But I also note the inevitable co-opting of the event by those for whom everything unusual is of interest. Perhaps the hipsters were always already there, and I didn’t notice them at the first event because of the newness of it all.
Here, in the light between acts, it isn’t difficult to spot the grasping for innovation in the audience. In the exquisite upturned faces of the women as they watch each act with carefully cultivated poses, and the perfectly-trimmed beards of the men – too earnest, too curated – I detect the inevitable creeping trendiness of the event. A parka-clad man on my left is puffing on a cheroot while his check-shirted comrade waxes about having attended an art exhibit in this very venue last month. I think he’s lying, but I can’t be sure.
Certainly, compared to the heights of the first event (which memorably included the devastatingly deafening noise of the Ebola virus being coded into musical notes which challenged their very form), the second act – Weaam Williams & Naphtalim Vector falls distressingly short of Edge of Wrong’s ethos. They sound like a Cranberries cover band, a casually bad happening out of step with an event which directly resists containment.
We crunch the sawdust under our feet and wait for the next act. Dean Henning and Mark Van Niekerk draw back the crowd who had drifted out to seek nicotine and conversation. Their laptop-sprung performance of Terry Riley’s “In C “ is a marbled digital rendering of xylophone and piano, at once atmospheric and unworldly. It returns us to the urgency of the Deleuzian in-between. I half-heartedly and take a photo of the two men, huddled over their laptops like members of the INS. It looks like a screenshot of an Atari game. Tonight’s entertainment flickers at a frequency beyond freezing in digital snapshots.
Daniel Gray peddles his brand of experimental electronics next. It’s a nightmare-made sound, with nursery-jingles washing up against ghostly vibrations and a constant basso profundo, a restless roaring that culminates in a murderously sudden clatter.
Tannhauser Gate & Garth Erasmus, who follow them also play in the register of improvised electronica. By this point, we’ve come to understand the restless nature of Edge of Wrong, but the clamouring intro to this act startles one, like the kind of knock that wakes you in a cold terror at 3am. They’re an energetic noise, constantly breaking free from themselves and soaring up or crashing down.
Ending the evening, and providing some succour from the barrage is The Morning Pages and Lucy Hazard, a verdant post-rock group whose soundscape sits between Godspeed You! Black Emperor and The xx. Theirs is a syrupy sound that bathes and intoxicates those listening to it, swirling bass notes around our feet and setting us afloat in whimsical bathos.
How then to think through the Edge of Wrong? As an event that embraces artistic uncertainty, it bypasses the glib terms on which the Design Capital is conceived. It is anti-curated, insisting upon slippage and the unusual as ways of access. Does this mean that it consecrates these ideas as part of its constitutive make-up? Perhaps. But in epistemically and psychically remixing the creative city, the Edge of Wrong suggests that another way of engaging with the city may be possible.