Today’s electronic music scene in Cape Town is burgeoning beyond anything we could have imagined a decade ago.
Long Street, now the main artery to the heart of Cape Town’s nightlife, was more docile nocturnal beast back then, condensed into a mix of predominantly psy-trance and techno revellers with selected venues both in- and outdoors, to immerse themselves in.
This was before the introduction of underground stalwart like Fiction; before rooftop bars and airstream trailers; before alternative international and local music aficionados delivering a dizzying array of weekly acts.
Thanks to part efforts of individuals like Jon Cline, we’re now spoilt for choice with all manner of Bass, Techno and House venues; epic annual events such as Afrikaburn and the Cape Town Music Festival and live music events, concerts and festivals that continue to multiply. Cline’s journey started with the launch of Fiction, a venue that opened its doors in 2005. The name now seemingly represents the physical manifestation of Cline’s ability to look sideways of reality and create something both distinctive and desired, with its décor based on a range of cult movies, comics, old school video games and TV.
“Before Fiction, there was really no space for underground music to grow,” explains Jon. “We identified what was a massive void and really set about changing the landscape in this regard,” he says of his partnership with Fiction co-founder, Adam Klein. “Together we created a platform where young artists could ‘stick to their guns’ and really grow with their genres, ultimately shaping what became the city’s ideal space for art and music,” he explains. “When we launched, it was completely different. We hoped that people would react to it in a positive way, and they did!”
Many local acts got their break on the intimate Fiction stage; DJs took their music seriously, providing experimental and ground-breaking urban DJ-inventiveness and still do to this day. Pioneers and masters of their crafts Niskerone, Jakobsnake, and PHfat can say that they owe much to this ‘little place at the top of Long Street’. Shortly after Fiction’s launch the pair came up with the idea for Neighbourhood, an unassuming balcony restaurant/bar situated a hair’s breadth from Fiction, guaranteed to pack out most nights of the week.
Neighbourhood’s atmosphere still continues to appeal with its comfortable, welcoming environment. “It was an immediate success. I believe I have a knack for knowing what people enjoy in groups. I know what inspires them, and I like to give it to them! Neighbourhood certainly did that,” explains Cline.
Producer, DJ, and co-manager of Red Bull Studios in Cape Town, Richard Rumney has seen a lot of the city’s best in electronic music rise to their peak because of Cline’s contributions, and he himself is one of them. “When John Cline was running Fiction you could tell he really cared and understood the culture around the music the DJ’s, artists and promoters were pushing. His interest went above and beyond the bottom-line of running a successful night-club,” he says.
Cline admits he owes a lot of what he’s accomplished to his first experience with AfrikaBurn, South Africa’s regional Burning Man festival. After Cline sold Fiction in 2011 his passion for ‘the Burn’ later saw him convert from regular attendee to Director and Board member. This started with the conceptualisation of LEDHedz (founded by Ilan Judes, Gregg Fox and William Ellison and Cline himself); a community/social project born out of AfrikaBurn in which a double decker bus is utilised to raise funds for the collective and enable artists to build imaginative LED based projects to light up the dark desert night.
Since then LEDHedz has continued to be one of most beloved and established theme camps and contributors at AfrikaBurn, with their theme camp regarded as the ultimate electro-visual experience. “I’d been aware of Burning Man for years but had no idea what it really was or what effect it would have on my life. After attending my first Burn my life script was flipped on its head,” says Cline. “I quickly progressed from wide-eyed spectator to deeply involved participant by starting the LEDHEDz and ultimately becoming more involved with the actual AfrikaBurn and Burning Man organisations. I volunteered as head of Special Events for AfrikaBurn and helped throw the Decompression and Equinox parties in 2011 which were a huge success. I was then invited to all the critical meetings of the org and one of the founding members suggested that I put my name forward to become a Director. I was voted onto the board in 2012 and served one year helping them deliver the 2013 event.”
Another LEDhedz creation, the bus was the first ever double storey art and sound bus out in the desert at AfrikaBurn and has since grown into a business of its own as a collection of creatives, artists, builders and doers pooling all their resources and skills to try and create things that will have an impact on those who experience them, while staying as ‘green’ as possible.
“As Burning Man becomes harder and more expensive to attend, so AfrikaBurn becomes more appealing to an international audience. There are a number of old school ‘Burners’ from the states who are looking for something more raw and up-and-coming. AfrikaBurn offers something fresh and different for even the most experienced Burning Man veteran.”
Cline is testament to the fact that the simple idea of something better can be made manifest through a little faith, a good plan and surrounding yourself with exceptional people. So, what does Cline foresee for Cape Town’s robust music scene? “I think it’s just going to get harder to bring in more of the high profiled underground acts as the rand slowly weakens against the dollar and euro. This means that local talent will have the opportunity to step up and grab the limelight. This has already started happening and as a result we’re creating some awesome home-grown talent.”