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CRAFTING SOUTH AFRICA'S ALTERNATIVE MUSIC LANDSCAPE - A CONVERSATION WITH RAMFEST

Welcome to an illuminating glimpse into the vibrant world of Ramfest, South Africa's flagship alternative festival. A convergence of sonic artistry and collective spirit, Ramfest has etched its name into the tapestry of South African musical celebrations. In this interview, we engage with the architects behind the scenes who contribute to the symphonic experience that is Ramfest. Join us as we uncover the rhythms, memories, and passions that define this extraordinary event, a testament to the unifying power of live music.


Answered by Ryan Fray


Can you share the origin story of Ramfest and how it became one of South Africa's premier alternative festivals?

Ramfest was originally started back in 2007 by Dawid Fourie in the Western Cape and featured an all-local lineup at the time. It slowly grew through the years into hosting multiple internationals until 2014. Then with the struggling South African exchange rate RAMfest lay dormant for a while. Until Robert bought the brand in late 2018, and the rest has been us working to regrow it.

How does the festival contribute to the growth and promotion of the South African music scene?

The Alternative music scene in South Africa is a really small one, and there aren’t too many festival platforms for artists that are not pop or mainstream to perform on. RAM stands for Real Alternative Music, and through our various events such as Ramfest and Halloween Pretoria, it gives artists the opportunity to perform on bigger stages to niche alternative crowds and in turn help build and grow the scene.


How are you guys feeling coming back since the last installment of Ram was in March 2020; literally days before the lockdown happened?

Excited, nervous, elated. -Would be words I use. It’s almost surreal, when Ramfest 2020 happened it was literally the last big event in South Africa before public gatherings were banned the very next day. And since then it’s always been our dream to get our flagship event back up and running. Like is this really happening now??


In what ways does Ramfest differentiate itself from other local music festivals, particularly in terms of its alternative lineup and atmosphere?

As mentioned the majority of festivals in South Africa cater to a more pop or mainstream demographic, similar to what’s being played on radio these days or breaking the charts on streaming services. Ramfest is a space where people who are often seen as counterculture can come and just be. Whether you’re into metal, punk rock, or indie, it’s a safe space where we can be who we are and know you’ll join up with like-minded fans to just have a good day out.


Can you highlight some of the most memorable performances or moments from past editions of Ramfest?

For me, it was Biffy Clyro at Ramfest 2014, absolutely mindblowing! They just are such a seasoned touring band and know how to put on such an amazing show no matter what and their songs are all bangers! And I don’t think anyone can forget Bring Me The Horizon in 2013, what a mad show that was. -That was just before the band truly blew up into the global stratosphere!


As the organizers of Ramfest, how do you curate the lineup to appeal to a diverse audience while maintaining a strong identity within your ethos?

It’s really hard in honesty, because you are never going to be able to please everyone, especially across all the subgenres of music, and it's sometimes just about taking a risk on bookings. We can always have a ‘wish list’ of artists we would like to bring over to South Africa, but often it doesn’t work out with timing and logistics. It can boil down to us as a team discussing options and going for a gut feeling of what we think works for the fans. At the end of the day, I think we often ask ourselves: “Would this be a show I would want to pay to go to?”


South Africa offers a unique backdrop for festivals. How do you feel the local culture and environment influence the overall festival experience?

South Africa certainly is its own special place. Having been at various festivals overseas both working and as a fan, there is honestly no place like SA. South Africans certainly like to party hard, but at the same time we want people to feel safe and that can affect everything from the venues we pick to host shows, down to the brands we partner with.


Over the years, how has the festival evolved in response to changing trends and audience preferences within the scene?

Well, it definitely hasn’t gotten any easier to throw shows! South Africa, much like the rest of the world, has definitely felt a lot of the economic crunch, especially since COVID. We try and make our events affordable and value for money with a diverse line-up, to begin with, because it’s a big deal to a lot of people to spend their hard-earned money on a concert ticket.


Also, we’ve seen that as much as some people would love the weekend camping experience, day festivals work better for the majority who can’t afford a full weekend away. People can go out enjoy themselves, and be back at home in their own bed at the end of the night. As a result, we try and make sure that our events are pretty central so people can Uber, etc. as well.


Ramfest often showcases not only established acts but also emerging talents. How do you discover and select these up-and-coming bands for the festival?

At the end of the day, we are ultimately fans of alternative music, and will often go to other shows and venues and see bands play and that’s where you discover new music. They are the guys out there hustling and working to be in a band in an industry that isn’t exactly always conducive to being in a punk/alternative or metal scene etc. It’s also often your peers and friends who are introducing you to new music, and sometimes it’s about simply taking a chance on someone who might be the ‘next big thing’. Robert and Tanje are also bar/venue owners, so they are forever unearthing new talent as well.


The festival experience goes beyond the music. Can you describe some of the non-musical attractions and activities that attendees can look forward to at Ramfest?

We try and create an atmosphere where people will want to come and hang out with their friends beyond the music or act performing at a specific time. Where the bar service is flowing smoothly, and there’s plenty of space to sit and catch up with your mates. There will be stalls for the bands as well as festival merch on sale, various food sellers catering to all tastes, as well as brand activations with sponsors to get people involved and have a good time.


Sustainability and social responsibility are increasingly important in the festival industry. How do you guys incorporate eco-friendly practices and community engagement into your event planning?

Most of our refuse comes from the bar, so one of the things we do is partner with Swig Cups, who manufacture festival-branded environmentally friendly cups, to help eliminate single-use cups that end up just becoming landfill.


Customers pay a deposit on a cup and can bring it back at the end of the event for a refund. Any leftover plastic cups can then be recycled and made into new cups for a future event, but often fans try and collect them as keepsake mementos to be reused at home. It’s like a festival t-shirt but on a cup so perfect flex to take out at a braai and show off your music taste!


We try and recycle everything at the end of an event and basically leave the venue so clean that you wouldn’t even notice there was an event there before. And most things like signage and branding we take down and reuse on future events.


This year's installment brings Enter: Shikari and The Collective to South African soil, backed by some of the best local acts South Africa has to offer.







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