The truth about the rock music sub-culture

The rock music sub-culture may be a difficult or intimidating space for outsiders. By attending a one-day music festival and interviewing festival attendees a better idea of what the rock scene is actually about is found. It’s not only about the music.

Dark, loud and angry. These may be the words that are associated with the rock music genre.

Attending Krank’d Up music festival gave a glimpse into what the rock sub-culture or rock music scene is really like.

A girl headbangs, swinging her hair around, while listening to Climate Control at Krank'd Up Music Festival
A girl headbangs, swinging her hair around, while listening to Climate Control at Krank’d Up Music Festival

The festival was held at Sundowners, a popular live music venue in the south of Johannesburg and boasted two international bands, 17 local bands and about 2000 audience members.

Sundowners is situated on the outskirts of Brackendowns on an open piece of land near an airfield and an off-road bike track.

Walking into the venue from a small side gate, there were a number of people standing and sitting around in groups. Most people were wearing black, had tattoos and multiple piercings.

A two meter tall bald, ginger-bearded man stepped out from one of the groups. His shirtless torso and arms covered in tattoos. He was wearing a green tartan kilt with black steel-toed military boots. In his hand was an animal horn filled with beer, he took a big gulp of beer and walked towards me. Smiling he gave me a hug and introduced himself as Dave before joining another group.

Myra van den Heever, a twenty-three year old teacher from the area, sat on the grass next to the main stage .Van den Heever described the rock scene as  “drugs, sex and Rock ‘n roll”  and said she stays in the rock scene because of the people. “You go, everyone is having fun. Everyone is listening to the music, everyone’s connected. It’s a community”.

Just after sunset, twenty-one year old Karl Burger made his way to the bar. Burger is a musician and works for the University of Pretoria. “Brutal, family, slam, definitely slam” are the words he uses to describe the rock scene. Burger had bright eyes and a large, groomed, ginger beard and was wearing a backwards snapback cap. He said he became familiar with the scene because he is a musician and “became friends, we became family” with other musicians and people in the scene.

Sitting at a table inside near the pool table was thirty-year old non-profit organisation communications spokesperson, Claire Martins. She said the rock scene is “insular, progressive and getting there”. For her being part of the rock scene is mostly about the music. “I like the scene, I like the people, I like that I don’t feel judged. I feel like I can be myself but ya, definitely the music. I feel like I can lose myself here.”

Twenty-six year old Lav was sitting with Martins. She is a writer and music journalist who has worked in the rock scene in South Africa, Germany and Australia. She said the South African rock scene can be very sexist. Lav has had to prove herself before being accepted into the scene. She said the scene is “developing and financially broken”. For Lav the best thing about the scene is the music and the people. “There’s a lot of people who are interested in the music scene, which is great.  It’s great to see that vibe and authenticity. It’s so strangely South African but they don’t even know it as yet.


“God-like, fucking amazing and beautiful” are the words twenty year old Chris Mafios uses to describe the rock scene. Long haired and tattooed, Mafios was sitting on a step near the inside stage. He is a guitarist, “I work in a toy store too, I’m really good with kids”, he said. Mafios said his favourite thing about being part of the rock scene is that “there’s no bickering. Like everyone is just mellow with each other and everyone just loves all the music”

There are a number of annual festivals and live music venues where rock music fans can gather together, share their love of music and have a few drinks. This is what seems to keep many people coming back. The people who attended Krank’d Up were there mostly for the music. The people may be laid back but often the music and the musicians performing are not. During the festival there were a number of musicians who climbed the stage rigging, jumped around on stage or went crowd surfing while still singing.

Chris Barretto, lead vocalist and saxophonist of British band Monuments, stands on the barricade of the main stage at Krank'd Up festival.
Chris Barretto, lead vocalist and saxophonist of British band Monuments, stands on the barricade of the main stage at Krank’d Up festival.

The excitement and support of the crowd as Monuments lead singer Chris Barretto floated over the crowd shows the sense of community that was spoken about by those interviewed. When Barretto was brought back to the stage he was quickly caught by a photographer before he fell on the ground. The sense of community among members of the rock scene may be unexpected given the aggressiveness of the music but it is at the core of the character of the scene.

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