"The longer you spend pissing, the less time you get to fuck." And just like that the guy next to me in the bathroom is my hero and best friend. Behind us, in the only cubicle, somebody is vomiting out his life to the cheers of friends who scream "BEAST" with his every heave. You can tell a lot about a club by its bathroom, and this place is definitely fit for a special breed of king.
Located in the anus of Lower Main road, Gandalf's and its appendages, ROAR and Gotham, serve as Cape Town's alternative/metal/goth/fuckhead watering hole, attracting delinquents from the ages of fifteen and up. Every Friday, from about 10pm onwards, like clockwork, you can see people smoking dope, throwing up or having a grizzly pavement fuck just around the corner from the entrance. Inside it doesn't get much better, the club is small and cramped, allowing for plenty of intimate rubbing and getting to third base on the dancefloor. People dance to music that was shit even six years ago when it was released, but this crowd revels in it, caricature metalheads impressing girls with their knowledge of The Used lyrics and the rawness of their throats. At the bar, where you can buy Black Labels for R6 a pop, a guy in corpse paint roars in my face to Disturbed - so down with the sickness that he gets carried out soon after by another guy with an Opeth shirt and massive wrist spikes. On second thought, it could have been a girl that dragged him out, in this place it's hard to tell. A wise man once said: "Gandalf's is where ugly people go to get laid," and the statement is about 85% correct – there are a few very cute scene girls out tonight, but alas, they all would land me in prison.
Having sweated and shuffled on some feet in the tiny foosball room, where zealots of the game sink two rand coins into the 'best table in Cape Town' and make life annoying for the rest of us, I wade through the dancing mess and head upstairs, to ROAR, where they promise me I would find rock 'n roll. The place above Gandalf's used to be Mordor, had a kitchen-table-sized stage, no lights and some couches too stained to sit on. In a wise move, Antonio Manuel, the proprietor of the establishments, closed his other club, the One Ring, and used the cash to give the upstairs a massive facelift. The effort paid off and ROAR is now a very decent place to watch live bands--substantial stage, ample crowd space, fairly good sound rig and lights that do the job. The Exploited played here, so did Horse The Band, along with pretty much every non-commercial act in Cape Town and beyond, the shows often getting the good kind of violent.
Tonight's first band, AB Turbo, open with a set of luke-warm postfadcore, a monument to the fact that two amazing guitarists don't automatically make a good band. Somebody should have a stern talking to them on the subject of stage presence and maybe be it won't be the bassist as the only one pulling the weight on stage. AB Turbo tell us about their upcoming single release, but we've been hearing about it for the last six months and, inspired by their utterly bored expressions, forget about it sooner than they get off stage.
To be honest I gave up on the second band when their long-time vocalist Nick Key left. Having witnessed Captain Stu play a dull and unfocused set at last year's Rocking The Daisies, it didn't seem that James Klopper could fill the frontman shoes. Tonight, despite being out of their element and sandwiched between two metal bands, they turn that opinion on its head, delivering a tight and energized set. The sound still holds to the pop-ska-fusion roots but is more mature, the new songs playing to Klopper's vocal strengths and showcasing unbounded songwriting skill. The brass section, a spectacular saxophone duo, seems at competition with one another, their aural battles and solos so infectious and exciting to witness that I can't help but wonder if AB Turbo are watching and taking notes.
Carrying on from the up vibes of Captain Stu, the closing band, Enmity, fail to disappoint. They take the stage as rightful heirs to the Gandalf's throne, having played here more times than they care to remember, and the upstairs fills up despite it being around half-past one in the morning. The opener, She Picked Wild Flowers, erupts along with the crowd in surgical riffs, guitars in the air, gang-vocal keyboard breaks and the perfect blend of screaming and singing. There isn't much else to say about Enmity apart from the fact that they deliver. Time and time again they put on a proper show, not just a live recital of their record, and the audience feels it, everyone beasting on the floor until the last chord signals the general flood back downstairs to drink more.
Over watered-down tequila shots, I stand, fend off cigarette-bumming fiends and muse over the unique experience Gandalf's offers and the peculiar anthropological paradox it embodies. Everyone loves to hate it, showering it in shit even as they stand under its UV-lights and guzzle booze from demonic jugs of undeterminable content that the bartenders handout for free, yet they all come back every week. Despite the crushing atmosphere and the inbred crowd, Gandalf's does have two things going for it that have kept it alive this long. The first is that in this place, all the masks come off and animals come out bare. Spurred on by retardedly cheap alcohol, you descend into something primal, something so dirty and so pure, something each man has to release once in a while, something that is so much fun to observe in other people. Here, you can be as cunt, as dick, as morally devious as you can – and there will still be an arsehole who is more wrong than you. The second is that since the demise of the Purple Turtle, Gandalf's has taken on the role of Cape Town's CBGB. Here, and pretty much only here, you can still hear crust punk bands sharing the stage with deathcore scenesters while snorting down anything from experimental noisecore to auto-tuned crunk acts. Like it or not, Gandalf's is a seminal live music venue, hosting young and never before seen bands, and it carries its flag with abandon, rallying under it eccentric and far-from-pretty hordes. Can we blame rock 'n roll for attracting such a shit crowd? We all might be degenerates, but at least there is still an ounce of raw honesty about Gandalf's, unlike the indie-glam hangouts that are the clubs in town.
When we crawl out at five in the morning, it occurs to me that when the nuclear fallout happens, only cockroaches will survive, and they will be toasting humanity's demise right here, in Gandalf's. What we do there now – it's just pre-drinking the end.
[Unfortunately the photographer assigned to this article fell by the wayside, got into shooting heroin and traded his pictures for gay porn. Luckily, the talented Mr. Luke Daniel has been snapping shows at ROAR for some time now and, man, does he know how to capture sweaty intensity. Used are some of the photographs from his generous portfolio.]