The 2018 edition of the Oppikoppi Music Festival is just around the corner. Arguably South Africa’s premier music festival, some of the country’s hottest acts will be taking to the stage from August 9 to 11 in Northam, Limpopo.
For Grassy Spark, this will be their first visit since their festival debut in 2014.
Since then, the Cape Town-based band that’s made up of Yanick Bathfield, Josh Riley, Lawrence Jaeger, Kevin Kok and Simon Ackerman has captured the imagination of music lovers with their eclectic sound around the country.
When I catch up with Riley, guitarist and vocalist, I’m slightly intrigued as to why they keep going back to Oppikoppi.
Riley explains that it’s all love between the band and the festival, but that they particularly enjoy the diverse vibe that the festival provides.
“We keep getting asked back; that’s the first thing - it’s probably three years in a row now that we’ve played. The first time we played was in 2014 and I think, on our side, it’s a very integrated festival. Unlike Cape Town, at the festival we get the chance to be integrated with each other and just enjoying each other’s company.
“There are no bad vibes, no ‘I’m better than you’, which happens in a smaller place like Cape Town, where everyone is lost in themselves,” Riley explained.
One of the things I discovered about the band, while preparing for this chat, was that a variety of identities had been assigned to them. Between noticing hints of jazz and rock meshed up in their music, it’s difficult to know just what to identify them as.
This is something I laid at Josh’s door to clear up.
“That’s one of the toughest questions ever, because we are kind of rediscovering ourselves at the moment. Our sound is changing, our brand is changing and who we are is changing. The band and the music depends on what space we’re in. You can look at it as we’re leaving doors open in terms of our openness to change.
“I like to look at Grassy Spark as a glass of water. Water can mould to whatever medium it gets put into. If you put it into a jug, it takes the jug’s shape. If you allow water to flow down the stream, it becomes the stream. We’re very malleable, in sound and in taste and that’s what we’re striving for. We all see ourselves just as much artists as musicians,” he said.
I can understand this sense that everything is changing for them, especially after the exit of Murray Buitendag and Chad Hendricks in April this year. They’ve also had some major changes in their personal lives, so Riley’s explanation that it has been challenging comes as no surprise.
“I suppose that’s something that, no matter what you’re doing or where you are in life, change can be difficult. And I suppose a lot of what we’re doing has come down to us being open to it and believing in ourselves that we can change. In a way, it’s been very tough.
“We are five different personalities, but we all have this common goal that we want to fulfil. Behind every hurdle is this amazing pot of gold, this rainbow, and we keep chasing it.
“It’s not really about the pot of gold, but rather enjoying the rainbow while we rediscover ourselves as artists and performers,” he said.
One thing is certain - with change comes a lot of lessons. One of the major lessons that he’d taken from this journey, he said, was the impact of patience on his life.
“Be patient with what you’re doing, try focusing on the end goal but also enjoy the journey. Just be open to changing and rediscovering yourself. Who I was six years ago is literally 180 degrees to who I am now. I think that’s important.
“Being in this band and experiencing the different people that my bandmates are has really taught me that patience and change can lead to something really beautiful. That’s what we look forward to over the next three months,” he said.
Part of their reason for looking forward to the next three months is that the band will be releasing new music. Their last release, Portal, is now almost two years old. While Riley wouldn’t be drawn into sharing explicit details about this body of work, he did say it would be a game changer for them.
“I can also leak and say we will be releasing new music that will be very different to what we’re used to. I’m not going to say anything else, I have to leave it on a cliff-hanger there, because that’s really important,” Riley said.
When asked what lovers of their music can expect from their set at Oppikoppi, Riley said: “I suppose they’re just going to have the best time. That’s something that we take with us to shows.
“Whether its 10 people, 50 people or 10000 people, these people will have the best time.
“It’s not so much about egos at the end of the day, but more what can we do collectively, the essence of getting to enjoy being in a space with musicians.
“Getting them to feel like there isn’t much space between us, we’re all just normal people that happen to just play instruments. We tend to make an effort to break that barrier live. We just want people to just let go and be free.”
* Oppikoppi 24 takes place from August 9 to 11 in Northam in Limpopo. For further details, visit: www.oppikoppi.co.za.
Keep up with GrassySpark on Instagram, on @grassyspark.