Lisa van Wyk
Lisa van Wyk

It’s a little bit tedious on the Coke side of life

The irritating new Coke slogan has been buzzing around my head for a week now, since having it rammed down my throat repeatedly at the My Cokefest press conference, and then the next day at the actual festival. There is very little that upsets me more than aggressive commercial marketing (on this sort of enormous scale, anyway), and after two days of this I felt harassed, violated and a little bit dirty. My Cokefest brought some of the biggest names in music to South Africa, and it annoys me that all my memories of the experience are tied up in red and white branding, and whiff of corporate cheese.

The press conference was a hyped-up media event, and we were ushered into an industrial looking room attached to the lobby of the Sandton Hilton after signing up and receiving a handful of Coke-themed paraphernalia that most ended up just leaving at the venue. There were Coke logos stencilled and spraypainted on the walls (because nothing says “street” and “rebellious” like a bit of corporate vandalism) and big screens flashing Coke ads. In the middle of all this self-conscious urban hipness there were sweet Hilton ladies serving tea and juice to the journos and hangers-on who were waiting for the chance to glimpse the big-name bands in the flesh. Photographers twiddled around with tripods and adjusted their lenses, overstyled 5FM DJ’s stood around looking a bit bored and superior, and by the time the free snacks were finished most were anxious to get a move on.

It started badly. From milling about earlier, I had ascertained that most of the people there were a bit cynical of the whole affair, and were growing increasingly bored with the cringe-worthy and distracting attempts of the organisers to embrace everything “alternative” and “rock and roll” in the midst of all the big budget bling that inevitably goes along with a big-budget event. We wanted to see the bands, we wanted to speak to the bands, we wanted the extra information that was relevant, then we wanted to go home (tomorrow would be a big day). What we did NOT want was to sit through what seemed like hours of footage of the previous year’s event, complete with drunk and excitable people giving V signs to the camera and screaming out the Coke slogan (at first I was put off by the thought of surrounding myself with people like these the next day, but then I realised that after three hours of sun and music I would be one of them), and Gareth Cliff’s obvious Paris Hilton jokes that went down like lead balloons.

Eventually the bands came out. 30 Seconds to Mars (pretty singer, awful music) were up first, and they fielded the questions that they had obviously been asked a million times before (“So, Mr Leto, do you prefer acting or being in a band?”) with patience. Muse were next (minus Matt Bellamy, which was hugely disappointing), and then a bored and irritable Good Charlotte (Q: “Why are you vegetarians?”. A: “Um, we’re not…”).

At some point all the local bands shared the stage and took questions while we waited for the next international act and rumours started flying that Chris Cornell had gone missing. Then we heard that Korn would not be attending as their flight would be landing too late, but any disappointment was eradicated (for me, anyway) by the charming and giggly Kaiser Chiefs (who were introduced by Lucas Radebe). After they were done, the groupie in me led me outside (the stage entrance) where we chatted while we waited for the missing grunge legend to reappear. Was he in Hillbrow? Was he lost? Was he having a snooze? I am told that Paris Hilton walked right past me to get into a car, but I didn’t notice, as were deep in discussion about his possible whereabouts. Some left, thinking that he might never appear. When we were about to give up, a tall thin man with a beautiful face strolled onto the stage, sat down and started answering our questions. He was intelligent and articulate enough to entertain a bunch of twitchy, eager-to-leave journalists, so I’m glad that he was the last one to speak.

I appreciate that having a company like Coca-Cola behind the festival means that the budget will be available to get bigger names and organise better facilities. And of course sponsorship means advertising, and I realise that, by definition, going to a big commercial festival of this nature means that you will leave saturated with “messages from our sponsors” and the rest of it. But what annoyed me, and many others, at the conference was the seeming notion that by yelling “Hey ROCK FANS!” they were somehow distancing themselves from the shmooze and commercialism that was really inevitable. Like I said, it was distracting, and to an audience of cynics, seemed a little bit desperate. There really was no need.

I realise that I have not mentioned the actual festival at all. I apologise if you were looking for a review of the gig. It will come. Soon.