The Growth of Smalltown Beat 2024
Smalltown Beat has firmly secured its place as a highlight on the calendars of electronic music enthusiasts in Cape Town. Established in 2018 by a group of friends, the festival showcases the massive talent that South Africa has to offer, providing creators and music enthusiasts alike with a platform to share and explore new sounds, faces, and names.
Friends and co-founders Brendan Rodgers, Luke Hunter and James de Beer aimed to expand the electronic music scene, providing greater opportunities for young emerging artists to showcase their talent on stage and break into larger festival line-ups. For them, electronic music and community are inherently intertwined, and the event serves as a platform to emphasise this connection
Years of growth and a pandemic have resulted in a paradigm shift that strengthened the festival's resolution to strip down to what matters most: the music. “We've put a lot of emphasis on the curation of the music,” says de Beer. “We really try to make it as cohesive as possible but with a good sense of dynamism and a wide variety.”
This variety is made clear in the plethora of sound collectives the festival has hosted over the years, ranging from We House Sundays and Not Sorry Club to The Other Radio and NTSC. This year's edition continues the tradition with a mix of local and international artists and DJs spread across two dance floors, blending electro, techno, house and other genres for a high-energy sound reminiscent of an open-air club.
The first stage, The Reservoir, embodies what Rodgers describes as ‘the lighter side of things’. This area will showcase live acts like the jazz collective Kujenga and Off The Meds, a Swedish and South African experimental DJ and rap quartet, making their debut in Mzansi. The Glade represents the darker side, nestled in the pine forest where Cape Town collectives and Smalltown stalwarts Slow Down and Atom captivate festival-goers with a trance-inducing seven-hour set from dusk till past dawn.
The festival has earned a reputation as an industry favourite, frequented by your favourite DJs and music producers both behind the decks and on the dance floors. This is due to its thoughtful attention to detail and top-tier production standards, ensuring that artists can deliver their performances at their absolute best.
“From the carefully curated music to the captivating stage designs and overall aesthetic, Smalltown Beat consistently exceeds expectations,” says JED, a DJ, producer and artist manager who has contributed to the festival in various capacities over the past six years.
“I’ve been fortunate to infuse my creativity into the party, from shaping its design to now representing many of the artists on my booking agency roster who will be performing this year,” he says. “Collaborating with the team has been an absolute pleasure as their professionalism and meticulous attention to detail set a remarkable standard, particularly within the South African context.”
DJ and writer Mandy Alexander, better known by her stage name Hypoestes, returns to the festival on Friday. Having played Smalltown Beats in 2022, she compares the experience as one where DJs and producers can take risks with the mixer, pushing past the confining pursuit of perfection to a playful place.
“It's quite a vulnerable but empowering feeling, like I'm emotionally and consciously naked in front of people, and I love it,” she says. “It's like being in a spaceship with no destination in sight but trusting that you'll be safe along the journey.”
While the festival has grown from strength to strength in a short space of time, it has also faced its fair set of challenges. One of the most crucial elements of an event like this is the venue, and the team lost access to theirs during the pandemic. Luckily fellow festival organisers, Search, graciously opened its grounds to Smalltown Beat to use while the hunt for the perfect spot continued.
Now, Smalltown Beat has a new home on Vadersberg Farm, a breathtaking pine forest tucked in the hills between Caledon and Napier, just a short two hour drive from Cape Town. Situated atop a green pasture on a hill, festival-goers are treated to panoramic views stretching from the Overberg to False Bay. The team has collaborated with the property owner to implement permanent alterations to what they describe as the ‘perfect canvas’. Alongside multiple dance floors, there are two reservoirs for swimming, a shaded camping area, and the glamping zone, for those seeking the joys of a festival with the comforts of home. These changes will facilitate the festival's physical expansion over the next few years to align with what looks to be its inevitable growth.
Smalltown Beat takes place this weekend, the 9th to the 12th of February in Vadersberg Farm, Western Cape. Tickets available HERE.
Words by Afrika Bogatsu for Letterhead