IT DAWNED on me, as I sat nursing a drink at the Twee-Geelbek-Neushoring-Voëls-Met-Een-Kettie-Skoot-Morsdood-Geskiet Casino and Entertainment Centre in the hours before sunrise, that music festivals are changing in ways that would have been unimaginable when I attended my first more than 20 years ago.
I’m not talking about the fact that, these days, if you attend the Oppikoppi music festival, as I did this year’s Sweet \ Thing edition at the weekend, you can stay in the relative luxury of The Kreef Hotel, the "point five star tent hotel" (slogan: the calm thing is to remain important), which has the verbosely named "casino and entertainment centre" at its heart. You definitely want to, though, if you prefer to avoid the rough edges and occasional mayhem of camping among the general population, known in Oppikoppi-speak as the "prawns".
Nor am I talking about the fact that music festivals in South Africa today are much more multicultural and multiracial affairs, in terms of both performers and attendees, than they used to be, although they undeniably are.
Given the usual subject matter of this column and my obsession with gadgets and technology, I am obviously talking about how these can be used to great effect to make the lives of festival organisers, stallholders, musicians and patrons easier. The potential is enormous but, without attention to detail, so are the pitfalls.
To begin with, there are the social networks, Facebook, Twitter and Google+, which it goes without saying will form the basis of any music festival’s marketing and information drive. Nobody does it better than Oppikoppi, whose use of those three networks this year was unrivalled even by South Africa’s oldest (and now second largest after Oppikoppi) festival, Splashy Fen, which one musician described this weekend as being "a flea market compared to Oppikoppi".
But Oppikoppi went beyond the obvious uses of technology this year, burnishing its reputation as South Africa’s best-organised festival. Most impressive was its use of near field communication in a festival "banking system". Patrons queue briefly to load value on cards at the festival "bank", using either cash, or credit and debit cards. The cards are used to pay for anything at the festival, whether it be drinks, food or merchandise. You place your order, hold your card near the card reader at each stall and the value of the transaction is deducted. This kills several birds with one stone: (almost) eliminating cash; preventing fraud and theft by staff; and making the post-festival stocktake a piece of cake because there’s an electronic record of every transaction.
Almost as impressive was the use of smartphone apps, but this is where a lack of attention to detail let Oppikoppi down, which was a pity considering how much effort goes in to developing an app for a one-off event such as this.
The official Oppikoppi app was a beautiful thing. Among other things, it showed the schedule for all three days and the rules and maps of the festival, and it let you create a list of your favourite artists, for which it would send you push notifications 15 minutes before their performance was due to start. No need to buy a programme, carry it around and consult it (often in the dark). But, as it turned out, the printed programme was more reliable than the app, even though you’d expect the opposite to be true. On several occasions, schedule changes weren’t reflected on the app, although you’d expect it to be the first with updated information.
I hope the organisers will get this right next year and get Oppikoppi on track to become a world-class paperless, cashless music festival.