Psych Night, a collective of mavericks that host regular events celebrating psychedelia in South Africa, is made up of Andre Leo (one half of dreamy psych band Medicine Boy), photographer Mark ‘Markie’ Reitz, interaction designer and former band manager Micah Donnoli, Palm Black Trading Company tattoo artist Raoul Goetze and One Horse Town illustrator Simon Berndt.
INTERVIEW: RUAN SCOTT
PHOTOGRAPHY: OLIVER KRUGER
It began in 2012 with the urge to finally create the kind of immersive party that they wanted to go to. According to the group, at that time the music scene in Cape Town was largely commercial, reliant on one ‘big band’ to fill the club, and tapering off with sub-par DJs. Raoul says, “There was no curation to the line-up of live bands,” and Micah echoes his sentiment, “parties made their line-up based on what bands were worth, without actually listening to the music, seeing what was out there and how it could work.” So after many casual discussions over beers and cigarettes, sharing their mutual frustrations, Psych Night began to take shape.
Following a pre-emptive event at The Waiting Room, featuring an exhibition of Markie’s photos from Austin Psych Fest (Texas) and a small line-up of bands, the first official Psych Night was held at LB’s – a carpeted dive bar on Long Street. The party, called ‘The Sound of Confusion,’ saw the boys DJ’ing the kind of music they wanted to introduce to the scene and, as Raoul recalls, even featured a hooker who paid her entrance fee and proceeded to give “an old, fat dude” a lap dance to the sounds of The Dirty Beaches.
Born from their passion for Psychedelic music, and at a time when there wasn’t anything else like it locally, the Psych Night boys took advantage of what Simon calls “the Zeitgeist” rise of Psych music. They were on point, taking their cue from “the global resurgence of the genre as it sprung up across the world,” Markie observes. It was around this time that Bad Vibrations started in the UK, with the Liverpool Psych Fest following shortly after. Raoul ventures, “a lot of people were sceptical about it being another trend. I think we’re starting to prove them wrong, which is great.”
In an interview two years ago, Andre foreshadowed their breakthrough: “One of the main goals is to bring top international acts that we want to see, and that a lot of people want to see, but are constantly overlooked for things seen as more commercially viable. Other promoters won’t even think of it… so we’ve got to do it.”
With three international band tours under their belts, Markie humbly admits, “We could never have imagined even the Night Beats tour having happened, and so soon – that was a massive dream come true for us.” After the success of their first show, Psych Night have continued their upward trajectory, bringing to South Africa The Golden Animals and (most recently) The Allah-Las in the span of two short years.
Exuding the kind of populism inherent in any anti-mainstream culture, Psych Night embraces an overall democratic and supportive approach that positions them firmly as “an accessible platform for new bands we believe in, that could contribute to what we’re building,” according to Simon.
While the group may be guilty of having their favourites – being a party run on what they themselves want to hear, see and dance to – Simon is correct when he says that Psych Night has “definitely brought more exposure to Psych music.” “There have definitely been newer bands who have seen a place for their music,” he continues, “more left field, but they can play it and get shows.”
The boys have all experienced Psych music on an international level, each of them having travelled to Austin Psych Fest (now known as Levitation), Le Guess Who (Utrecht) or Primavera (Barcelona). Of these experiences, they all agree that they were most struck by the openness of the Psych scene, of the welcoming, communal nature of these events – and that audiences attend the festivals first and foremost for the love of the music. Raoul and Simon agree that the sense of community and lack of ego were remarkable, and the enthusiasm with which the boys emphasise this is testament to their integrity and passion for the genre.
Markie comments on the fact that when he first went to Austin Psych Fest, foreigners would ask him about the Psych scene in South Africa, and he had to admit that there was a genuine lack of anything to report back on. Fast-forward three years and the boys are responsible for an altogether different and exciting report.
Rob Fitzpatrick, producer of Levitation, attests to this success saying, “since we started our festival in 2008, ‘psych fests’ have started all over the world… it’s hard to keep up with them all. One that we actively support is Psych Night in Cape Town, [which] stands out due to both the quality of the programming and the great artwork they use to promote their shows – there’s an attention to detail that shows respect for the music, and we appreciate that. Psych Night was strong from the start and continues to set the bar higher with each event. I’m hoping to make it out there soon!”
Of his experience, Andre adds “some people get off on the big crowd thing, but I feel proud that we offer a more intimate experience for the fans and I would love to keep it that way, even when we expand our numbers.”
Crowds or not (but, more than likely, crowds) Psych Night is dedicated to creating a truly immersive experience. From the posters (which Simon designs and illustrates) to the name, line-up, decor and visuals, Psych Night is committed to the full spectrum of what they have come to embody. Their annual Inner City Psych Fest is scheduled for September this year to “showcase the whole spectrum of the scene over one set period. Over four days there will be the art side with an exhibition featuring art work from Austin Psych Fest, the live performances which culminate in a showcase album launch and show at Assembly, [the result of a partnership between Future Now records, Red Bull, Psych Night and VANS], and an acoustic session on the Sunday,” Simon explains.
The Future Now and Red Bull partnership Simon refers to is a recent development orchestrated by Pierre Coetzee, a partner of Psych Night, who is responsible for Future Now records. Red Bull, who are diverging from their purely electronic offering to “broaden their listener base and functionality of the studio,” approached Psych Night to collaborate, Simon says.
Involving five bands – Caves, Mind Pool, Sol Gems, Psalms and The Plastics – the collaboration sees them recording for fifteen days to produce an online record and limited run of CDs. Jake Lipman, manager of Red Bull Studios Cape Town says, “we approached [Psych Night] because [they are] authentic, [they] love it and [they’ve] been doing it for a long time.” And who better to have approached than the boys who brought Psych to the city?
From their first party, with only their friends in the crowd, to the Allah-Las sold-out Assembly show, the boys agree that the success of Psych Night is owed to the fact that it is first and foremost a passion project. Simon says, “The rewards of bringing these international bands [to the country] and standing [and] watching the shows that we’ve put together and made happen is way more rewarding than any kind of financial gain.” Micah agrees, “That’s our saving grace at the end of the day – we didn’t go into it to make money.” Simon emphasises the importance of music to each of them individually, saying, “The process of working together on something that we’re all equally passionate about has definitely brought us a lot closer.” Collectively, Psych Night are undeniably humble, showing genuine surprise and gratitude to the scene, to their audience, to the bands and their supporters.
Supported in the main by Vans (who approached them when the Night Beats Tour was announced), their relationship with the brand has developed to the extent that they jokingly refer to Vans brand manager Warren Talbot as ‘Dad.’ As their primary sponsor, the support of Vans has been instrumental in allowing Psych Night to expand as quickly as it has. Markie asserts the importance of such support, saying, “The people who help us really don’t have to, and that makes a big difference. People just want to help out, in any capacity they can. They don’t want to let it fall to pieces, they want to make sure it lasts because a lot of people are now getting a lot out of it, on a personal and experiential level,” adds Simon.
The boys make special mention of their partners and supporters, including fellow party-makers The Golden Yolk and Park Acoustics, who helped take Psych Night to Jo’burg and Pretoria. Barry de Villiers creates the visual loops necessary to make Psych Night parties as immersive as possible, and he (under Roundabout Films) and Dirk Steenkamp (Everfelt Media) are responsible for documenting and producing the event and tour videos. Paul Bothner, Johnny Tex (ex-Future Primitives) and Audiopimps ensure that the international bands have the best equipment and sound available.
When asked about their plans for the next international show, the general atmosphere is wild excitement, albeit somewhat reserved (or secretive) – they can’t give away too much just yet. What we know for now is that if their previous shows are anything to go by, this one (pegged for later this year) won’t disappoint – musically, visually and for the love of the party.
Looking into the future, the boys unanimously agree that their dream would be to bring Black Rebel Motorcycle Club back to South Africa – in fact, watching the band live in 2012 was part of the inspiration behind Psych Night. Alternative suggestions came from Simon, who would love to see the full orchestra of Spiritualized perform (to which they all agree), and Andre, true to his hairstyle and hero, dreams of bringing down Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
In terms of their next big dream, an outdoor festival is definitely on the cards. “We’ve had some very positive meetings earlier this year,” Simon says, but adds that they need to host one more city show before tackling the mammoth task of coordinating a festival. Raoul adds, “My dream is to have a leather tool belt, setting up a festival in PT shorts, with a walkie-talkie… PT shorts, fucking no shirt, a scrambler and a walkie-talkie.” And don’t be surprised if that’s exactly what we see happening. For Psych Night, it seems that dreams are goals – and with their integrity, passion and knack for making the right connections, goals are bound to become reality.
“We just wanna make the fucking party happen,” says Raoul. And ‘fucking make the party happen’ they will.
IN THE SPIRIT OF THE NIGHT
‘Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space’
‘Exile on Main St.’