images via Until Until

Until Until: Curating Complexity in Jo’burg Nightlife

Until Until are a fast-rising crew of young entertainment entrepreneurs, curating events that attract as many as 4000 partygoers.  After only 3-years in the game, this squad of 11 twenty-something’s describe their members as ‘pretty socially relevant’: a humble understatement since each boasts 1000-or-so Twitter followers and an astonishing ability to pull crowds.

As a young brand, Until Until have been consistently under-estimated by venue managers. ‘We told them, “Look guys, we’re going to have 3500 –4000 people. And we could just see, they just doubted us’. 

Today, they’re claiming territory among industry heavyweights, attracting coverage from major media houses and collaborating with some of the country’s hottest DJs and performers. Their recent 2016 flagship party, Genesis All Black, boasted in its line-up: Euphonik, Khuli Chana, Das Kapital, DJ Speedsta and PH.  Advertised dress: ‘Strictly all black’ Time: ‘from 4pm until until’.

I got together with two members — Thandile (Honx) and Thulani (Thulz) to chat about the micro-politics of the ‘turn-up’, starting with the very first party they threw:

‘June 16 was that Friday. On Wednesday we were like “Yo, what are we doing this weekend? What’s happening for June 16?” And there was nothing on the party calendar. So many friends were coming home. Thursday we announced. Friday it happened’. 

Dubbed ‘High School Cool’ and pumped with a heavy dose of uniform-clad high-school nostalgia, the party was hosted on the tennis court of a friend’s Bryanston home and functioned as a tribute to ’76.

‘We had 700 people inside the house and about 400 people outside’

Big numbers for a suburban home.  I imagined crowd insurrection disrupting the strictly-regulated pristine of Northern Suburbia.

Well look, we did tell the neighbours it was a traditional ceremony’ (laughs). 

High School Cool

On face value it was hilarious subterfuge, but Honx was on to something. Among their multiplicity of social functions, traditional ceremonies serve to welcome returning relatives, celebrate achievement, mark rites of passage, pay homage to the ancestors, and cement connectedness between family and neighbours.  Fuck it, ‘High School Cool’ did it all.

The middle-finger out-of-placed-ness connoted by an imagined traditional ceremony on a Bryanston tennis court was carried until until. Through each subsequent party, initially reluctant ‘North boys’ were hauled into the once-elusive city centre.  ‘Popping bottles’ was made Braam-affordable so everyone could ‘have a shout’. And so elitism and inclusivity were brought into spectacularly contradictory collision.

With an off-hand reference to traditional ceremonies, Honx had messed with the neat Durkheimian demarcation between the sacred and profane. He had acknowledged that parties, rather than being simple triviality, were a cacophony of celebration, mourning, worship, rage and attachment. Protests, spiritual assemblies and political caucuses — like parties — so often rely on music, dance and a heaving crowd. We are regularly skirting the lines between play and politics.

Both marketing majors, Thulz and Honx understand that millennials frequently express their political selves through play: comedic memes and vines circulate online, reporting our socio-political milieu with damning satire. And just as we are bitingly playful in our politics, so too are we political in our play. In marketing their 2015 ‘Pyjama Party’, Until Until drew on design-styles from USSR/USA propaganda, catalysing an explosion of online gimmicks about the party/political. Themed The All Black Army, Genesis 2016 was inspired by a wave of student protests. Drawing on military imagery, it sought to connote a rallying of troops, unified by the colour black.

‘And how would you respond to the accusation that you are commercialising, even belittling, ‘The Struggle?’ I asked.

 ‘Firstly, the state of our country right now, that’s where we are. That’s where our minds are at, especially the youth. We can’t run away from that. You can’t ignore it. It’s there. You can think of something political and think about Until Until in the same light. We’ve given the brand a voice in this countrywide conversation. People will always party, whatever’s happening. So why not give you a party where it’s not like you’re running from something? You’re not partying to escape the realities. You’re partying knowing very well what’s happening’. 

A trenchant critique of night-time escapism.

Thulz and Honx narrate Jo’burg nightlife as a raced status quo:

 ‘White people party there, black people party there, Indian people party there, coloured people… The fact that Taboo has two accounts: one called Taboo Urban Nights and the other just Taboo. Kong on a Friday is called Kong Urban Nights and then Saturday is called Kong. I guess they just don’t have a name for White Nights (laughs)’. 

For these young entrepreneurs, night-time segregation results from a mode of music curation that under-estimates its audience, and consequently, produces audiences that miscalculate their own complexity. We’re intimidated by unfamiliar genres. Through raced assumptions about our tastes, nightclub owners unwittingly dictate our explorative capacity. Presumptions that ‘every young black must love hip-hop’ or that ‘EDM is for town-dwellers’ orchestrate dangerous comfort-zones.

Thulz: The reason an event like Genesis works is because I know that you as a white guy, you like Ricky Rick. You just haven’t been put in a situation where you’re listening to him.

Honx: I think Henry Ford said, ‘If I just asked people whether they wanted faster (horse) carriages, they would have said yes’. They wouldn’t have said ‘I want a car’. They wouldn’t have thought of that. I think a lot of club owners ask too many questions. They build this thing based on questions like ‘What do you want to listen to?’ For us, we didn’t ask if people wanted to listen to EDM at Genesis. We just put it on the line-up. We’re not solely focused on one genre. Get as much music as possible, as many people as possible, and put them in one place’.

Genesis audiences testify to its extraordinary genre-bending, in which there is no explicit switch from one genre to the next. DJs transition seamlessly from house, to hip-hop, to UK-garage, EDM and festival trap. ‘What sound that’s hot right now did you not hear at Genesis?’ 

I guess one could ask,  ‘Aren’t Until Until manufacturing an artificial Rainbow Nation — a worrying faux-utopia?’

From a demographic perspective, the answer is plainly no. This is not a racial mixing-pot with equal doses of white, black, brown and everything in-between. But neither is South Africa. On some level, it’s a party that makes satisfying demographic sense.  But more than that, Until Until are trying to rise to the nuanced complexities of their audience — to invite them (for this one night) to discover that they are more of a mess than their simplified typecasting. They remind us that nothing in us, or indeed in our politics, is pure or sacred or untouchable. And at the same time, everything is.

Follow them @untiluntil_za

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