Use your head: KOP is uniting Johannesburg’s creative youth

today13/02/2023 11

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We step inside KOP, the Joburg party and creative collective with a youth-focused ethos aiming to redefine the city’s creative landscape

  • Words: Gemma Ross | Photos: Santé, The Blueprint, Josh Badenhorst, Moagi Moshoane
  • 13 February 2023

Functions is our weekly interview series profiling parties from across the world. Next up: Johannesburg’s KOP.

Self-described as an ‘immersive space for creative youth of Johannesburg’, KOP is the inclusive South African club night inviting the scope of the city’s next generation to get down. Founded by a collective of like-minded artists with a focus on youth engagement, KOP attempts to do something different from the rest – an eclectic event specialising in club rhythms and underground sounds from South Africa and beyond.

KOP began just a little over five years ago throwing parties in and around Johannesburg, encouraging the youth of the city to come together freely in a safe space. The portable night, as they explain it, combines a shared love of art, music, and design through its seven co-founders, and pulls in DJs of all shapes and sizes, and a range of genres that help KOP feel unique with each event. On top of its youth-focused ethos, the Johannesburg party makes sure to keep clubgoers wellbeing in check with the Safe Hub — a pop-up area within the party providing emotional support, snacks, games, and a step away from the party.

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“A friend and creative of the KOP space said that our last party felt like it was directed by Euphoria writer Sam Levinson,” says Amira Shariff, co-founder of KOP. “We aim to curate an experience and a space to experiment, evolve and hone creativity, while at the same time, build an ecosystem that can bridge the gap between commercial and non-commercial fields,” she explains.

We chatted to Amira about how KOP got its start, what makes the Johannesburg party unique, and how they’re attempting to redefine the creative output of the city. Check it out below.

What’s the story behind KOP? How, why, and when did it start?

KOP started in January 2018. It started on the garden patio of a good friend’s house. There were seven of us, all creatives, entrepreneurs, artists in our own right, using different mediums to express our creativity. Our equal love for music is what brought us together to form and curate a space. We were all looking for a place to co-create with other people, who also needed space to create, a creative ecosystem. We were searching for access in industries that were and still are inaccessible to young artists and creators, and so decided to create our own which would lend a hand to the young creatives within a larger community.

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Where does the name come from?

The name KOP came from a friend of our collective. We were in the process of brainstorming and we kept hitting a dead end, at one point we were going to call it something generic like “The 011” — but we landed on KOP thankfully. It felt right for so many reasons, the first one being that the place we first came up with the idea of the party was on a rooftop in Jeppestown, looking over the whole skyline. There were three triangular pillars on top of the roof, and it became the inspiration for our logo — and a three letter word works perfectly. Secondly, KOP means “head” in Afrikaans, and the irony of the language being the oppressors language in South Africa and the space being a transformative and uplifting space for Gen Z and artists to co-create and exist. The name is as conceptual as the brand, it speaks to the strangeness of being creative in today’s context both in Africa and internationally, and what it means to use your KOP/head/mind as a creative in an industry that can sometimes feel headless.

KOP holds an ethos based around youth culture redefining dance music – could you tell us about that?

Our ethos about the youth redefining music and art is reflected in the way in which we operate internally within our events and platform. It is reflected through our line-ups, collaborations, visual artists, photographers, as well as exhibitions and most importantly how the people who attend KOP choose to express who they are with how they dress and carry themselves. With each KOP, there is an evolved or new experience; in essence, the ethos is seen in how both the artists, creatives and attendees involved in the space perform and contribute to an ecosystem that forms the representation of youth culture through the multifaceted ways of which all of them choose to present parts of themselves.

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Where does KOP usually take place?

KOP is a dynamic platform, it has the ability and versatility to move around. We don’t stick to one venue for long periods of time. We want KOP to exist as though it is a living organism of its own which can exist in multiple ecosystems. We have hosted in Maboneng on Situation East Rooftop, Third Place venue in Newtown, Smoking Kills in Melville, a three story warehouse in Maboneng, The Cosmopolitan in Maboneng, The Tennis Club, and had an exhibition at Gallery MOMO in 2019, and 27 Boxes. We have also collaborated with other platforms such as VNJ BALL and Until Until on an event called GENESIS in a warehouse in Newtown, and Bubblegum Club and Ebumnandini on the Boiler Room afterparty in town in 2019. KOP is a moveable experience.

How do you set yourself apart from other club nights in Johannesburg?

What sets us apart from other nightlife experiences in Johannesburg is the type of experience we offer. We are multifaceted in the experiences we aim to create – every KOP is designed to feel like a little bit of everything with something a little new, improved from the last time. From the curation of the line-up, the look and feel of the space, the visual communications. We aim to create an amalgamation of many different creative elements formed into one holistic experience.

What are some of your favourite memories from a KOP club night?

My personal favourite memories from KOP was the first time we booked lelowhatsgood, the moments we had to carry the soundsystem up three flights of stairs, the moments the rain made us panic, the first exhibition we curated, the time we had to open a last minute second stage because more people came than we expected and I had to ask my homie Lenzowanabenzo if he had his USBs on him (this night was crazy!). The night we booked Desiree, collaborating with Until Until and VNJ BALL on GENESIS which was one of the events that inspired me and so many more growing up, as well as the important and growing moments which challenged us as a team and a collective, and really pushed us to learn and has now shaped the direction KOP is taking and going towards today. My most recent favourite memory from the last KOP is Uncle Partytime’s set and the moment he played Frank Ocean and the crowd put their flash lights on and vibed out. This was definitely one of our most iconic moments.

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You have a ‘safe hub’ at your events to ensure clubgoers wellbeing, what has that been like in action?

We partnered with Mindful Organisation, a youth-centred mental health non-profit, to enhance the safety and energy of the nightlife space. This concept originally started just before COVID, and we called it the ‘KOP Patrol’ which was the seed to an idea that we expanded onto further, resulting in the Safe Hub. The Safe Hub operates as a space which is positioned slightly removed from the main event which allows for the partygoers to decompress and to enter an area that fosters mindfulness and safety. Through this collaboration, we strive to reinvent the nightlife culture by encouraging a positive and mindful drinking culture while unapologetically asserting for a party space that is considerate and respectful of all who inhabit it. The space is occupied with essentials such as bird games, water, snacks, energy drinks, writing tools, tissues and more, with facilitators who are trained to handle and assist in rectifying any inappropriate behaviour in the party who are trained to support the emotional and psychological needs and alleviate discomfort for those who may have over indulged, and need assistance to sober up and catch their breath. It operates from the beginning to the end of the event, addressing issues of reported or witnessed hate speech, physical violence, someone being too drunk and needing to get home, can’t find friends, and so on.

How do you go about booking a KOP party?

In order to book a KOP event or to collaborated or get involved with a KOP party, whether it be as another event entity, creative platform, an artist, a DJ, a creator of sorts; send us an email explaining who you are, what it is you want to do, if you’re a DJ or artist, a bio and link to your music or mixes and we’ll take it from there.

What does the future look like for KOP?

Our long-term vision for KOP is to find more ways to build onto the culture of music and art through forming opportunities for creatives to co-exist and experiment with their creativity in socially curated spaces which assists them to do so. We want to innovate more ideas which can assist in expanding onto the cultural experiences of nightlife, as well as beyond nightlife. Experiences such as workshops, exhibitions, more collaborations with other like-minded creative platforms, more community-building orientated work. I think most importantly, working with other communities within our pre-existing ecosystem to further create a better and firmer ecosystem for creatives and artists alike.

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Follow KOP on Instagram to stay in the know about their next parties

Gemma Ross is Mixmag’s Editorial Assistant, follow her on Twitter

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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