Gert Schoonraad isn’t a name you can google (until now), but if you mention the name in Gauteng and beyond, everyone knows who you are talking about.
Johannesburg is a city with many stories that run concurrently, and one hella of a nightlife, 9 days a week. From Gin, Mama Thembu, The Woods, Town Hall through to Great Dane and Brian Lara. Gert has helped create spaces for cultures to begin, meet, percolate, evolve and most importantly exist.
“For us, we’ve always wanted to make integrated spaces. If I cater for what I like that’s the crowd that comes.” It’s the quote from the interview with Gert that has stuck with me like a tight shirt on a Summers day in Johannesburg. “It’s what you like, what you go for.” This is the mantra that has allowed Gert and his partners to help shape, to some degree, pockets of venues and the Petri dishes of subcultures in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
I always had a naive assumption that to create a successful space meant that you had to create for others, never yourself. As Gert and I sat at Brian Lara (natural interview location), I had the realization that the only way, for any artist (from a ‘restaurateur’ to a musician) to truly create a masterpiece, is to create the said piece for the most important person, themselves. Out of that, a sense of true art begins to manifest.
Moreover, there is a creative process and art form that exists outside the assumed creative channels and can include the blueprint design and execution of a social space or venue.
So, once you have a piece of art, or in this case, a kick-ass venue, how do you get the audience it deserves? “How social spaces work is that the person that’s in charge that employs the people who work there has a massive influence on who goes there. Personally, I think Great Dane is the perfect example of this. If you go to Great Dane you’ll find the mix, the ratio is actually perfect to the demographics of South Africa. When we opened people said this was Mandela’s wet dream because it was so perfect. For the first time in South Africa you would see black, white, coloured, gay, straight, super Afrikaans, doesn’t matter who. Everyone’s just partying together at 3/4 in the afternoon, it looks like a club. So that was probably one of my proudest moments.”
Speaking of staff, the craziest ‘interview’ I have ever heard of or will ever here is one that Gert shared whilst he poured his morning tea. “There was one night where a girl fell through the roof (of Gin) while the place was PACKED. She climbed in somehow and fell through the ceiling onto the dance floor.” Naturally, my first question was, did she survive? “She did, and she started working for us after that.” The lesson of this article has to be that there is no such thing as a bad interview.
While I could give you a timeline of Gert’s success and learnings, I am not going to. He is an unassuming artist, crafting a better Johannesburg space. Go have a kiff jol and see what I mean.