I’m lying in a field watching a middle aged women twist her hips and arms in opposite direction. Her walnut orange skin is everywhere, saved from illegality by a faded black bikini, slack with age. I’m supposed to be watching the band on stage but her off time gyrations are mesmerising, not in an attractive way, but in the way of a puzzle needs solving. Who is she? Why is she doing this? Is this the way she behaves normally or has the festival given her some sort of cultural assent?
In 1991 Hakim Bey wrote a book describing Temporary Autonomous Zones, TAZ’s where basically cultural spaces that have been claimed by a group that are fractured from the laws, norms, and rules of the Spectacle. Activist were encouraged to delineate their own spaces establish their own rules inside those spaces, and disappear to assemble somewhere new. The fluidity and temporary nature of these spaces would be their greatest strengths. Festivals are a good example of this, or rather they were. Bey predicted these festivals if held too regularly would be reclaimed by the spectacle, reabsorbed into the capitalist machinery and sold back to would be dissenters as an acceptable pressure valve.
Which is not to say just because festivals are no longer poorly organised, cholera infested anarchist utopia that they’re not any fun, or even culturally relevant. Even before Bey people have been holding festivals, escapes, and events away from the world. The Romans would hold bacchanalia that put our furtive fumbles in tents and a few to many ciders in perspective.
Truckfest is a small and very middle class, one of the many boutique festivals that have sprung up in the last ten years in reaction to the larger commercial behemoths that dominate the festival world. A nice place to take your kids immaculately turned out in a Ramones t-shirt and fairy wings.
Judging from the camping field the crowd is mainly the younger end of the student spectrum but the higher end of the parents income, looking around I can see expensive tents housing small groups of teenagers and the vague whiff of weed. One group of older men obnoxiously loud and dressed in army gear reek of stag do. But other than that the field is calm and safe.
Ash were great, launching immediately into Girl From Mars followed by Start Of The Summer and because I’m a quarter into a bottle of vodka we dance. A small part of my mind is aware that the younger people in the crowd have no real idea who Ash are, but they sound great and we dance and don’t stop until the night blurs away.
Lying in the tent in the morning I pull the earplugs out of my ears and a loud RP accent cuts through the general mutter of a couple of fields of hungover people stumbling into consciousness.
‘…Well Coomesy is thick, really thick. Thicker than people from the Midlands, even stoke, and I should know…’, my inner class warrior fought my hangover, and my hangover won easily.
All the food stalls at Truck are ran by local charities and offer food that while not being ‘cheap’ or ‘delicious’, its not too far off either to begrudge them your money. But in search of more civilised fare, we head into a local town to find a café.
Toasted teacakes having finally pushed the black octopus squatting in my brain the day starts for us on one of the smaller stages. There are 6 stages and other performance areas at truck all offering different acts with varying levels of fame and competence. We start with the Virgin & Veterans stage catching a band wonderfully named Edible 5ft Smiths. Early 90′s garage indie, mop haired wavers throwing the usual poses and following the quiet quiet loud formula the Pixies blew everyone away with twenty years ago.
Next we find the Saloon, a metal shed done out in old west style to see the Ramshackle Union Band. Its uncomfortably close with sweaty skin pressed against sweaty skin, and the random people that have decided to sit down making the normal ebb and swell of a crowd of people all part of a delicate dance of apologies and crushed fingers. But you can see why there’s a crowd. The band are a folky, bluesy, with a bluegrass twist, charming with a full rich sound coming from the four of them.
There are other stages, one we stumbled into on our way back from Spiritulized (okay, wonderful sound, lots of lights, can’t remember much) The stage was a cow shed designated the dance music space but made a couple of fatal flaws in being at all successful. First of all it was very brightly lit, people dance when they cant be seen or think no-one will notice. Being on drugs doesn’t give you the confidence to dance, knowing that everyone else in the room will never remember you dancing because they’re on drugs gives you that confidence. And even if the shed was pitch black the overwhelming smell of cow dung would put of even the hardest of core dancers.
Royal Republic swaggered on stage in all black, which is brave in this heat. Staring straight into the midday sun they ripped through a blistering set. One song powering into another punctuated by the lead singer, charming, funny, incredibly sexy, turning a friendly crowd into utter fans. Causing a more than half hearted moshpit, mostly because white middle class boys have no idea how to dance. The music was heavy rock, a rockabilly Monster Magnet, or Queens Of The Stone Age that let them selves smile. Full of theatrical pauses and twists. The other notable band where The Subways, great poppy hits and larger than the stage performance managing to upstage an incredible sunset that was happening behind the crowd.
If you’re lucky in your life there are moments so pure, so right, that all you can do is stop and stare and try and burn it into your gin pickled dyslexic brain. Festivals provide opportunities for this, or at least the pause from our normal lives to realise they are happening. Walking to the main stage with And So I Watch You From Afar thrashing but the sun is behind me, the clarity of your vision and vista in front of me makes me catch my breath. The crowd bounce and ripple like an ocean. The sound, the sun, and the booze hitting my brain at the right frequency making me transcend the dirt, the food, and the ache from not enough sleep on a tent floor. Making it seem like I’m connected, part of of something. Not a Dionysian mob rule orgy losing yourself vibe. But knowing that we’re all connected. Really. Not in one major way, at that moment I know that that is all the major religions major misstep. We are connected, not in one spiritual way lump, but in millions of tiny ways. A transparent web of points of contact that bind us together stronger than spiders silk.
Truckfest perhaps is better than most for these moments, there seems to be a genuine sense of community, the festival being one of those points of contact, an important one. One festival goer I spoke to said ‘Truckfest is the only festival I go to every year, in fact its the only festival I would buy a ticket for without knowing the line-up’.
As the bigger festivals turn in giant machines selling you a simulacrum of what we imagine the festival experience to be, the smaller festivals are where people will turn, and yes, even these are now colonised by sanitized middle class sensibilities, and part of the same machine. But these spaces are still separate from reality gaps in our grey routine where we get to open all three of our eyes and make some connection with some other people, no matter how tiny because those tiny connections matter.