3 September 2012

The Smugglers Festival 2012

esme sunset
After some consumption of such mellifluously intoxicating  fluid, and also the pleasant discovery of a fully stocked bar selling cocktails,  it appeared that the afternoon unfolded in a somewhat speedy, alcoholic haze.

photo by   Kirsty Bauckham
First time for me at The Smugglers Festival. The old sat-nav, once we’d managed to get the post code, took us over one lane fields through the back woods on a magical mystery tour of far East Kent to an exquisite little spot of woodland catering to around 1000 people mainly consisting of various locally sourced muso, folk, rock, alternative, acoustic psychedelic types and lots of bands I had never heard of before so maybe some interesting discoveries were to be made?  Please do forgive my lazy stereotyping and randomising of what are in all probability is just your average day to day festival goers.

photo by   Kirsty Bauckham
No setting up tents for me. I intended to stay up all night so it was straight into proceedings once I'd picked up my florescent green arm band slash pass from the gate. There seemed like lots of weird, small label beers and ciders on sale and in the absence of, heaven forbid, some fizzy, strong, ice cold lager in a frosted glass, I plumped for some locally brewed Ripple Steam Brewery bitter at 4.1% proof in a thin plastic glass and as warm and as flat as you like but at the same time strangely compelling in a “when in Rome” way and not at all as horrible as I had imagined it to be. According to their website "Ripple Steam Best Bitter consists of a mixture of traditional floor malts and styrian goldings. This gives an infusion of malt and apricot flavours… So , if you are ‘cruising for a brewing’ try this Best Bitter…" I was, so I did. Magic. At least the price of £3.50 per pint reminded me of the lager I love to hate and the posh, comfortable pubs and clubs I like to drink it in.
photo by   Kirsty Bauckham
After some consumption of such mellifluously intoxicating fluid, and also the pleasant discovery of a full cocktail bar selling absinthe, a wonderful cake shop selling the most crunchy felo pastry delights, a tent selling proper coffee, strong and sweet and a lovely little chill out cafe it appeared that the afternoon unfolded in a somewhat speedy, alcoholic, sweet filled haze which merely continued the wash of wonderment and astonishment my brain felt that such a nice, welcoming rustic festival could actually be happening right here on my very own door step.

I’m used to arriving somewhere, well, clubs, at 10pm and nothing happening except some wannabe warm up DJ playing 140BPM psy-trance inappropriately and too loudly with the lights still on. Even though I don’t like that particular scenario or find it comfortable I’m familiar with it so it’s cool. Arriving at Smug-Fest late afternoon on Saturday the place was, to say the least, somewhat lively and being the fragile flower that I am nursing a hangover and too little sleep I was somewhat intimidated by the bountiful activity being performed before my eyes.

I say too little sleep like I was a rockin' and a rollin' all night long. No. I was wearing a 24 hour blood pressure monitor to check on my BP to see if I was going to keel over with a heart attack/stroke (heart attack stroke stroke anyone?) any minute now. Apparently my BP has been 188/120 for about a year and according to the peoples encyclopaedia I should be dead. It says “lifestyle interventions are a crucial element of successful treatment, including a diet low in sodium and rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, such as a vegetarian or vegan diet. Clinical trials have also documented the beneficial effects of weight loss, increased physical activity, and limiting alcohol consumption.” So that means I’m back on my vegetarian diet that I did for 17 years but gave up 10 years ago. Soon.

In the main area there were two live stages in nice marquees looking like they were taking turns to host their bands, chalked on boards outside the tents, so that when one band finished you did not have to sit through that interminable, yet necessary, ritual of listening to the musos’ plug their shit in and spend what seems like minutes tuning in their guitars and checking microphone levels by repeating “10 number 6” over and over and bashing out one drum continuously for minutes on end until ones mind turns to jelly and custard and vows never ever to watch a band do a sound check ever again. “Can I just hear the bass again?” asks the sound engineer. No, I’m leaving. Now.

photo by Milly Bishop
Instead, the band finished, we all left the tent and walked over to the other one where the band were all ready to perform. Magic. So clever. Indeed it was in the smaller of the two marquees – a lovely , stripy, round circus like area with a bar in the corner that I caught the band of the weekend;  Beautifully jarring like a cross between Fagin from Oliver, a punky Jethro Tull and the Cardiacs. Crackin’.

photo by Milly Bishop
Of course I didn’t come to the Smugglers’ Festival exclusively to listen to all this new underground folk rebel stirrings, although it was genuinely a really nice bonus, I came to DJ some real deep house to the wide open ears of the smug-fest fraternity; to have them discover, like I discovered at the festival, new music, new ways to look at things and new ways to appreciate the things we love and to share them with others in our life. Surely the smugglers’ would open their collective arms and hearts and embrace the message of love,  peace, tolerance and harmony that our deep house free party scene in Kent has to offer and that we would all become united by our differences and our approaches. I came to rediscover my free festival roots and the time when, although I do hate this term, hippies and ravers joined as one and loved music for the inspiring ability it has to unite hearts. Magic.

photo by Milly Bishop
Walking through the woods lit by candles in jars but so dark, for me with my poor eyesight, I had to go back to my car and get a torch, you stumble upon a lovely stage that looks like a caravan has had the side sawn off. Covered with tarps and surrounded by dressed up mannequins that, later on when people were drunk, kept getting knocked over and hastily repaired. Someone on the dance floor appeared to have to really long extended arms at one point.

I was told I was on from 12 till 1. At 11pm I sat behind the decks on a chair I’d borrowed from around the nearby fire, enjoying conversations with friends I had not seen for a while and the music the DJ’s were playing and patiently waited my turn.

12 midnight came and went. I had been bumped and wouldn’t be on till 1am. Then it was 2am. Then 3am. Then 4am. I sat in my chair. Wonky’s Disco guy Warren, Mr Wonky, appeared in a wedding dress, had a word with the sound guy and proceeded to plug in his laptop and play tunes from his iTunes collection for an hour. I had been bumped till 5am now. “Oh good”, I thought, “I might get to play through the sunrise which is the slot I wanted in the first place”. I was eventually allowed to set up my equipment. Then the smug-crew came over and pulled the plug. It went on super low. They pulled the plug again. I went into the crew tent, as one last, final, desperate measure to salvage something from the night, to play some music. Began to play my set through my laptop speakers. They returned and pulled the plug. I went back into the now dark woods “to get my water bottle” that I had left behind the now silent decks.

backstage VIP area
 So, I was sitting there, in the woods, on my chair, alone, just thinking and reflecting about stuff that had transpired and not living in the moment at all, as usual, wondering about the nature of respect, loyalty and selfishness and why some people don’t see anything at all while others endeavour to see all points of view and not mutually exclusively their own. I thought about all those ‘woe is me’ scenarios but, you know, in the end, so fucking what? I didn’t happen. It didn’t happen. Maybe next time?

Instead I went with my beautiful girlfriend into the cropped field adjacent to the festival and watched the sunrise over the horizon laughing and joking with my fellow sunrise lovers. Magical.

The word magic and magical has cropped up a lot in this review and that’s exactly what this special, young and beautiful festival is; a real treat, a discovery, a surprise, a warm celebration of the local talent; a knowledgeable, crazy and lovely crowd of approachable, friendly people constantly smiling; a veritable frenzy of positive interaction - not ‘up their arse’ like the green gathering at small world – as someone cruelly said. The only credentials you needed here to be accepted as one of their own was an open mind, an open demeanour, an ear for the undiscovered muso in all of us and a torch; because it did get very dark in them thar woods of an evening...