Summer’s last hurrah

I am in London. Screengazing. Dreaming up new musical categories , like Screengaze, that’s shoegaze on computers, in case you were wondering.
I’m in London, doing the 2010 version of twiddling my thumbs. There’s a festival on. Now. And I could be there. It’s time to get on the train.

I am on the sun deck of a ferry called Wight Rider II. Honestly, that’s what it’s called.

So this is Bestival, on the windy Isle of Wight. After the inevitable wrist band run-around and tent pitching I’m just wandering, an explorer turning the festival map into terrain.
I catch the XX as they announce that they are about to play their last song. There’s something lovely about doing this. They look and sound like they did on TV for the Mercury Award. Maybe that’s because I can only really see them on the big screen. Their second album will have to be stadium rock, they’re getting that popular.

After that I wander around, blown from one stage to another by the wind, at random, and I’m thinking: being at a festival is like being inside your own head, and just walking around, all the bustle and activity, all the thoughts milling about like people, not really knowing where they are going, bumping into each other, occasionally making a connection, sometimes making sense. And I’m thinking: what am I doing here if this is my own head?

Dizzie Rascal is a good pop star but throws away his songs with their new acoustic arrangements. There’s no grit, no electronic punch. Hot Chip have lost their way too. With the addition of a drummer they have turned themselves from a great electronic band into a mediocre pop rock band.

I am in the blue big top when it happens. The reason I come to these things. Flying Lotus is on the decks (connected to the inevitable laptop), creating a DJ set without using headphones. It’s like being inside his head (which is starting to get very weird considering we are all already inside mine). He talks about hallucinogenics and lucid dreaming. If only he knew he was inside somebody else’s mind he’d be really surprised.
He cuts and flips, changes tempo, genre, from hip hop to rave to cosmic what. The sound is all distorted but it kind of doesn’t matter. It’s all brilliant energy. I am transfixed.

I am in the blue big top when it happens again. Plastikman. A really beautifully, brilliant, simple electronic music show that blows the notion of live wide open.
Richie Hawtin, in alter-ego mode, is inside a semi circular frame covered by a pixel LCD screen with the most beautiful shapes and patterns on it. The music is pure and intense. The kick thumps you in the stomach, the hats dance around your head, the snare cracks like a cane on the palm of your hand. It’s one of the most fantastic electronic music shows I have ever seen; up there with Kraftwerk and Daft Punk’s pyramid.
The simple visuals enhance the enjoyment of the music without becoming the show. Inside the screen he has an array of technology that looks intriguing, a proper studio lab set up. At the end of the set he comes out from behind the screen and plays one last tune, Spastik, the one with the scattering snare drums, to show that he is human. To show off his magnificent fringe and stylish black clothes. I am awestruck.
Some time later Seth Troxler rounds off a really fine evening of entertainment with some powerful, contemporary house music. That’s the way to do it. So glad to be away from the screengaze.

Give me some signal. It’s Saturday and I’m in the rain and misty low cloud, searching for service, researching sound.
Don Letts in Bollywood laying down some deep bass reggae, like he always has. Uncomplicated cool.

In Arcadia, Darwin Deez, post youtube hits that they are, make crazy disco shapes to crazy disco inbetween bursts of their own supercharged pop, like the modern New York kids they are, all wry, wiry spin and floating yellow. Orange amps too.
Back in Bollywood David Rodigan gives a lesson in the music of the drum and the bass. It’s like church, preacher blasting out anthem after anthem, jumping from Kingston to Dalston, King Tubbys to Breakage via Eek-A-Mouse and Desmond Decker. Wheel Up, somebody say Pull Up.
He’s kind of inspiring actually, his dedication, his passion for his music. Even though he’s evidently mad he makes me feel better about my musical addiction. You’re talking to someone who cries every time he hears Rolf Harris sing Two Little Boys. It happened again today, as ridiculous as a wobble board but totally true.

In Rock & Roll, Mount Kimbie are anything but rock and roll, filling the tent to bursting for a set so subdued it makes the XX look like a bunch of rockers. Really, though, once again, they are so sincere and so good and so pure and so simple and so atmospheric they make me want to give up making music all together. It’s one of those mood swings and roundabouts days.
Roxy Music on the Main play like the 70s never ended but redeem themselves at the end with the good songs – Do The Strand, Virginia Plain, Love is the Drug and Ferry’s solo hit Jealous Guy. Not enough for a sing along set but not bad on your CV as they say in the real world, and it’s the right phrase to use because it feels like the band are at work, unsure where they are or what they are doing here, just playing the songs like it’s a rehearsal.

This is a short torch-lit scribble, a mini-break in the the tent. There were fancy dressers everywhere today but for some reason, this time, it just added to the fun, even if some of the groups look like they are on a stag do, some people have taken imagination and made it real. One boy walks round inside a wooden cupboard, trailed by a cat suited cave woman who seems very excited at the prospect of ungluing his doors. Now I must go and play records in the Wishing Tree. Zoom. Zoom.

So that’s what happens. A muddy trek slide down hill with the back pack, Chai and brandy combo (this week’s favourite drink) and inside the Wishing Tree. It’s the smallest, most exclusive dancefloor at the festival, just 40 people at a time, strictly one in one out with a one hour queue; a mini bar run by midgets, stocked with miniatures; witches on the dancefloor sharing a sacred cabbage after a limbo dancing competition; and a vertiginous, vertical ladder up to the DJ booth in the branches.

No fat DJs here. This is a proper muddy climb, but up top all is as it should be, the CDJs, the mixer, the crate of beer. So it’s all down to the music. What do you play in a magic tree with a midget mini bar and a dancefloor populated by witches and other fantastic creatures of the night? It’s not an every day dilemma.

The answer, as ever, is simple. Whatever feels right. So I spin everything from Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa to Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, via the inevitable Mr Blue Sky and All Night Long. And it feels like it works and it feels good and it feels like this year’s expanded festival with the main stage the right way round and a good flow and feel is a real triumph. Not like the beginning but on a really good track. Oh, and I play One Step Beyond, of course, because it’s the tune of the weekend for some reason.

So here I am, in the flower tent, by torchlight, scribbling, at the end of the summer, hurrah almost over. But before it is, one more time, give me some signal, and make some fucking noise.