Festival Mania

By Simon Worthington, Zoe Young, Damian Jaques, Alessandro Ludovico and James Flint, 28 November 2002
Image: Video Still by Oli HodgeWith Glastonbury sanitised this year, the Big Green Gathering (BGG) drew on party people in search of Avalon’s freer spirit. They found a sorted little festival in Cheddar, Somerset – run mostly on wind and solar power – with music, info, art, permaculture, workshops and films. But organisation and self-control started to break down after dark. It was only afterwards that I discovered it was meant to be ‘alcohol free’.

We asked a select few to tell us what they did on their holidays. The results are Simon Worthington’s report on the No Border international camp at Strasbourg; Zoe Young’s visit to the Big Green Gathering in Cheddar; Alessandro Ludovico participation in Hackmeeting 2002 in Bologna; Damian Jaques’ fact-finding tour of the Farnborough air show; and James Flint’s rave-up at the corporate rock world extravaganzas Glastonbury and Sonar

Green Cheddar

Zoe Young visits this summer’s Big Green Gathering at Cheddar and finds it afflicted by growing pains, but still worth the trip

At a site meeting, some deep greens and old timers lamented that the BGG is changing. Too big now to be the intimate ‘gathering’ of old, it attracts people who may be ‘green’ but whose immediate priority is getting wasted in fresh air and good company. After the usual complaints about noise (organisers of one late night bar were threatened with a thrashing by neighbours in the ‘healing’ area …), discussion turned to the stalls selling crystals mined by reprobate multinationals – while the police and security guards in jeeps emitted diesel fumes and macho attitude. Others wondered about the venue: in the grounds of a leisure centre, it lacked compost toilets (the Council feared contaminating a high water table) and a massive Sunday car boot sale encroached onto the site. Muddy fish ponds and thickets of reeds lay at the centre, making parents nervous, routes meander, teepees bunch in a line, and exclude certain zones (e.g. permaculture, spirit, the green party) and hence campaigns from the main action. I heard the site compared to an octopus where the old venue, Pertwood Farm in Wiltshire, had held the zones together with its gentle central mound as ‘village green’.

But Pertwood farmers are tired of the inevitable litter and disruption to farming timetables, so Cheddar was a compromise site found at the last minute by an organising crew aware that the Welsh Green Gathering had been banned by hostile council and police. Luckily the BGG is not the sole survivor: intensive leafletting advertised an Eastern Green Gathering, and the Northern Green continues to offer temporary space to learn, think and make friends while sitting on top of a live-in vehicle, drinking beer as the sun goes down to the pounding beat of funk or techno.

With free raves and festivals acting as a magnet for truncheon-wielding police, people – especially those with kids – need safe spaces to party. Not all those with green interests are fundamentalists, and demand is strong for more gatherings which at least feel free, and offer more than corporate acts or nosebleed gabba in a field of litter. But the green category includes people who rise with the dawn, and others who make noisy fun all night. If it could be made to work, double-ended sites (one end sleepy, the other wild after dark) would prevent much bitterness – as would persuading police and security to patrol on foot or run necessary vehicles on bio-diesel. People are right to want the BGG to be a gathering of actively green people sharing skills and thoughts in a country setting, and they are also justified in enjoying a growing festival of expanding psyches in a bacchanalian tent town. Handled well, the various green gatherings could continue to be both.

Zoe Young <zoe AT> is a researcher, writer, and film-maker with Conscious Cinema. Her book A New Green Order? The World Bank and the Politics of the Global Environment Facility, is published by Pluto Press in October 2002, see []

It's An Airshow Jim, But Not As We Know ItDamian Jaques watches the skies at the Farnborough Airshow, 2002.

> US Airforce personnel, Farnborough 2002, photo by Damian Jaques

‘In Hertford, Hereford, and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen.’ Well, they do every two years in, or rather above, the commuterville and defense research town of Farnborough. In July 2002, the military and aerospace industries landed on the airfield aprons of the Defense Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) – as they do every second year – to tout their wares. Acres of exhibition halls are crammed with stuff, from planes for cut-price airlines to the weapons we aim at others costing squillions of taxpayers …(please fill in currency of your choice as long as it’s dollars).

Mixing in with the likes of Boeing and Lockheed Martin are the little engineering firms based in smalltown trading estates producing jewel-like aluminium sprockets for landing gear assemblies or missile tail-fin correction servos. On the two public days, ‘the great unwashed’ are allowed in to race around trying to find the stand giving away baseball caps or mugs. They are the enthusiasts, the official public that are battle hardened enough not to ask awkward questions but awkward enough to ask questions. Interestingly, the only commercial exhibitor I saw actually being friendly to anyone was Airbus Industrie who seemed to be stealing the thunder from the Americans in the civil sector and especially the cut-price airline market. They are also involved in an exercise of enlarging brand awareness – linking the act of flying with the hardware, something that with the anonymity of the airport umbilical mall experience we have been sheltered from.

Although the military hold centre stage there was an air of what I can only describe as confused desperation. The certainties of the previous show had been hijacked and hidden by recent events, with the military aerospace industry not knowing whether to look inside or out, up or down. This is somehow exacerbated at Farnborough by the very temporary nature of the chalets and exhibition halls, where rubbish is ineffectively hidden and fences covered in crisp packets.

The Russian delegation was a very unhappy bunch. Their aircraft always perform well for the crowds, but this year they were not able to bring any of them over due to a Swiss financier who allegedly could have impounded them to cover a bad debt. They also fell foul of the UK’s employment laws by having fifty asylum seekers working on their corporate chalet and then, to cap it all, on the second Friday there was news of the Ukraine air show crash.

This year I was left with a feeling that, sure, it was an enthralling, compelling though distasteful affair but wouldn’t it be interesting if visitors would start to ask some more awkward questions.

SOME NUMBERS 1,260 – the number of exhibitors 32 – the number of countries represented 290,000 – the number of visitors to the show over the five trade and two public days $9 billion – the value of orders announced 188,000kg – the weight of the heaviest aircraft at the show, the equivalent of 38 fully grown elephants 100km – the length of electricity cabling laid for the show 60,000 – the number of light fittings 40,000 – the number of power points 250km – the length of telephone cables laid by BT data from []

Damian Jaques <damian AT> is the designer of Mute magazine and a self-confessed aircraft aficionado

Hackmeeting 2002

Alessandro Ludovico visited this year’s Hackmeeting in Bologna and discovered you don’t need institutional backing and corporate sponsorship to start changing the world

What makes three hundred people sit in silence in a room – in heat of 40ºC and unbelievably high humidity – listening to the founder of the GNU Project and Free Software Foundation, Richard Stallman? It's the 'Hackmeeting effect' in 2002 flavour; the fifth Italian annual hackers' meeting, this year staged in Bologna. Every year several thousand people gather, sharing hundreds of metres of cables, and connecting dozens of PCs and laptops in a big local network with just a small gateway for checking email. The PCs are intended as bridges to connect with other peers, a sort of interface between similar humans, a cultural prosthesis essential for the exchanging of feelings and information. It's a live gathering of friends and comrades, bringing together people that regularly meet online (from high school and college students to workers in both the smaller and larger dotcoms), but it's very different from other European gatherings. First, the Hackmeeting doesn't have any sponsor, either institutional or private. Everything is done on a voluntary basis, including the organisation of the event and its funding which comes through donations from attendees. Second, it doesn’t take place in an official conference centre, but is instead hosted in a squatted social centre, at little cost and with less chance of police or fascist infiltration. Thirdly, Hackmeeting is conceived and planned through a public mailing list on which everyone can propose seminar topics or volunteer particular services. Even the logo, different at each event – a kind of Ante litteram no-logo gesture – was discussed and approved on the list before being adopted.

The temporary infrastructure built especially for the event is particularly stunning, especially considering it lasts for just a few days. People want to participate in its building because they are totally free to shape it; they can follow their instincts and desires, dealing with problems in a collaborative spirit with few pressures. Moreover, the essential hardware is offered for free by dozens of owners. Mutual aid is a key concept for the Hackmeeting, with participants networking their knowledge in a ‘samaritan hacker’ spirit. But Italian hackers are far from helpless. They are very conscious of their privacy and work rights, and have back-up in the form of active lawyers. These provide support for netstrikes (virtual sit-ins that try to block a server by massively reloading its home page), free software use, computer education aimed at reducing the digital divide and helping, amongst others, African, East European and Asian immigrants, and providing union representation for recently fired new economy workers. Do-It-Yourself media is another keenly debated issue, with practical contributions provided in the form of Radio Cybernet, an online station that streamed the seminars and turned every PC and laptop in the local network into a potential radio. Even fine art is welcomed, especially when it represents a conceptual hack. The installation Exit by the Sicilian artist Aldo Cesar Fagà consisted of a stroboscopic light that appeared to freeze water droplets as they fell through the air. For just a few days, hacking in Italy showed the promise of a different way of life; a way of acting, being conscious and shaping the human network to its best potential, until the next edition in 2003.

Hackmeeting 2002 []Hackmeeting Mailing List []Radio Cybernet []

Alessandro Ludovico <a.ludovico AT> is editor in chief of Neural, the Italian new media culture magazine []

Battle Of The Urban Spaces

James Flint compares and contrasts fortress Glastonbury and zonal Sonar

> Radioboy on stage, Sonar 2002, photo by James Flint

The fence has changed Glastonbury. Twenty feet of solid metal, it rings the camp like a giant steel ribbon, an absolute line of demarcation. There’s no clambering over this one, not with the metal overhang capping-off the top and the secondary fence of barbed wire awaiting you inside. Once a bunch of hippies getting folksy in the woods, the festival is now a fully realised urban space, with densely packed tent suburbs, a proper street plan, and an impressive infrastructure. If Glastonbury’s a festival that’s become a city, Sonar’s a festival within a city. It’s where you go if you want to get up to speed on the hippest fringes of electronic music. One half – Sonar by Day – happens in Barcelona’s Centre of Contemporary Culture; the other – Sonar by Night – takes place in an Earls Court-style complex of indoor arenas about 20 minutes drive away by taxi or complementary bus.

In terms of relaxation, cultural input, drug-taking, logistical hassle and all round enjoyment, Sonar and Glastonbury rank about the same. In terms of branding, too: in order to pay for its fence, Glastonbury has sold its beer license to a single company, and now the only places you can get a drink are the handful of monster-sized red and white tents that flog that beer and that beer alone. In response to criticism that last year’s event had become too overtly corporate, Sonar toned down its branding in 2002. Still, it’s hard to believe that music can carry any kind of political message when the marquee in which you’re listening to it is draped with bunting provided by a jeans company that is one of the worst exploiters of the developing world’s Special Economic Zones. On the other hand, when it’s a choice of having some compromising branding or having no music event at all… I’m sure that every one of the people working their guts off to stage these things would’ve preferred it if this was a compromise they didn’t have to make.

The compromise means, though, that any political and economic challenge to the status quo (if any) that these festivals now make is very different to the challenges they made in the past. It’s at Glastonbury that this change is most marked; the prevailing atmosphere is no longer one of freedom and release, of ekstasis, anti-capitalism, primitivism, but of being a responsible citizen in a participatory community. People wander round respecting each other’s space without being afraid of telling strangers off for pissing in the streams or otherwise polluting the place. It’s a bit like being a stakeholder, if you like – an experience that for all the rhetoric is sadly missing from the very different experience of living in Blair’s Britain.

Cultural theme parks of a particularly sophisticated kind, Sonar and Glastonbury are now both in the business of compensating for this acutely contemporary brand of lack. Here we gather in large numbers, relax, retune our dopamine systems with the aid of various more-or-less effective drugs, update our fashion and music files, and treat each other with respect. Then we get in our cars and planes and trains, and go back to battling our way onwards and upwards through the real city, the one that’s very far from being a quiet, participatory, petit-bourgeois town, the one that stretches pretty much unbroken now from Pilton to Barcelona, the one within which Glastonbury and Sonar are popular and pleasant blips.

A longer version of this article is available as 'Welcome To The City' in the Web Exclusives section.

James Flint <jim AT> is the author of the novels Habitus and 52 Ways to Magic America, both of which are published by Fourth Estate