FESTIVAL: SUNRISE CELEBRATION // Once Upon A Sunrise…
Disclaimer: this story should have been pieced together from a set of messy but just-about-legible notes scribbled on a festival programme, but unfortunately said programme was lost in the mud and as a result this story has been pieced together from the memories of those involved. Similarities to actual persons and events are intended but may not occur as often as we would like, and while specific details may be occasionally hard to come by, every effort has been made to recreate the truly unique and beautifully bonkers atmosphere of the event, which is more important than who played what at what time anyway.
Once upon a time, in mid-2012, in the south west of a lovely but occasionally unpleasant and frequently confusing country, which was itself in the northern hemisphere of a lovely but frequently unpleasant and constantly confusing planet, at the tail end of an impressively ham-fisted introductory paragraph, there was a festival called Sunrise Celebration. It was a parallel universe of sorts, a carnival for (and of) the soul, a holiday from the concrete, spreadsheets, political disappointment, corporate skulduggery and impotent rage of reality. The sort of place where, were it a village that stood all year round, the best, most eccentric witches and wizards would go to retire. The sort of place where Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws and reformed (or at least in the process of reforming) Slytherins could discuss sustainable technologies over a pint of cider and a hog roast. Where the declaration that you were, in fact, an immortal being briefly inhabiting a Hawaiian-shirted human form while you waited for the next stage of reality to kick into gear would be met with an interested smile and the invitation to speak on, rather than a nervous laugh and immediate referral to the nearest brain hospital. A kaleidoscopic melange of multicoloured tents, elegant yurts, lovingly-crafted stages, carved mushrooms, looming sculpted dragons, cosy cafés, one hundred per cent ecologically-friendly power supplies, mind-expanding ideas and good-spirited folk from all over the world.
In short, Sunrise Celebration could be safely classified as a Good Place To Be.
This is one festivalgoer’s story of Sunrise Celebration 2012. It would be ridiculous to suggest that it is the story of Sunrise Celebration 2012, for there is not just one story of Sunrise Celebration 2012 but hundreds, thousands, possibly gazillions. Sunrise Celebration is simply the place where all such stories intersect, reacting and exploding and complimenting, introducing new colours, mimbling off on tangents, augmenting and re-wiring and occasionally doing rude but thoroughly enjoyable things to one another and spawning hundreds, thousands, possibly gazillions more stories. It was fitting, therefore, that this year’s theme was Once Upon A Story.
Let’s begin ours, shall we?
Unfortunately, this particular story does begin on a somewhat downbeat note, for which I, the humble festivalgoer and semi-reliable narrator, profusely apologise, because it is mostly down to my continued inability to put rain into perspective (it’s also down to rain, but one can’t really blame the rain, which is precisely what makes rain so irritating). Sunrise 2012 was taking place in the midst of a British summer which could charitably be described as really bloody wet, and it seemed an insult to the very principles of fun that the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the week preceding the festival were warm, sunny and delightful, and the Thursday - when I set off for my favourite field in Somerset – had manfully grasped hold of the really bloody wet theme and ran with it. All the way to the festival we watched the sky, our hearts leaping whenever we saw a cloud that was a slightly less grey shade of grey than the other clouds, hoping that, somehow, the prevailing weather systems would somehow bypass the Bruton area.
Then we got there, and oh, t’was wet. And we pitched our tent in the rain, and made multiple trips to and from the car in the rain (tramping through an already spectacular level of mud), and eventually found ourselves sitting in our tent, with darkness falling over the festival, listening to the persistent ratty scratch of the rain, and did we enter into the correct festival spirit? Did we say ‘BOLLOCKS TO THE RAIN’, strap on our boots and waterproof trousers, leap into the fray and start having a truly excellent and bodacious time? Did we do what we should have done?
No. We went to sleep, hoping it would be nicer on Friday. A waste, yes. A tragedy and a travesty, yes. An absolutely pathetic show from someone who considers themselves a fairly enthusiastic festivalgoer, and for whom Sunrise Celebration is a highlight of my year that occupies the same rarefied level as Christmas, yes, and certainly not what one would expect from a festivalgoer who has successfully navigated the brown lakes of Glastonbury, and who was present as Sheep Music 2007 was lashed by a month’s worth of rainfall in four hours, leaving a devastated site behind.
What can I say? I was out of practice. And I can be a bit of a wimp.
But let us gloss over that, and skip forward in time to Friday morning, when myself and my companion finally kicked our arses into gear and decided to get kitted out, leave the tent and head to the site that had been so beautifully prepared for our enjoyment, and that we had so callously and selfishly not made the most of, because we were worried about getting a bit wet. The mud had well and truly set in. The main field was a quagmire. The skies were still grey. But it wasn’t raining, and the festivalgoers were in their bright clothes, and there was music playing and bunting a-flapping, and doughnuts and coffee to be eaten, and strangers to smile at, and very quickly that magical Sunrise energy started to trickle into our brains and our blood, re-vitalising and energising us, sweeping out the cobwebs, dispelling any lingering doubts or negativity and well and truly convincing us that rain mattered not, mud was but a triviality, and this was going to be A Seriously Stonking Weekend.
Which it was. Of course.
Umbrellas in hand, and with my new red top hat perched jauntily upon my head, we wandered to the familiar spiky dinosaur humps of the Chai Wallahs tent to catch our first act of the weekend: the delightful Cate Ferris, who played a bewitching set of alternately wistful and stomping folk, making skilled use of a loop pedal and a bewildering array of instruments. It was the perfect springboard to launch us into Friday, and the rest of the day unrolled in a blur of cider, brief splashes of sunshine, world famous chickpea curries, stalls selling all manner of hats, jewels, trinkets, wotsits, thingies and other bits and bobs and - of course - music.
Later, after a propulsive set by the Warsaw Village Band, we were joined by a group of rapscallion friends, who came tumbling through the sticky, sloshy, splattery mud in their wellies and fluorescent trousers, bearing keen smiles and plenty of booze, and bolstered by their presence we took another running leap into the festivities. We made scrunched-up bass faces to some “propah bangin'” psybreaks in the Portal to the Immortal, a dome hung with psychedelic art of such complexity that the more trippily-minded might have got lost in its endless depths. We threw shapes to “utterly badass” glitch hop in the chai-scented Eartheart. We skanked to a typically brilliant set by Dizraeli and the Small Gods, who wowed us with the twin delights of none-more-apt lyrics ('it doesn't matter what you look like, all that matters is you dance, 'cos it's a very, very short life' – a perfect slogan for the festival, and one I look forward to every year) and a female beatboxer whose lack of an Adam's apple was no barrier to making some truly stomach-churning bass noises. We made gangsta hand gestures to DJ Parker, linked arms and attempted to Morris dance to the Ariya Astrobeat Arkestra, managed not to face plant in the increasingly gloopy mud, stumbled through the door of a wonkily-parked TARDIS for a spot of grooving in the fabulous Ghetto Funk Nightclub – whose constant stream of turbo-charged bass, heel-clicking breaks and remixed classics was a highlight of the weekend – and finally headed back towards our tent, ready to drop. On the way, we met a steward called Gem with a pink octopus on her head, who was doing a valiant job of guarding the campsite from intruders, and was suitably jealous of our “spangly” press wristbands (hers was disappointingly un-spangly). Promising to have a word with the relevant authorities, we stumbled back to our tent and tumbled in.
Well. We didn't exactly tumble in. First of all we performed what is known in festival world as “the dance of trying to get all your muddy gear off without a) getting your hands too muddy, b) getting your feet wet and c) getting mud all over the inside of your tent”. And then we went to sleep.
Saturday rolled into view, and after a slap-up breakfast of fresh burgers, doughnuts and more cider, we returned to the important business of randomly meandering, mimbling and bimbling from here to there and back again, bumping into much-missed friends, sampling delicacies from various eateries, shouting (entirely good-naturedly, of course) and generally inhaling a joyous atmosphere unrivalled anywhere on the planet (hyperbole, you might cry. You've obviously never been, I might well reply). As we rampaged from one end of the site to the other, we rubbed shoulders with pirates, spacemen, mermaids, cowboys, secret agents, PVC-clad dominatrixes (a surprisingly family-friendly breed), Jedi masters, superheroes, reprobates, scallywags, a mountain man called Joe with a tame crow pecking at his wild hair, and a plethora of similarly merry types, some engaging in stompsome fun, some preaching the gospel of sustainability, permaculture and community, and some burbling unintelligibly, but all making the best possible effort to form an inclusive, loving bubble in which we could all pursue whatever pursuits we felt like pursuing. What a magical thing to be a part of, I hear you say. Oh ho ho ho yes, I answer. See you next year, I add.
Our musical shenanigans began comparatively late this particular afternoon, but when they did begin, they began with what can only be described as a bang-bang-ker-pow-chicka-chicka-wacka-wacka-bow-wow. I refer to the exemplary turntable skills of DJ Switch, whose flawless set of mashed-up electro swing, hip-hop, dubstep, wobble and whomp, laced together with fearsome scratching and samples galore, drove one of our party into such a frenzy that it seemed nothing could ever live up to it ever again. He even ran to the front at the end of the set to give the grinning DJ a hug. 'I want to marry him!' my friend yelled.
One hopes that they will be very happy together.
Sadly, due to a severe weather warning, the Carnival Stage had to be shut down for the Saturday evening, meaning that some of the headline acts couldn't play, and others had to be shuttled around to different venues. And once again, down came the rain, and we ended up retreating into the packed, sweaty but very community-spirited bosom of the Chai Wallahs tent, where we enjoyed an anthemic set by Bristol reggae collective Laid Blak, made a new friend who looked somewhat like a young cartoon version of Alan Partridge, and supped on some full-bodied local ales. Then, to our surprise, one of our party said that there were some talks that he simply could not miss, and hurried off. We all agreed that we admired his dedication to learning, and that we all liked the idea of sitting and listening to a discussion on the geopolitical ramifications of the upcoming Olympics, and that we definitely approved of the opportunity being there for those who wanted to take it, but that when it came down to it, running around in the mud and raving until we could no longer stand up was what we really wanted to do.
And if there was one thing we'd all learned from years of festivalgoing, it was that you must always do what you want to do at a festival, not what you feel like you ought to do.
So, turning our defiant backs on the heavy rain, we lost our minds to the electro-carnival knees-uppery of Slamboree, briefly turned into cartoons listening to a DJ spin intricate, violin-driven gypsy music of such speed that it was more a matter of trying to keep up than dancing, enjoyed a fantastic audio-visual routine by DJ Cheeba (nothing like exploding heads and clips from Human Traffic to spice up a DJ set), wobbled back through the TARDIS doors for more booty-shaking ghetto funk goodness, shared sweet mango cocktails and rude rhymes and were taken by surprise when we emerged from the Eartheart (slightly unsure of how we'd ended up there in the first place) to see a very definite lightness creeping across the sky. It seemed that bedtime was once again nigh...
Though not before we made the acquaintance of a rather interesting wizard of words, or possibly a Timelord-in-training - a bearded and enjoyably garrulous young fellow who identified himself as Curly Alex. It was one of those meetings where sparks of inspiration instantly fly back and forth, and we wandered up to the Stone Circle as morning broke over the festival, he and I duelling first with words and then with umbrellas, exchanging witticisms and counter-witticisms and playfully attempting to out-manoeuvre one another until eventually, satisfied that each had met his match, we shook hands and agreed that one day we would meet again, and tell stories together.
Unfortunately, I'd been so busy being incredibly clever that I'd forgotten to take down his contact details. If said wizard of words happens to read this tale, please do get in touch, for I am confident that you would make an excellent partner in crime.
Sunday came very suddenly, bringing with it mixed emotions. We were sad that the weekend was already approaching its end, of course, but also delighted to wake up to blue sky, bright sunshine and not even a remote chance of rain, and we vowed to make the absolute most of this final, most precious of days. To that end, we got breakfast out of the way quickly and cracked on with the most ancient and noble pursuits of drinking, dancing and talking absolute codswallop in silly voices. We belatedly made the acquaintance of our campsite neighbours, who regailed us with the story of their Saturday, wandering from tent to tent in the rain, hoping to find the Undercover Hippy, who they were sure had played the previous day. ‘All we had was this umbrella!’ they cried, pointing to a pretty poor excuse for an umbrella that lay abandoned and wretched in the grass. ‘This pathetic flannel! The Fucked Capacitor, trying to find our way back to yesterday…’ Unfortunately this entertaining diversion was about as much sense as we could get out of them, so we continued with our afternoon.
Which consisted of… deep breath… the rip-roarin’ Seasick Steve-isms of John Fairhurst. The whomping psy of Monk3ylogic. The four hours (yes, count them!) of “dutty-as-ya-like” garage, grime, bashment, funky, techno, dubstep and house from theBRSS (yes, that is how you spell it). The body-grooving African rhythms of Mankala. The pure patchwork party flavours of The Asbo Disco. The epic facepalm of missing gypsy nutcases Sheelanagig FOR THE SECOND BLOODY YEAR RUNNING. Sneakily giving Lisa (we think) the lovely steward a beer to enjoy at the hard-earned end of her shift. And, of course, enough earnest, ludicrously enthusiastic loved-up conversations to make a cynical person dive head-first into the mud to escape the happy vibes. AND THERE MAY SUCH CYNICAL PEOPLE REMAIN, PLEASE.
And then, all too soon, it was five in the morning, and the final notes of psy trance had faded into a general chorus of merrily munted voices and sloppy stumbling, and our little band of much-loved friends, some old and some new, found ourselves standing around a small fire outside one of the very few venues still keen enough to accommodate us, sipping at the rum and lemonade that was our final supply of communal rocket fuel, watching the impossibly, gob-smackingly vibrant pink and gold tentacles of sunrise start to creep across the sky, and we laughed and we sang and we recited poems, and we declared ourselves kings and queens of the festival, of the very sky – what the hell, of the universe – and I asked our gracious hosts if they could play the opening theme from Star Wars to complete the epic atmosphere, and they apologetically declined, so we used the very last 10 per cent of someone’s phone battery to listen to part of our friend’s African techno mix, which wasn't quite John Williams but did the job nicely, and the sun rose further, bathing the festival and making even the mud seem oddly beautiful, and then the sun disappeared into some fog, which is a pretty normal occurrence but felt pretty weird to us – ‘it’s 2012!’ said one of our number, in the tones of one relating an ominous prophecy, ‘everything’s changing!’ – and after a while we bumbled up to the stone circle to be among the other mad hatters, singing The Beatles’ Because in what seemed like perfect harmony but possibly wasn’t – a memory that we agreed would stay with us forever – and we gathered to read the extremely entertaining and deeply mystical story behind Sunrise’s stone circle – which is definitely worth checking out – and were approached by a medic saying that a man had convinced himself that he was God, and did we by any chance know of an interdimensional wizard on site, as he was apparently the only individual that could possibly talk this man down, and we said ‘yes, yes, his name is Ian Moore!’ and we lounged back against the stones, minds somewhat blown, but glad that the wizard had figured in our Sunrise story again, however briefly and tangentially, and then after a while we retired to the Small World tent to listen to The Last People On-Site With A Guitar (possibly), and to balance cups on one anothers’ heads, and watch amusing dance-offs, and a spot-on impression of a slug by one of our creakier companions, and truly a more epic morning has rarely – possibly never – been had, and so mountainous was its monumentalness that it has required an extremely long sentence and some made-up words to even begin to communicate said monumentalness, and if we could have stayed up forever we would have, but of course bed calls to us all in the end, and we did have a smidgeon (a nano-particle? A wee quantum flake?) of common sense left… ish…
Which seems a fitting place for this particular story to end. Of course, I could continue, and tell you of taking down our tent, dragging our stuff back to the car and negotiating our way out of the car park field, but honestly, who cares? T’would just be depressing. Far better to end on the brief, shining moment when we truly were (in the least egomaniacal way imaginable) kings and queens of the universe. When all that was bad in the world vanished away, and all that was left was the pure, unfiltered, giddy joy of being alive and surrounded by friends (and being monumentally, cataclysmically, cosmically trolleyed). When we were at Sunrise Celebration.
And they all lived happily ever after, and looked forward to next year...
Many thanks to Sunrise Celebration and Mark Falmouth for the pictures!