Oh God, it’s festival season again. All across the country, every scrap of available land is filling up with cheap tents, cheaper beer and toilets you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. It’s a curious way of getting back to nature – to transplant yourself from wherever you live to a site that is temporarily even more populous than your home town. But every year, without fail, hundreds of thousands of people do it. Without being forced. Jesus.
Although I live in a dirty big city, I grew up in the country side and have a natural aversion to being in close proximity to lots of people for very long. The idea of only having the walls of an Aldi supersaver 4 person tent between me and an increasingly muddy mass of humanity fills me with the sort of horror usually reserved for stuff like fighting in the trenches or dangling my bits over a hungry dog. I am not a festival person and I’m very bad at communal experiences.
Over the years though, festivals have altered their DNA a wee bit. Once the preserve of twiddly prog rockers with hollow eyes, they all seemed to go corporate in the early nineties and these days seem to be the natural holiday destination of middle-aged account managers and their mates. Whether this destroyed the spirit of peace, love, and livestock-worrying that was probably the reason festivals originally existed, I couldn’t care less. There’s probably less chance of bands being electrocuted in the ‘unexpected’ downpour of the average British summer than there once was so that’s a good thing at least. Well, maybe.
Few of those bands play the festivals any more. The passing of years and shifting tastes has seen to that and it seems that they have been replaced, in part, by our lot. It has become standard for any festival worth its salt to carry a dance tent between the cow sheds and where ever Blur are playing. The site of all your favourite disc jockeys holding sermon to a field full of disoriented youths is a pretty much accepted one now, and the chances are it’s all going to get bigger.
There were some groups, such as Spiral Tribe, who became associated early on with the festival scene, although their aims were probably rather different from that of many of the places they appeared at. Sound systems took a while to really get going, and although they soon seemed to prefer pitching up in random fields down south simply to piss everyone off, they laid down a precedent for dance music to be taken seriously by festivals.
Although such a thing as ‘festival techno’ probably existed nowhere outside of my own head, I always think of Eat Static that way. The funny thing is that whether or not they ever played a festival is irrelevant; created by two members of the English prog rock band Ozric Tentacles they actually embodied the traditional festival ethos far better than the vast majority of more traditional acts who were playing the circuit at the same time. Their early material shows infatuations with UFOs and hallucinogenics, and you quickly got the feeling they knew their way around a bottle of cider. It was the beginning of a short-lived era where crusty met kick drum and everything went weird.
For the music papers of the time, Eat Static were one of the few electronic bands they seemed to take to heart. Certainly, the first time I ever heard of them was in the pages of Melody Maker, and I suspect that they could give the journos something that wasn’t entirely outside of their experience, as a lot of dance music was. On the surface, Eat Statics preoccupations weren’t a world away from those of a lot of indy bands (the scruffier ones I mean, not your dipped in soap Britpop brigade). There was an agenda. An unspoken one for the most part, but something that the older scribes could get their heads around, seeing as it had probably been one they shared with the bands of their youths in the 70s, before they started pretending they had been punks all along.
Perhaps in keeping with their prog rock background Eat Static were a prolific album band, cranking out almost as many long players as 12″s. Tonight’s tune, Implant, comes from the 1994 album of the same name and is a good representation of their sound in general. A lot of the festival techno stuff quickly pushed off towards trance (and its terrifying Goan variant) but although Implant certainly contains more than a couple of nods to the chirpy 303 abuse that would later be a hallmark of that particular sound, it lightens it up with a good-natured nuttiness, gentleness even, that keeps its tongue in cheek and stops it from flying away after little green men. And although it is beginning to sound a bit of-its-time, it still has the capacity to put a smile on your face and get your feet moving. It’s like a private festival in your head. And that, to me, sounds like my kind of festival. I won’t even have to fall in the toilets.