Shambala Diaries

So, I have triumphantly returned from my second annual outing to Shambala Festival, something which is likely to remain a yearly tradition for a long, long time. Shambala is the first festival I’ve ever attended more than once, owing to my ongoing maxim of attending at least one new festival each summer (Boom Bap saw to that), so I had to wonder what it would be like. Last year I went to work as bar staff for Electric Swing Circus’s Swingamajig tent, I came away fairly convinced that it was the best festival I’d ever been to. The music was varied, the stages were interesting, the people were relentlessly lovely and the vibe was beautifully malleable. What I mean by that is that Shambala is what you make it, whether you want to chill, go absolutely ballistic or anything in between, you’ll feel welcome and well catered for. So how did it feel going again? Different, but just as fantastic.

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Once again I was managing the bar for ESC, as well as chipping in with all the putting up and packing down either side of the weekend. It was a very weird sensation arriving the day before the festival starting to discover that it looked almost exactly the same, it was like visiting family. This year we had a bigger tent, a better sound system, more decor supplies and less manpower (which is actually a good thing, somewhat oversubscribed last year). I tend to enjoy the first building day more than you might expect, considering how labor-intensive it is, it makes a nice contrast with the rest of the festival, since the site is populated exclusively by workers buzzing up and down the grounds and everyone is (more or less) sober. It allows a relaxed buffer zone to get acquainted with the new faces and get a feel for your surroundings. Unfortunately one thing that became quickly evident was the unseasonable and rather alarming cold, I spent the first night cocooned in my sleeping back wearing 3 layers of clothing, shaking like a leaf.

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The Swingamajig tent is designed with a speakeasy in mind, largely playing electr0-swing music, serving cocktails (after a fashion) and filled with vintage trappings. It’s a really nice place to be and being able to access it during the day before it opens made it a perfect haven when you wanted to relax. At any other festival that would likely involve crawling dejectedly back into your tent. Once everything came together I suited up and got my first shift out of the way, working from 6:30 until about 01:30. I liked doing it last year but this time around it was even better, the atmosphere was friendlier, the presence of traditionally prepared absinthe made drink prep more interesting and we weren’t so over-encumbered with staff, the bar never had more than 4 or 5 people behind it at once, which was ideal. Since we were one of the only places open late it packed out and we were all running around like maniacs to serve everyone. By the end of my shift I was fairly exhausted, but still game for at least a few hours of partying. As it turned out an old friend from university was there, working at a food stall. I hadn’t seen her in about 3 years so we were keen to have a catch-up. We ended up running around the site wasted out of our minds until the wee hours, before heading back to my tent to get more beer. At that point we actually ended up having very clumsy, inebriated sex. It wasn’t wholly unexpected, we’d had a few encounters during university but none that had gone that far, but there were no strings attached, just two people who were attracted to each other having a bit of fun, naked fun.

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Things kicked off properly on Friday, I was working another long shift so I spent the former part of the day checking out the site again, now that it was up and running. I hadn’t been able to catch any acts the previous night (apart from the first 15 minutes or so of Kate Tempest) so I was keen to really get stuck in. Like I said it was much the same as last year, nestled in beautiful mansion grounds, littered with interesting stages and stalls. The secret stages like Shambarber and Beyond the Stars (which you have to go through a TARDIS and a mirrored tunnel to access) remained the same but the reggae ‘Roots Yard’ had been given a major step up, resembling a timber fortress with a courtyard and indoor stage area. Post-shift I actually spent most of the night there, logging time with my cousin and her friends, on a potent MDMA-rampage. Friday was the only full-on all-nighter that I managed, ultimately ending up at a lakeside area with oversized driftwood furniture, one article of which I managed to smash my shin into. I was so blasted at the time I didn’t even feel it but let me tell you, I feel it now.

Saturday was my day off and as such I went all-out, day-tripping and drinking in as many acts as I could, ranging from The Mouse Outfit to Gentleman’s Dub Club to Andy C. Tripping at festivals (particularly on something as potent as shrooms) is kind of a double edged sword. On one hand your surroundings are perfect for it, I walked through the site whilst the sun was setting and later in the evening I went up to the Hidden Forest area and climbed a tree which offered a full view of the festival at the top. Both would have been stunning anyway but with the added visual stimulation it was on a whole new level. The difficulty with it is that it doesn’t necessarily benefit socializing so well, midway through the night I reached a sort of fever-pitch where all I could really do was sit and observe my surroundings, unable to muster anything amounting to an engaging conversation. Even with this in mind, it was a great night.

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Sunday was a funny one, I wasn’t working until midnight and everyone else was fairly occupied during the day, so there was a lot of drifting around. The funny thing about Shambala is that my core friends don’t go, my two cousins and one or two close friends are there but they run in a wider circle that I’m sort of peripheral to. That doesn’t necessarily bother me but it puts an interesting spin on the social side of things, I’m always meeting new people and trying to rally groups together to go and see things (or being rallied). I’m rarely with the same set of people for too long. I spent most of the earlier day bouncing back and forth in this way, I went to see Lack of Afro with some of the technical crew, Collie Buds with Richard (ie C@ in the H@) and the fireworks display with my cousin (as well as another reggae group whom I’m ashamed to admit I can’t remember the name of). The bar shift actually ended up being the most fun part of the night, there was a palpable energy in the tent, I’m also pretty sure I’ve never been quite so wasted during bar work, owing to the drink-along-bar-tending technique, a rather generous man who kept offering the staff free balloons and ducking out for occasional hit of speed. It didn’t diminish my focus and everyone else was the same, just loving life. When we finally kicked out at around 5:30 we poured a celebratory absinthe and toasted an amazing weekend. I crawled back into my tent at 9am, slept for about an hour and a half, crawled back out and went off to pack everything down. One horrendous maelstrom of delayed/cancelled trains, heavy rain and overwhelming tiredness later the glitter coated, limping, half-dead husk that had once been me fell into bed.

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Shambala is utterly unique from my perspective. Other festivals kind of blend together in certain ways but Shambala retains a much stronger identity. It’s the perfect size, has a fantastic crowd and I love the people I see there, many of whom I see virtually nowhere else. It’s more than a music festival, it’s a summer rite of passage, that holiday that you always took with old friends, that beach you always visited, that pub you always went back to and ordered the same meal and drink. Seeing it again felt like seeing a second home. It just feels ceaselessly inviting and open, you could sit down and engage anyone and find a new friend, sure you get the same smattering of exaggerated wasters, thieves and those unsettlingly creepy people who go by themselves and spend the whole time floating around trying to pull and score free drugs, but it’s a negligible minority compared to somewhere like Boomtown. I adore it and I can’t see any version of the future that doesn’t have me going every year until I’m old as balls.

Weekly Poem #68

Reflection Rejection

 

Somewhere down the line dancing got sadder

As the beats sped up we lost our grip on the ladder

And now we shiver back and forth, bitten by an adder.

We’re all twitching and itching like we’re on a full bladder.

I could be madder, but the rave has sucked shades

From my name and face and I can’t fervently fight the fade

Or fake a smile when my brain is stained with ingrained

Disdain and strain, it wanes, wilts until it spills

Out of my gills like the ink I didn’t mean to knock over with the quill.

I’m ill, I’m ailing and I can hear my innards complaining

A pain that was ordained by a diet of shame

Force fed to me by flashing lights and endless nights

That would even grip Marguerite Chopin too tight,

It’s a blight to indulge into these artificial delights

Until age bites and burns and shatters and spurns

As it finally takes its turn to help you learn.

You can lie through you mouth and eyes but not your bones

And goodness knows that entropy takes what it’s owed.

Time flows, grows and tiptoes up your spine

With designs to start making your climb

Ever higher hills that can’t be cured with booze and pills

Or any other cheap thrill that might flush your frills

Because you’ve had your fill, you’re done,

You’ve had your fun and now you’re searching for the sun

At the tip of a this final tongue, this real-life Logan’s Run

Have you won? Find out, peer over the precipice

And measure it as you gaze back on the line you stitched,

Did you pleasure it, leisure it? You better have treasured it

Because it was a mountain from the bottom, from the top it’s a pit.

Jump.

Weekly Poem #66

Colder Shoulder

 

Am I a genius? I’ve written more symphonies than Mozart

More tales than Chaucer and more memoirs than Seyssel

But no note has found string and no word has found paper.

My mind is thick with pulsating vines of nervous trees

But my mind is mine, I do not share it.

 

I bundle it off out onto the icy shelf and let it expand

While I perch motionless, letting my body take care of the primal,

The primitive, the instinctive. The mind the genius, body the hunter.

I’ve no patience for the others, I keep them feed on fish

While I dine on solitude, they let me be.

 

I’d always assumed it was fear, but it might well have been respect.

Some presumption of a deep-running understanding of the way of things,

Some aura emanating from my silent, diligent instrumentality.

Because when that thing came crashing out from under the ice

They sent me to deal with it.

 

Imagine that? The lowly fisherman sent to slay the vicious monster,

Armed with only a spear and a club, meant for execution, not combat.

You don’t slay a dragon with a guillotine, do you?

I doubt that ever entered into their consideration,

Fear makes you stupid.

 

Fear can also keep you quick, keep you alert and keep you alive

And I was overflowing with it when I followed those heavy, angular tracks

Out past the furthest limits of our known territory to find it.

I didn’t even know what I was looking for,

Theseus was blind and he had no string.

 

Soon enough though it found me, ice offers no clarity but the water beneath is light as air.

Crystal as the pair of eyes I saw staring back across the frozen ocean,

Framed in skin of perfect marble, an edged, angular shell

Coating a 15 foot frame of four arms, two legs and a fluke

Which dragged heavily across the frosty floor.

 

Thick, heavy hands that hung past a heaving, harsh heart-case

And a skull that splayed out past the eyes like an ancient headdress,

But I never saw beyond the eyes, gently gleaming in the perpetual light

And helping me to understand why I, of all of them, should have come.

The solitary, ghostly fisherman.

 

This creature was no threat, no pest, it was nothing to us because we were nothing to it

It had no concern with beings so young and naive, the synaptic gleam of its eyes

Told me everything, told me that we were the same.

This great, marvelous beast was a stranger among humans.

Just like me.

Weekly Poem #52

Dance Dinosaur

 

The new world is weird and scary.

Scuttled with soft legged settlers,

Numbed, encumbered conquistadores

And marsh-mouthed mayflowers.

There’s no room in the clubs anymore,

Scene-stealers nestle into ever corner,

Throbbing to some corrupted belch

Of a shadow of a shade of an extinct joy.

I never thought I’d have to relent

For a seasoned hand on a turntable.

But now the table is a sterile cyborg

And the hand leads to a smirk and a shaved temple.

I don’t remember ever asking

For music to become filthy.

I don’t remember ever asking

For dancing to incur osteopathy.

I don’t remember ever asking

For my world to get blasted backwards

Into a dust filled chest in a museum archive.

So I sit, I sip my straight, uncorrupted whiskey

And I refuse, I protest the debasing of bass,

Shrinking into the ranks of the old,

Fading into the realm of the grumpy

And feeling all the wiser for it.

Fuck the new world.

A Historical Day in Music

Today (February 10th) is a very significant day in music, more significant than people might realise. On this day eight years ago we lost possibly the great producer in hip-hip and definitely one of the great musical innovators of our time: James Dewitt Yancey aka J Dilla. A vinyl collector almost from the very beginning of his life, Yancey first starting making music with friends T3 and Baatin in the group Slum Village, at which stage he was beat-making using only a basic tape deck. He spent a lot of time alone and hoarded masses of records and tapes in his basement as he built a level of musical understanding that only a handful of musicians can relate to. By the time Slum Village’s first release: Fan-Ta-Stic (volume 1) dropped, he had a home studio set up. Outside of the group he cultivated an intimidating reputation as a producer, working with The Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest, Common, Busta Rhymes, MF Doom and others. Further down the line he branched out as a solo act releasing instrumental LPs like the magnificent Donuts and collaborating with other heavyweights like Madlib.

It wasn’t his extensive output or his famous friends that made Dilla the titan that he was though, his music helped to define hip-hop and his style was utterly unique. His music was conversational, inventive and wonderfully bizarre, a lot of hip-hop is safe, just a skeleton to build rhymes over, but Dilla’s music was never simplistic, it was challenging and changing and intelligently built. He’s been compared to Thelonius Monk before and I think that’s very apt. Unusual meters, wavering, off-kilter beats, there was a delightful oddness to Dilla’s beats, it’s very fitting that many jazz musicians currently working like Robert Glasper cite him as a key influence. Dilla understood music in much the same way as a jazz musician.

Later in his career it was publicly released that Dilla suffered from a rare blood disease and from 2004 onwards it began to sap his strength. He still played shows and had tremendous fan support, not least from DJ Deckstarr when he opened for him in 2005 wearing a shirt with ‘J Dilla Changed My Life’ written on the front, replica shirts are now highly sought after. On this day in 2006 Dilla succumbed to his disease, Donuts had been released a few days before on his 32nd birthday and another album which had been almost done at the time of his death, The Shining, was released in August of that year. Had he lived he would have been 40 last Friday, as would have fellow hip-hop innovator: Nujabes. I truly believe that J Dilla deserves recognition in the same light as Joe Zawinul, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Chet Baker and indeed Thelonius Monk, the man was a genius who took hip-hop to new heights and helped it become what it is today, check his music out if you haven’t already but be warned: Dilla’s music isn’t just for listening, you find yourself analysing it, picking it apart and finding so much beauty looking back at you. Happy birthday James, RIP.

Weekly Poem #48

Penultimate

 

The final night was a write off; I’d have to spend it in hibernation.

No food or drink past eleven, they said.

Seemed like critical information.

So the night before the night before I hurled myself into the evening.

Took the Victoria line from Seven Sisters

With my first beer, quietly teething.

At Kings Cross I changed and took the Northern up to Camden.

I homed in on pregnant weekend pulses

And found some understanding.

Sparingly, I tucked my last sliver of crystals under my lips

And then smiled my way through flickering lights,

Sweat and gyrating hips.

Some deeper longing burned inside to tell my touching story.

But I clenched my jaw, bit my tongue

And claimed to be hunky-dory.

Before long I’d laughed and hugged my way into a familiar social group.

Forging deep friendships with kindly strangers

That would expire like a glass shoe.

We carried on until 5am and then struggled out into the dawn

Past headlight solar flares in morning mist

And light glimmering from modest lawns.

At a house party in harmonious Gospel Oak, a pretty girl came and beckoned.

I guided her in for kiss with one hand

And pushed her back with the second.

Morning became midday became afternoon and I felt the decay of my reprieve.

I felt the tugging ties of sterile promises

And I didn’t want to leave.

I don’t want to leave.

I Did a Song! Jupiter, I Did a Song! You Ain’t Got One!

I feel sick… Anyway, I’ve been making better use of my free time of late. I got a midi controller last year and hadn’t really been making particularly good use of it. I made one track on Ableton a while ago but every attempt to return to it resulted in me getting irritated with the interface and giving up. For one reason or another the desire to create struck earlier this week and I decided to get Logic Pro and try that out. In short, I got on a lot better with it, largely because the layout is very similar to Final Cut Pro, a piece of software I’m very familiar with. I think it helps my mental processing a lot to be able to visually isolate each clip and see them all on a rolling timeline. The first thing I tried to do was construct a beat, but I was using some odd one shot samples that needed a lot of filtration and it was all a little too deep-end, so I decided to use some drum loops instead just to start off with. I threw together a nice 130 house beat, got some effects into the mix and then laid down a pretty basic D-major chord progression and here you have it, the result:

I’m rather taken with it, I really like the synth preset that I used and I think it’s got a nice flow to it, any feedback is of course appreciated, I’m learning as I go. I’m finding producing to be quite a stimulating passtime, now that I’ve found a program I can really sink my teeth into. Before this bass guitar and a smattering of piano were my only real musical outlets creatively speaking, I enjoy both but struggle to find the motivation. I can’t read music so I usually learn by ear, sometimes using tabs but I find that building a tune from the ground up fits my perspective a lot better, being that writing is my flagship talent. I don’t have any intention of pursuing it as anything beyond a hobby, but I definitely got a lot more satisfaction out of it than any other hobbies I’ve tried to get into recently. Expect to see more tunes on here as time goes by.

Cultured Vultures

I briefly mentioned in my last update that I’d started writing for a culture website and embedded a link, but I figured it’d probably be worth shedding some more light on the subject. The Cultured Vultures is a site that was started by Jimmy Donnellan as a means of helping aspiring writings get their work out there amongst the masses and it’s kind of taken off in the past few months. It started out as a simple wordpress page and has since branched out in its own domain. There are around a dozen contributors at present and I recently got assigned as the head of the television reviews section, following a few articles I did about old TV shows and Netflix. The site’s popularity is steadily rising week by week and new content is always flowing in. What I love about it is that everyone who writes for the Vultures is doing it because they love to write, there’s certainly an element of forward thinking in it and having an online writing credit on your CV can’t hurt but it goes further than that. Far from simply pertaining to TV, film, game and music reviews however the site also branches out into news articles, poetry, short stories and serial fiction, with scope for so much more. With that in mind, if you are an aspiring writer of any kind or even a musician, film-maker or artist and you think you could provide a strong weekly or bi-weekly output that you should sign up. Just go to the link at the bottom of this post and contact us about whatever it is you want to contribute, all are welcome and if you already have a piece of work that you think would be fit for the site, so much the better.

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Life Update 2014

I’m bringing the blogging world up to date on my life for two reasons: firstly to account for my recent relative inactivity on here (poetry aside) and also just because I want to. As far as the former is concerned, I’ve actually started doing a lot of writing work for a culture and media website, which you can find here, so most of my new work has been devoted to that. The bad news with that is that you’ll be seeing a lot less journalistic work on this blog, the good news is that I’ll have to get more creative with my output to account for the rift. So anyway, what’s been going on eh?

Last time I checked in, about six months ago, I was getting things ready for starting my creative writing masters in Birmingham, was in a new relationship and was still working at a nearby pub. Thankfully I quit my job at that particular establishment back in August (just in time as it would appear, they had a health inspection about 3 weeks after I left and got 1 star) but unfortunately the aforementioned relationship ended up being rather short-lived and the masters hasn’t worked out exactly as I had planned. Relationship first: I met Lauren in Cardiff after going there to visit friends following some time spent in B’ham scoping out my new uni, it started out as a one-night stand but we ended up seeing each other every day after that until I left for home, at which point we decided that it was too good of a thing to pass-up because of distance. In the end we didn’t even last 2 months, because of the distance. Maintaining a relationship with a 300 mile gap when you’re as busy as we both were just isn’t going to fly, but hey we gave it a shot. More disconcertingly, I ended up having to defer my masters until September 2014.

I am, admittedly, partially to blame for that. I’d saved a fairly substantial amount of money from my awful job and I had a lot lined up during the summer and I didn’t want to commit to a job in Birmingham too early and thereby hinder it. I was trying to have my cake and eat it. I’m not sure that I regret that, I had a fantastic summer, Italy, Boomtown, Shambala, Cornwall, all wonderful experiences well worth having. Following all that I actually managed to line up a trial shift and an interview but in the former I was just being used for a day’s cheap labor and in the latter I wasn’t told that it was a zero hour contract until moments before my first shift, which is pretty fucking underhanded but cie la vie. So what did I do then? Kinda kept on partying for a while, I went to a one-day electronic music festival in Bristol called Tokyo Dub, at which I first hooked up with Tara, who is now my girlfriend of two months and our converging tastes in music have taken us to numerous gigs all over London, so that’s eaten up a fair amount of my time. I also had the pleasure of attending an NFL game in Wembley, which was fantastic, I have a season ticket for next year (I also played fantasy football for the first time this season, ended up coming 5th of 10, next year shall be different). So in effect I basically extended my summer mischief into the autumn and winter, branched out with my writing some more and spent far too much money, so now I’m back into serious mode. I have 9 months to find a job, a room to rent and settle in a new city, I am more motivated, more pragmatic and have a lot more time. I’m taking this year very, very seriously. People say that every year and I’m no exception but with everything that’s been going on with my life, I can’t not start taking a more serious approach, I owe it myself, I owe to my family and I owe it to Tara, who has plenty on her plate at the moment too. I refuse to be a deadbeat boyfriend, a deadbeat son or just a deadbeat.

So that about covers it really, I have no plans to do any kind 2013 wrap-up as such, but in a nutshell:

Films:

Gravity

Pacific Rim

The World’s End

The Hobbit

Star Trek: Into Darkness

Stoker

 

Games:

Bioshock Infinite

The Last of Us

Papers, Please

DayZ

GTA V

Ni No Kuni

 

Albums:

The Mouse Outfit: Escape Music

Zomby: With Love

Congo Natty: Jungle Revolution

Atoms for Peace: Amok

R.A. The Rugged Man: Legends Never Die

Czarface: Czarface

Nine Inch Nails: Hesitation Marks

Calibre: Still

Thundercat: Apocalypse

Machinedrum: Vapor City

Boards of Canada: Tomorrow’s Harvest

FaltyDL: Hardcourage

 

HAPPY 2014! Especially for all us Year of the Horse compadres, let’s make it a good one, not going to get another for 12 more years.

 

Weekly Poem #35

Superman

 

It’s easier than you might think to see the red of cape

Reflected in a tequila sunrise, easier by numbers.

The curved S straightened into a slender, wiry frame.

Superman, the toothy dancing king of fools,

The man who flew into his bedroom on a bed of hands

Before waving through the window and collapsing in a pool of vimto.

Unlikely to scoff at changing in phone booths,

Perhaps owing more to regular walks of shame

Than any other claim to fame.

 

The Kentish exterior remains, bespectacled, bookish and diligent

But by night weaving amongst scores of vagabonds by way of stripper pole,

Stage, floor, seat and dimly lit smoking area; vying for beats and bottles.

Sweeping the nearby inebriate off her feet with your kryptonian swagger

And using X-ray vision to determine what drink to bring back from the bar

Before casing the next club faster than a speeding bullet and clearing the casks.

Only a superhuman stomach could surely survive such punishment

But week after week our superman endures and at the strike of 4

He vanishes into the quilt of the unknown.

 

From a tequila sunrise to a true sunrise, so much more sobering and serious.

He wakes from his nightly crusade and cradles his bitter bruises and burning head

Before resuming his false identity by way of pseudonyms and false digits

And vanishes into the morning sun, wreathed in a trail of sickly regret.

How does he do it? We all wonder, we who simply wade into the numbing waters

Of the nightclub chain and wallow in the warmth of stacked speakers and sweat

While Superman surveys the dry ice dreamscape for a soul to sweep legless.

Yet while we wonder, there is no essence of envy nor likewise aspirations,

Because the life of a Superman isn’t the life of a happy man.

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