Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rocket Festival, Alamaha de Granada

Excuse the dusty writing style, I thought I might flog this piece, but no joy

Some years ago many of the luminaries of Britain’s free festival scene decamped for Europe. Their reasoning was two-fold: practical, since the weather, which consistantly turns British festival gatherings into Somme-style endurances, is much better on the continent; but also practical, since the 1994 Criminal Justice Bill had given the police a new dynamism in combating the scourge of young people enjoying themselves. The continent promised more tolerance for the travelling free festival scene, and Spiral Tribe and others paraded their “teknival” around for western and central Europe for a good few years. For various reasons, however, that scene has not endured, but the spirit has had a huge impact on its adherents. And so it came about that a few years further down the line some of those same people should decide to set up a festival in the mould of Glastonbury in the dusty hills of Andalucia near Granada.

The three-day Rocket Festival began in 2005 and attempts, according to the website to be a “celebration of life and alternative culture. A meeting of minds for fun and music in a beautiful, rural and sun drenched site in the south of Spain.” Punters are promised “much more than just a concert … a three day celebration of life through music performance and art; a whirlwind weekend of delicious assaults on all the senses.” A fusion of the English festival energy with Spanish sensibilities and a chance to escape the breath-crushing rigmarole of the British licensing system.

So, for example, the line up ran through the night and into the morning. This was the first festival I’ve been to where it was possible to find out exactly who would be playing at 8.30 on Sunday morning on one of six or so different areas. The list of DJs and bands just carried on through the night, into the morning and on again into the afternoon. Of course, away from the main stage, the programme didn’t bear any resemblance to what was actually going on, but there really was no let up at the most of the stages between Friday afternoon and Monday morning.

Across the site were sculptures and installations, many built by Glastonbury favourites the Mutoid Waste Company, some of whom have decamped to Italy and who excelled themselves this time with their automated robot pole-dancing CCTV stormtroopers - which were even better than they sound. Elsewhere were billboards of graffiti art, a kids area with climbing nets that were swarming with kids, and a healing area featuring sincere-looking men sitting on blankets.

The line-up was patchy, but included nuggets of gold: Dalston heroes Bad Manners pitched up on Saturday night, Buster Bloodvessel and the boys solid but unspectacular. Mr Bloodvessel’s well reported illness has obviously taken its toll on his vitality, and he led proceedings more nonchalantly than one brought up on stories of his excesses might have expected. Turntablists JFB, alongside beatboxer Beardyman, took full advantage of a packed dance tent to show off their skills, and left the Nextmen, who played the next night, looking lacklustre. Coldcut blew away the main stage, and were the talk of the town for their live video-mixing show. From Spain there seemed at first to be quite a few angry rock bands but that was rectified when flamenco-blues band Los Delinquentes, and Barcelona-based Muchachito Bomo Infierno, with their bright, upbeat, modern rhumba, electrified the crowds. [Full disclosure: I didnt actually see Los Delinquentes and Muchachito Bomo, or Coldcut, because I was too busy tripping my bollocks off while looking after a terrified cuddly toy, but I was trying to appear professional]

The spectacular festival site, with a backdrop of epic Andalucian mountains, was compact, and it was possible to circle the whole site within ten minutes. It was doubtful whether the Spanish truly got the whole idea behind the festival. They didn’t turn up until late on Saturday and then left again sometime on Sunday morning, so the heaving main night was bookended by two of very thin crowds of English people milling around. But why should the Spanish, who are quite used to all night fiestas in the streets of their hometowns, want to lug themselves to a fenced off area in the middle of nowhere, pay good money and then camp in a dusty outcrop with a load of English people?

But thin though the crowd was, Sunday night did hold one golden moment: Zurrapa, a traditional but youthful flamenco group, took to the stage in the Cantina Galactica with a gang of fierce solo dancers and proceeded to show us jaded losers the all-too-rare sight of tradition safely treasured in the hands of the young.