I’m struggling to remember the last time I was invited out to perform an alucidnation gig in foreign climes… erm, possibly the ‘OceanBeat’ debacle in the Seychelles, back in 2009 – either way, it’s years ago.
So the news that I was going to be performing out in Hungary at the Ozora Festival was greeted with the typical mixture of excitement and apathy, as is my wont. The gig came about primarily due to a vague affiliation with the Liquid Sound Design record label and Robin Triskele, who not only label manages Youth’s LSD imprint, but also looked after the promotional responsibilities for my last LP.
I’m happy to impart that I knew nothing of Ozora; it was only after doing some sketchy internet digging that I found out with a vague feeling of trepidation that it was a psytrance festival.
Yeah, psytrance. I guess that when I signed to Interchill Records back in 2012, I was aware that they had a vague leaning to this much-maligned genre of music. For me, the definition of trance is what it says on the tin – music that places one into a trance-like state; albums such as ‘E2:E4′ by Manuel Gottsching, ‘Day of Radiance’ by Larajji – not necessarily beat driven works, but music with the emphasis firmly on incantation and hypnotic repetition and the vaguest suggestion of rhythm. These days, the term psytrance conjures up visions of laptop musicians, hunched over their midi controllers, looking serious, whilst delivering vaguely sinister chords against unrelenting, 150bpm + kick drums to an audience of predominantly white, dreadlocked hippies, hopping up and down on the spot in a frenzied, hypnotic state of total abandon. Or maybe that’s simply down to the brown acid.
Anyway, I believe that life should contain a healthy dose of pushing oneself outside of one’s comfort bubble and exploring boundaries without prejudice, so I wrote back to Bodoo, whose job it was to programme the Ambyss stage at Ozora with an affirmative reply – “yes, I’d love to perform, cheers!”
Ambyss sounded interesting and almost a festival within a festival. For a start, the stage was set a good way away from the main Ozora site, with a large lake to completely separate it. The soundsystem was holophonic and the music policy downtempo. Perfect for my material.
Communication between Bodoo and myself was cool, and I have to say that the organisation was some of the best I’ve experienced in the twenty plus years I’ve been performing at festivals. Flights were booked with minimal fuss, details arrived in my inbox, and they even agreed to provide me with accommodation in a small village away from the site, as I’d requested a bed; a tent wouldn’t be good for my historical back issues.
The date of the festival was fast approaching… Ozora asked me to supply a 1 hour DJ mix for their main website which was well received, and I busied myself in the meantime with any spare time I had to collate three CDs of new and as yet unreleased material in readiness for the gig. My artist page appeared on the rather nice-looking website, it was all-systems go!
I’d chosen to arrive at the festival on the Thursday, and leave on the Saturday morning, I was scheduled to perform on the Friday night, just before Gabriel Le Mar and Steve Hillage. A seriously nice slot – Gabriel was one of the founding members of The Saafi Brothers, and they’d released an album at the tail end of the nineties called ‘Mystic Cigarettes’, which was firmly on rotation back then on my decks. I suppose that album epitomises the original ‘trance’ genre for me, if you’re not familiar with it, it’s definitely worth a listen.
The day I was due to depart arrived, and as the plane ascended steeply out of Heathrow, I realized somewhat sheepishly that this was the actually the first time that I’d ever flown completely solo. Literally every other flight I’d ever boarded prior to this had been with either musician friends or my wife… this time I was truly alone and I was flying to a destination where I didn’t actually know anyone either to boot!
After two uneventful hours the plane decended gracefully into Budapest and I was struck how flat and lush the landscape was. Passport control was a breeze; although with Brexit looming at the time of my writing this, future travel to and from our European neighbours may prove more problematic.
Upon walking into the arrivals lounge, I searched for a placard with the name Ozora but couldn’t see anyone. Fortunately, I’d been provided with a contact number and after calling it, was greeted by my friendly driver who ushered me out onto the concourse and into a rather swish Mercedes Vito people carrier.
The journey to the Ozora site turned out to be around two hours. I was sharing the ride with a guy called Uli, an Israeli who was now resident in California. He recorded under the moniker ‘Perfect Stranger’, and is quite a big noise on the psytrance scene. There were another couple of German guys who were also well known; their flights had been delayed and they were due to play their gig as soon as they got onto site.
The journey passed in companionable silence and when we landed at Ozora we were ushered straight to VIP artists We were wrist banded, furnished with lanyards and food tokens, then transferred into another vehicle which took us straight to the Pumpui stage where the German guys were to perform. This was the first time where i felt a twinge of anxiety, as the volume levels and the BPM put me way outside of my comfort bubble. However, we weren’t there long, and then were headed to Nautilus, the artists area, which turned out to be a sanctuary of peace and quiet. Here, I was able to organize my cab to take me to my accommodation later, which turned out to be a small village approximately 20 kilometres away from site.
The organization at the festival was truly fantastic. I was informed that I would have about an hour’s wait, so perhaps I should wander over to the food area and sorted myself out with some grub? It was only after I’d filled my plate with vegetarian food and was walking towards a vacant table, I was aware of a voice calling my name; it was Bodoo [the Ambyss stage organiser] who was sitting with Thomas Fehlmann of Orb fame, whom I was delighted to learn was aware of my musical output. I had a pint of quite good IPA to accompany my food, and then it was time to get the cab to my accommodation.
The guy who commandeered my cab spoke no English, so when we arrived at a sleepy village in the dead of night, he transpired that he didn’t actually know where my accommodation was, so we spent a good half hour hunting around in total darkness trying to find the address. Once we‘d chanced upon the house I was unsure which room I was supposed to be staying in… so after a further 10 minutes or so of peering through darkened windows, I eventually found my room, which transpired was actually a walk through between a bedroom and the communal kitchen.
By this point I was pretty exhausted, and would have quite happily slept in a ditch. OK< so the mattress was pretty unforgiving, but I had a reaosnable night’s sleep and was awoken quite early by the sound of a dog barking in the adjacent room, followed shortly by whispers, and a couple sneaking past my slumbering frame on the way to the kitchen. There was little point in lying there attempting to get any more sleep, so I got up and met my neighbours, who were a lovely couple from Italy. Everyone sharing the house was affiliated with the festival in one way or another; they were kids entertainers. We were sharing the accommodation with an older black American woman who was doing performance poetry, and an English couple who were running breathwork and psychedelic sessions. These two engaged in noisy sex on both nights I was there. They were in their 70s.
The Italian couple were properly lovely and plied me with fresh coffee and fruit for breakfast, after which I rang the Nautilus office and arranged a pick up to take me back onto site. My ride eventually turned up at about 1:00 PM, the driver having been instructed to pick up Robin Triskele en route. The skies had started to look threatening and, according to my weather app, there was the distinct promise of rain. For whatever reason, I’d assumed that Robin was staying in either the same village that I was, or at least quite close by… but it turns out she was about 10 kilometers away in a village that was in totally the opposite direction! To compound the issue, she had no idea of her temporary address, so the driver and I spent a good 45 minutes trying to find her accommodation, our only guidance being a photograph that she taken from her porch.
Like I say, I’d never met Robin up to this point, but we fell into easy conversation on the journey - mainly about music and what she was planning on playing that evening. By the time we got onto site, the heavens had properly opened, and we were experiencing some quite substantial rain, so we retreated to Nautilus to shelter from what was swiftly becoming a deluge. In actual fact, the rain fell in almost biblical proportions and was starting to flood the site. It was at this point that I was told by Bodoo that all stages on site had been closed, due to electrical & safety concerns. He added that I, and everyone else, wouldn’t be performing that evening. I responded to this rather bad news with a peculiar mixture of disappointment yet relief… Robin busied herself trying to figure out whether we’d get paid, regardless of whether we played our gigs or not. By this point Gabriel Le Mar and Dylan [DF Tram] had turned up, and we chatted easily, whilst we waited for the rains to abate and for further news as to whether the festival stages were likely to re-open.
I’m glad to say that the rains seemed to cease as fast as they’d arrived. It was remarkable how quickly the flooded side seemed to right itself so after a further 45 minutes or so, Bodoo announced that the Ambyss stage would be reopening and my gig was still on, albeit with a slight delay. By this point it was about 5:00 PM so Robin, Gabriel, Dylan and I wandered over the site towards the stage, situated about a kilometre away from everything else, nestled into the side of a hill overlooking a large lake… quite idyllic.
Power had resumed, so we did a quick sound-check; the system sounded amazing, in fact there was so much bottom end, I asked the engineer to roll off some of the bass. Even at this point, there was a reasonable crowd in attendance, which, as time rolled on, swelled, so by the time I kicked off my set, there were a couple of thousand people listening. As soon as I started playing my tunes, I was in my element, playing for about a half hour until we suddenly experienced another dramatic power cut. There was a groan from the crowd, but then people started lighting candles. After about 10 minutes, the power came back on, then failed again. Apparently, this time, it was touch and go as to whether or not any power would be restored, but after about 35 minutes, during which time Gabriel had set up his gear and asked if I’d mind if we amalgamated our sets [he’d just jam over the top of my tracks] power was duly restored, and I kicked the second half of my set off with ‘The Infinite Variety’ from ‘Get Lost’, There was rapturous applause and whoops from the crowd and I played for another two hours or so!
Gabriel was adding various effects and snippets of sampled conversation between tracks, it all seemed to work really well, and before I knew it, it was time to give up the stage to Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy to perform their seminal ambient piece ‘Rainbow Dome Musick’ in its entirety, this being the 40th anniversary of the album release.
Immediately after I’d finished playing, I had numerous folks come up to say hello, including one guy who’d travelled all the way from Mexico to hear me play, another couple from the States, and a couple from the UK. I was completely blown away and gave out copies of my new album gratis, which were enthusiastically received.
Sitting behind stage, post gig, with Gabriel continually rolling copious amounts of mystic cigarettes, imbibing some local moonshine and watching Hillage do his thing at close quarters, it was a fitting end to what was an amazing experience.
Bodoo seemed really happy, and even though the brief had been to play “completely ambient; no snares!” he concurred that my set had gone down a storm. You know, I think I might be back next year…