Two Kinds of Festivalby Roger Young / 18.04.2009
There are three kinds of people at Splashy Fen. Musicians, House Music Enthusiasts and Critics. A large book could be written about the collective experiences of any one year at Splashy. Everybody seems to own a little piece of the Fen, and everybody seems to want their way of running it to be known. Regardless of these things, Splashy Fen exists on many levels. From a focus on general treatment of musicians in the industry to the highlighting of the range of musical tastes out there. But essentially Splashy can be seen in two ways, the first is that it is a place to go for a weekend and get horribly drunk and fall over, forget where you are, the other is that it is a place to go for a long weekend and chill out and listen to good music. Invariably these two things will clash. That is just the nature of the beast.
There were three stand out bands on the Thursday night, three bands that in my opinion will be the biggest acts of the near future. While I wished them to have a bigger audience, better time slots, at the same time, I realise that they are new bands and we can’t expect the festival organisers to take too many risks. Tree Houses on The Sea take the previously sitting crowd and pull them to their feet, rocking and hip hopping them into some kind of happy to finally be at splashy joy. Fruit and Veg come on skanking, rejoicing making it through the roadblocks, playful as true rock stars, Loopy throwing her bass at the amps as the set ends. Neither of these bands employ pose, they are genuine in what they do, their enjoyment at this seeps through to the small crowd.
It’s raining and the difficult time slots are over, the main tent is filled up and warm, the outdoor tent sparse in the cold. After Gonzo Republic, the gathered go wild for Sugardrive. Any need to step out into the rain for Wrestlerish is taken away by the concern for dryness and warmth. But there are a few who do, these few people who scattered around the weekend are constantly talking about how good Wrestlerish are. The people in-between sit in their tents and complain about the rain, the music and the quality of their drugs.
The contrasts at this festival are those between generosity and gratification. The guy playing house music at four am to The Hinds Brothers rehearsing their beautiful set, full of acoustic soul, on the rocks overlooking the river, as it is becoming too hot to sleep in the tent anymore. The mist burning off the valley, campfire smells drifting. It’s an incredible way to wake up and in that moment, makes me content to just be at Splashy Valley. In the build up to this years Splashy Fen, there was a lot of concern about the line up, and admittedly, in the attempt cater to all, there seems to be a problem of cohesion, a struggle at some times of the day to find anything to listen to. When it does happen it’s gratifying, when there is nothing to hear, there are other distractions. Splashy Fen provides many distractions apart from music. This is simply what the festival has become.
Music can be escapist and Music can be enlightening. Guy Buttery does both of these things. There is no need to say anymore, but for clarification, Guitar, Sitar, Saw, psychedelic Martian folk. It’s somehow a comfort that most people don’t get this kind of music, a comfort to watch them in the drunken mass cheering, escaping to the masturbatory simplicity of Goldfish, or being amazed by the speilbergian emotional manipulations of Watershed. Because ultimately Splashy tries to be two festivals. One for the Music and one for the party. There is no reason why these things cannot comfortably exist side by side, in fact at this twentieth Splash, they almost do. The inconsiderate all night drum circle of a few hundred that keeps a tent camp of thousands awake is the difficult in-between part that indicates what needs to be resolved. In trying to give everybody everything, Splashy ends up not providing a complete experience, in short, you have to make the best of the festival yourself, all the money you spend getting there will be worthless unless you are prepared to seek out the treasures, they will not be hand delivered. It’s easy either to get lost in the issues that abound, or in the mindless drifting from one attraction to the other, but, obvious as it seems, any festival is only as good as you make it, endless complaining doesn’t help, i know, i endlessly complained about being kept awake by the drumming three nights in a row, to the organisers, to the drummers, to anyone who would listen, but to no avail, eventually I accepted it and slept after they fell.
For three days at Splashy Fen, unusually the sun came out and the weather was glorious, it became very difficult to find fault with anything going on, By Saturday you are content to watch Esjay Jones fly in on her helicopter and fly out from the vantage point of the river. There is so much good music during the days that you can become selective. The nights are different. Early evenings taken up by good bands, give way to music for the masses. They are welcome to it. Hopefully after this 20th year celebration, with the focus being on the main stage, we can (because Splashy is we) go back to having a full alternative stage.
Tony Cox on a stage in front of a thousand cheering him on, chanting his name illustrates the good that Splashy does, like wise the large crowds watching Syd Kitchen and Nibs Van Der Spuy. These are crowds of people who mostly normally wouldn’t drive three blocks to see any of these folk. Somehow driving into the mountains makes them more receptive. It works both ways, it makes them more receptive to anything. But in this crowd cheering Tony, Tony Tony, as he does impossible things to an impossible guitar, surely there are some who go away converted. NOt that it’s Splashy’s aim to convert, it’s just something that happens. This is why I love Splashy Fen.
On Sunday Afternoon is a perfect illustration of the two facets of the festival, indeed the very nature of problems facing the local music industry. Dave Ferguson plays a harmonica blues, with looped beat-boxing, at the same times that its standard blues, it plays with the genre and is genuinely hypnotic. Ferguson has a solid following and a reputation, while still staying on the edge. Nobody rushes to see him. Dan Patlansky is up next and the marquee fills. Patlansky is a blues guitarist of amazing skill, but to my ear he doesn’t seem to be doing anything new, it feel that he is just recycling a style, albeit very well. Everybody loves Dan Patlansky as he is more understandable, this has led him to have developed a reputation as this huge phenomena. Patlansky’s skills blow away, but musically he is nothing new to digest. Ferguson stretches out and this confuses an audience. We have become used to our local musicians only being touted as groundbreaking by mass media if they in fact only follow established styles. This is not a fault of the Fen, Splashy is just trying to satisfy it’s audiences desires.
Yes, there was a lot of good music at Splashy Fen, and a lot of shockingly bad music. The technicians could have been less grumpy, the programme could have been less rushed, more staggered. It’s a multi faceted thing and you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Sure, many things could be improved, but regardless of what anyone thinks, this festival will continue, and continue to attract an audience, always made up of those that come to listen and those that don’t. In a perfect world those who don’t, end up finding that they in fact do.