After the Metaphorum enven in Manchester, I fly to Geneva for the Summer Solstice gathering in organised by friends at bonfire.link; a metaphor for life and an affirmation of the human capacity to self organise without calcified structures.
Arriving pretty late on a Tuesday evening I make it across town to join a gathering at about midnight. Planning has been on the agenda but I've missed the show. Naturally coming from abroad and having missed all the meetings I lack the necessary context to effectively contribute, so I follow my friends lead in regard to preparations.
Setting off the day before we grab a projector from his basement along with some other items and head towards the tram outside to pick up a van. This is plan is a non starter as our station has become a final stop. There's a womens march in the middle of the city blocking the trams continuity.
Behind me a girl getting off the tram seems to become dizzy, starts to fall over and grabs my bag for support. As I work out what she's up to her friends step in to catch her. Thankfully we've already put the projector down or that would have been a write off for everyone.
What are we doing now then? Matt the van owner can't actually drive it because he has no licence and a broken arm so as heavy as the projector might be, we're gonna have to lug it across town to find transportation on the other side. We can manage; I've carried heavier up stairs before despite the health and safety regs.
Halfway through our roughly 30 minute walk we end up in a Mexican stand off with another guy carrying a heavy fan before we finally make it to a tram going the right way. Ome's clearly been wearing the sombrero in anticipation of this moment. Arriving at our destination we are greeted by Matt who's thankfully brought us one of his many many trollys!
Landing at his house several hours later than intended we have a brief a sit down to catch our breath and begin to load the van with all kinds of things; fridges, lights, pallets, boxes, decorations, couches, beer, guitars, kitchen sinks - you name it!
Of particular difficulty was the fridge from the basement and the pallets from the balcony but we got everything in and then fired off to grab some bean bags and shelves from another spot...
After sevral hours drive to Verbier, we arrive at our destination and set up one of Matts tents. A nearby rock serves as a table to slice some bread and cut up some spring onions; slathered with cream cheese our 3am snack was sweet and nourishing!
We're completely wrecked the next day but there's still a lot of stuff to get done; we need to load out the van for starter but there's more to the story than the items we've brought - there's a caravan on the dance floor and the guy living in it didn't even know we we're coming...
Luckily he was related to one of the people involved in the parties organisation and an extreamly graceful fella; he literally calls up his mates and has them tow away his home for the weekend... The DJ booth and sound system arrived shortly after this which we place along with some tables.
At this point I notice a rather drained Ome heading up the hill to fall asleep on a bean bag in the chill out zone. I help with some kitchen arrangements for a while longer but am also pretty badly written off so decide to crash out in the shade as well. Arising a few hours later, things seem to have arranged themselves under the artful guidance of Lila's directive agency. The sound system is on, the DJs are playing and there's a fully stocked kitchen commons... Chirst on a bike, things actually panned out.
Around 9pm or so we gather for a meal and to share some words and affirtations in relation to why we came to the festival, what we wished to give and what we wished to recieve. I'm just here for the food and drugs really, despite my interest in the groups evoloution. This kickoff Thursday was probably the most intimate of the days and to my tastes had the best music to boot. Check out some of the sets and see validate according to your own experience though:
At this point in the journey the foundations we're all in place and so further work was largely decorative additions and comforts; lights, carpets, posters etc. beautiful food too as well of course!
Friday morning I help out with some decorations; mainly putting in some fence poles to hang lights on leading a path to the chill zone. The company is good making the task of smashing things with a sledge hammer a lot of fun and easier than one would imagine. Of course we completely mess up the distancing but manage to finesse the mistakes into something that looks pretty decent.
At some point in the day I make friends with a fella called Rob who's got a game called "Spike Ball" with him. It's a team sport of two on two where the first team serves to the opposition by bouncing a ball off a trampoline kinda thing. There's then three 'touches' allowed to keep the ball in the air before it has to be returned of the trampoline. However one team member is not allowed to touch the ball twice and has to pass to their team mate. Bloody addictive game!
I must admit it was extra fun playing spike ball with those who had consumed psychedelic substances for obvious reasons. Some of them were more attuned to the game, and others just couldnt keep their shit together and were just damn funny. Pure jokes.
Around 9pm we gather under the gazebo for the second ritual; which is to say some light logistical announcements about water conservation and being respectful to the land we are on. We then share some silence which commedically ends with the sound of someone opening a beer signalling time for a dance!
Around midnight the cops show up to temporarily disrupt my friends DJ set. The amusing thing with self organised raves - especially private parties on private property - is that the lack of codified authority is extreamly slippery for the hedgemony to grab while searching for the 'one throat to choke'.
The cops were fairly reasonable in the end and probably only hoping to be offered a drink but it would have been rather interesting had they decided to flex any further than their request to 'turn the bass down a little'.
The sound engineer had been keeping the volume within regulation all evening and recording snapshots with a digital dB meter. And hey even if the rig was over the limit how would they prosecute a spreadsheet? Luckily there was no need to find out.
Saturday was gloriously sunny, and though I was a bit ill from the weather I held a workshop of geometric sense making which confused and delighted others. Down at kitchen, I'm offered a quarter tab of acid before taking my ass up to the chill out zone again. On the way back up a lively friend joins me for the walk, asking rhetorically "who's playing guitar for the people; is it me? yes, ok, of course I'll sing and play guitar for you all!".
Sweet harmony - the guys a fantastic entertainer! I'm feeling kinda fragile and slightly whelmed for whatever reason, probably too much exertion but the musics nourishing and while coming up on the LSD I feel patterns moving beneth my skin which animate my spirit.
At this point things begin to become rather archetypal; the acoustic chill out spot has become camp freedom of the rebel alliance led by captain Norberto singing redemption songs, while bondage for liberation is happening down near the techno soundsystem.
The paradox is palpable to me; we have trippy hippies bound together in escape, while the folks below are literally tying themselves up to find liberation. Affirmers and deniers chasing the same ends in opposite ways. The beauty and sadness of this juxtapositon stirrs something in me as I lay in the middle ground listening to the forces of complimentary polarity.
As I start to level out and head down to the main area and am asked to help with the structure for later burning; which is getting constructed by some folks who are just a little bit off their faces and struggling with cardboard and twigs.
I depart to find some string and bring it back to the project team which increases their effectiveness by about 400%. They are having fun regardless and at some point someone asks me if I'm an engineer. I say kinda and return the question, which recieves a positive affirmation so I ask them to take over with the string.
With the totem somewhat on course I'm given some postit notes and pens by my friend and asked to heard some cats; get them to write something on the paper for burning later. I ask what exactly and propose something they are letting go of; "that will do" he responds somewhat flippantly and points me to some helpers.
Cracking on with this coordination task, I have some rather trippy experiences interacting with folk. My reality tunnel broadens and narrows with my various interlocutors as I connect with them and assimilate fragments of their world views. I notice that some of the more tripped out folk sober up and land a bit upon connection with me. My sobriety became their sobriety. Their spin became my spin - is this an after glow of the acid from or a repeatable phenomena? It's repeatable.
As I go about this experience I also realise my initial framing of 'letting go' is a personal bias and that some people would rather make a wish instead so I update my rhetoric. Certain people are somewhat resistant te me aiding the culty ritual sending sarcasm and ridicule my way. I feel you fellow denier; the affirmation of narrative and ritual are indeed rather culty activities but upon such a recognition (and through the dissilusionment) we must attempt to move into post-nihilistic space or everything will cease to exist; affirm the positve to grow essence before negating the negative to realise the possible... this is just how it works.
At this stage it's nearly 9pm so despite some minor resistance from friends up at camp freedom everyone is ushered towards the fire for a sermon on the mount.
Yes, things are turning monty python very quickly; my friend is standing on a mount above the fire pit with a sheep skull walking stick and a microphone to amplify his haggared voice. "Everyone shhhh, Ome's lost his voice" someone yells. "What? Ome's a very naughty boy?" I yell back as my contribution to the show.
Honestly the show really doesn't need my help; everything is perfect already and the scene is about as brazen as it gets. Graciously, through a barely audible croak the prophet speaks; "todays ceremony has to do with fire"... "FIRRRRRE!!!" echoes a well intentioned attendee; who inadvertantly triggers a coordination failure as the totem is rushed onto the fire by its tripped out creators to much laughter and applause.
My friend rolls with the chaos as gracefully as always, though the raucous crowd is pretty hard to be heard over - few are listening. Notes are burnt on the fire before instructions can be properly articulated and people are kinda doing as they please.
Despite a hardy spirit that unwilling to give up the ghost; I'm saddened to see the lack of care shown by attendees - my friends taken his fair share of damage from spearheading all this and at this point seems utterly haggared. Folks are shouting over what would otherwise be a rather sentimental moment and many seem almost gleeful to jump into the spotlight. I get it man, fuck the king right?
After a bit of comedic shit slinging the unCeremony receds back to dancing. I shed a few tears at this point as I'm personally aware of the efforts needed to sustain such an affirmation when there are challengers at every corner. Shake it off, celebarte - for tomorrow it's over and we share a last supper...
Packdown is easier than load in, which is often the case with events. Around 2pm the group gathers for some food a last supper where my friend lets the group know he's no longer gonna push forwad as a leader, sharing that those he started with seemed to fall away over time. Indeed the burden of responsibility felt palpable.
The king is dead, long live the king.
"It will either be a funeral or a rebirth, I do not wish to watch things fade and will activly try to kill it if people don't take over; you are welcome to try and stop me"
With that we finish tidying and head home for some well earned rest. I remain in Geneva a few days longer for a Tuesday gathering and then fly back to Lisbon for a hackathon.
Ad Astra ✨