Sunday, September 02, 2007

"it's the end of the napkin"

On Saturday afternoon I cycled down to some woods near Charing for a tVC free party. They're a Whitstable-based sound system who've been doing it for 20 years now - and putting on excellent deep house free parties since the early-mid 90's (before that it was an eclectic mix of indie-rock, hip-hop, acid house, etc which morphed into a fairly purist Belgian techno thing, before the house fully took over). There's a good sense of community that's evolved around tVC, so I try to get to at least one of their parties every summer. As the weather was looking good, and the route would involve cycling a good chunk of the Pilgrims' Way, I decided this was the one.

Finding the party has always been half the fun, and in this case I got properly lost several times, once I was off the Pilgrims' Way and onto the backroads. But being properly fluoro'd up and illuminated, I was quite happy floating around the little backroads of Kent on a warm(!) summer evening, listening out for house beats.

I eventually found the "metal gate" in the directions I was given, and pushed my bike along the "winding path" through the woods, wondering if this could possibly be the right way. Eventually, some straw-shaped rainbow glowsticks appeared to indicate the path, so I knew it must be - but there was a strange absence of sound. I'd been led to believe this was going to be an all-day event, so I was a bit puzzled. Suddenly I stumbled upon a fully set-up sound system, psychedelic drapes hanging in the trees, etc. but no people. Like a free party on the Mary Celeste. How odd. I sat down on the forest floor to think things over, and after a few minutes a dozen or so party-people came merrily ambling down the path, confirming that I was just unfashionably early. Paul and the tVC crew had evidently come in the afternoon to set up, then gone to the pub.

tVC party flyer by Eldad Druks
one of Eldad's classic tVC party flyers

We got a little fire going and chatted until the DJ's turned up, fired up the generator, and suddenly the unpleasant sound of the nearby M20 motorway was drowned out by the rather more pleasant (if unnecessarily loud) sound of house music. The first few hours weren't quite 'deep' enough for me - verging on cheesy commerical house music at times (and a bit of rave nostalgia like the rather daft Shamen track "Move Any Mountain"), but people seemed to be into it, so I got into gathering wood for the fire and generally floating around. I realised that, basically, I don't like house music with singing in it - it all sounds like unnecessary, insincere, fake-soul singing. Eventually the sounds got deeper, more abstract - spooky late-night house music with those particular sounds (which probably have names known only to the programmers of such tunes). I got into dancing for a while, but the bike ride had been more demanding than expected (up onto the North Downs), so I went and lay down in my tent for a while.

tVC party flyer

Drifting in and out of sleep, my brain was somewhat confused by those vaguely sinister, distorted vocal samples used in a lot of deep house, which always seem to be just on the edge of indecipherability, almost chosen to sound like whatever you want them to sound like. I awoke with the phrase "it's the end of the napkin" resounding in my head, and realised the sun was up. Watching the sunrise with a bunch of tVC party people has always been the highlight of these events for me, and I was just in time - a beautiful golden one, visible through the hazel leaves and just the right people still awake to appreciate it, tea being made on the fire, and the sound system having been turned down to a sensible volume, playing mostly really chilled soulful/jazzy house, as befits a Sunday morning. I had tea and meaningful conversation by the fire for a while, a bit of a dance, then packed up my bike to head off while I still had some energy.

Next stop was the Faversham Hop Festival. This coulde easily be mistaken for some ancient fair (with all the Morris dancers, people enwreathed with hops, etc. but in fact it's only been going for 17 years, so tVC is older - a very different face of Kent culture, but not that different really - a celebration of intoxication and music, basically. There were a few folkie-bands (one had even ventured over from Flanders, making this an "international" hop festival), but nothing that really grabbed my attention.

A couple of the Morris crews looked quite radical, but as soon as the music and dance started, it was the same as ever (a bit twee, and not particularly engaging, to me). Dave had mentioned a Wiltshire-based Morris team who wear leather masks, apparently look like the orcs in the recent Lord of the Rings films, and whose dancing and stick-bashing has real, almost frightening, energy to it - but they'd not come this year. This reminded me of a fireside session in Cornwall when Stef had started playing familiar Morris tunes in a minor key, and with a bit more funky rhythmic energy - and they sounded brilliant! Even to those of us who couldn't stand Morris tunes! We tried quite a few, and concluded that these tunes must have been "majorised" (by "The Man", of course) at some point, to take the power from them. This led to the amusing (but as-yet-unrealised) idea of a Morris crew called "Morris Minor" who would tour the country in a small fleet of Morris Minors playing this music in a new and exciting way with dancing in a similar spirit. Maybe someone will eventually get this together.

Faversham Hop Festival 2007, photo by emagen
photo by emagen

There was a pretty competent jazz quartet set up outside a shop on West Street, playing bebop. I walked past, thinking "jazz quartet...yeah", then had to stop myself and think "How often do you see a jazz quartet outside a shop in Faversham playing bebop?!". So I sat down for a while to give them the attention they deserved. Evan Parker lives in sleepy Faversham, apparently - the thought of Evan Parker playing outside a shop in West Street is another matter altogether. Maybe next year.


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