For just about anyone who is into dance music, one of the best experiences in the world can be getting to hear your favorite dj/producer play live. That is the kind of experience that makes the dance culture thrive, and no matter who the artist or the fan, the experience can be compared equally across the board. Ericsson, Home and The Mean Fiddler set out to create such experiences for everyone under one "roof" for Homelands in the UK.
Homelands is a massive festival that joins together fans with the biggest, most influential djs and dance artists in the world, as well as many of the hottest up-and-comers. Homelands is an all-day/all-night event that has enjoyed so much success in the past that they have expanded their annual English event to a tour to include a festival in Ireland and one in Scotland. England's leg of the tour sold out within a few days of the event, but we had gotten our tickets well in advance. Tickets for the event weren't cheap (after the conversion rate, the £45 turns into about $65), but it is a small price to pay when considering the experience. Of course, that is just to get in, and there are always hidden costs associated with such an event (transportation, food, drinks, etc.).
Another consideration is getting there. Homelands took place in a giant, open field, called The Bowl, about 1.5 hrs outside of central London, which was where I was staying. There are lots of options for getting there, each with their own pros and cons. One could drive, take a bus, take the train, charter a coach, etc. Each of the options have varying costs and implications, but the choice is yours.
Choice seemed to be the theme of the day, as Homelands does a wonderful job of representing all genres of the dance scene effectively. Some of the acts/djs included Leftfield (headlining the Main Stage), Public Enemy, Scratch Perverts, Reprazent, BT (live), Dope Smugglaz, Paul Oakenfold, Seb Fontaine, PVD, Fabio and Grooverider, Dave Seaman, Adam Freeland, Moby, Parks & Wilson, Ed Rush, Optical...and the list goes on. Unfortunately, due to the sheer colossal scale of the event (and the venue) it is impossible to see everyone, so one has to make some compromises. The cool thing about it is, that you get to basically pick and choose your own "dream" line-up, and if you follow a plan you could get to see many of your favorites. Of course, we all know how plans can go awry. Once they do, they always seem to snowball. You know the old saying, "When it rains, it pours." And, this seems like a good place to begin my narrative of my Homelands experience....
I'll start with a little background to set the tone of how all of this went down. First, I was to arrive in London on Friday morning, spend the day with my girlfriend, go out on Friday nite, then we would get up and drive to Homelands Saturday morning. (The festival started Saturday at 1:00pm). Well, thanks to the mishaps of a certain airline *cough, cough, don't fly United, cough*, I spent Friday nite in Washington, D.C., with some friends, and did not arrive in England until about 6am Saturday morning. I was still a little beat-up from the flight and all of the free drinks, so I still needed to sleep a little before heading out.
It wasn't until I arose from my nap that I realized my girl's car was not fit for the journey, so it would be on to Plan B (wait, I didn't know there was a Plan B). Plan B was a last-second decision to take a train to Winchester, then take a shuttle bus from there to The Bowl. Neither of us really knew what that would entail, nor how long it would take, but it was easy enough to drop £15 each for the train fare and then not have to worry about traffic, roadblocks, parking, etc. In the end, I'm glad we did take the train, because it was easy, it was fun (it was packed with people heading to the party), and you could drink and smoke on the train! The ride there was actually a nice energy builder, and there was a good vibe about everyone on board. As I mentioned, the journey by train was about an hour and a half. Once at the train station in Winchester, we waited a few minutes for the next shuttle to the location. That was another £1.5, and another fun ride on the "double-dutch bus." It was even rowdier as we got closer to the grounds.
Once the bus got us there, we still had another mile or so walk to the gate. The weather was cool and dry (for the moment), but the path to the gates were already trodden to mud. As we were slipping our way up the huge, beautifully green, grass hill, you could begin to hear the random beats floating through the air and the vibe grew more anxious. Cresting the top of the hill, The Bowl made itself visible to us. About a dozen huge, circus-style tents set up in what was literally a huge bowl of grass, mud, and people swarming everywhere. We all began to slip down the backside of the rolling hill toward the gates. It was at this point that I really began to question the novices who wore anything but hiking boots or trainers. Many made the mistake of dressing for the occasion, as if it were to be held in a nice, posh club, with climate control. Bad move.
The actual queues to get in the gates were pretty deep, but they moved quickly. Everyone emptied their pockets and bags onto a table and were searched thoroughly. Once inside, the quest to decipher all of the muddy madness around began. Armed with a little knowledge of the layout of the site, pulled from their web site, I had some idea of where things might be and who might be playing in which tent. There were around a dozen major tents, each of varying size and color, and each sponsored by a different club or promotion organization. Some of the largest included Radio 1's Essential Mix tent, the Back to Basics/Highrise/Deep South tent, Slinky and MTV's tent, Ministry's chill-out tent, The End and Subterrain both had tents, and there was a huge main stage near the center. There were tons of little things going on in between all of these. Plenty of concessions, toilets, etc. Actually, the toilets were plentiful enough that one hardly ever had to wait more than a few minutes. The whole place was absolutely massive and already a muddy mess! However, to my surprise, as "corporate" of an event as this was, there were very few (if any) independent vendors about. As a matter of fact, probably the most frustrating part of the whole damned evening was not being able to find anyone selling programs, or guides to who was playing where, and when. It really pissed us off, because not only could we not find out what was going on, we kept seeing EVERYBODY (except us) with schedules. And, to top that off, they were put together as these cool-ass "dog tags" that everyone was wearing. (A great souvenir to take home, that I couldn't find!)
Anyway, it appeared that we must have gotten there too late, and they probably sold out of them. We could manage without. And, that is exactly what we began to do. The first thing on the agenda was to grab some beers and slop around to pop our head in each of the 11 tents to see what was going on. Surprisingly enough, with all of the great beers in England, they were really only selling Budweiser, Bud Ice and Carlsberg. (I hate them all, but cherished each one I had, more than the previous see photo of me wearing beer moustache). The weather was still holding out, but not for long. The grounds were already a mess, but we had only begun.
The crowd was beating this place down. The composite of the 40,000 some-odd people there widely varied. Everyone in the UK listens to dance. Young or old, it does not matter. That is the beauty of dance music worldwide is that it sees no boundaries. It could care less about age or sex or race. So was the attitude of these people. Everyone seemed friendly that day and everyone was up for it. I definitely think I might have been the only American there (okay, probably not, but I never met any others and when I introduced myself to people, they flipped!). I definitely felt a lot of respect for reprezentin' da US and tha ATL over there!
The first real stop was Subterrain & Ultimate B.A.S.E.'s tent. As we were sliding over there, I had mentioned to my girlfriend about how we needed to catch Jim Masters. I thought she might like his style of tech-house. When we got in there, it was fairly crowded and the dj was playing some really nice grooves. Without even really being ready to dance, my body caught his groove and the next thing I know we are trapped on the dance floor. By asking some friendly chaps with a program, we found out that sure enough, we were right in the middle of Jim Master's set. I also scoped a few other djs' times and places and formulated a quick schedule in my head. Master's was working the crowd with a hard brand of techno and house, mixed with lots of little tricks and backspins (too many for my taste, but everyone was loving it).
After about an hour, the beers were empty and it was time to move on. Our next stop was the Essential Mix tent for a bit of nu-school breaks and house from Sasha's Tyrant boys, Lee Burridge and Craig Richards. These guys funk it up at the Tyrant night at Fabric once a month, and they were on it once again for Homelands. We didn't catch the whole set, but it appeared that they were tag-teaming. These guys need to come to Atlanta! They were both very smooth, energetic and really kept the crowd warmed up. Tracks dropped included lots of Hooj records, some we've heard, some we haven't. New mixes from the producer-of-the-moment, and most played artist, Timo Maas. Probably a mix of Green Velvet's "Flash," but I can't remember (EVERYBODY played a mix of that one). Lots of airy, breaky house, all of which had some pumping basslines. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with the sound system in the Essential tent.
And, maybe I should spend a second talking about the tent itself, so that one might get a feel for it. If I had to sum it up in one word, I would say, "Massive." The tent was freakin' HUGE! Bigger than anything I've seen. Just this one tent would have probably covered two football fields side-by-side. I only wish my pictures could have captured the gargantuan crowd. My best guesstimate would place somewhere around 3,000 - 3,500 people in this tent alone. All of them consistently rockin' all night long. The lights in there were amazing! (Considering it was still daylight outside, it was wicked to walk into these tents and get the full effect of a good club.) The main problem with the sound, was that it wasn't really loud enough to cover everybody. There were stacks in the front, near the stage, then some stacks in the back, but there was just too much damned space to cover. I normally like to hover somewhere around the front-center of the crowd (about in line with the dj), but it just wasn't giving it to me there. We had to camp out in front of one of the stacks for most of the night in this tent to get any real effect out of the sound.
So, after sloshing around in what was now a torrential downpour for a while, numerous beer refills and toilet breaks, we were ready to get back under some shelter. Did I mention how muddy it was? It was muddy. Very muddy. And, it was time for Sasha and Digweed to play their first set of the night (they played at least two sets), so it was back to the Essential tent.
The sound still wasn't up to par, but we found our spots had been saved, and we nestled up next to the stacks up front again. John came on first, with Sasha by his side, and immediately jumped into a deep continuation of Lee and Craig's groove. John worked an energetic crowd through a series of deep house grooves and tribal beats. Digger was mixing like a champ and his progression was excellent.
After about 45 minutes or so, Sasha took the helm. The crowd exploded. These two are still crowd favorites. Sasha kept a nice, deep groove flowing. I always find it interesting to compare how djs play differently to different crowds (especially, when it is England v U.S.). They definitely have a different style when playing on "home turf." Sasha kept it VERY housey. His mixing seemed a bit off for the nite, but his selections were amazing. Unlike any "house" records I've heard. Maybe only two recognizable tracks were played by him, and one of them was the best mix yet of Green Velvet's "Flash." It was not one of the previously released mixes and it held a very deep house groove, without ever bursting into the tweaking sounds of the other mixes. Very nice.
The Man Like Sasha just seemed to be cruising along in his set until about 40 minutes into it, something happened. I really can't say for sure, but I (as well as everyone else in the crowd) thought that it was the biggest trainwreck I've ever heard. It was one of those where the first record goes into a breakdown, and the record coming in has an ambient intro before the beat kicks in. In theory, you would want both records to pick back up and hit at the same time, but they didn't. The beats just flip-flopped back and forth against one another, and the craziest thing about it was that he LET IT RIDE for several measures! Everyone around us just stood flabbergasted, with jaws wide open, until something (unexplainable) happened in the mix, and it just EXPLODED into the new record (back on beat), and the crowd went WILD!! Maybe it was just one of those records made that way, but it sure didn't seem like it. Anyway, it was definitely the high point of his set. John came back on later and continued to woo the crowd with his building progressions and technical genius. John definitely held the upper hand in their first set. All in all, it was the most house-oriented set I've ever heard out of them and I loved it. No hard bangin' trance, just deep progressive house.
After seeing those two, I felt free to roam the grounds again. So, we filled the tanks with more beer and moved on to hear Carl Cox in the Subterrain/Ultimate B.A.S.E. tent. I don't think that I mentioned this before, but I felt like this arena had the best sound of them all. The system was set up better and created a much nicer surround sound. It was much smaller than the Essential and Back to Basics tents, yet there were still a couple thousand people in there at all times. Every time I went in here, the vibe was steamy and pumping. Cox's set was no exception. I'll preempt my description of his set by saying that I really have never enjoyed Carl Cox. Out of the numerous recorded mixes and live sets I've seen (or heard) him play, he has never done it for me. His music is too hard, and his mixes are too punchy and abrasive for my tastes.
With that out of the way, I'll say that Carl Cox played the best damned set I've ever heard out of him. He rocked the crowd! From his first record, to his last, it was constant energy and constantly banging. He was working all three decks like a champ. I heard his mixing falter quite often, but it never really phased me, nor anyone else for that matter. He definitely played a different style. He dropped a much housier set, than his normal hard techno, which was interspersed throughout the more melodic house tunes. The best thing about it was how into it he was. He was having the best time dancing around behind the decks, waving his arms around working up a sweat. The coolest thing I saw all night was Carl's big-ass back there working it up, and he was sweating so badly, that you could see a six-inch layer of steam glowing around his whole big self, being illuminated from the spots behind him. The steam was rising off of him and condensating on the tarp above the booth, then raining back down on him. Cox was his own "Rainmaker"! It was beautiful.
After Cox finished beating down the rain, mud, and sweat-drenched crowd, he tossed over the decks to the latest Global Underground featured dj, Darren Emerson. Having just recently moved on from his role in the infamous dance act Underworld, and being the newest feature from the Boxed boys, I was interested in hearing what he had to offer. I've only heard Emerson on cds, so I wasn't sure what to expect. He opened with a very progressive house style, mixing back and forth between mixes of "Flash," a bit of Saints & Sinners, and dropping some Hooj Choons. ("Underground will live FOREVER, baby...we're just like roaches...never die, always livin'...and on that note...let's get back to the program!!!") The tunes were okay, although I felt like this crowd was more into the techno beats. Overall though, I just wasn't that impressed. His mixes were a bit cliché, and his selections were just too random. Plus, I was thirsty again, so we wandered around in the rain some more for a while.
While drinking tasteless beers in the shin-deep mud, Tracey and I people-watched and tried to spot vomit flying off of the mind-dizzying rides included in the price of admission. Did I mention how muddy it was? I wonder how many pairs of shoes and pants were absolutely ruined by this event? If you've ever seen how muddy people got at Woodstock 2000 here, or the Zen festivals a few years back, you're getting close, but no cigar. It was so bad that I began to think that they might have imported mud into this venue.
After trodding around from tent to tent for a while, catching some d 'n b in the huge and packed End tent, a tiny bit of Sonique's set, and a little more of Sasha and John's 2nd set, we stopped by Back to Basic/Deep South's tent for part of dj-of-the-hour, Steve Lawler's set. Lawler was playing to another massive crowd in the giant Deep South tent. (Only fitting compared to the 5+ level, super-club, Home, it represented). Home's resident was churning out the high-energy, progressive house and trance. He played a lot of anthem-type tunes, and a lot of Timo Mass mixes, but he mixed really well and could read the crowd. Lawler blended some older progressive with the new, constantly building on layers of drum rolls and peaks. I really enjoyed his set, and the crowd did, too. His new double-disc Home cd should give an excellent idea of what kind of dj he is.
The grand finale for us was another journey back to the Subterrain tent, for my girlie's favorite, Sven Vath. Sven Vath's earlier recorded albums, like The Harlequin - The Robot And The Ballet Dancer, and Accident in Paradise, were definite catalysts for my entry into trance. All I've really ever known Vath for were his old-school trance sounds. Nothing "progressive" about it, just good, minimal trance, with techno undertones. I didn't have a clue what a dj set by him would sound like, but I expected it to be trancy & maybe a bit ambient using lots of his own material. What I didn't know, was that this skinny-assed, Bowie-like, German with a mohawk, could BANG IT!! This mofo killed the crowd with several hours of pounding techno & tech-house, with the occasional trance-like melodies. Vath mixed through some of the most interesting techno records that I've ever heard, with a technical precision that only the Germans can produce. He was the Daimler DJ. He was throwing out well-placed backspins and flipping back and forth between records without missing a beat. The soundsystem and the crowd were both screaming for mercy by the end of his set. I couldn't ID a single track, because I don't know techno that well, but they all sounded great to me! This was truly the most surprising set of the whole thing for me. (Tracey smiles with that sweet little "I told you so" look.) He is an absolute must-see!
After leaving the Subterrain tent (in the daylight), we splashed our way outta there, because carrying (and dancing with) a bag chocked full of crap (for those of you who know me YES, I was converted to a DANCER that day!), drinking all day and night, and lugging 40lbs. of mud on your shoes wears you out after 12+ hours. The path out had to be diverted, because it had gotten too slippery to make it up the hill again. The shuttles took us back to the train station where we had to wait, with hundreds of muddy, soaking wet and freezing party-goers, for almost an hour for the trains to start running again. Once we got aboard, it was a dirty, silent ride to the tube stations, where the citizens of London looked at us like the Dregs of the Earth had escaped. Funny how many of them knew where we had been.
All-in-all, this was an irreplaceable experience. The UK knows how to throw down and party. Truly a massive production, put on with the utmost precision and detail. I typically don't even really like "massives," because everything is often so convoluted and unorganized, but everything about this one ran smoothly and on-time. Nothing like I have ever seen can compare to the dedication and energy of the performers and the crowds at this event. Nothing I have ever seen can compare to the mud and filth at this event. And, nothing I have ever known could compare to the feelings of ecstacy, warmth, and elation of sharing this all with someone so special.
Cheers to all of the sponsors of Homelands (for proving that you can be "as corporate as you wanna be," and still throw down proper)! Cheers to all of the djs and performers for laying down the phat vibes. And, cheers to my sweetheart, Tracey, for sharing such an incredible experience with me, and for everything else that makes her the best girl in the world! (Oi! Oi!)
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