Secret Island Nation Festival 09: Surviving the Tempest (& 96 hours of Partying)
Take 300 or so mainly Berlin and Swedish DJs, artists, revellers and ravers and drop them on a deserted, treeless, infrastructure-less, Swedish island, for a few days or more. Add a sound system, generator, lighting rig, vegetarian café and water container and you’ve got the recipe for Secret Island Nation Festival, one of the best events I’ve ever played at and attended.
And toss in a hurricane: a proper serious, fuck off hurricane, one powerful enough to be given an official name (Per) and deadly enough to sink 70 metre Norwegian cargo vessel Langeland, with all hands lost: the result: an experience: one to remember for life…..
Island newspaper The Secret Standard (in reality a photo-copied sheet of A4 paper) has the key details two days after the tempest.
“About 3 sea (nautical) miles away, six persons died last night- in the storm,” the Standard reveals.
“Some 150 more fortunate people have been homeless for the last two days, before arriving on Secret Island Nation. Between ten and twenty people got homeless after their tents were flattened by the wind. The answer could have been hiding in the stones, like two people did.”
Subsequent press reports will later reveal that Hurricane Per topped speeds of 146kph at its peak killing two more people as it passed over the Swedish mainland suggesting the 30 or so tents still standing- and the people inside- have had a miraculous mistake. The Skrufff tent- brand new, and erected hurriedly during a fortunate break in the rain upon arrival, has been fortified with guy ropes tied to gorse bushes and rocks placed on top of each peg.
A friendly neighbour has recommended the rocks, explaining ‘a hurricane’s coming; force 12 on the Beaufort Scale’. While we’ve assumed he’s exaggerating (a hurricane!?) a storm’s definitely brewing: and judging by the increasingly torrential rain squalls, a big one.
Up at the party area a hundred or so metres away, a DJ is already banging out stripped Berlin style techno as a handful of shadowy figures sway to the beats. Inside our tent we’re cosy though a tiny bit concerned; we’ve never camped before or even put up a tent (and we didn’t get round to testing this one beforehand) so we’re hoping the rocks and guy ropes will hold out against the wind, which is certainly becoming VERY strong.
Secret Island itself is a tiny exposed outcrop of boulders, crevices, rocks ans gorse bushes, less than half a kilometer across at its widest point. Its generally unforgiving geology meaning everyone and pretty much everything is squashed up together in the same space, a flat, football pitch sized (relatively) grassy area bordered by rock escarpments. At one end of the valley lies the North Sea proper, its giant ferocious waves smashing into rocks spurting towering plumes of water high into the air, while at the other end, a lagoon style beach is strangely calm.
As the the wind picks up, buffeting the tent with increasing violence and ever heavier rain, we opt to skip the sound system, opening up tinned food (like most people we’ve packed rations, following scare stories of food running out in previous years). Up at the rig, the techno continues, interspersed from time to time by shouts and even screams. As the Standard later points out ten tents will end up being destroyed during the storm and each collapse provokes chaos for the unfortunates inside.
With the roar of the wind relentlessly increasing, the techno fades in direct proportion when at 4am it suddenly stops. The lighting rig, a huge metal framework has been blown over, landing on the head of soundman Frank. Though Frank insists he’s alright, he’ll later be taken off the island by an emergency rescue launch over fears (thankfully later dispelled) that he’s suffered bleeding on the brain) though the incident hails the end of the music, and everyone’s left to suffer the storm in silence; for another six solid hours.
By 2pm the next day (Friday- the official start of the partying) the storm’s finally passed and the sun’s even threatening to come out. Wandering up the rig where the sound crew are busy rebuilding it, I casually ask when they’re starting again to be told ‘now, do you wanna’ play?’ You bet, so I run back to the tent, grab my CDs and ten minutes later I’m kicking off with Bill Wither’s ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ as a cloud briefly obscures the sun.
Set-wise I’ve got a few constraints; firstly I’m due to spin later that night, so don’t want to play any of my main set tracks and secondly, I didn’t bring the usual full selection of odds and sods and after-party classics, as with 50 DJs on the island I had no idea I’d get two sets.
In fact almost all the DJs scheduled to appear are stranded on the mainland, with no ships sailing until the sea’s calmed down, so instead I’ve got 4 glorious hours to play anything, to put a smile on people’s faces and get the party started.
In practice this means standards like Rej, Nathan Fake and Sweet Pussy Pauline plus Scandinavian classic ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’. As the A-Ha anthem blasts across the valley, one of the Bar 25 contingent screams with delight and punches his arms in the air and the sun indeed shines on the island.
Four hours later, I’m stepping aside for the first regular set of the day and the party- and overall island vibe, is upbeat, warm and happy. The storm’s severity and the fact everyone is effectively stranded on the island, provokes a real sense of community, living up the Island’s motto ‘first we found a nation: then we dance’.
For the rest of the three days and nights, the party never stops with DJs including the Harasser, Fidelity Kastrow and DJs With Bad Haircuts rocking the hills as the rain thankfully stays away altogether. By Saturday, sea lanes are open again, meaning the rest of the DJs, and a hundred or so extra revelers, arrive, bringing extra energy, plus a fisherman selling the most divine tasting prawns.
Across the island meanwhile revelers fan out, sunbathing on the rocks or even swimming in the sea, which turns out to be much less perilous than initial observations suggest. Thousands of tiny clear jellyfish are everywhere to be seen, the locals stress they’re harmless, with larger ‘red ones’ the ones that sting. These are definitely present, but not so many that they’re impossible to avoid, and with the sea being crystal clear (and warm) swimming is an absolute pleasure.
As Monday morning dawns, the sound system is still blasting out (mainly minimal-ish) techno and most people are heading for the 8am boat, back to predominantly Berlin or Gothenburg (the nucleus of the – absolutely lovely- Swedish people in the island).
Event organiser and visionary Bjorn looks exhausted, but happy, as the party wraps up after what’s been a truly exceptional- and wonderful weekend. Just two months earlier he was facing chaos as the EU blocked grant which would have covered much of his costs, though in the event, all DJs have paid their own travel costs and facilities have been scaled back to help offset his costs.
Secret Island Nation Festival is a truly special party that’s perhaps the closest event- in spirit- to Burning Man. Like the US desert event, Secret Island takes place in a desolate, completely undeveloped, uninhabited spot and offers a temporary autonomous, outdoor oasis for partying and experimentation. And Like Burning Man, it’s a fantastic, proper, hardcore rave that’s about experimentation, dancing and stepping WAY outside your comfort zones. So would I do it again? Absolutely; definitely, yes, yes yes! And for longer next time, rather than just the four days of partying, I’m going for the full week. Roll on July 2010. And 2011!