Posted by: pascoesabido | July 24, 2008

Creamfields Central Europe: an absolute stormer

Creamfields Central Europe, Breclav Airport, CZ 12-07-08

[Data Transmission]

Take one Central European field, add a generous helping of high-class musical expertise, and finally sprinkle with a layer of home-grown talent, and – if you’ve pre-heated your oven and set the timer correctly – the result should be one Creamfields Central Europe Festival: 18 hours of unadulterated musical bliss, spread across seven impressive stages; 30,000 friendly, unassuming people, all there for some collective fun; and an experience to look back on with grins all round. Unfortunately, this year Mother Nature added some New Orleans spice: Hurricane Katrina’s sweet-and-less-than-innocent niece (‘mini-hurricane Katka’ sounds fitting given the location) turned the two open stages inside-out and had people running for their lives. However, despite the weather the show must go on, and come sunrise people were still to be found dancing as if it had all been a bad dream.

The calm and then the storm

Set in a disused airfield outside Breclav (a small town just on the Czech side of its Slovakian border), Creamfields had set the scene for something special. People flocked from all over Central Europe as the normally-quiet town was mobbed by young partygoers of varying shapes and sizes. Catching the train at Bratislava, we watched as the invading army seized any available seat and those without claimed the corridors and toilets to guarantee their passage. Once there, a free bus shuttled the eager crowds from station to site, most armed with little more than their ticket.

For a festival that goes on until 8.30am, getting there too early could be dangerous, but get there late and you could find yourself missing Booka Shade. Put on at the ludicrously early time of 5.30pm, by the time most people get wind of their early billing, the German duo who founded Get Physical Records have been and gone. However, the blow is lessened as a handy set-line up reminds anyone who cares to look that Sebastian Léger still expects us all to keep dancing; John Digweed and Sasha intend to play a four-hour back-to-back set; while Ferry Corsten, Andy C and MC GQ, Markantonio, Michael de Hey, Lexicon Avenue and at least 60 other acts will all be deeply offended if we don’t lend them our ears. As it happens, our ears are the ones offended as the main stages are silenced by nine o’clock.

Once inside, the prevailing sense of being in Central Europe disappears. The schnitzel-burgers and sausages hint at something, but the domination of Adidas – its shop, terrace, deck-chairs, tent, and multiple-stages – soon drown it out; SEAT and Intel both claim their own tents. For anyone not there for the music (must have got on the wrong train), random activities like quad biking and paint balling are sure to keep you occupied. There’s even trampolining, although doing so whilst under the influence of anything other than water can lead to embarrassment – which includes projectile vomiting. But beyond the gimmicks, Creamfields has a lot to offer: Great DJs, great bands, and a welcoming atmosphere despite the language barrier; even those who speak ‘very very little’ English have mastered the ‘strategic nod’ and the confused smile.

On the Global Stage, Sebastian Léger re-ignites a tepid crowd with popping beats and penetrating samples, his shaking electrified house whipping up a frenzy. Léger is loving it as much as the audience, constantly wiggling behind the decks, filming the crowd with his camera, and flashing his cheeky grin in acknowledgement of good tunes. The set echoes his infamous gig at Switch in Brussels, yet even more danceable.

For it to be going so well, what follows is a Shakespearean tragedy. From clear skies, an ominous blanket of thick black (and we mean BLACK) clouds suffocates the evening sunshine; it could easily be a scene from Independence Day or War of the Worlds, little earth-destroying aliens being deposited by the constant lightening-bolts. People huddle-in like Emperor Penguins to avoid the growing storm, eager for Sebastian Léger to keep playing; he does so until a quick battle with a renegade 30ft white awning that temporarily smothers both him and his decks. But it gets worse. His initial escape is made irrelevant as Mother Nature regroups: round two; from way up high, an avalanche of speakers silences both DJ and crowd. The pink of his t-shirt drowning under a tide of black boxes is the last confirmed sighting as Katka has her way: No loud music after 9PM!

Raving through the storm

The crowd, now deprived of the Global Stage and at the mercy of the terrifying weather, scatter for cover. A beer tent made for 20 squeezes in a hundred, and anyone standing on the bar grapples the roof on behalf of those inside – the wannabe-Katrina appears determined to whisk it away. Looks of astonishment are exchanged between strangers but the restlessness can’t be avoided: sweet thumping beats continue to drift in on the wind – the party’s not over? A dash through the eye of the storm ends in the Ibiza tent (SEAT Ibiza – not the Balearic Island unfortunately), a giant red igloo housing a thronging crowd, a busy bar, two random cars, and a DJ playing something to dance to: the funky house suffices until an unfortunate tune selection brings on the Ghostbusters theme. There’s gotta be more out there. With John Digweed and Sasha’s four hour extravaganza no longer scheduled for outside, there’s a faint chance they could pop up elsewhere; and even if they don’t, the other tents surely hold a few surprises.

The Red Zone provides some variety, but it is the techno tent that brings the quality. In the red-tinged marquee, an energetic Slovakian DJ going by the name of Breeth knocks out trancey house bordering on the euphoric. His wild-yet-kitsch dancing is more than the anything the crowd can muster, who diligently bop along. At the back, the comfy leather seats are hot property and closely guarded once captured, despite the constant dripping from above. It becomes slightly unnerving when the rains stop and the realisation that it is pure sweat cascading from the ceiling finally dawns.

Out of the redness and into the circus canopy, the Techno Stage is where the real fun is at. Although the tent magnificently fights back the gales, not everyone inside is so resilient, and those that head home early only leave more room to the hardcore technophiles. Hungarian duo Collins and Benham had already supplied some sintering classics before the storm, such as Léger’s updated version of Jaguar, but now, buoyed by the collective resistance to the weather, the fun begins. La.Di.Da lays down the gauntlet with her progressive quirky techno, but Lucca, another Czech DJ noted as much for her skills on the decks as her sexiness, has the competition scrambling for cover.

Although she was scheduled to play the Global Stage, Markantonio gladly delays his set to let the blonde mixtress play to her home crowd. Constantly smiling whilst blending her delicate melodies with hard-hitting bass-lines, the girl does good, too good for some; but it is Dutchman Michael de Hey who steals the show. His stripped down chunky techno takes it back to the root of what dance music is supposed to be; progressive twisted build-ups pull you in and refuse to let you go, while the moulding of his sublime soundscape is made to look as easy as a toddler kneading Play-doh. Neither Markantonio before nor Funk d’Void after can come close, their sets fading into banality by comparison.

Beyond the techno, in a field of branding and loud music, a small unmarked tent provides the perfect antidote; experimental jazz from a couple of old vinyl floats out of ancient but effective speakers, welcoming all those in need of a sit-down. An assortment of tatty armchairs and a carpet are comfy enough, while the bonus of free water and a plate of fruit finally hit the ‘festival spirit’-nail on the head. It is the perfect place to recharge the batteries, and repeat visits witness the jazz transform into dub transform into crazy tribal chillout.

A random amble across the site is plunged into teenage-nostalgia as the commercial trance remix of Adagio for Strings wafts its way through the morning breeze. Studio54, a miniature circus top, is attracting quite a crowd. The enthusiastic individual behind the decks (Hungarian jock Cartman) obviously harbours ambitions of mixing This Is Euphoria [insert random number]’, playing tunes more at home on a £3.99 compilation CD in Woolworths than at Creamfields. But the crowd love it, and euphoric house and trance is obviously what the Central Europeans need after having their festival blown away.

As the sun finally rises over a relatively clear sky, the Red Zone and the Techno Stage can both be heard falling face-first into the minimal-techno trap: they blast out the monotonous beats they believe the crowd want, but lack the excitement and ingenuity that should characterise the genre. The search for the musical Holy Grail is finally abandoned at 6AM, and a brief tour of all the tents – now light – reveals the gritty morning-after realism that can only be allayed through top-class tunes. Alas, they don’t arrive.

On the way to the gates, a quick glance at the sorry outdoor stages makes one wonder: what could have been had the main acts played? But despite – or perhaps even because – the weather, it was great fun, and certainly an experience to remember. Mother Nature provided a very comforting reminder that no matter how much preparation goes into something (or how many cock-ups you make along the way), there are some things that you just can’t prepare for.

Check out Sebastien Leger’s video of the storm arriving…scary!:


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