Eastern Electrics 'a behemoth of a festival' - The 2013 Review

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‘Fucking hell, you look rough’ – The remarks of my taxi driver as I slung my bag into the back of a people carrier in Knebworth Park on Monday morning. He’s probably right, I imagined, but I wasn’t exactly in the humour for it, nor could I understand what made my appearance any worse than the rest of the slothly looking patrons of Eastern Electrics slowly spilling out of the campsite that morning, although upon arriving home and looking at myself in the mirror I even gave myself a bit of a fright. I’d certainly had a good weekend.

Funnily enough it was with a sense of reluctance I made the journey up to Knebworth Park on Friday morning. It'd been a hectic week and I was feeling under the weather, my nose was blocked, my throat hurt and I had some strange inflammation under my eyes that had me nervously googling ‘cataracts symptoms’ despite being in my twenties, so the prospect of going to the self-donned ‘UK’s Biggest Celebration of Underground House and Techno’ wasn’t exactly high on my agenda, but it was too late for me to delegate the responsibility of covering the event to anyone else, and the inner raver in me certainly wasn’t going to let me pass the opportunity by.

EE Field Shots by Lewis Darling      Subb An Boiler room EE Shots by Khris Cowley EE Main Stage 3 EE Shots by Lewis Darling                   
             Shot by Lewis Darling                                        Shot by Khris Cowley                                     Shot by Lewis Darling

A couple of paracetamol and a few cans of Polish lager later I was feeling a tad more spritely as I reached the entrance to the festival in Knebworth Park, roughly half an hours journey from London’s Kings Cross Station. I was immediately confronted with a drug amnesty bag, which looked rather neglected, and then given the once over by a sniffer dog, who, considering how trolleyed most people seemed to be by the end of the night, should perhaps consider a change of career. Unfortunately my deodorant was the only item confiscated on the way in and despite my best efforts I couldn’t seem to borrow anyone else’s over the weekend, so I apologise retrospectively to anyone who might have caught a whiff of whatever putrid odour my pits were emitting over the weekend. 

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Surprisingly, after immediately entering the festival site I was already baring witness to people who seemed completely off their tits, and this was at a meagre 3PM, on a Friday, with a whole day to go and then two after that, which seemed wonderfully foreboding, I thought anyway. My first port of call was the Eastern Electrics stage where Huxley was playing a smashing set to get things rolling. The Eastern Electrics stage was the hub of the entire festival and played host to the biggest names of the weekend including Richie Hawtin, Maya Jane Coles, Seth Troxler and the like. It was essentially just one large no-frills blue canvas holding thousands of euphoric revellers, the outer perimeter of which was peppered with shufflers in flamboyant t-shirts and jean shorts, the inside so packed it was difficult to move without spilling someone’s beer or feeling a fag butt extinguish on your arm. Upon entering I was the victim of one of the aforementioned people who had decided to make the choice to get completely twatted as early as possible. Unfortunately I didn’t quite get to catch the gentleman’s name, but I still have vivid memories of how he walked towards me repeatedly. His arms were outstretched as if he’d contracted the T-Virus and needed my blood for sustenance; before reprimanding me for taking notes and, as his instructions fell on deaf ears, attempting to steal my notebook from me. This might be a long weekend I thought...

EE Mainstage 1 Shots by Lewis Darling
Shot by Lewis Darling

Elsewhere Theo Parrish was doing his thing at the Substation Stage, or the Black Atlantic stage as it had been christened for the night. This stage was essentially a replica of the Eastern Electrics stage except about half its size, the more intimate setting certainly lending the sound more bite. The music at The Substation on both Friday and Saturday night (the Sunday Substation line-up was moved to the slightly less spectacular Fusebox) certainly catered to a more particular type amongst the Eastern Electric crowd. The weighty, bass heavy, vox driven house of Deetron and Bicep that occupied the Eastern Electrics stage was absent here; and the music that was on offer evidently wasn’t to everyone’s taste, with plenty dipping their toes into The Substation only quickly before deciding it wasn’t for them. But those who did stick around were rewarded lavishly and, on Friday in particular, were treated to easily the most scintillating selection of music of the entire weekend, with Dixon and Levon Vincent’s performances both in contention for best set of the entire festival. What followed were quality performances from Jackmaster, Blawan and a brilliantly cerebral set by Joy Orbison wasn’t bad either.

 Pillow Fight EE 1 Shots by Khris CowleyPillow Fight EE 2 Shots by Khris Cowley
Shots by Khris Cowley

The rest of the venues certainly shied in comparison to the previously mentioned two, except perhaps the Igloovision stage which hosted by far and away the festival’s best sound system, Eastern Electrics’ only Funktion One as far as I’m aware, and some pretty nifty visuals which were projected onto the under-side of the roof too. The Switchyard, a conceptually interesting venue created almost exclusively out of shipping containers, was betrayed by a dodgy sound set up which made what would have been otherwise immersive performances by Magda, Kyle Hall and Michael Mayer to name just a few, quite difficult to enjoy.

Switch Yard EE 1 Shots by Marc Sethi

Shot by Marc Sethi

The Star of EE Pub, which bore little resemblance to a pub, was an interesting little stopgap between the main stages. Those who stuck around at The Star of EE seemed to do so more to relieve themselves of the mania of the busier stages than out of actually wanting to be there, which is not to negate the quality of the music it hosted, Santé and Simon Baker in particular warranting a much a bigger crowd than was afforded to them. However in closing on Sunday night former dubstep stalwart Skream packed the venue to capacity with a house/disco set which has now become his staple. The only real gripe with The Star of EE I had, besides it being a tent and not a pub, was that it was advertised as being a 24/7 ‘speakeasy’-esque kind of stage that would cater to the delinquents like myself who weren’t willing to pack it in at 6AM. It did however, like the rest of Eastern Electrics, grind to a halt at 6; it was very much lights on and punters out…

EE VIP Shots by Khris Cowley
Shot by Khris Cowley

There was activity though supposedly in the Bedouin VIP area, located to the north of the main Eastern Electrics set-up, so obviously this then became my port of call when the rest of the attractions shut down. I brought with me two very excitable Irish gentlemen who I had befriended about an hour previously and snuck in under the guise they were my cameramen retrieving equipment from one of the VIP tents, sorry EE. They were under the impression that a visit to the VIP area would entail smoking spliffs with Seth Troxler and doing shots with DJ Koze. Instead however we were greeted by the yelling of a dreadlocked gentleman in military surplus attire yelling for a mixer as a few weary festival-goers passed out on the plush sofas and carpets that surrounded the dance floor. Activity in this neck of the woods did pick up nicely the next day, especially when Fabric resident Craig Richards took to the decks and played to a rammed crowd. It couldn’t have been more different than the night before in fact with a host of DJ’s and ‘up for it’ party people all there to check out Mr Richards’ set.

Craig Richards VIP EE Shots by Khris Cowley
Shot by Khris Cowley

As Saturday morning continued to fester its ugly head my Eastern Electrics experience certainly became stranger and more surreal as it became apparent that the weirdest activity was in the general campsite itself. Of course, catering to a house and techno loving crowd, the droves being instructed back to the campsite at 6AM were hardly going back to their tents to break out the cocoa and hot water bottles; the site itself was awash with impromptu tent parties and the sound of smartphones playing house music from Soundcloud; all part of the amazing festival experience. There were many stumbling around the campsite certainly looking worse for wear after the previous nights partying. This gave one the feeling of being on raver safari or something to that effect. Most notably one young gentleman, who had somehow managed to stay looking rather impeccably groomed despite the previous night’s antics, decided to smash up his tent in animalistic fashion whilst screaming ‘WHERES MY KETAMINE’ in a bizarre flamboyantly faux-cockney accent a la ‘The Peckham Terminator’ - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2waIvp265CM for those who haven’t seen it – which was in honesty one of the most startlingly confusing yet captivating things I’ve yet to see. Anywhere.

electric city 1 EE Shots by Khris CowleyElectric City 2 EE Shots by Khris Cowley
Shots by Khris Cowley

Day two continued to bring the heavy hitters music-wise. Roman Flugel tore it up at The Substation, as did Ame at the Eastern Electrics stage and the techno disciples of Eastern Electrics were well catered to the entire night at the LWE takeover of the Igloovision stage as Tommy Four Seven, Planetary Assault Systems and Surgeon amongst others brought the no nonsense 130BPM stuff to the party. The visuals and soundsystem of Igloovision couldn’t be more apt; perfectly complimenting the harder, more abrasive, basically just fucking banging sound of the night making for a full on aural and visual experience that won’t be forgotten in a hurry…

Igloo Vision Roof EE Shots by Lewis Darling
Shot by Lewis Darling

Richie Hawtin’s 4AM set at Eastern Electrics main stage commanded what was possibly the largest audience of the entire weekend, and while it did sound this time like he was more than just going through the motions, as previously lamented upon in this review, it became a little difficult for me to enjoy due to spatial difficulties and unfortunately, in frankness, just not being quite loud enough. Not that that stopped the thousands of revellers who seemed to be having the time of their lives. Playing at the same time was a real hidden gem of Eastern Electrics; Damian Lazarus’ set at The Substation was superb. The extra legroom here allowing those like me, who relish strutting their stuff on the dance floor whenever possible, more space to make fools of ourselves in, to which I most certainly obliged.

Richie Hawtin 1 EE Shots by Marc Sethi Damian Lazarus 1 EE Shots by Marc Sethi
Shots by Marc Sethi

Highlights of Sunday, where the festivities were curtailed at 10PM and not 6AM like the previous two days, included stomping performances from both tINI and Raresh at The Fusebox, hosted by Just Jack; past and present Panorama Bar residents Tama Sumo and Prosumer at Igloovision, hosted by Louche; Kerri Chandler at the main Eastern Electrics stage and Kyle Hall and Michael Mayer at The Switchyard, hosted by Sunday party specialists Secretsundaze. As the festival came to a close, Masters At Work attracted the most attention closing out the festival at The EE stage, but again it was on one of the smaller stages where the biggest impression was left. GERD’s closing set in Igloovision was memorable – an astounding, schizophrenic tapestry of dance music from disco to Detroit techno, it simply couldn’t be more fitting as a summation of the weekend and was a wonderfully apt tribute to the music we all know and love.

EE Lights Shots by Lewis Darling
Shot by Lewis Darling

Eastern Electrics was a behemoth of a festival, by virtue of its line-up alone it was a pilgrimage for anyone who takes quality dance music seriously. There were certain aspects of the weekend that could be improved for next year, such as the layout of the festival site itself which didn’t leave much room for adventure, and of course certain elements that were beyond the control of the organisers such as the unfortunate sound limitations that did at times hinder my enjoyment of the music.

However, as I touched upon at the start of this review, I dragged myself up to Knebworth Park with burning eyes, a sore throat and a drapery of Kleenex hanging out of my back pocket. But by Friday I couldn’t care about it, by Saturday I’d forgotten about it and by Sunday I was taking photos and dancing with strangers without a fucking care in the world. Bring on next Summer!

By Rory Carroll