The Exodus Free Spirit Festival
by Derek Williams*
Location: Near Luton, September 8, 9, 10 2000
This was the second Exodus festival I made it to (see the story of last years here). This year was a little different though, as the collective have been in negotiation with a local landowner and the police which eventually produced the result they wanted – Britain’s’ first legal free party festival.
Me and Sid went (Sid having been a regular at Bionic Soup parties in Norwich over the past year and who had done his first squat party a few weeks ago and was now doing his first tent party), we arrived on Friday night.
We knew it was somewhere near a junction on the M1 motorway, but we didn’t know which one it was. So I drove west and met the M1 at, as it turned out, the correct junction. We arrived just as people were beginning to turn up.
Of course, by now it was dark, so I had to fumble around and put the tent up by sense of touch and memory as Sid made himself useful in other ways. Apart from the patch of stinging nettles it happened with amazing ease. So we went to explore.
The site is divided by the M1 motorway and connected by a tunnel – something more free parties should have, tunnels are great which is just as well given how many times I walked through the thing.
There was one very big difference between this festy and any squat party I’ve been to – basically it wasn’t a squat and there was this general “feeling” that we were in someone else’s property (which we were of course) and that we had to take care of it and respect it (which we did).
Exodus were doing a good job of organising litter collection and had made it known (somehow) that certain kinds of behaviour wouldn’t be appreciated. No-one from the collective actually said anything to me, but several people mentioned what their values were and so what they didn’t want to see happen on site.
I did get the feeling from a lot of people that they really respected what “the Exodus” have done and what they want to achieve, many people spoke about them in very familiar terms. To be honest, they deserve it, they’ve done something wonderful in getting this festy accepted (with some reluctance) by the powers that be.
Looney Module / Vega were set up in the car park – or what was supposed to be the car park but actually turned into a part of the festy. I’d put my tent up next to their rig with the travelers nearby, they really are a nice bunch to be honest.
Over on the main site (through the tunnel) we spent most of our time around the HEADFUK-Stinky Pink and Pendulum systems. I’ve been following HEADFUK for around 18 months now, they do pounding hard edge gabba and other weird stuff, Stinky Pink do banging techno and they combined their rigs for this event. Wow what a nice sound. Next door were Pendulum who are more “conventional” squat techno, all of them of course are from London.
Pendulum had a really nice tent and it was strange seeing them in such a tidy and clean place, I’m more used to them being in a corner of a warehouse somewhere surrounded by dogs and traveler vehicles.
Through a death metal tent (loads of live bands as well as techno rave at this party) there was a little bridge into the camp site, crossing this thing was fun, especially in the dark when full of “rave spirit”.
Friday night was fairly busy and despite the rain on the way down (the previous week had been nasty weather and the forecast was bad), it cleared up and was actually quite warm. The morning greeted us with one of those eye-stab sunrises and blue sky. Throughout the night I meet some London party people, one of whom has lost his tent and disn’t have a clue where it was, we go look for it, but it’s a lost cause. He did eventually find it, but not till the next day.
Needless to say, as normal in this sort of thing we didn’t get a lot of sleep. I passed out for a couple of hours in the Pendulum tent, but that was all I got. I’m not sure if Sid even did that.
A little later and I run into Ian again. Ian is a regular on the London scene and he had a friend with him celebrating his birthday – some birthday party! We spend some time in the HEADFUK tent watching a live performance, quite something that was. I’ve seen techno “bands” before and usually they’re really boring. This time it was one person working an array of samplers and stuff, standing in the tent along with all of us, not perched up on some stage.
Towards the evening and people start turning up in huge numbers for the Saturday night which is mental with crowds and crowds of people, it became easy to lose people and, indeed, yourself, but we survived through till about 5.00am when, after a session in the Exodus tent (oh what a lovely sound system they have) we finally hit the floor of the tent.
Sadly, we both had to be in work on Monday so after a very enjoyable 5 or 6 hours kip, we had some munch and one last look around, then packed the tent up and hit the road back to Norwich, stopping only at Red Lodge cafe for more (much needed) food.
As I say, what Exodus have done with the Free Spirit festival 2000 is to stage the countries first ever police approved “illegal” rave, it was a real free party in every sense of the word “free” in my book, although some of the free party massive were a little put off by the degree of organisation, I see their point, but Exodus aren’t playing a game here.
They made a lot of effort to cope with the problems you always get in events of any kind – there were (just about) enough loos, there was free water and the access roads were kept clear. At least one ambulance had to ferry someone off and that happened with the minimum of fuss from what I saw.
Anyway, there were no plod to be seen (unless you’d parked your car on the M1 in which case silly you), so they kept their side of the bargain. Oh and something went really wrong with the weather, it was hot and sunny for most of the time (well at night it was just hot), most strange.
Perhaps Exodus have found a way forward for those of us who enjoy free parties, lets hope so.
Maximum respect anyway to Exodus.