13 Feb 2014

One last trip to Camp A Low Hum

9:35 am on 13 February 2014

No two people experience Camp A Low Hum the same way.

Choices abound of bands to see, spaces to camp in, and (if you’re so inclined) mixtures of intoxicants that could enhance or completely ruin your time. Then there’s the amount of wet-weather gear you choose to bring, the choice between late nights and long days, and anything else chance throws your way.

Camp is a world unto itself, a three-day excursion that has gained a kind of religious reverence amongst many who attend. It’s not just the music, it’s not just the people, it's not just the venue – it’s everything. At 4am on your fourth day of camping, you might be tired, muddy, and bored, but your best friend might be having the time of her life. It’s what you make of it, a particularised experience that is as much about you as the festival.

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An anti-festival festival, it has been completely the vision of one man. Ian Jorgensen, aka Blink, wanted to go to a music festival that he would actually enjoy, so he created Camp. All the annoyances of a regular festival — crowds, line-up clashes, expensive food, expensive booze, stage barriers — are eliminated. Only a thousand or so tickets are sold. The official line-up of 70 or so bands isn’t announced until you arrive at the event.

It’s all ages, BYO, and very DIY. The bands hang out with you, go to the same shows as you. The food is cheap and tasty, or you can bring your own. “I look at everyone’s faces and if they’re not having a good time I get really bummed out,” Blink says.

Last weekend was last Camp ever. This didn’t mean it was going to be the biggest Camp ever, but it certainly had a legacy to cement, a reputation for creativity and spontaneity to uphold. “I was going to finish last year, but I didn’t tell anybody, and it would bum everybody out if I was just like ‘Camp’s not happening again!’”

Camp was never meant to be an annual festival; it was more a party that just ended up happening every year, and Blink wanted to end it on his own terms. “Festivals always just end because people eventually stop buying tickets.”

You can’t control everything, though – especially not the weather.

It rained. A lot. From Saturday to Monday the site, at Camp Wainui near Wellington, received constant rain, varying from a misty drizzle to a steady downpour, and southerly winds. Stages had to be shut. Bands had to share sets. Disasteradio even had to cancel. “I woke up this morning and wept,” Blink told me on Saturday. “I have this weight of like 1500 people on me and I looked out my window and the ground was muddy.”

Blink hopes that someone else picks up the slack in Camp’s absence. “I wrote down this massive list of reasons to continue Camp and reasons to stop Camp. One of the reasons to stop was [new festival] Chronophonium, like those guys are really young and eager, I don’t want to possibly be choking them.” He hopes someone continues to bring the smaller Australian bands to New Zealand he does, and provide a stage for low-profile Kiwi bands. “I’m hoping that someone does step up, and if they don’t, I’m just going to have to start again in a couple of years.”

But I’m jumping ahead.

On Thursday, clad in dry clothes and clean shoes, I arrived at my third Camp. The festival didn’t officially begin until Friday morning, but the gates open at 4pm on Thursday, giving people time to set up tents and get their bearings.

The official line-up comes printed in the form of a beautifully designed booklet with a page for each band. Since you are likely to have never heard of a whole lot of them, that page and the description each band has written for it is crazy important. Some go for simplicity (“Justin Bieber follows me on Twitter”), some go for minute genre description. A few friends and I explored the grounds, checking out the new stages Blink had added for 2014.

The community feeling runs deep. “Everyone keeps asking how everybody else is,” exclaimed a friend. “Everyone wants everyone else to have a good time.”

There was “Big”, which is basically a regular stage, although you can see it from all angles. Down the path from Big is “Lagoon”, which sits right beside a very swimmable body of water. Lagoon is good for daytime parties, as you can swim and see music at the same time, or sit on the banks across the water and not feel obligated to dance. Just above Big is “Noisy”, a classroom-sized building where bands play on the floor in the middle of a circle of amps. It’s about as intimate as you can get, as loud as it is sweaty.

There’s also “Lawn”, right in front of Noisy, and down the road a bit, “Forest”, a raised platform at the edge of a very spaced out group of pines. Near Forest were “Bump” and “Other”, two stages which the rain made unusable, and a 10-minute walk up a bush track “Journey”, a small clearing on the banks of a stream. We wandered past the “Renegade Room”, a space that anyone can use for a show, where bands that formed the week before can pull crowds that fill the room.

Friday was warm, and almost perfect. I started at Forest with Swimming, an Adelaide-based three piece who were constantly switching instruments, producing restrained but lush, warm songs.

Next, all the way up in Journey, came Skymning, a Wellington-based bedroom producer. The set was clicky, organic, bubbly – a perfect fit for the sunny cicada-filled bush. People sat, stood, danced, smoked, drank, and drew. “I was stoked I got to play before Journey closed,” Skymning (real name Asher Lee) told me later in the weekend, after the weather came in. “I think it was probably best suited for my music.”

Later on Friday I found myself at Noisy, standing on a huge crate and holding onto a curtain rail, watching something completely different – Spermaids, a screamy post-punk duo from Melbourne. Tension, release, and a whole lot of drums. Often, you see super-aggressive people at such amped-up shows. Not at Camp. The community feeling runs deep. “Everyone keeps asking how everybody else is,” exclaimed a friend. “Everyone wants everyone else to have a good time.”

Variety is a huge deal at Camp. You can catch some of the most metal shit you have ever seen one minute and relax to something ethereal the next, all before seeing The Clean later that night. “If you look at the schedule, there’s no more than two or three bands of any given genre,” explained Blink. “I have a gigantic spreadsheet of bands that I select from.”

At 2pm on Friday, just as the clouds of eternal rain began to gather, Race Banyon played a remix set at Lagoon. Race Banyon is the electronic-instrumental project of Wellington’s Eddie Johnston, who also writes songs as Lontalius. Eddie dominated Camp A Low Hum this year, and it was obvious right from the remix set. Mixing various hip-hop and R&B favourites into expansive yet danceable walls of sound, Eddie had half of Camp watching, on both sides of the Lagoon. “It was a bit terrifying to look up from my laptop screen,” he said. “I’ve never played to that many people before.”

Later on, after Noisy sets (Team Ugly!) and a nap through what I thought would be all of the rain, kiwi metal heavyweights Beastwars played a characteristically terrifying set. Then a comedian named DJ DouggPound tried very intensely to piss off the crowd, which he completely succeeded in.

I mostly found myself at Forest, dancing for warmth to the very-EDM Alphabethead and the very-saxophoney Sheep, Dog & Wolf, both from Wellington. The crowd was, well, on a lot of drugs, but were generally well-intentioned, demanding that the saxophone be played louder (“maxiphone!”), and dancing to their own private rhythms, appreciating the picturesque mist amongst the giant pines. When they finished, I attempted to get some sleep.

Things didn’t work out that way. I was prepared to hate Saturday — with all the well-dressed, well-rested people — until I saw Lontalius in Noisy.

Eddie sings in a very endearing kind of drone, an understated nervousness sitting behind lyrics stripped of any kind of embellishment, conveying ideas and emotions in a direct and clear way that feels like incredibly personal poetry. “I first came to Camp in 2011 with Four Tet playing, which, like, he is one of my childhood heroes so that was pretty intense.” Eddie played with a band as Lontalius, simple drums, guitar, and keyboards filling out each minimal composition.

This is what Camp is about. You won’t see every act, you won’t catch every special moment, you won’t like everything. You might get cold, or hot, or hungover, or hungry, or tired, but then something amazing will pull you right out, will cheer you up, inspire you, keep you going through the rain and mud. That could be an amazing set, that could be a moment with friends somewhere on the grounds – but you will feel something. With this much talent and effort and personality concentrated into one site over three days, it’s impossible not to.

Saturday progressed, and the rain continued. I caught Gains, a Palmerston North band who felt like Mogwai meets Battles, Girls Pissing on Girls Pissing, a folky kind of experimental band from Auckland with a lot of fuzz, and Bare Grillz, an experimental hardcore band as good as their name is. The rain wore on and I was starting to fade until the witchy Mangelwurzel woke me up enough to venture to Career Girls, where ‘Sandstorm’ by Darude was played at 5x speed and the Saturday party properly began.

On Sunday day, the rain got heavier, the mud more pervasive. Auckland’s Tiny Ruins warmed us up in the morning. Wellington’s Jon Lemmon played an incredible Lagoon set, complete with homemade non-toxic paint bombs and extra DJs. US rapper Astronautalis freestyled whilst receiving a tattoo in the Renegade Room and proposed to an audience member during his split Noisy set with LA producer Daedelus.

Quite a few people left Camp on Sunday afternoon, and I almost joined them. My shoes were squelchy, I had no dry socks or waterproof clothing, and my tent had a large puddle

Quite a few people left Camp on Sunday afternoon, and I almost joined them. My shoes were squelchy, I had no dry socks or waterproof clothing, and my tent had a large puddle – but this was the last day of Camp, ever. When else would something like this come around?

By Sunday night, the printed programme was completely wrong, with all the stages other than Big, Renegade, and Noisy closed, and a new stage named “Porch” created. A whiteboard near the merch room contained the updated “Camp A No Sun” line-up, but you could kinda just go with it. Circle Jerk, The Clean, Mesa Cosa, and John the Baptist were all ridiculously tight.

Finally, on the Porch stage at 2am, Race Banyon played another set – this time mostly originals. The vibe was “house party” at this point, the hundred or so of us still awake and as present as ever. Blink sang the sample for ‘Only Sixteen’; Tommy Ill rapped over a track or two, before Eddie, Camp’s wunderkind, closed with the pitch-shifted Drake line “I wear every single chain even when I’m in the house”.

* There is so much to do and see at Camp that no review can really begin to take it on. I missed plenty of great acts, or didn’t have space to comment on them. “This sounds ridiculous and wanky, but I look at Camp like an art project,” Blink says. “I want to overwhelm people.”

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