Astrobotnia & Bogdan Raczynski (Rephlex) November 2003
I wrote this in November 2003, after my very first tour ever! It was a wonderful experience, even thought I was wet behind the ears, and had a lasting impact on my life.
Well, I never thought living in England would ever actually make me English, but I fear that day is near at hand. Not only have I become, over the years, very able to converse in depth about The Weather and Public Transport, but I am now also able to participate, with much warmth, in conversations about Traffic. Yes, I am now a veteran of the M25, the much maligned M6, the M4, the M1, the M11 and very many A roads. In fact, I have (after a mere 9 years) finally toured the length and breadth of this island, and been paid for it, to boot!
I have been On Tour. With no less than a variety of Rephlex artists (www.rephlex.com) visiting 14 cities in 15 days, and driving over 2,200 miles. The tour was centered around Bogdan Raczynski and Astrobotnia, with other artists dropping in along the way, including Cylob, the Aphex Twin, Ovuca, D’Arcangelo, Nick and Marcus (2 more Rephlex people whose stage names I don’t know). Now, before setting off, I was not entirely sure what I was letting myself in for. Having spent the last several years actively avoiding the dance scene (you know how I can get when I make up my mind to close my mind) I accepted the job (sound engineer and driver) being fully prepared to be indifferent to a lot of the music, steeling myself to grin, bear it and to be as nice as possible about music I didn’t expect to enjoy. How wrong was I!!!! The tale shall unfold…
First stop - Cardiff
Picked up the 7 seater people carrier at Tower Bridge around midday on Saturday 1 November, chuckling all the while at how 5 of us plus all our bags and equipment really were going to fit into this vehicle – no drum kits! No guitars! No bass amps! Merely 5 people and the artists’ gear – a laptop each and Cylob’s records! I am now a firm believer in the laptop as musical instrument. It’s light, small and very, very easy to lug in and out of a venue… Left Tower Bridge around 12.30, then picked up the spare monitor I wanted to take with in case any venues had rubbish monitoring (a wise decision, it turned out) in Stoke Newington, then straight out to Arnos Grove to Rephlex HQ (Grant and Nick’s front room) to pick up the boys: Astrobotnia (Alexei), Bogdan and Cylob (Chris Jeffs). A brief farewell and then we were On The Road! Driving west, mid afternoon, in autumn, in England. Now I had always known, in theory, (thanks to Miss Turpin, Geography Teacher) that the sun doesn’t really reach the top of the sky in winter in northern climes. In practice, 1 November 2003 was the first time I ever really realized what an oblique sun angle is. It simply means that the sun shines directly in your eyes from the time you head west, till the time it sets. It never really gets off the ground in the first place, and just hangs around slightly above the horizon, then sets far earlier than you think is decent, leaving you with a bazillion on-coming headlights to contend with instead (er.. why not grow big evergreen bushes in the middle of the road instead? But NO! just some barriers that are at the perfect height to NOT block oncoming lights.) And for those who’ve never been on an English motorway, they are BUSY. VERY BUSY. CONSTANTLY. Think the Ben Schoeman in morning rush hour, double it and then add some more. At any given moment you have another vehicle (more often than not a huge gigantic lorry transporting god-knows-what to who-cares-where) in front of you, behind you, to your left, to your right and the diagonal front left, front right, rear left and rear right. The traffic is constant, you have to be on full concentration alert all the bloody time. It’s pretty tiring… And led me to some half-philosophical thoughts about the human need for SO MUCH STUFF!!!
Anyways… So we check into our nice Holiday Inn and head venue-wards, to Clwb Ifor Bach. It’s quite a nice venue, three floors, all doing different things. We were on the top floor, there was a kind of chill-out room with quietish-but-not-bad music on the middle floor and the first was occupied by Welsh Night (you had to say a sentence in Welsh to be allowed in) which was playing the worst selection of 80’s and 90’s pop imaginable. I made one effort to explore the other rooms then retreated back our room. Dark, smokey, loud. Already my prejudices, that I worked long and hard to develop over my two years at 93, were beginning to fade. Cylob played a fine set, followed by Astrobotnia and then the mighty Bogdan Raczynski. My defenses, weakened by the first two, were blown away completely by Bogdan, and I knew I was going to love all two weeks of this!
Night One over, my expectations overthrown, and my enthusiasm mounting by the minute. Until the M4 the next day… But before then we spent the day in Cardiff Bay, an odd little harbour development, reached by driving through an industrial no-man’s-land, which claimed to have the world’s best vanilla ice cream (it wasn’t) but did live up to it’s claims of having a pretty little Norwegian church (now a coffee shop, arts center and potentially the next venue to be used in Cardiff) and we went on a harbour boat tour to the Barrage, a massive structure separating the sea from the river, effectively creating a fresh water lake on the inland side. To keep the water fresh, they pump air through it in big bursts, like a giant farting in the bath. Many cheesy anti-English/pro-Welsh jokes later we were deposited back on dry land and headed for…
Another great M4 experience. This time we had no sun to contend with, but were given a hard time by the Phantom Roadworks. For those not resident in the UK, Phantom Roadworks are the invisible roadworks that are preceded by huge “roadworks ahead” signs, suitably massive speed restrictions (40mph ON THE MOTORWAY!!! AAArghhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!), enforced by many a speed camera (getting bust is not merely a huge fine, but also three points), causing MASSIVE back-ups, that last for HOURS. And then when the speed restrictions end, and the traffic speeds up, you are left wondering exactly where these great roadworks were! Not a road worker to be seen. AND everyone’s heading back to London late on a Sunday afternoon, on the same road to Reading. Needless to say we were late, and the very stoned promoter waiting for us was completely unable to give us directions over the phone. Once we finally made it to Reading, we asked 2 cool looking dudes for directions, and they started sending us to the other side of the country when we were saved by a much-blessed-by-us little old lady who gave us very simple directions to the venue (only about 4 blocks away) which was in directly the opposite direction to where the cool boys sent us. Thanks little old lady!
Reading was immediately a favourite gig. The venue was an old squat that the squatters occupied for so long the council gave them the option to buy it. This they did and turned it into an Arts Centre. Very small, with cutesy little café area that sold tea and coffee as well as beer (a god-send for driver-me) and a whole lot of kids sitting around on cushions smoking things they probably shouldn’t have been. It did not look the kind of gig anyone would actually get off their butts and dance at, but 5 minutes into Astrobotnia’s set and the cushions were out the door and the kids were going ape-shit. Superb! Not much for me to do in the way of sound as there was only a small system with not many options, so I settled in to enjoy the tunes.
Being hungry after the show, we stopped at a chippy called Mr. Cod (which we discovered is actually a franchise enterprise as there was a Mr. Cod in just about every city we came to). Now this shouldn’t have been worth noting at all, except the process of buying four fish & chips and one portion of chips was one of the more difficult transactions of the whole 2 week period! Four of us went into the shop while Cylob stayed in the car. Mr. Cod’s confusion started here. Joana ordered her simple portion of chips and paid for it. So far so good. Alexei and I followed suit with a portion of fish and chips each. No problem. Then Bogdan enters the scene with his mad, unthinkable, very unusual order for… TWO portions of fish & chips. Hold on a minute! Stop the world! This was just one too many for Mr. Cod and Bogdan ended up, after several minutes trying to explain that yes, he wanted TWO portions, even explaining that there was someone waiting in the car for the extra portion, having to place the order in two completely separate transactions, ordered and paid for individually, change for the first purchase even being handed over in between the two transactions. I feel Mr. Cod is not going to make it into the running for Businessman of the Year… Anyway, at last we made it to our Travelodge somewhere along a motorway.
By the time we left in the morning, the boys had made a good start on the beer. This was in no way a problem until one of them asked politely ‘can we stop at the next services, please, I really need a pee’. By this time we were on the M25 (hateful road that more or less delineates the outer reaches of London) and all service stops were behind us and the road was far to busy to stop on the hard shoulder. Poor lad! He was pleading helplessly for us to stop when we made it onto the M1 and took the next exit. I’ve never seen three men jump out of a car so quick! The other two were also desperate but left one to do the begging… The place we stopped was absolutely gorgeous! We couldn’t have been more than 100m away from the motorway and we were on a cutesy country lane and I really noticed for the first time how absolutely BEAUTIFUL the autumn was! Red, yellow, orange EVERYWHERE! Red berries on almost every second bush and that lovely country smell of plants beginning to decompose. I made up my mind to be a bit more observant from then on, and was not disappointed. Autumn is a beautiful time in this country!
Hit Manchester and straight to Michelle’s house, where the blessed angel cooked for us all. Then on to Sub-Space, the venue for the evening, and face to face with the sound-guy-from-hell. He was dressed in combats and tight vest top, armed with walkie-talkie and headset, and a stance that - if I were a drunken 18 year old boy in-the-mood-for-a-fight - would make him the first target of my alcoholic rage. What a twat. And he very deliberately locked the door to the amps, grinned at me and said, “you’re not to touch that”. Great! So no control. He was smiling a few hours later, however, when his bar was completely rammed with over 250 mental dancers, on a Monday night. A good night in the end, if somewhat spoiled by Mr. Military’s attitude and some heavy-handed security action, and the last night Cylob was with us for a while.
To be continued...