I'm hauling a French dude that looks like Obelisk up a mountain in the middle of the Spanish desert. He is tripping big fat acid-balls, blubbing like a newborn and generally making a scene. I don't know now, but will later have it translated that he is shouting: “Even if the mountain was on fire, I would still get to the top.'' It turns out he fell in love with a girl three hours ago and believes she is somewhere at the summit. Eventually, with the help of some others, I get him to the peak and he ambles off shakily, in search of his beloved. I sit down with my group of new best friends who I barely know, most of whom are also on the same narcotic plane as the Frenchman, and watch the rest of the sunrise flare up over the side of the canyon to a soundtrack of wolf-calls and cackles.
It's breakfast time at Nowhere.
Nowhere is the European off-shoot of Burning Man, a 1000 person experiment in creative freedom in the middle of the Spanish desert, somewhere between Barcelona and Zaragoza. You will know immediately whether the words ''experiment in creative freedom' feel you with dread or intrigue, and it probably won't surprise you to discover that it delivers on all the possibilities suggested by such a phrase. In 6 nights at the festival I was party to (though was not necessarily always involved in):
An organised orgy
A tent full of people dancing out their "inner animal"' (nonsense, but endearing)
A man getting sucked off in a kid's play house decorated in voodoo dolls
A grown man dressed in an all in one orange pvc outfit stroking a flourescent mushroom (we later became good friends)
Myself in a mirror, wearing a flamenco dress, being taught how to flamenco
A woman telling me she wanted the Rapture to happen that night
Communication games (just nonsense)
3 men fucking in front of loads of people during Hot Oil Action
A band playing on top of a mountain at dawn
A Maui buy dressed in a tutu and red and yellow striped stockings singing a touching acoustic version of Sweet Child O'Mine.
A 30 person pillow fight in the middle of an apocalyptic storm
More boobs and balls than I could possibly remember
This is by no means an exhaustive list and really only scratches the surface of what went on, but is intended to give you a taste because Nowhere, like all festivals aspire to but rarely achieve, is all about the experience, man.
It doesn’t have a line-up, per se. If you want to watch Arctic Monkeys this most definitely is not the place. Ostensibly, all the music is provided by the festival goers. Don’t take this as a suggestion that there isn’t music, though, because loud sounds are playing somewhere at Nowhere 24 hours a day, whether it’s (surprisingly ace) live jams in the Jamboree tent, Balkan disco in the Garden of Joy, or disgusting wads of ketstep at Uber Town.
The latter two areas were not stages, but two of the biggest barrios at the event. Probably 70% of the people at Nowhere are part of the barrios, something me and my friend were blissfully unaware of when we rumbled in on our lonesome with a transit van full of booze, sunblock and not a lot else. It turns out these camps form the heart of the festival, and are mini-communities where everyone chips in some cash before, and time during, the festival. For that they get fed, shared shelter (which in the 40+ degree heat you most certainly need) and normally a big fat soundsystem. As the day wears on into night into morning into sunrise, the music gets turned up as the fancy-dressed throng bounce from camp to camp, drinking, dancing and generally doing silly things to their brain for as long as they are physically able.
Most people are in outfits of some sort, whether it be a homemade luminous vaudevillian creation, body art or the ubiquitous man-in-frock. Dressing up is a very big deal; it makes Bestival look like a committee meeting. It even has its own Costume Camp barrio with rails and rails of outfits, which they lease out on a trust system wherein you promise to bring back whatever you have taken within 24 hours. Unfortunately, judging by the dwindling number of outfits as the week went on, not everyone fulfilled their part of the trust bargain.
Why not just charge a fee for renting the costumes, you might say? Well, at the very core of everything Nowhere is about is a strict no-currency policy. You can’t buy anything there, other than the precious ice which is the only way of cooling down. Everything you want to eat, drink, wear or inhale has to be brought with. It’s the reason everyone goes into barrios, and it sounds corny but it really does inspire a unique atmosphere. Everywhere you go, people will offer you something. Walk past a barrio when they are having dinner, and you can bet your arse someone will shout at you to come in. Ask someone waggling his finger into a baggie if you can have a bit of whatever it is, and he will say yes. Try and balance it up with some kind of reciprocal offering and you will be cheerfully waved off. People will thrust beers into your hands, melon in your mouth and suntan lotion on your back. I was a bit sceptical about it at first; I figured there would be some kind of black market of people selling bad drugs and dodgy fags, but there really isn’t. What went around really did come back to you, and in a world where £4.50 beers and ten quid burgers are the festival norm, it is a wonderful anomaly: it means every transaction is a friendship offering, and as the week progresses your circle gets wider and wider as you bump into the people you helped or were helped by.
The cynical amongst you might see all this as hippy-dippy, happy-clappy bullshit. To a certain extent I can empathise; the festival is full of the sort of people my dad might describe as a ‘bit off’ and there is a definite hierarchy of hippiness. In amongst all the love-thy-neighbour ideal was the occasional waft of institutional snobbery. A bit like going down Broadway Market without a beard, if you don’t go to Nowhere without dreads and an abandoned degree in Philosophy, you sometimes feel like a bit of an outsider. Obviously, they'd probably say that I wasn't being as open to them and they are probably right, but the people I met that were the most obviously out there were often the most unforthcoming. Maybe it’s just because we genuinely didn’t have much common ground.
Fortunately, and this is where Nowhere soars, there are more than enough wonderful people at the event that the odd grump is not an issue. Everyone makes friends when they go to festivals, it’s one of the reasons they are fun. But at Nowhere I met a few people who I can genuinely see as enduring, long-term keepers. There is a real community back in the UK of people that have been to the festival (they almost exclusively live in East London) and continue their friendships forged in Spain. I suppose it’s natural that at such a relentlessly individual event like this you are bound to meet people that you have some sort of kinship with, but it really feels like people that go there have shared something, that they’re in on a secret.
As the week wears on, conversation at Nowhere inevitably turns to whether they would go next year and everyone says they would. Somewhere around Wednesday I really wasn’t that bothered- I’d enjoyed the experience but couldn’t envisage wanting to sweat my way through another week in the desert, and frankly all the Communication Games had started to grate a little. But the morning I had on the mountain with Obelisk and the rest; it changed my whole perception of the festival and made me realise that it is genuinely what you make it. If you want to go crawl inside your brain and walk across mountains (real or metaphorical), you can. If you want to paint yourself up like a devil and fuck strangers in front of strangers, you can. If you want to spend your days doing yoga workshops and your evening’s star-gazing amongst a gaggle of mostly happy wreckheads, you can. For the rest of Nowhere after that morning, whenever I saw someone that was up there, they all said how much they loved it, how it was their favourite festival moment ever. It was like we had our own little gang, that somehow we’d managed to pick at the soul of Nowhere and that underneath the hippy histrionics its soul is pure and good and unlike any other. After that everything was plain sailing. See you for a sunrise in 2014.
This is also posted over on Jimi's blog, which you can find here