Tuesday, April 6, 2010


The Free Festivals anno 1970 - 1985 


The olfactory senses of the nose can play a major role in stimulating memories of the past. Just sensing a smell of a yew tree takes me back to a holiday in Devon where I spent many happy hours playing, aged five, around a farm yard with the musky perfume of an ancient yew permeated the area around the hay barn.
The aroma of Free Festival was different to any other music festival with the main difference being a wholesome lack of smells related to burger vans, as most free festivals were mainly vegetarian. This lack of fast food in any quantity meant that there was a lot of communal self-catering or free food and much of this was cooked on branch wood fires. The pungent reek of home grown grass or the sweet biting smell of Afgani Black caught your sensory attention as you moved around the site between the camp fires surrounded by happy campers.

Personal hygiene amongst festival goers, if memory serves me right, was of a reasonable standard and many wore musk oil as much as a fashion habit as to disguise any body odours. The midges and mozzies got a bit much some evenings and lit joss sticks were positioned up-wind of the encampment to deter the minute but irritating creatures. The alien smell of disinfectant greeted you as you approached the toilet trench as a wash-the- hands-after bucket stood by the flapping modesty screen while the contents of the trench smelt as they naturally should but no way as bad as at some paying festivals I attended. The dead thin smoke of diesel exhaust from the stage generator mingled with the green chlorophyll scent of crushed grass around the main stage. The fusty smell of stored canvas stretched up on poles after a winter folded in a damp shed and the attractive hunger alarm bell aroma of a vegetable curry with smooth scent of a bubbling pot of brown rice.
  I might have not thought about that period, twenty-five years ago, in many months and then my nose catches a scent of wood smoke on the calm evening air and I am transported back to that time and state of mind. - Roger Hutchinson (Source: The Archive: a history of UK rock festivals)

These Free Festivals throughout the 70s and 80s were organized to keep the spirit of the counterculture alive, avoiding the rock mainstream and resisting authorities. The Free Festivals are part of the roots of our current Teknivals. Thorough the early 90s the festivals mutated into raves and travellers gatherings.

Excerpt from OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND by Helen Evans:
The other strand discernible in the early nineties was the convergence of hippie, traveller, squatting and crustie cliques in the summer free festival circuit, for example Glastonbury, Urban Free Festival, and The Hackney Homeless Festival. These witnessed some of the biggest and longest gatherings. For example the week long occupation of public land at Castle Morton in May 1992 was initiated by a nomadic sound system collective called Spiral Tribal and their festival-going followers. By the end of the week numbers had swelled to 50,000 as weekend ravers converged on Avon. These events would be a cross between a rave, a fun fair, a festival, and a pagan event. Collectives began to spring up all over the country such as Exodus, Cool Tan Arts and Rainbow Tribe. These groups would put on raves for free, or to raise money for housing, environmental or arts projects. Ecology, paganism, ancient culture and ethnicity were revived, alongside the appropriation of yuppie icons such as the mobile phone and fax machine which were used for producing sociable raves and at the same time created an atmosphere of social protest.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind is an interesting analysis of rave culture written in 1992.