Friday, January 7, 2011



by MATTHIEW COLLINS – THE FACE – n°95 - August 1996

It had taken us 36 hours to reach this field from the point on the M25 where Desert Storm had picked me up. We hadn't even know where we were going until we reached Paris, constantly phoning clandestineinformation lines to establish our direction. Late Wednesday night we arrived in the small town of Vitry-le-François, just south of Reims. There we were met by Josy, a small, bespectacled black woman, one of the first French acolytes of Spiral Tribe, converted to the free party cause when the Tribe began operating in Paris in 1993. She and her partner (Vincent), a gaunt, friendly bloke with the shaven head and combat gear that we will soon discover is ubiquitous on the Continental Teknival scene, lead us a convoluted route through farmland and down dark lanes to our final destination.

Here is the site, » Josy says, a little edgy, worried that we might have been followed. « But first you must work. There is a hole in the road. » Work? Hole? What can she mean? She points to a ditch that divides the field site and the lane. « You must fill in this hole. Build a path. » It's 2am, pitch black, and there's no artificial light for miles around except the Desert Storm truck's headlamps. We get digging, shifting soil and rubble using what-ever comes to hand: two small spades, kiddies' seaside bucket, a hammer, a broom, our bare fingers. After an hour's hard labour we are sweaty, dirty and out of breath, but a passage has been constructed wide enough to get our truck over the ditch. A little cheer of triumph goes up a Keith swings the vehicle in: we are the first system here. We have « taken » the site.

This is the 14th Teknival. These free, ad hoc, illicit gatherings, whose title is a combination of « techno' » and « festival », were initiated by Spiral Tribe after they fled Britain in the wake of the Castelmorton festival of May 1992. Teknivals are sound-system jamborees, gatherings of the travelling techno clans. There are 12 rigs on site by Thursday morning. Desert Storm, with which I travelled here, is the sole British system; the others are mostly French, established rigs like Dome, NRV and the Urban Happy Collective, but some appear to be just gangs of lads – enthusiastic amateurs who have hired a speaker stack for the weekend. There are some amazing constructions lashed together from tarpaulin, tree trunks and rope; the Spiral Tribe rig, which is the largest and occupies prime position at the heart of the main drag, even has a fully-stocked bar and a record shop attached.

All of them are playing one of other varity of techno, never pausing for sleep. There's a lot of gabba, the ultraspeed psycho-beat of the Lowlands. Gabba is so fast that it is nigh on impossible to dance to in the conventional sense; in front of the one small rig a lone raver jerks and shudders epileptically, as if he's trying to morph his physique into the post-human shapes that the music describes. Our system, with the five Desert Storm Djs – Danny, James, Keith, Dyland and Fish – is probably the most diverse, switching from blissed-out trip hop and techstep jungle in the sweet sunlight to stark techno and tweekin' acid funk by night.
 For the past two years, Desert Storm have been conducting aid trips to Bosnia, regular missions to transport clothes, food and party tunes to the region. These excursions into the former Yugoslavia have honed their battle strategy to a fine art: the truck, equipped with bunk beds, cooker, shower and sound system is ready for action 24/7. A few people who have turned up on site with record bags take guests spots on the rig: one is a fierce, stern-faced woman who loooks eight months pregnant and spins equially fierce, weapons-grade hardcore.

On Friday there is an epiphany of sorts, brought on by some freak metéorology. Every day, burning sunshine has been interspersed with heavy downpours, but today's is extraordinary. Rain hammers down and high winds tear through the site, flattening sound systems' intricately-assembled set-ups. The storm rips out our tarps and scrim nets and the stakes that secure them, and the whole structure comes crashing down. The music goes off all over the site; the only moment of silence in five days. it's here that the unspoken philosophy of Desert Storm is visible: a self-supporting community based on mutual respect and shared passion, a everyone pulls together as one to pack the gear away before retreating into the van. Like the Teknival itself, it's an affirmation of the enduring power of collectivism in a time of untrammelled individualism. Keith, however, is restless: the minute the torrent eases, he's intent on kicking the rig into life again. That night, in the rain, the main drag glistens surreally, lit by flashes of lightning and billows of orange smoke from wood fires, the intermittent rumble of thunder playing a sub-bass counterpoint to the trebly screech of multiple 303s. It's a weird, dark atmosphere that reminds me of one of the final scenes from Apocalypse Now, the wild, godless party at Kurtz's base, oblivion-seeking hedonism set in an infernal tableau. Systematic disorientation of the senses. Raving beyond madness. Ordinary time losing its meaning as techno becomes the temporal notation by which we measure our day.

Original article here
French version can be found here
More info about desert storm right here