Thursday, February 14, 2008

Guest Review: CAMP A LOW HUM 2008

I tried so hard to attend this, 'probably the best time you'll ever have' (G. Talbot, 2007) but distance was against me this year. I'm still sore about it as I was in New Zealand just a few weeks ago. A Low Hum was a series of magazines with CDs and accompanying tours in New Zealand, showcasing the best bands with an emphasis on the music and the people and the fun of it all. This festival is probably best not called a festival because the word comes with connotations of bogans and expensive drinks and too many people and Rage Against The Machine. But this, as you'll read in the review below (written by Shea Bermingham, host of the Guitar Media radio show), takes all that lousy stuff away and all yr left with is New Zealand's best bands and best people in some tiny scout park thing in some region near Wellington. I feel so left out over here in Brisbane. Stink bro!


It's difficult to think of a catchy or succinct way to sum up Camp A Low Hum, a four-day festival that encompasses live music, arts and crafts, knucklebone competitions and "Boxwars", but creator Blink (real name Ian Jorgensen) does it pretty well; "a music camp for people who can't handle regular music festivals".

Blink created Camp A Low Hum with the hope of removing all irritating aspects of large festivals; the long queues, overpriced food and alcohol, corporate advertising and timetable clashes; all the things add up and ruin the overall festival experience, even if the bands you're watching are incredible. Camp A Low Hum is pretty small (no more than 700 people), most bands play twice and it's BYO, but perhaps the key to its success is that it's not about "what bands are playing". Blink ensures this by not announcing a line up, but rather pushing the unique vibe of the festival. It's certainly a difficult thing to sell, and before the first camp in 2007 many people (including myself) felt a bit too sceptical about travelling to a campsite an hour north of Wellington to watch a mystery band line-up. As it turned out, however, Camp 2007 was a total success, with many of my friends coming back raving things like "I can't explain why it was so good but it was seriously the best weekend of my entire life". After that I was basically sold on Camp 2008.

Due to my poor organization I missed out on the first day of Camp, but arrived nice and early on Sunday, ready for three full days of exciting festivities. I got pretty stoked just walking around and checking out the site and facilities. Blink is really into eighties nostalgia/aesthetics which is why there was a tuckshop selling Juicies, toffee milks, candy bracelets, Jaffas and marshmallows (in brown paper bags), mixtape swaps, and a movie room that played a selection of the best camp films. On top of this was a myriad of other stuff; a camp radio station, an arts and crafts room, tug-of-war competitions and pool parties, and over 50 bands playing in various locales around the 32-acre holiday park.

Basically, all the best New Zealand bands played; The Brunettes, The Phoenix Foundation, The Ruby Suns, So So Modern, Reduction Agents, Die! Die Die! Liam Finn and Connan and the Mockasins were just a few of "bigger names" to grace the main stage each night. It was a really encouraging to see that these bands have become so well received and established, particularly when I can recall seeing many of them a few years earlier performing to much more humbler crowds in dingy Christchurch bars. It was also fitting to see them playing at a festival created by Blink, who has undoubtedly played a major part in helping them achieve success through his A Low Hum monthly tours and compilations.

For me, however, it was the smaller shows that epitomised the entire DIY, relaxed vibe that Blink was hoping to achieve with camp. The festival was particularly accommodating to smaller acts, with a variety of outdoor and indoor sites available for anyone who wanted play a gig/DJ/whatever. This was an excellent opportunity for bands with smaller profiles to perform to an interested and open-minded crowd, and for punters to watch some bands that might not play any shows in their hometown. There was a certain charm felt when walking around the campsite and seeing all these handmade, felt-pen-illustrated gig posters pinned on some tree trunks, then picking a band who had a cool name or poster, and being really blown away. I think the success of these shows is testament to the unique environment Blink created, where everyone was just really excited and happy and fully embraced being a part of such an awesome event.

All photos taken by Neon Sleep! Thanks!

[The next Camp A Low Hum will be happening in February 2009. Check for further details; don’t miss out!]


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