What’s the best house party you can imagine? Does it involve a friendly crowd dancing under the faded grandeur of an ageing chandelier at 4am?
Perhaps you have free reign over a mansion built in the 18th Century specifically for events, a labyrinthine hedonistic headquarters now filled with eight-man dorms, well maintained state rooms (for the inner circle), two tiny, sweaty ‘club’ spaces, a wood paneled refectory, huge fields, landscaped lawns, an outdoor marquee, and gazebo? Whatever the specifics, it’s probably going to be really loud inside, and as such it’s a bit like Freerotation.
Welcome to Baskerville Hall. Come to this obscure venue any other time of the year and there’s a chance ale or jousting will be on the festival menu. Then again, nearby Hay-on-Wye is home to one of Britain’s best loved and most internationally revered literature festivals, meaning the expansive manor house would provide a convenient residence for bookish types partial to a few late, booze-fuelled nights and discussions on anything from Dostoevsky to Dahl. But, over the last few years, in the middle of July, the address has also become synonymous with underground dance music.
It’s a party worth checking out. Arriving around 4pm on the Friday we soon realised that the bad weather dominating most of our journey had been left behind, for now anyway, and, as with previous visits, everyone had turned up in the mood for a serious session. There were also problems though, namely several missing e-tickets and, due to the lack of 3G reception, the prevailing inability to extract said documents from associated email accounts. Thankfully, with fewer than 1,000 people in attendance, and the focus on family ethics (albeit of the rave, not nuclear variety), it wasn’t long before such issues were truly laid to rest.
One of the surprising elements of Freerotation is the fact that, despite the relatively niche nature of deep house, solid techno and dubstep, it’s possible to appreciate the party without the musical focus. Our (ever-changing) group’s past experiences here have seen a junglist happily endure three days of almost constant 120-135 BPM, four-four focused beats and still walk away ready to return, while those more inclined towards the sounds of earthy instruments, as oppose to electronic gadgetry, at times have danced with a vigour only possible when the atmosphere is just right.
That’s no accident. Half the country still hasn’t heard about this party, meanwhile most of the club minded population can’t get in, because to buy a ticket for the first time you need an invite from somebody who has already attended, while asking for a press pass will guarantee a polite response of ‘no such thing’. Exclusivity or clever marketing- it’s probably futile trying to work out which explanation offers the best fit, especially when the most likely answer is both. Whatever the real reason for these entry policies the popularity of this particular weekend has skyrocketed since inception, with Resident Advisor voting the event Best July Festival two years running, and the sold out sign being brought out well in advance of gates opening.
And it’s not hard to see why. Thanks to the ‘open door policy’ on all standard rooms there’s much action going on behind the many closed (but not locked) dorm entrances. On a similarly community oriented note everyone, including artists, stays from Friday until Sunday, or Monday, meaning fresh faces become familiar with ease, whether that’s the guy who impressed last night or those unfortunate people camping by the toilets. In short, it may well be the friendliest place in Britain and as such there’s a near constant offer of a key or cake with new and old friends, a distraction guaranteed to cost more time than anyone realises once tired legs find comfy surfaces to sit on. Regardless, one appointment was etched into the mind from the word go- 4am Saturday, mainroom- Surgeon.
This year’s headliner was something of a coup considering the man’s current status. As one of the only DJs for whom a laptop has proved beneficial, a true bastion of British techno and, arguably, one of the first pioneers of pre-genre dubstep much hype surrounded his name, and his delivery was nothing short of exceptional. So that’s ghostly background melodies set to raw, rolling kicks and industrialist percussion, here coupled with some surprisingly electro breaks and one track that sounded close to stripped dnb. Unfortunately it was pretty difficult to amass much of a tracklist, but we’re sure you get the point.
Elsewhere more bountiful treats than previous years were in store too. Scottish hero (and the man behind the latest Plain & Simple chart) Vince Watson pulled out a blinder at some point on Sunday morning, marrying heavy and hard (but not frantic) techno with the atmosphere of more progressive heads, resulting in a deeply involved set of wailing refrains, white noise crescendos and acid hooks that, despite so many mates, and mates of mates falling by the wayside, had a room full of the tired and tested dancing around like life depended on 7am marching orders.
Similarly it took some perseverance, courage, and a strong constitution to survive through until Peverelist who had played a little earlier down the hall. The set followed over 24 hours of (officially soundtracked and unofficially hijacked) carnage, and was typified by typically detailed percussive steppers, complete with occasional warm drops onto temporary, filtered beats or kick-less plateaus. And, in the immediate aftermath, Yusaku Shigeyasu’s similarly tempoed drums sported the sheen of a samurai sword in every high hat, while tribal rhythms provided the undercurrent.
And that really just scratches the surface. The other big name of the moment on a few lips, Cosmin TRG, was responsible for no less than two showcases of space age sounds (and one conversation over a cigarette), while Hessle Audio’s Pangaea followed by Pearson Sound with Ben UFO, all of whom have become mainstays at Freerotation, were also rightly labeled highlights by those in attendance. This is, of course, not forgetting the genre and decade spanning Sunday afternoon set from Roberto Q. Ingram, which was enough to make even the moodiest smile, and heroic resident Leif on the opening night. Oh happy days indeed.
We could go on to describe what happened when a circus troupe met royalty in an orgy of fancy dress, or explain how the drive home took double the time of our journey down, and included an hour and a half in a Travelodge somewhere outside Shrewsbury. Because this most intimate affair leaves you with so many intimate memories, but while that’s what great times are all about it’s not necessarily what makes a good read.
So let’s leave it at this: now the pieces have been picked up, just about, and we have become re-assimilated with the less approachable society that exists outside those Baskerville walls it’s even clearer what an essential weekend this one actually is. Beneath the din of the big festivals, away from the glare of superstar headliners isn’t exactly the spot you’d expect to find something so universally enjoyable, but for a third time running this presumption has been proved very wrong indeed.