I’m not sure how you folks would have handled it but I for one was an anxious chap, heading to a music festival. Jupiter Rising loomed at the end of my week, an expanse of uncharted territory. If you hadn’t already gathered this was my first time and I was full of questions, like who will be there? Will it be noisy in the campsite? Should I take shower gel in case there are showers? Do you think there will be a microwave? Will I be having a lovely time? Will I cry uncontrollably at all the gigs and alienate myself from my peers? I had even planned to set up my tent and shuffle out of the grounds for the last bus home at 00.30 on Friday evening, to return fresh and unscathed for the first act at midday on Saturday, my fellow attendee’s none the wiser to my covert migration of comfort. I think it’s fair to say that we are spiritually bedraggled; feeling our way around the textures of our comfort boundaries while the world unfurls itself and things we used to enjoy without a second’s thought become available to us again, irrespective of how we fared through our lockdowns.
The ease of reacquainting ourselves with those things varies from human to human and I had regressed; this was both aided and abetted by my Mum offering to drive me to and from the festival, for which I was/still am very grateful and enthusiastically accepted (thanks again Mum). This is the third Jupiter Rising and with a grand total of 1000 tickets sold, we are granted a luxurious 100 acres between us and the sculptures, some of which we are free to clamber all over. The festival’s line-up has been curated in collaboration with some of Scotland’s most beloved cultural stalwarts: Lost Map and Night School, DJ Sarra Wild and producer Wezi Mhura, resulting in a predominantly local line-up.
Live music isn’t all that’s on the agenda. There’s a programme of creative workshops, film screenings, (including the beautiful Beverly Glenn Copeland documentary) in amongst talks, performance artists and the more expected frivolities. The chance to swim in artist Joana Vasconcelo’s mosaiced pool was also up for grabs if you were savvy enough to book a slot or the less impressive but still coveted slots in the hot tubs.
The festival takes place in Jupiter Artland, a contemporary art collection founded on the principle that “art enriches the land, and the land enriches art.” Weather-wise the afternoon is a balmy August and as the remnants of the haar cling to the hills Mum, her wee dog Deedee and I find ourselves in one of the most spectacular places in the whole park: driving straight through the middle of Charles Jencks awe-inspiring landform sculpture. I will not ruin this visual for you if you have yet to experience it. it is magnificent and you should clap your eyes upon its sprawling wonder; however, this sweeping hillock and pond creation is often at the centre of activities as the weekend progresses so you’ve not heard the last of it. After I slap my wristband on, set up camp and spot the faces of a few familiar humans in amongst the tents and porta-loos, it becomes almost immediately apparent that there is very little to be apprehensive about. I now realise that I channelled my anxieties into packing and have enough food for 2 people for a 5-day festival and not 1 but 2 raincoats to see me through the 2 nights…
I dispel my shame while my new neighbours and I tuck into our cold cans of beer as the sun comes out, hungrily surveying the site, which is almost completely in eyeshot. The biggest tent, a rainbow coloured circus tent named ‘ The Blessed Lady Big Top’ takes prominence, opening out onto the ‘Heaven Sent Bar’, which will be slinging out cocktails and icy beers till midnight. ‘Last Judgement’ DJ tent spills out into a clearing littered with hay bales, overlooking the garden of earthly delights and the pond. The smaller white peaks of the ‘Fountain Of Life’ tent nestle almost out of sight in amongst the hillocks of Jencks’ sculpture. The unseen stage is tucked away in the woods with the woodland sculptures, its programme not beginning until the final few hours to see out the festival in full forest doof style.
We wander down towards the performance tents – there’s still an air of apprehension. I can’t quite allow myself to relax into feeling like this is going to be as dreamy a time as I’m beginning to suspect it will be and it looks like the rest of the early arrivals feel similarly rusty on how to do this festival malarkey. For most of us it’s our first festival since Covid-19 arrived in our lives, for many their first live gig. We are ready to shed the headphones and feel the bass in our ribs again. There’s a band that looks suspiciously like Sacred Paws sound-checking in the blessed lady top and we doddle in tentatively, in clusters. Gently we are told by the musicians that it’s not the gig yet, so we scuttle off and clamber up the ridges of the Jenck to bask in the sun like lizards. Wee kiddies are starting to appear, their enjoyment unleashes itself much more swiftly than ours and they help pave the way for us throughout, in their tiny crocs and enviable hats, they lead the way on many frontiers. The band starts up and like ants we stream from all over the grounds towards the sound.
Sacred Paws were the perfect opener filling in for a sadly absent Romeo Taylor. Any hint of disappointment dissolves quick smart as these folks play their tunes with the unabashed enjoyment you normally only see in humans under seven. Don’t confuse this statement to suggest that these musicians are not hugely skilled, they are pros; they just haven’t forgotten how to have fun. Rachel Aggs gallops gleefully across the stage without missing a note while she plucks out some seriously uplifting guitar lines that bounce over the other guitar. Everybody starts to relax as we lean into the breezy melodies carved out by her and Eilidh Rodgers, vocals, who masterfully holds down the rhythm section with Moema Meade (aka Lady Neptune) on bass. Meade openly holds our gaze with hers throughout, almost willing us to accept that it’s real: We are at a gig and it’s great, get on with the enjoyment of it all. Strike a Match, the title track from their first album, feels hugely fitting for us to re-establish our dancing pins to and join them in their kind-hearted funfest.
Lady Neptune followed. If you had told me that putting what instinctively feels like the final act of the night on second was a good idea I would have regarded you with a healthy suspicion. And that suspicion would have been completely incorrect. Whoever programmed these times is a genius. As a fury of bass thuds from the speakers, the outline of a human hurtles out of the crowd, balaclava and clad in tight neon yellow to lap the outside of the tent. Once inside, a Nintendo-spiked onslaught of happy hardcore pop chaos, that somehow manages to be endearing as well as terrifying, invites us to choose oblivion. Our neon-laced rave Overlady sprays silly string across the crowd as she surveys us from her impossibly high clear platformed stilettos inset with LED lights, while her devoted gimps leading the dancing charge shoot Tequila at us from water guns. It’s relentless and we love it. I stand so close to the speakers I can feel my leg hair wafting with the force of the bass. She crawls over the boundary of the stage while singing her anthemic Number 1. “I can do anything, I will prove I’m strong, I’m the best I can be, I am number 1”. Our Lady somersaults on the grass in the mosh pit, flashing heels and all, before we dance as hard as us underlings can, to punch out whatever inhibitions we were holding onto before this aggressive empowerment began. Bow down deep to her ladyship. And bring your earplugs.
Fimber Bravo – What an absolute treat! Somehow we are graced with the presence of a true legend tonight. A stage packed with some serious musical heavyweights (Hot Chip and Vanishing Twin to name but a couple) led by a man whose steel pan is a weapon of resistance. After the heavy doof of the earlier slots, this set is a welcomed balance of acoustic and digital, Kora and steel drum masterfully coating the layers of synth pop ear treats that boost us exactly where we want them to. A jubilant rave ensues, the musicians unswayed by the lengthy soundcheck whip us into a fervour of swooping limbs with hypnotic melodies that somehow feels like a rest despite the fact we can’t stop moving. Fimber Bravo’s vocals periodically pull us from our meditative states, our attentions grabbed. He moors us while the rhythm section conspires with the synths to dance harder and smile wider. We bound toward the various sounds spilling out of the tents after this set, primed for a night of nonsense and high on the sheer adrenaline of the day and each other.
Saturday morning comes as a bit of a shock despite the stillness of the campsite, the foggy mornings of the previous week starkly contrast against the clear sunshine that splits the sky as soon as it creeps over the horizon. Bleary eyed and somewhat stunned in the calm that has replaced last nights giddy adrenaline, we emerge from our thinly veiled beds and eye off the next stage of our festival journeys. My hangover mercifully strikes after I’ve figured out where to fill up the camps’ water bottles and before I’ve realised I’ve forgotten my toothbrush and the Bloody Mary mix. Idiot#. We lurch our way over to the ‘Fountain of Life’ for its opening set after consuming coffees and various breakfast goods, delighting in the warmth of the sunshine from the safety of our sunglasses. Rachel Aggs was an upbeat hug to start us off. It’s hard to believe this is her first gig as a solo artist. This human’s DIY set up is impressive, yet it’s hard to pay attention to that while she creates lush layers of synthy electronics with catchy and forceful melodies and throws out that infectious glee she exuded from the blessed big top yesterday. Freely weaving around the stage and the grass in front of it, Aggs’ powerful hooks and sweet lyrics endear us into dreamily swaying, then all out dancing, especially when she pulls out her tailored dance moves. One of my fellow swaying companions likens her to Billy Bragg, bouncing out the melody focused bangers and we can’t help but agree.
Very excited to see what happens next for this all out fun merchant. Jencks Cells now resemble a vibrant reinterpretation of Seurat’s La Grande Jatte (you know this painting – give it a Google). Humans drape every inch of its slopes as congregate within it, chucking ourselves into its surprisingly cool ponds and swimming away our hangovers, beer cans in hands. The sculpture effortlessly transforms into an amphitheatre once the sounds of the performances drift out of the ‘Fountain of Life’ tent. Flipping magical. Summer hasn’t left us behind just yet and we are simply having the loveliest time and all before even 2pm. We marvel at how slowly the day is ambling forward; we aren’t even halfway through and it feels GREAT.
Kapil Seshasayee is an earnest and profound artist. A trio of musical prowess! My ear latches onto the pure and solemn vocals akin to the best of the 90s rock underpinned by the hits of a drummer that is, at once, recognisable as a powerhouse player. But the beauty of this band is that they are ALL powerhouses. Kapil is joined by Edwin Stewart McLachlan on drums and Diljeet Kaur Bhachu on bass-flute and tambourine and together they build a musical complexity that is both satisfying and transfixing; proggy as hell in places, but with pop metal sensibilities and heaps of rhythmic shifts (every beat nailed). They make it seem effortless as they weave recognisably Indian musicality (to even the uninformed ear) with relentless drums, richly toned and beautifully mellow flute. Impressive stuff. These songs aren’t just for enjoyment. Kapil writes candidly political songs about the oppressions of the Indian caste system for both its inhabitants and its diaspora. It’s powerful stuff even before you tune into the clear tones of Kapil’s lyrics and this is all without their usual second drummer…wowee!
Next up, Apostille! Think Adam Sandler in the opening performance of the wedding singer, but even more maniacal. Michael Kasparis complains that he wasn’t important enough to play later, (which is much less uncomfortable if you know he is one of the curators of the event, the founder of Night School records). For the duration of the set he flips between screaming the emotions that don’t seem to come out without being forced, to a form of hostile stand up; stopping and starting songs to catapult across the stage and commanding us to laugh in the uncomfortable silences instead of cracking jokes, literally. And it works. He unites us with the banging rhythms underlying his furious electronic pop ballads. The swooping fist-pumpings that marks the Scottish stamp of approval come from some of the more unlikely spectators. Gleaming teeth and shocked guffaws fill the tent as we leap around, captivated by this unruly spectacle in turquoise satin. He rolls about on the floor or shrieks open hearted lyrics like ‘I’ve tried so hard just to be what you want’. I think we all wish we were capable of such a glorious tantrum.
Josie Long next, the radical comedy cuddle. Josie’s feet do not touch the stage, she instead captivates from the space left by the audience, who are huddled lazily around her, cross-legged on the grass in the welcome shade of the tent. Self described as ‘medium pregnant’, Josie treats us to a stand up comedy set of socialism wrapped in silliness, all the while pulling off what many parents strive to do their entire child rearing careers: she keeps us laughing while she teaches us about the dangers of the world and with such finessed foolery. Not only that, she acknowledges our suffering, she doesn’t cower away from it; she sees us and what we have been through. And then she radicalises us, while she comforts us. She crams us full of information while we chortle along to her elegant buffoonery. While we feel reassured that she has fled the tyranny of England for the safety of Scottish soil she offers razor sharp clarity to the political storm that has brewed around us all the while reminding us that we are in it together and have each other.
Landlord resentment swoops into the unexpected longings lockdown brewed in us…like yearning for the ministry of sound chill out room. Giddily we are regaled of her obsession with the postie then sobered by a horrific list and description of her ‘favourite’ bills that have been recently passed in Westminster, which is presented starkly without cushion. Our relief withheld, we are face to face with the terror of it, ‘that wasn’t much of a joke was it?’ We are deftly steered elsewhere, our giggles drawn from less treacherous comedic waters, Josie sends us off with the melody of her tender battle cry echoing in our fuzzy brains. I set a reminder on my phone to join living rent when I get home and weep quietly for our collective plight.
Nightshift – more please! As I queue for pizza, a glorious squawk bleats from under the Blessed Lady Big Top. I am a sucker for a clarinet and the music that houses it feels like a welcome blend of X-ray Spex and the B52’s; two vocals surf the post punk murmurings and I’m delighted the pizza’s going to take an hour because I can’t wait to get into that tent. Another astounding first gig from a band of well known Glasgow faces. The human at the helm with the lead vocals is Eothen Stearn, and it often feels like she’s chanting us into a rally cry with Georgia Harris doubling or harmonising when she’s not lashing out the clarinet. We are treated to a brilliant set. Sci-fi musings on holograms get a wee kid running down to the front to dance right at Eothen while the guitars and drums drive us through Sonic Youth-spiked new-wave post-punk prog (yes all of the things but not all at once). As the spawn of a ‘guitar dad’, I reached saturation point with the instrument a long time ago and it’s pretty darn rare for me to say these words: I absolutely love this guitarist. David Campbell offers a smattering of excellent noises, never overplaying and adding that extra touch to pull together the solid work of Chris White’s drumming and Andrew Doig’s bass lines. Final song, Powercut, is a cathartic crescendo that leaves Mario and I weeping, yet again. God how we’ve missed such exquisite noise.
Then, Alabaster Deplume, a glorious weirdo of the highest order. A wonderfully ramshackle set from this human who offers a relentless force of positivity; this poet refuses to let the world harden him; his fury channelled into the poems that mock and criticise capitalism while encouraging the heights of silliness. He picks up where Josie Long left off and scoops us into a set of unbridled child-like enthusiasm. This is resistance at its finest. He makes sure to remind us that we are doing very well, and that it’s not always easy. We believe him. Visit Croatia is an absolute triumph; an instrumental duet between guitarist Conrad Singh and Alabaster on sax that melts us. It’s the most moving moment of the festival for me and a clear highlight, even more so for the mic stand being rescued from falling from the stage by a helpful audience member, without a break in its hopeful mournful tone. We adore him as he regales us with favourites Red Car and Buy It. We giggle our way into Be Nice to People, which feels more like a hymn than anything else. And we float out into the night, after sighing a collective yawn of relief.
It’s at this stage the day catches up to us, we flirt with Pictish Trail’s elegant wash of psych pop dream times but our ears and our legs demand rest before the final leg of the day. Not before we scurry in and out to hear some of Johnny Lynch’s beloved banter up close alongside welcomed elements that the addition of Susan Bear (Good Dog) brings to their sound. We also caught a peak of their new outfits, courtesy of polymath Faith Eliott’s hands. This weekend really has been a showcase of the depth of Scotland’s talents. Yes, I am gushing at this stage!
Free Love, the epic finale to our liberation ritual, refuse to let a quiet PA get in the way of their paganistic party plans. Suzi and Lewis cook are ferocious with their perfectly orchestrated liberation, their flower-clad NRG vessels stand stoically at the sides of the stage until the time is right and Suzi, a frontwoman of masterful magnitude, parts the crowd and slowly lowers herself onto the grass to join us. Her presence and conviction overrides the decibels we ache for and the huge swaying flagpoles lull us into the dancing state we need to reach to succumb to this shamanistic offering. We want to dance, we want to let go, that’s why we are here, and Free Love holds that space for us, spitting petals in the face of disassociation and wrestling us firmly back into the present moment with their undeniable synth fuelled incantations. “Here we are, alive instead” Suzi roars at us again and again, and we go off like a bag of ferrets.
As we scamper off into the night after Free Love politely tell us they don’t have any more tunes, despite our cries for one more; The true Sesh gremlins unite in the woods for the full throttle forest doof. Some of us head back to our tents, the buzz of the party rolling between the trees towards them, others exploring the sculptures or enjoying the last moments of our harmonious lives without any authoritative presences to restrict us.
In Greek Mythology, Jupiter is the archetype of happiness, creativity and enjoyment and this powerful trio was embedded in every aspect of this weekend. There was also an underlying sense of urgency to this solace. Losing these gatherings has been devastating, not just for our need to connect and unleash together but for the people whose incomes they support. It feels like those struggles are not pushed aside in these grounds. Instead, the value of creative outpourings and those who dedicate themselves and their lives to them are respected and honoured. Audre Lorde’s ‘poetry is not a luxury’ flashes to mind as I consider how galvanised I feel after the weekend’s splendour.
The foggy morning greets us kindly, and I think it’s safe to say that, on this blessed Sabbath, collectively we are no longer spiritually bedraggled, merely physically bedraggle, which is much easier to remedy. This exceptional festival has cultivated that intangible sense of community that only these sorts of rituals can conjure and we bid farewell to our temporary dwellings and neighbours with the feeling it isn’t over and we will merely return to each other when the time comes. As Deedee trots over from the carpark with my Mum there is still a cluster of the dedicated few, dancing their way into the afternoon in a gentle tent side rave, reluctant to leave Jupiter behind. I could not have asked for a better way to be initiated back into the musical realm, with many a new favourite band, a pair of aching legs and a very full heart.
Photos courtesy of Stephanie Gibson and Marilena Vlachopoulou