For some, spending 24 hours without a phone or any means of contacting friends and loved ones is a daunting affair, but that is exactly the premise of Please do not not touch‘s LOST Festival. It began with a coach journey from King’s Cross to an unknown location for a 24h art and music experience. With cardboard and bed sheets covering the windows and a chilled out disco soundtrack, there was nothing left to do but sit back, enjoy a couple of beers and surrender ourselves to the relaxing environment. The central-London traffic that delayed the coaches only reminded us why we were so keen to swap the city for the secret woodland venue.
Escapism is central to the festival’s unique appeal and participants are advised against bringing phones or wearing branded clothing. Not that the clothes you brought with you mattered for long, climbing into overalls upon arrival, ready and preparing to get messy. The immersion was thoroughly worth the festival sacrificing potential social media attention during the event by discouraging communication technology. The festival also encourages people not to bring their phones, as an incentive to avoid today’s most common distractions. This is not to say that organisers don’t want participants documenting their experiences , and photography is actively encouraged. Armed with a Russian Smena rangefinder camera from a time where getting loaded into a lightproofed vehicle bound for a secret location was far less exciting, we were ready to go.
The artistic concept behind LOST started with founder, Jodie (read our interview here), whose degree show project at Edinburgh College of Art invited participants into the “blank canvas” of a bedroom and encouraged them to take a shot glass filled with paint and interact. She, too, painted herself white and sat in the room as part of the canvas, truly challenging conceptions of how we interact with art, and what is “allowed”. With this aim, a series of interactive art pieces were spread throughout the forest. From relaxation spaces like huts, a painted bed and even a bathtub dug into the ground, to a tent full of tubes of powder paint with which to get messy, LOST had a new surprise behind every tree.
Other installations included a series of blank chalkboards and a hut with a blank canvas, where participants were given paints and materials to express themselves with. Maybe the most interesting was a group of mannequins positioned by a rack of paint-filled shot glasses. Everyone was free to paint the mannequins (or each other) however they wished. Put politely, our artistic ability is limited, and LOST fulfilled its aims perhaps for that very reason; it wasn’t about the outcome of our creations so much as it was about the sheer willingness to interact. LOST was the antithesis of the gallery, challenging how we conceive art. Truly, art can be much more social than the quiet environment of a gallery portrays.
The festival struck the perfect balance between music and art, and it was never out of the question to go and enjoy the soundtrack from one of the many dens hidden around the site. The Discofunk stage was perfect for the gorgeous weather, and walking towards it for the first time upon arrival to hear the organ stabs of George Benson’s ‘Give Me The Night’ made us feel immediately welcome.
Following a couple of live bands, up and coming DJ/producer TCTS topped the main stage bill, blending the clean piano house he is known for with heavier G-House bass lines, and more experimental cuts like Melé’s 4×4 stomper ‘Ambiance’. He was followed by Percolate residents Kyrwald and Farrer, whose afro-infused tech house reminded us how much modern dance owes to “world” music, a thought which fit perfectly with the festival’s unique interaction with art. It would be rude not to credit the stage dancers, as decorated as the rest of the venue, who did not give in until the night was over.
The surprises of the night were Slipperman and Bedhead, the PJ DJs, stepping up to the decks in blue and white button up pajamas to flit through genres with a refreshing lack of concern for continuity. Pleased entirely by the fact that everyone involved was having a great time, it was exactly what the crowd wanted and needed. Catching up with them in the crowd by the Discofunk stage after their set, they told us that the PJs originated with a photo of the pair passed out together at a house party. An aspect of over-performance springs to mind, but Bedhead makes it clear that, really, it’s all a bit of fun. After all, how could a concept that originates with a story like that not be? This comes through in their well-curated but unpretentious selection, and Slipperman assures us that they aren’t afraid to play Whitney or Diana Ross. Covered in paint and unafraid of smearing it all over the faces of others, everyone here is a participant.
Bedhead started DJing on cheap turntables with hip hop, garage and jungle records bought with pocket money, while Slipperman moved into DJing from promotion. He raises a point that rings true with the festival as a whole: “My main love will always be soul music, anything with heartfelt feeling. For me, that’s distinct from Soul – genres do not define music that makes you feel something.” Through its varied musical and artistic offerings, LOST let participants find the aspect of art that made them feel something. The completeness of the concept did not go unnoticed.
Those still present for Snare Drum Awareness’ closing set on the main stage were in for a treat. It would be wrong to suggest that their murky sound fit with the disco classics of that afternoon, more at home with labels like Swamp 81 and Nightslugs, but LOST had already shown us that it would never put something like that before the potential for a good time. Walking back towards the main stage to hear Tessela’s ‘Hackney Parrot‘ rumble through the forest probably made my night.
LOST delivered everything it promised and more: a unique and almost surreal 24-hour art and music experience. Brands, troubles and other detritus of the outside world were forgotten, accompanied by two or three hundred like-minded people of all ages. The Festival’s success probably means it will never be this small and intimate again, and we are incredibly pleased that we got the chance to attend the event in its infancy.
Words and Photos by Andrei Sandu and Matt Sears.