With it being a bank holiday weekend and with the weather being so agreeable Paul and Sarah thought that they would take their two kids to the forest early on Sunday morning. They had their mountain bikes in the back of their camper and a large picnic for lunch. The forest was a favourite of theirs, it had beautiful carpets of bluebells in the spring and ancient oak trees and a stream that meandered around moss covered stones. It had some gentle trails to ride along and tree ropes that the kids could swing on, and there were some hidden clearings where they could stop for lunch in the dappled shade. They went often enough to recognise quite a few people who also frequented the woods. They usually gave them a pleasant hello and a comment about the weather, sometimes they stopped to exchange pleasantries with an older couple or with a family walking their dog.
They usually drove to a car park in the heart of the forest that was close to their favourite trails and today was no different. They drove along in their pristine camper at a serene pace with BBC Radio 2 on in the background and the kids talking excitedly in the back. They noticed that there seemed to be an unusual number of cars about for this early on a Sunday morning. So many that some were parked up on the side of the road. They wondered if perhaps there was an event going on during the bank holiday that they had stumbled upon. Intrigued, they carried on along the road to find out and soon the trees gave way and the road opened out into a large clearing.
The scene that confronted them was like nothing they had ever seen before, and they were completely unprepared for it. Paul slowed down to a crawling pace as they stared in shock. It was as if they had been unknowingly dropped into the middle of a strange and fantastical Bambuti gathering deep in the Congolese rainforest. At the end of the clearing there was a huge stack of speakers held together with ratchet straps and scaffolding. A banner was hanging above the speakers with a name on it, something soundsystem, they couldn’t quite make it out. There were vehicles all over the place, some parked haphazardly and others parked in a way as to create a semi circle spreading out from the speakers. There were scruffy campers and dented vans and banged out old cars.
The music coming out from the speakers was like nothing they had ever heard before. It was dance music, but nothing like the dance music they heard on the radio. This was faster and more aggressive. Almost tribal. The bass was so strong it actually made their car vibrate, it was astonishing that they never heard it properly until they were in the clearing. A crowd of people in front of the speakers swayed and stomped to the music like some modern-day lost tribe dancing round a flickering fire as frenzied warriors pounded on their jungle drums. Someone was even on top of a van dancing to the music, his feet pounding the roof in time with the bass and his arms twisting and waving in the air. Another person looked like they were hugging one of the huge speakers. Unpredictable looking dogs roamed around off their leads. A lot of the people looked scruffy and untidy; they had unusual clothes and dreadlocks and mohicans and masses of piercings. They walked differently and had a look about them that was hard to determine. This unknown quality and otherness made Paul and Sarah tense and worried.
Their concern was exacerbated by the realisation that some had cans in their hands and must be drunk. Others looked like zombies, wandering around with a blank and empty expression on their face. But then some looked over-animated, hopping around with wild expressions and otherworldly eyes. As they drove slowly along one of them loomed close and grinned insanely through the window as their kids looked out in stunned silence. Paul drove slightly quicker. Who knows what these people were capable of in their unnerving drug-fuelled state.
‘What is going on? Who are these people?’ asked Sarah in wonder and alarm.
‘I’m not sure,’ Paul replied, ‘it looks like a party.’
‘A party? You mean like a dance festival?’
‘No, I think it’s an illegal rave, look – there’s a police van over there watching them.’
‘What shall we do?’
‘Try to act normal, I’ll just keep on driving, maybe we can find another car park somewhere,’ replied Paul as they made their way through the clearing and out the other side, the trees quickly drawing a curtain over the most extraordinary and surreal scene they had witnessed in a long time. Sarah let out a long and drawn-out breath.