Some of my best friends spent the weekend just gone at the Dekmantel Festival, a techno festival in Amsterdam (well ‘electronic and experimental music’ to be strictly accurate, but there was certainly a lot of techno on the bill). Having just bought a house a few months ago I have no money to be jetting off to music festivals, and being honest, I don’t actually like the idea of being away from my wife and child for more than a night or two. There was the odd moment in the week leading up to the festival where I had a pang of envy though. That is, until I though about the reality of what it would be like. I can no longer stay awake until the early hours of the next day, or even close, and I know myself well enough to know that I would get tired, I would get grumpy, sulky and sullen, and wouldn’t be much fun company for anyone.
Thinking of the festival did bring back some good memories though. My first trip to Amsterdam was for a one day festival called Dance Valley, back in 2001. Almost exactly 15 years before Dekmantel in fact, which suddenly makes me feel very old. The festival itself was great fun, but as it drew to a close, the heavens opened with the heaviest rains I’d ever experienced. We rushed to get a shuttle bus to take us back into Amsterdam, but soon realised the number of buses was wholly inadequate for the number of people. We had no choice but to start walking the seven or eight miles back into Amsterdam. We were cold, we were miserable and we had somehow lost one our party along the way. We trudged for an hour or more in increasingly heavy rain before managing to get a lift the remainder of the way, still worried about our missing friend. As we arrived back at the hostel, wetter than we’d ever been in our lives, we found him sat at the bar, in fresh warm clothes, drink in hand. He’d managed to stow away in the luggage compartment of a coach, the bastard.
Much of my late teens and early twenties (and a bit of my mid to late twenties too) were spent at similar festivals and club nights, dancing the night away until hours that are barely imaginable now. I still love the music (or some of it at least – my early dabblings in psychedelic trance are perhaps best forgotten). I loved the way a great DJ could blend three records into an entirely new piece of music, the way they could judge a crowd, knowing exactly what record to play next. Most of all, I loved the sense of adventure and excitement, travelling off to different cities or countries, leaving the normal world behind for a night or a weekend.
I have no desire to go back to those days though. I’m glad I enjoyed my younger days and spent more time and energy having fun than working or studying (although it will be interesting to see if I pass that advice on to my daughter when she’s older). I’m sure I will still go out dancing from time to time, but the days of emerging bleary-eyed into the early morning light from a basement techno club are long gone, and were gone long before I became a father even. What’s not gone and never will be are the friends made during those years, and the memories. Memories of speeding down the M6 on a warm spring day to get the last few tickets to our favourite club night before the record store closed. Memories of the adrenaline and excitement that flowed through a room when the DJ dropped Jaguar or The Bells or Emerge. Memories of Amsterdam, Hungary, Liverpool and Birmingham.
My life is different now, less wild perhaps, but full of a different kind of joy and wonder, and entirely new reasons for being up at 5am on a Saturday morning. Those raving days though are part of what made me the person I am. I wouldn’t have the life I have now if it wasn’t for the life I had then, and the memories of those days make me smile still.