- On the Sunday evening of Freerotation this year, Move D got on the mic and gave a heartfelt shout-out to a tree—or rather, the tree, a beloved part of Baskerville Hall's landscape that was destroyed last winter in a storm (not to be confused with the squishy tree, Freerotation's other arboreal celebrity, noted for the unusual softness of its bark). The tree was mourned on Freerotation's Facebook group when news of its death arrived some months ago, and was commemorated this year by an illustration behind the DJ booth in the festival's small outdoor dance tent, The Dome.
Wearing the same ridiculous green jacket as last year, David Moufang spent the afternoon tag-teaming with Meanwhile, a South African DJ much grungier in appearance—faded Basic Channel shirt, monster spliff constantly on the go, soggy-looking records poking out of his bag. Following Moufang's theatrical '70s rock opener, the duo stuck to fun and unfussy house, eventually finishing with the long and strange "Underground Mix" of ESP's "It's You."
On the grass before them, shenanigans unfurled. There was a game of limbo, a man in a toga handing melon to strangers, and various exceptional choices of fancy dress. A guy wearing all yellow and carrying a fake mic turned out, upon close inspection, to be April O'Neill from Ninja Turtles. Oli Warwick, who DJ'd the night before, was The Vibes Warden, a blue-uniformed official issuing hand-written citations to anyone greatly helping the vibe. Sometime during "House Nation Under A Groove," the game of limbo reached its climax when a gymnast strutted over and went shockingly low. By the time he was back on his feet, The Vibes Warden had his citation ready—"I believe this is yours, my friend!"
Dangling around Warwick's neck was a cheap medal and ribbon—the kind of thing you'd win in a spelling bee. Another Freerotater was handing these out to fellow attendees she found in some way extraordinary. One recipient was Leif, a Welsh DJ and festival resident who played three times during the weekend. On Friday night, in the orange sweatbox that was Room Three, he brilliantly deployed Elgato's "Luv Zombie," one of Hessle Audio's under-appreciated tracks. This one slowly crept out of the latest A-side on Leif's label, UntilMyHeartStops, which happens to be a lovely synth excursion by Steevio, the dreadlocked Welsh mastermind who runs Freerotation with his partner, Suzybee.
You could catch Steevio and Suzybee later in the weekend operating a hulking modular synth rack in Room One—like most performances at Freerotation, theirs is an annual tradition. This time they came on right after another Welsh staple, Joe Ellis, who runs UntilMyHeartStops with Leif. Ellis perfectly embodied the sound these Welsh guys do best: punchy, elegant and a bit surreal, with a hint of the chill-out room even at its peak moments. His set was full of excellent tracks too understated for most festivals or clubs, like Jitterbug's "Speaker's Corner" or October's "Decompression Chamber" (a standout on UMHS).
Freerotation's main room is a particularly good place to hear this kind of thing. An unremarkable hotel lounge during the rest of the year, for the festival it becomes a kind of psychedelic cocoon, thanks to simple and endearingly goofy décor (another of Freerotation's strong suits). Desk lamps fill the booth with amber light, and the artist is framed by fantastic visuals (Freerotation's VJs are exceptional, and listed on the lineup alongside the artists). Party jams definitely work in here—Sven Weisemann made the room pop off with tracks like Tessela's "Hackney Parrot," Hardrive's "Deep Inside" and the occasional spin-back—but it's the subtler sounds that really flourish. Shackleton, true to form, wooed the crowd with dazzling textures and deliciously awkward rhythms more than massive basslines (though there were a few of those, too). And Voices From The Lake gave us the festival's lovely closing note, with two hours of sleek and ultra-subtle techno that had a rapt crowd happily swaying on the carpeted dance floor.
Freerotation always feels too short at the time, but once it's over there have been too many good moments to name. A quick highlights reel for this year would include Portable crooning melancholy synth pop in the dome; Acido Records boss Dynamo Dreesen getting unapologetically weird in Room Three (a rare occasion on which his own records sound like club music); October going full-on rave early on the first night, because why not? (his own "Singularity Jump" was, once again, a highlight of the festival); Objekt keeping the tempo well above 130 BPM for most of his set, careening through tracks like Gesloten Cirkel's "Zombie Machine" and a raucous batch of his own unreleased material.
Then there's the stuff you don't see, simply because you can't be two or three places at once. It pains me to have missed Surgeon playing this set in the chill-out yurt, DJ Bone getting cut-happy with his brutal techno records (I caught a bit of this one but not nearly enough) or Joey Anderson dropping one of my all-time favorites, Mathew Jonson's "Typerope" (this came during a particularly tight moment, with Midland on in Room 2 and Dynamo Dreesen in Room 3).
And that's before you get to all the things aside from the music that make Freerotation what it is: the projections on the broadside of the hotel at night; the literary quotes posted around the toilets (Dr Seuss, TS Elliot); the jovial wide-boys on security; the kids selling vegan bowls who seemed to be pissing themselves laughing every time I went over there; Fred the yurt merchant and his dog Silus ("everyone loves a dog in a yurt," Fred observed one afternoon); the always formally-dressed sound crew (vests, starch white shirts, the occasional pipe); and, most unforgettably, the soothing green landscape that surrounds Baskerville Hall. Even The Angry Farmer—Freerotation's nemesis, thanks to his annual noise complaints—has his place in this lovable cast of characters.
At some point on that Sunday evening, Move D got back on the mic and told the crowd that he really, really loved them. This would be a completely standard bit of banter if it wasn't utterly sincere. Cheesy as it may sound, there really is a kind of mass love affair at Freerotation, one that envelops the crowd, the artists, the venue and the music. 600 friends knocking around a weird old hotel for three days—it feels more like a massive sleepover than a festival. Hovering over the dance floor where Moufang made his proclamation were big cardboard letters spelling out "TEULU"—the Welsh word for "family."
Photo credits: Daddy's Got Sweets