I have heard great things about Mischief, the Grandson offshoot of Boomtown. This is just it's third year but already it attracts a core of people keen to extend their summers into September's shorter days. After a long drive to the secret location in West Sussex, during which I hit the M25 on a Friday rush hour, it's dark when I arrive. We've had no rain today but clearly the site is suffering from stormy excess earlier in the week because sticky puddles still loom large as I put my tent up. I hate putting my tent up in the dark. People around me feel the full force of my grumpiness. I look out from my tent towards the pretty lights of a magical looking space. A couple pop back to their pop-up, dressed ghoulishly with their make-up dazzling white. “We've just been performing our acrobatics on the high wire at the main stage”, they tell me. I need to go and explore.
I gravitate towards the open air stage, El Vardo, first. I vaguely recognise the band that greets me as I approach. Electric Swing Circus are the ringmasters of a burgeoning Electro Swing scene and I've seen them at other festivals this Summer. Tonight, they're on top form as their mix of 1920's swing, dubstep and drum and bass gets the crowd into a party spirit. Comfortable with headlining, the Sisters of Swing, Eleanor Rose and Laura Louise, show off their vocal range as the band booms behind. It's a set that delights and excites. The following day I talk briefly with Tom, the band's guitarist and realise that at heart this is a band in love with festivals. They even run their own; a small one-dayer in Birmingham called Swingamajig. I'm tempted to go in 2014.
Passing beyond fire eaters and jugglers, I quickly nip into the Bordello tent. This tent doubles up as a bar. Somewhat surprisingly, this is the only bar on site. It makes a change from those festivals we've all attended this summer that are so dependent upon their bars making a profit and sustaining their enterprise. Cans are reasonably priced at £2.50. I make a point, whenever I'm in here, of buying a can of lager or Scrumpy Jack even though I have some spare in my day bag. Festivals without bag searches when entering arenas should be embraced and loved. They are now few and far between.
I think I'm watching the fabulously named, Screamin' Miss Jackson & The Slap Ya Mama Big Band whilst in here. It's got a full on yee-haw Country Bluegrass thing going on. Punters are entertaining themselves by dancing behind a perspex screen that shows only their shadows to others in this tent. I guess that, later in the night, when Bordello's becomes the venue of choice for those with a penchant for Burlesque, the screen is put to other uses. But I'm elsewhere exploring this land of mystery.
I take some time to categorise my fellow festival goer. In the dark of night, this draws comparison to some of those free parties I used to go to back in the day. Indeed, I'm sure I recognise faces from then. Travellers and hippies, squatters and ravers, together again in a field of fairy-tale. Add in a splattering of sixth formers, dubstep dancing in their hoodies and trainers, and we have a combustible, energetic, friendly, party mix.
I hear strains of Portishead coming from a tent in the corner of the field. A DJ is playing to a pretty packed tent. I head inside and have a dance, out-grinning those who are grinning at me like Cheshire cats. It's an eclectic mix of music in here. I'm none too sure who's behind this tent but the mix is on the right side of accessible and I wile away an hour or two.
Things suddenly stop. An attempt to get into the late night cinema proves fruitless as that is closing too. I look at my watch and I'm surprised to see that it's late enough at 2AM. I fight insomnia no longer and head to my tent.
Saturday morning and something doesn't feel right. Fencing is being moved and erected. Our fantasy land is being taken over by barriers. Our movements are being controlled. What is this? I talk to one of the crew erecting this extra fencing and all becomes clear. “The Local Authority were patrolling last night. They want to close us down if we don't put this additional fencing up, it's a condition of the temporary license.” It seems that Nimby and Son of West Sussex are none too happy that a festival full of reprobates has descended into their parish and are quoting obscure health and safety laws to derail the train. I hear how Mischief has had to work hard at every turn to overcome objections from opinionated locals. I also hear how many locals are supportive of this festival yet their voices are silenced by those who shout louder. After five minutes of conversation, I have nothing but praise for the efforts of the Mischief team in ensuring that this festival has happened. Many people, still sleeping in their live-in vehicles and tents are oblivious to these ongoing challenges.
The site looks different in this quiet daylight. Quite a few people are not going to surface until dusk and those that are ambling around the site are simply doing so to find a comfy space in which to slumber. The film tent is one space that accommodates such soporific need. Carpeted and with comfy armchairs that have seen better days, this venue shows a healthy mix of films, long and short, over the weekend. I enjoyed a Sunday afternoon kip in here whilst half-watching geeky American men promote themselves for a spurious dating agency. Elsewhere on site, people who are on the cusp of sleep, fade in and out of focus at a smoking firepit.
I am sat on a portajohn. They've been multiplying overnight (another Health and Safety condition) as tractors tow more through the mud but that doesn't mean that provision is adequate. Volcanoes of soggy tissue and excrement pile up over the drop down seats so I'm congratulating myself that I seem to have found the one pristine bog on site. The toilet starts to vibrate, wobble and dance. I wonder if I'm about to have a heart attack. But I needn't worry. Next door in the Tat Palace, a DJ has begun to spin some bass-heavy tunes. It's bass like I have never heard. It resonates around the portajohn and though I'm not a small man, I can do nothing but bounce to the beat.
I head into the Tat Palace to hear more. This venue had been closed to the public on the Friday night but it's now in full swing. It's an impressive square construction, four walls painted pink beyond which is an open air dance space. The sound in here always seems to be turned up to 11 and I'm not surprised at all to see a Health and Safety sign advising that headphones are available on request. If Jungle, Drum and Bass and Techno is your thing then you probably wouldn't be heading far from here for the rest of the weekend. I choose to dip in and out of it but can't fault the determination of the DJ's and those dancing in their desire to have a good time. The widely advertised paint fight, due to take place in here early on the Sunday evening, might have been more fantastical if the colour of the powder paint wasn't limited to Tory-blue.
The Pirate ship stands next to the Tat Palace. Again, it's a venue I walk in and out off. I don't see any gems in here but neither do I see any shipwrecks. It's built like a boat and hosts pirate punky dance-noise stuff. I amuse myself by thinking of pirate-related genres (Piratechno, rum and bass) whilst surveying the scurvy on stage.
I spend much of Saturday and Sunday sitting within earshot of the El Vardo outside stage. Here, as my supply of cider diminishes, my confidence in talking to strangers increases. Rich had a twelve hour drive from Lampeter on his live-in bus. Like the Pied-Piper of Wales, he stopped en-route to pick up friends of his teenage son. He's not sure how he'll get home because one of his tyres is now flat. Liz was due to travel here with her ex MC boyfriend but has arrived alone. We compare notes about the festivals we've been to this summer. John wants to get his piano onto site but his truck is stuck in mud. These are all decent, good people with different stories to tell and it's this that makes Mischief.
Musically, the main El Vardo stage hosts a mix of hiphop, reggae, ska, gypsy and soul. We chuckle early on Saturday as Fridge and Bungle mimic a duo from Goldie Lookin' Chain with their funny rhymes. Swedish blonde, Bahia, strides confidently around the stage doing a nu-soul thang as the crowd look on and drool. Dr Syntax and Pete Cannon tell all about their nightmare journey from Manchester but seem to appreciate the response they elicit from the crowd. Their hip-hop stuff pitches somewhere between Scroobius Pip and Mike Skinner and it's warmly welcomed. I curse myself for missing DogShite on the Sunday evening.
Mischief is a genuine, sincere festival. It's not for everyone but I definitely appreciate what is going on here. Fierce in it's independence, it has the capacity to alarm and charm in equal measure. The team organising this party earn top marks for keeping things going in the face of real adversity from locals. Apparently, it has grown over the three years it's been running and I'm sure it will continue to do so if it keeps striding down this fairy tale path.
latest on this festival
festival home page
returning after a year out
Mischief Festival 2013 review