I am sat in a bathtub. The bathtub is merely decorative and has no water in it. From time to time, other people come and join me in this bathtub. They tend not to stay for very long before flitting off towards the bright lights of fairground rides. Around me, people are sitting inside tyres that are dotted across the floor. From behind me, in a wooded area, I can hear the strains of deep house tumbling out of the trees. From beside me, in a big top style tent, I can hear the noise of the crowd appreciating the mixes of George Fitzgerald. I have never been to Ibiza before but I bet it's not like this. For this weekend, the Zoo Project, the well-respected open air club in the hills of Benimussa, has come to North West Leicestershire and Donington Park.Â
I arrive after work on Friday and already the campsite seems quite full. I chat to some people who have been here for a few hours and they tell me that I'm lucky to arrive now. Earlier, the queues to get in and to have your bags scrupulously searched snaked back into the car park. But, I'm directed straight in and pointed in the direction of my VIP camping, a perk of the job (or so I think). On my wristband is a plastic tag. On entry into the campsite and into the main arena, I need to hold my tag up to a scanner which then turns green and emits a chuckle (or is it a roar?). The security guard then gives me the nod and in I go. I guess this extra security device is in place to detract touts and forgers . It's something I've not seen at festivals before and if I'm honest, it's a little bit cumbersome.
Yes,ÂÂ a VIP ticket. For this, I am promised showers, posh toilets, additional viewing areas and a VIP bar. I'm a little disappointed when entering the VIP campsite to see that there are just five showers and two male toilets. These quickly block over the weekend and although the staff do their best to hose them down I conclude that I'd rather have a row of portatoilets than a porcelain duo any day. Tent up, I head off to explore and to find the VIP bar.
Somewhat disappointingly, exploring doesn't take too long. There are four stages at the Zoo Project festival. Three of these are in clearings of a smallish woodland coppice. At first glance, there doesn't appear to be much to distinguish between the Oh Deer stage, the Play House and the Shed apart from some slightly different furnishings. Most of the dance action seems to be going on in Cirque Du Zoo, the big top that dominates the space beyond the woods. The website has promised acrobats, fire-eaters and all sorts of visual delights for this festival but initially tonight all I can see is somebody dressed up as a panda bear.
I find the VIP bar and hold my tag up to the scanner to get in. The VIP bar is a mid-sized tent with some armchairs in it. It serves cans of beer and cider at exactly the same prices as you can buy them in the woods or in the Cirque Du Zoo. I baulk at paying £4.30 for a can of lager or cider but have little option seeing as the checkpoint through which I had to pass to get into the arena was allowing me to bring no liquid through, not even water. I look around for the extra viewing platforms that have been promised but aside from a side entrance into the Cirque Du Zoo I fail in my search. I resolve to pull myself out of the grumpy mood I'm descending into and look for some food.
There's not much that's catching my eye by way of food although I stay in the arena and don't explore very far. I kid myself that an undercooked sausage and a handful of chips (priced at £7.50) represents good value and take a bathtub watching people enjoying the thrills of the fairground rides. It's at this point that something clicks inside me. I'm here for the next two days. There are shabby edges to the Zoo Project Festival and the VIP entrance clearly represents bad value for money but let's make the most of it...
I begin to chat with people who are sat around me. Those that are in a state to remember their names are mostly warm and engaging. They recommend DJ's that I should see; they offer me the contents of their medicine cabinets (which I politely decline). The shabby edges are overlooked by them as a potential consequence of moving the site to Donington so late in the day (up until two months ago, this festival was due to take part at a stately home in Northamptonshire) and 'it's about the craic man'. I cut some slack and head to bed after shuffling in an energetic manner to a bit of James Priestley's set at the Oh Deer stage. Tomorrow is another day.
I am woken early. For once, this isn't down to errant shouts of 'Alan' but simply because this site is directly on the flight path from and to East Midlands airport. I amuse myself by considering that some of the planes flying overhead will actually be heading to the Balearic Isles. Why would people want to go to Ibiza when Ibiza has come to them? To be fair, the noise of the flights is intermittent and just about bearable. It is the noise from the nearby car racing track that is more distracting. The screech is piercing. It pervades the air. It's headache-inducing. It hurts.
I consult Saturday's programme and there's little I want to dance to until Bonobo puts in a set in the Cirque Du Zoo at 4PM. Ever the explorer and always a glutton for punishment, I take the opportunity to pay a tenner to an official looking Donington racecourse man who's standing by an opening in the woodland. This enables me to go and explore the racetrack and to see fast cars driving around it. Anybody who knows me well will know that the I am no petrolhead. When people tell me that they love motorsport, I take that as a sign that we're unlikely to have a long and fulfilled friendship. But I surprise myself at the racetrack. I nip into the pits where Italian mechanics are getting greasy and I ask them questions. I watch families tucking into their picnics. I find a place to have a reasonably priced pint. I've no desire to make my attendance at motor sport events a regular occurrence but as a one-off, it does the trick.
Back in the arena and the music is in full flow. More of the promised entertainers have come out to play. In the Cirque Du Zoo, two elevated platforms either side of the DJ booth provide us with a spectacle to watch. On one of the platforms, there's a giant, stuffed lion looking down on us. A man, who wouldn't have been out of place in the racecourse pit, breathes and blows fire; an elegant lady dressed like a pink orchid walks on stilts; an man riding an Ostrich invokes memories of Bernie Clifton. Later in the evening, we are treated to acrobatics from above as a woman twists, turns and makes impossible body shapes in ropes and satin.
The line up is a strong one this Saturday evening. Bonobo plays an uptempo set (for him) which is perfect for his early evening slot. The Oh Deer stage is packed out as MJ Cole merges into Grandmaster Flash. By the time that James Zabiela takes to the Cirque Du Zoo stage, the crowd are eating out of their hands. I might have been a bit critical about this festival but you can't deny that they've booked some mighty fine DJ's for the party. The following evening is just as strong with Derrick Carter, Mark Farina, and DJ Sneak warming the circus up for BrEaCh to absolutely smash it in the closing set.
Since returning home, I've kept a keen eye on the Zoo Project Festival's Facebook page. Comments within suggest that punters can't wait for 2014 and that for many they couldn't have wanted a better experience in a field. The Zoo Project festival is definitely one to watch. It has ambitious plans for 2014 and in a few years time a weekend in North West Leicestershire might equate to a weekend in Ibiza. I have no doubt that this festival will be able to sort out its shabbier edges. It draws a good party crowd and a good set of DJ's. I won't be rushing back but I'm sure that many will.
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