Rhythms of the World

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Rhythmical Vibes

The Rhythms of the World is an annual music festival held in Hitchin, our new home town. Traditionally it has been free-for-all and held in the streets of the town centre. This year is was a walled-off experience held at a venue on the edge of the town centre and with a £5 entrance fee.

In a nutshell Rhythms is a huge selection of varied live music (and other performance art) across 6 stages and 11 hours for only £5. That’s our second 5 pound bargain in two weeks!

Beyond the music there was some delicious and inexpensive food around (but also a lot of crap, no surprise.) For the alcoholically inclined there were many bar stalls, but we didn’t bother with them. We did have a few halves of excellent Somerset scrumpy however, available for a reasonable £3 a pint. My favourite food for the day was provided by Spinach & Agushi, a Ghanaian food stall (apparently features on some BBC show.) They were so good I went back for more! A local lot providing some cajun food was also a good treat, how on Earth could I resist Goat Curry! I spoke with the guy here, who runs the Caribbean stall in Hitchin market, and he said the numbers weren’t working out too well for him. “Lucky to break even.” A phrase I’ve heard a few times now.

That aside, the music is the reason for the whole shebang. Man was it good to listen to live music again, it has been far too long. Mostly I collected my musical joy from ska/reggae groups. My list of highlights includes:

  • Kid iD … skankin’ ska (listen to Hassle in the Hessles and Up and Down)
  • No.1 Station … reggae getting back to ska (listen to Airstrip One, Bush War and maybe Friday Night)
  • En Fuego (on fire) … man, those horns!
  • Some old long haired dude who sang about being a rabbit, an LSD victim maybe. Alas, I know not who he was. “Being a rabbit!”

[[Update: It was “The Otters!” He’s strutting his crazy stuff down the road in a couple of weeks, ho ho! “Don’t call me bunny face.” “Being a rabbit, it’s getting to be a habit!” The crazy dude’s song is actually on the site.]]

I must observe that none of the above sound as good recorded as they did live. Kid iD suffers the most, the energy just isn’t there. 🙁 As an aside, lately I’m finding that the normalisation that myspace provides to the music comminity’s collective online presence is really very effective and efficient.

The venue, “The Priory“, seemed to work out rather well for the event. There was plenty of room around, with transit between the stages being clear (maybe a bad thing for the event financially?) We attended on the Saturday, complete with the rain, which seems to be entrenched for the summer here. There were some rather muddy areas around the grounds, but the grass did hold up rather well. If Sunday has been wet too it would have been an utter quagmire, as it turned out the lucky bastards who chose to go on Sunday got nothing but sun. Bah, no Glastonbury-style love for them.

Political Vibes

All on not well in our local World of the Rhythms.

Several locals we know boycotted the event, feeling that their traditional local festival had been turned into a money making scheme. It did feel a bit like this, fed the viewpoints of those who’ve lived with Rhythms over the years. This year you pay to get in and you also pay twice as much (only £2) to get a programme. The clincher is that once you’re in you can’t get out, unless you want to pay the entry fee over again (assuming their headcount quota isn’t exhausted for the day.) You could only take in one bottle of wine per head, or four cans of beer (remember, you’re likely to spend hours at the event.) So it is easy to feel like they’re trying to wring all the money they can from you. This was certainly a strong local current of thought.

Obviously, Kat and I decided to go regardless. And, fact is, it was great fun. We can’t compare and contrast to previous years, so can only weigh it up for how it was in its new incarnation. And that’s what I’ve done above. I can’t say I felt my pocket being rung dry, except by the exorbitant £2.50 charge for using the only on-site cash machine (my fault for forgetting to get a wad of cash before entering.) We heard that the beer was expensive, but didn’t drink beer ourselves.

That aside, there’s a definite impression that the new format “hurt” businesses in the town. Several had prepped up for whatever the traditional high-density of people was, and business didn’t go so well. I heard that it was a good weekend for some of the town-centre pubs, but nowhere near as good as previous years. (A couple of the pubs had licensed stands at the event so probably did well out of the weekend, but this was just a select few. We heard from one local pub owner that the “open” tender process for licenses was not well advertised.)

There is also a strong anti-festival element in the town. According to some people at the festival the council tried to shut it down, and all of the restrictions and issues this year were a result of that. They had to have it in an enclosed area, step up security, and follow strict licensing rules (thus the no-readmission policy, this, we are told, was council/police-imposed.) We overheard a group of locals in the Sunrunner lamenting the fact that they hadn’t managed to shut it down this year, that the town was full of “undesirables,” and crime for the weekend rife.

I have to say, the town didn’t seem full of undesirables and criminals to us. Sure, I expect there were more than usual of of both, whatever an “undesirable” is. You get that though, and live with it, it’s better to have a bit of interest than live in a sealed box. Surely? I hope the haters are in a minority, though it would certainly be one of those “loud minorities.” Frankly, the situation with large groups of late-night drunken mid-teens seemed little worse than most weekends. The existing local problems would appear to be worse than any briefly imported ones.

I have heard it said that “Rhythms of the World was the world’s biggest free world music festival… now it isn’t.”