I arrive at Jupiter Artland, the slightly otherworldly sculpture gardens and gallery a short ride outside of Edinburgh, having already missed four hours of the day’s programme. Romanti-Crash is a wedding-themed “sleepover” event of art, music, performance and workshops, with stages nestled around and about the immaculately-kept sculpted hills, mounds, pathways and pools of Charles Jencks’ landscape work Cells Of Life. I’ve never been here before, and walking down the long winding tree-lined road to the site (the sculpture gardens are part of a large private estate, owned by art philanthropists Nicky and Robert Wilson, who bought it in 1999, with the sculpture garden currently celebrating its tenth year as a public gallery), the sky is beginning to darken and a temporary deluge of rain and wind has replaced the earlier sunshine.
I’m greeted at the box office (a small free-standing, tarpaulin-shielded booth which looks set to blow away at any moment) by happy and helpful volunteers, their enthusiasm for the event relatively undented by the sudden wild weather. The nearby walk-in-wardrobe, where earlier arrivals were suited, accessorised and glamourised upon arrival, seems abandoned and something like the remains of a sound stage set from the Wizard of Oz, except after a real tornado. Luckily the campsite is only a few metres away, so I set up my tent in the rain, helped by another nearby guest who kindly lends me their mallet, and an employee of Jupiter Artland, who gladly gives me a brief overview of the organisation’s history while helping stop my flysheet from taking flight into the gloaming. This friendly welcome sets the mood for the entire evening to come – one marked by fun, collaboration and lack of ego.
Jupiter Artland hosted a sleepover event last year, but this one feels like an ambitious step forward, with three stages, and a line-up of music, art, talks and performance curated by Sian Dorrer (of Acid Prawn and Ravioli Me Away) and Matilda Strang, known for being able to surprise even the most jaded of know-it-all festival-goers as a programmer for Supernormal Festival. The party has been in full swing since 3pm, and has already seen an incredible breadth of performances across genres and art forms, from straightforward indie rock to experimental dance and psychedelic industrial jazz. There’s also been an immersive eat-in wedding buffet performance, accompanied by music from Design A Wave, which I am slightly devastated to miss. I’m assuming it was a lot like the wedding party scene in Neil Jordan’s Company of Wolves, but perhaps with dancing and awkward nibbling. And, yes, there was apparently a suitably mad-looking wedding cake.
Not wanting to miss anything else, I quickly grab a nearby lilac boutonnière for my suit jacket and head straight to the Matrimony stage to check out cult fave The Rebel, aka Ben Wallers of Country Teasers fame. A packed marquee is happy to escape the rain and be soaked instead by waves of crunchy distortion and his legendarily acidic humour. The presence of drummer Sophie Politowicz really expands the sound (Wallers often performs solo), with the duo at times sounding like a more loose and friendly Fall, or perhaps, at one point, the Buzzcocks on intravenous sedatives. Towards the end of the set, Wallers performs a solo broken country blues song, building to an emotional peak that breaks as Sophie crashes in casually at the climax, cigarette hanging precariously from her bottom lip. Not long after, Wallers is singing “It’s very cold outside but you have a warm vagina”, and the comically forthright lyric sounds strangely apt to our circumstances, warm in the crowded marquee, with the minor weather event still winding down outside. I still don’t know if my buttonhole is for the bride or the groom, or if those terms are even relevant to this particular wedding (it seems doubtful – the diversity of the programme suggests that exploring the future of marriage for those previously sidelined by its historically heteronormative nature is more the intention), but Wallers seems to be wishing the couple well, anyway.
Leaving the main area, I navigate myself around to the Balcony Stage which, although very close by, involves tackling a precipitous fairytale bridge and some grassy ledges with no obvious main path. I eventually find the entrance and enter a smaller marquee, book-ended by wooden balcony platforms; a lower one for the stage, and the other a raised viewing platform, where artist (and chief bridesmaid) Susie Green holds court for much of the evening, brandishing a bottle of champagne like an Olympic torch. But right now the tent is dark and subdued, with the audience engrossed in the minimal, polyrhythmic synth pulses of Ectopia. Vocalist Adam Christensen, the picture of sultry jilted elegance in black body-hugging see-through dress, is reading from a handful of papers; dark, self-analysing ruminations, or perhaps it’s just the grittiness of the music and the ambience of a dimly-lit tent by a body of water at dusk which makes it feel that way. Jack Brennan (the other half of this duo – usual cellist Viki Steiri is absent) is bent over the bouquet of coloured wires sprouting from their mixer, face hidden by hair, and there’s a tension between this creative absorption and Christensen’s casual but performative delivery. The words feel outwards, seeking for engagement, moving from quieter moments of reflection to bursts of melodrama and humour. There’s an awkward wedding moment at the end when Brennan stops playing and stands up straight, set finished, prompting Christensen to come over and continue delivering their lines accusingly to Brennan’s face, not wanting to stop. Then the sound person appears on stage, making a neck-slitting gesture with their finger; but although the head is cut off, the chicken is still running, grinning and declaiming loudly of the injustice, and we’re all a little sad to see it go. Well, I suppose all marriages take work.
Next it’s back into the lighter environs of the main marquee to see Sculpture, a duo of hands-on electronics and live visuals. Reuben Sutherland performs an ingenious kind of visual turntablism, grabbing image after image from a large sandwich pile of discs which are then manipulated on a record player with a camera mounted above it. This relentless psychedelic kaleidoscope of prepared imagery is then projected onto a large screen to the side of the stage. It’s twinned with Dan Hayhurst’s dubby electronics and dreamy, danceable sounds, with a set-up that includes physically-looped tapes spooling around his workspace. It’s very enjoyable and at times almost too much information to take in at once. I’d be interested to see them play in a club environment, with a focus on the visuals, but here, the duo themselves are just as watchable. Whilst the audience might struggle to see direct connections between the sounds we’re hearing and the confetti-bomb of images, Sutherland’s frenetic performance is focused intently on working and reacting to his partner’s sounds as he snatches additional zoetropes to hold over the ones already spinning, at times also picking up and physically moving the turntable. It’s an engaging multi-level performance where we get to see both the wizard’s (slightly eye-popping) curtain and the hard work of the wizards themselves.
Needing a bit of a rest after that, myself and some friends wander over to a small tent where Mystika Glamoor, “surrealist socialite drag queen” and artist, has been giving tarot readings. Alas, it’s getting late, and my unwillingness to commit to queueing earlier in the evening means that I’ve missed my chance to have my immediate future screened for danger (and Mystika is off to host a catwalk competition in The Chapel, another venue which I fail to locate). Fortunately, the next act on is a safe bet, as the Balcony Stage is visited (presumably beamed in, but I didn’t see it happen) by mythical Manchester musical cryptid Paddy Steer, who has quietly become something of a word of mouth legend along the weirder arms of the DIY music scene. Essentially a one-man-band, that obsoletely-gendered term utterly fails to do justice to his one-of-a-kind multi-instrumental genius. He’s seated behind a drum kit, surrounded by keyboards, modular synths, a xylophone, multiple percussion instruments and arcane effects units, all while dressed like some kind of iridescent alien beetle. Even noting these visible instruments, it’s still hard to unpick precisely how he produces the sound he does, which is perhaps closest to the raw synth experiments of Add N To X, if they’d listened to more funk, disco and world music. It’s the sort of otherworldy boogaloo you might hear in a homemade Jabba’s Palace tribute bar at the back of an exotic carpet warehouse in an unknown country having gotten off the wrong plane whilst under the influence of a grossly mis-sold hypnotic suggestion, but crucially is also incredibly catchy and danceable, and its talk box-led grooves provide the most joyous party moment of the night so far. One of the great things about the intimate size of this event is that it can be hard to tell the difference between the audience and performers. As I briefly stop dancing to take a photo of Steer, a group of people in front of me insist that I include them in the picture too, which I get to show them the next morning when it transpires that we’re all camping a few metres from each other. One of them is an illustrator who had run a workshop earlier in the day, and it’s hard to turn around in the small marquee without seeing other musicians and performers enjoying themselves. I see a blue-skinned Natalie Sharp (aka Lone Taxidermist) taking pictures, chat briefly to Sculpture as I queue behind them to buy a heaping box of delicious fries and chilli slaw, and reclusive synth-yeti Tom Hirst (aka Design A Wave) is omnipresently tall.
I’m starting to really get into the celebratory spirit now, so it’s perfect timing for the ultra-fun wonk-pop of The Fish Police back in the main tent. I first heard about them thanks to Ravioli Me Away’s involvement with Heart N Soul (a London charity which provides opportunities for artists and musicians with learning difficulties), and the Raviolis’ championing of singer Dean Rodney Jr’s Bandcamp release “The Buzzard Degree”. He brings the same stream-of-consciousness surreality and universe-next-door internal logic to his lyrics with The Fish Police, backed up by the energy and skill of a band who on-site rumours suggest may include musicians who have played with Grace Jones. Whether or not this is true, it’s certainly believable, as the band are as tight as the last available pint at an after-wedding free bar. With a contagious and ever-present grin, Dean is a charismatic frontperson. It feels like everyone in the tent is happy because Dean is happy, that perhaps we’re somehow all just in his head, which seems like a positive super-power to have. Dean himself suggests that we all look like we’re in a movie, which is a far more succinct review of the entire event than this one. Soon, we’re not even in a sculpture park outside Edinburgh but in an exclusive (women-only) underwater nightclub called The Fishwater. But not for long, as pretty soon we’ve all been kicked out and are outside the late-night chicken shop, the band shifting to a punkier energy as they have the audience jumping and singing along to the insanely-catchy Chicken Nuggets for Me. The set peaks with The Sabrin, which, with its catchy, soulful interludes, puts me oddly in mind of weird genre-mashing feelgood 90s pop oddity Drinking In L.A. by Bran Van 3000; it’s easy to imagine it being a number one hit in an alternative universe. If you mixed together XTC, a funkier Talking Heads, the imagination of Kool Keith, the cartoon whimsy of Gorillaz, then underpinned it all with a funky electro-boogie DNA, something like a garage band version of Cameo or Roger Troutman’s Zapp, then, like me, you’d probably be no nearer to pinning down how to describe this hugely enjoyable band.
Pausing to grab some more (delicious, vegan-friendly) food from one of the nearby catering vans, I arrive a little after Apostille’s set on the Balcony Stage has begun, but I’m greeted by the infectious pulse of nihilistic anthem Life. It’s a cool summer evening now, and a middle-aged man in fluorescent orange swimming trunks comes bouncing through the crowd, punching the air, to dance at the front of the stage. The latest Apostille album, Choose Life, marked a step up in confidence and production-quality for Michael Kasparis’ electronic pop noise project, and his previously solo shows are now expanded by the presence of Moe Meade (aka Lady Neptune) on bass. That said, otherwise not too much has changed in a live setting. Kasparis still gives a high-energy, anything-could-happen performance, injected with bursts of screamed vocals reflecting his time in hardcore bands Anxiety and The Lowest Form, climbing over the balcony front and doing his best to interrupt perceived barriers between audience and performer. This nervous energy is offset effectively by Meade’s calmer presence, a silent swagger of cool in an oversized suit, occasionally stopping to casually kick away a ginormous plaster hand wielded by an over-eager audience member, or to cast amused looks at Kasparis. At the set’s climax, she kneels at her pedals with her bass balanced on her head, engulfed by feedback, and I suspect I’m not the only one thinking it’s a bit of a shame that Mick Rock or someone is not around to snag a snap. The sound during the set is a little inconsistent at times (I think a lot is going through Kasparis’ own on-stage mixer) but overall it’s an enjoyable jolt of utopian anarchy, lifted up by the brighter synth-pop sounds ever-present on Choose Life. And, full disclosure, the guy in the trunks was actually me – it’s much too warm and sweaty for a smart wedding suit by now.
It’s around midnight, and a lovely evening, so I sit for a while and chat with some friends on the hay bales outside the main marquee. Martin Creed, effectively the event headliner (it’s a festival in a sculpture garden – of course he’s the headliner) is playing inside, but my friend explains that he can’t go any closer due to an intractable aversion to specific wind instrument sounds. This seems a bit unreasonable, but also resonates a little worryingly with the warning given to me by a zealous art critic friend, that I should avoid Creed’s set for fear of falling victim to the worst of crimes: novelty songs. Well, from my seat on my hay bale, so far it just sounds a little like weird Christian music, which doesn’t seem so bad, so I overcome all of these unreasonable reservations to enter the marquee and see what is going on. I’m glad that I do, as Creed’s band turn out to be a real joy. There isn’t a huge crowd here, and it’s not hard to assume this has to do with the timing – we’re probably at the point in any wedding party where people have caught the sun, had a few too many drinks and just want to disappear to a glamorous alien nightclub in a nearby wooded glen. But no matter, as those that are present are evidently enjoying themselves, with devotees dancing joyously at the front, and the band clearly having a great time too. Creed is an engaging performer, with a precise, energetic playing style, the band fantastic, the songs clever and thoughtful, and the arrangements charming. I’m put in mind a little of Maher Shalal Hash Baz, if they’d woken up one day and decided they should probably learn to play their instruments properly after all. But perhaps some of Stephin Merritt’s output would be a better comparison. In wedding terms, this feels a little like the lovable but eccentric uncle’s potentially controversial speech, tolerated as necessary by the family, which in the event has turned out to be a highlight of the day. Creed’s band apparently usually includes a drummer, but this subtraction perhaps helps add a more sombre edge which brings out the exposed, emotional fragility of songs like Difficult Thoughts, with its uneasy mix of melancholy and incongruously joyful delivery.
It’s hard to be somewhere like Jupiter Artland and to not start thinking about how human interventions and landscape design direct and influence our own engagement with the living environment. The design of the hillocks that form Seeds of Life give multiple choices of how to get from one point to another, with each discovery of a new previously unglimpsed spiral footpath around a hump feeling like a fun life-hacking revelation. But as the day goes on, more and more people have been going feral and creating their own desire lines. I start to ponder whether there is an intentional parallel between this and the event’s aim to deliver diverse sounds and experiences with the hope of sparking connections and dialogues across disciplines. But I’m a little drunk by now and weddings always make me a bit philosophical. At any rate, I take great pleasure in skirting around the Balcony tent in slightly the wrong way to reach the grassy causeway across the large, still pool (which has taken on a deep emerald green hue in the light of the full moon) in order to eventually reach OH141’s dance stage in the woods. In actuality, of course, it’s very nearby, but everything has begun to feel a lot like an adventure.
The OH141 stage is an immersive experience in of itself, the canopy of the clearing strung with mirrorballs and clear plastic octopus tendrils. Twisting, organic-yet-alien shapes twist upwards from the stage, as if an extraterrestrial pod has crashed here and new life has begun to take root, the craft’s emergency hazard lights illuminating the surrounding trees and the assembled revellers. DJ Letitia Pleiades is an energetic, playful presence, delivering a faultlessly crowd-pleasing, eclectic and fun set. She moves between more experimental and mainstream sounds, all while looking like a ’90s grunge Drew Barrymore as she tousles her hair and goofs off, striking poses for the crowd. Someone clearly didn’t get the “DJs must be po-faced and serious” memo. This alien forest zone is hosted by drag princess ratty byebye, who looks stunning in a white couture dress with a chest-exposing cut away bodice, arms in the air almost continually as she moves between the stage and a side podium to dance. Teasing re-edits of nostalgic ’90s tunes like Olive’s You’re Not Alone rub up against Gen Z hits like Far East Movement’s Like A G6, which prompts rattybyebye to glide to the stage to threaten violence against anyone that doesn’t dance to it. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a club environment that has felt this fun, inclusive, futuristic and sexy. At some point I follow some friends into the trees, who want to look at one of the park’s nearby sculptures in the dark, and so unwittingly miss most of the Sonic Seance performance by V/DA (a collaboration between Pleiades and dance artist Mele Broomes). When we arrive back to see Broomes’ strange alien diva dancing on stage, yelling righteously over aquatic beats and shuddering bass, it’s disorientating, but I ultimately just assume it’s part of the DJ set – it’s just been that kind of night. Finally, Junglehussi takes to the decks, delivering a smoother but no-less crowd-pleasing set. At some point, I look to my side and my eyes meet those of a woman stood nearby, and we share a grin. It’s OH141 boss Sarra Wild, and she clearly knows that she and her crew have put together something really special tonight. As the night winds to an end, I find myself balanced on some tree roots by a speaker, slightly raising myself so I can look over the crowd onto the stage as I dance. I don’t know what time it is, but it’s time for bed. I carefully step down from my perch, only for Junglehussi to drop a track by Golden Teacher… bedtime will have to wait a little longer.
The next morning, as I venture, bleary-eyed, to secure a cup of tea from one of the food trucks, I peer into the main marquee to see Mele Broomes leading a yoga-inspired movement workshop, party-goers with more stamina than I clearing their heads with some extraneous stretching. Apparently there are site walks too, for revellers wishing to get a closer look at the park’s artworks. Again, I’m struck by the ambition of the programme, and the enthusiasm of the delivery, the sheer amount of work put in by so many people to make the event happen. Overall, I’m left feeling happy and inspired, and glad that there are people with the vision and the determination to make an event this unusual and special take place. I feel blessed to have been invited. I’m still a wedding crasher, and I’m still not entirely sure who was even getting married, but what I can tell you is that their wedding party was absolutely legendary.
Photos courtesy of Martin McClure.
For more on Jupiter Artland’s events programme click here.