We arrived at the edge of Loch Ness as the Friday sun prepared to sleep and a secretive but alluring mist lay across the green water and the mountains. Just ten miles from Inverness, we found ourselves separated from ordinary society with thousands of others, about to begin our initiation into this temporary musical cult.
In a land of mythical underwater beasts and ancient folk tales, Noah and the Whale and Mumford and Sons headlined the first night with an appropriate folk magic that suited the automatically spiritual atmosphere of the powerful natural setting. Mumford’s beautifully sensual string ensemble danced around the mountains and awakened an emotionally aware place in everyone’s souls in time for the weekend’s continued rituals. With whisky lemonades in body and in hand, the heavier guitar lashings and drumming in ‘Little Lion Man’ had the whole crowd jumping and dancing in hot thrall and excitement. As we turned away in search of more dancing sounds and people, coloured fairy lights illuminated the path to wherever we wanted to go. As the night glowed on in a vast tented shadow of surrealism, Ettiene de Crecy unleashed an enticing light display with squares of red, green and blue. His linear shapes of sound shot across the crowd as we allowed our bodies to become enveloped in this pulsating sea of techno. As we then drifted back and forth between the stages with assertive techno lines and consuming folk poetry. Awakened were two parts of the brain that normally don’t meet each other; we were placed in a heightened place of musical, emotional consciousness. Into the wee hours we danced and played in a circle of old school friends around the tent village. We joked and caught up and drank until drink could no longer assuage the unforgiving Scottish cold. Then as we drifted to sleep, sheltered on the hard ground, the remains of the last DJ set thudded on into the night like a rhythmic, electro mother cradling us on the loch bank.
While the sun returned to the sky on Saturday morning, the absence of music and flashing lights left time for contemplation and coffees as we sat and stared out onto the loch. Before long the clouds opened to release an inscrutable three-hour’s cloak of rain. Yet as we sat in little tents, huddled with friends, our spirits remained high as we exchanged stories of the previous night, aided by a breakfast of Vodka Ribenas and funny flavoured Pringles. Although the cruel weather seemed to accentuate our natural vulnerability to nature, the constantly yet elegantly changing emotions of the setting only echoed the swirling and shuddering pulse of the festival that resulted of the mismatching array of artists. Tim Minchin sang a beautifully dirty, sarcastic yet honest set to a huge crowd; his particular tone of bitter, ‘fuck’-drenched poetry matched bitter Scottish humour quite perfectly. Minchin’s address to us as ‘Muddy… Scottish… Teenagers!’ confronted us with the evident disparity of our loch side community. Although a significant number of the crowd were indeed muddy Scottish teenagers, they were joined by many more muddy Scottish men, muddy Scottish women and muddy Scottish everything else. Yet within this everyone was largely united, as evidenced by the elegant national chant “Here, here, here we fuckin’ go” at any moment mid-performance. Whether to spur on competition with a bare-footed Australian singer, or to express a shared exuberance for an ultimately rousing band, the combination of this chant’s football roots, and the infusion with music enthusiasm firmly established this as Scotland’s deep spiritual mantra.
After much wandering up and down the hill, we at last found the Red Bull bar, where several ‘Rocktails’ and Mojitos injected an easy openness with a hyped desire for more music. As the clouds lifted and we could see the sun’s reflection in the emerald loch, we could finally experience the music in the joyful sunlight that it deserved. Time began to spread out, and the continuing eclectic contrast of acts span around us in a dizzying cocktail of music. Kobi Onyame’s enticing, magical language had us swaying and clapping and chanting his chorus in the cloudy, fresh June air. The Rapture brought a more balanced and stylish tone to the main stage with a smooth but energetic set. Deadmau5 also released an evenly flowing performance, his twisting, cubic set delivering a living light show, like a vast spaceship arriving on Loch Ness to deliver a techno message to earth.
The band we all wanted to see was Justice; they were the champions of the festival. Their white glowing cross at the front of their set first portrayed a curious artistic concern, yet with every climb, drop, swoop and explosion of electronic musical vibration they inspired a true worship in that hour’s set. Blindingly bright, constantly changing LED illumination, the two Frenchmen standing calmly above us like two high priests releasing an epiphany sermon down on their laity.
Late into that night colours again gushed everywhere as the DJ played from a crooked tower surrounded by crafted trees spewing fire. Human tigers, dinosaurs and transvestite fairies ran, danced and shuffled within the sphere of purple flashing dubstep. Wife-beater-clad body-builders grinded with women in shorts and crop tops in a symphony of smudged make-up and fake tan. The ground pulsated with the electronic energy and our stamping feet; the air carried the liquid, static combination of music and disjointed shouting. To keep on moving with the sound was the only way to assuage the consuming damp Scottish chill, and so we danced and danced with whatever movement we considered dancing, until our arms and legs no longer listened to our heads and the music eventually dissolved into the dark of the night.
By the rise of Sunday morning, a minor sense of exhaustion pulled down on all our bodies as we greeted each other and the sky. Yet despite this weariness, the great loch had by now become a familiar friend, the centrepiece of our new home.
A Drambuie iced tea diluted much of my fatigue into mellow relaxation, before Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs emitted soft, subtle dance beats during a brief DJ set that flew around in the clear light.
Friendly Fires’ energetic beats and soulful vocals, edging more into rock, thudded the ground to re-energise our bodies and spirits: Ed’s strong bass beats transmitted a faithful energy into our welcoming bodies.
As twilight began to tint the sky a darker shade of blue, the sun pushed flickers of gold through the transparent edges of the clouds and we all knew that we would soon have to return to the normal world. So in a final fanfare of sound a momentous crowd poured every ounce of remaining strength into Biffy Clyro’s headlining set, the band’s own efforts just about keeping up with a fired, passionate performance of their classics. In a group of old and new friends we chanted to every song, or the lyrics we thought should have been written for every song. Although not typical of the overall techno-mythological atmosphere we experienced, the sense of everyone’s voices and bodies joining in unison in a celebratory farewell summed up our joy and our wish to savour this last evening.
As the dark again consumed the air around us, fireworks burst final explosions of colour into the Sunday night sky; closing farewells from the sensational series of colours, sound and movement that conquered the otherwise tranquil space of Loch Ness. In a land of ancient Scottish folk stories, giant beasts, living hillsides and emotional and weather-controlling gods, the three-day sensation of energy and phenomena that was Rockness would fit comfortably into any mythical tale to rival that of a snake-like giant living deep in the loch.
Words: Mariota Spens
Photos: Lucas Plumer