I Love Techno 2008
Flanders Expo, Ghent, Belgium, 15 November 2008
Since the beginning I love Techno has tried to incorporate as many different genres as possible. On its
inaugural night the promoters managed to secure acts such as Daft Punk and Ritchie Hawtin,
playing to a crowd smaller than that found crammed on a southeastern train to London in rush hour.
This year's acts were varied enough to keep most revellers happy, although there's always one or two that will manage to moan at anything. The event wasn't without its flaws, but the thought process that went into the design of the venue has to be commended, along with managing to secure such acts as Booka Shade, Justice, Ritchie Hawtin and Crookers. This year's line up seemed to be heavily subsidised with some big electro acts, maybe this is how they were able to shift all 35,000 tickets.
The journey began at 11 o'clock Saturday morning as we headed towards St Pancras to board the Eurostar. To me, the festival already betters anything in a field in Merseyside or Stratford, and instead of being stuck on a dilapidated Thomas the Tank or stuck in mile after mile of tailbacks we were able to sip on a glass of champagne before jumping on board a bullet train that hurtled us through the rolling hills of Kent and over to the flats of Belgium. After arriving at Brussels it was a short half hour train ride to Gent a journey that's free if you take your Eurostar ticket with you - another bonus of getting the train.
On pulling into the Ghent the atmosphere was more like that of going to a football match. Several different languages chanting god only knows what before being greeted with police dogs. This leads to certain casualties being pulled from the crowd for a thorough cavity search. One area that desperately needs to be looked at is getting from the station to the Expo centre. Despite the free trams there is no kind of queuing system and so boarding the tram is life threatening. As the next crowd arrived everyone was pushed forward toward the tram.
Tram ride over with we arrived at the centre. The venue is a huge indoor exhibition centre, an added bonus considering we were in Belgium in the middle of November. The interior of the building was exceptional. We entered through the VIP area which leads us upstairs in which we were able to get a view of the central auditorium in which the bars and drinks tokens were housed. Off of this the colour-coded rooms could be found and the toilets. The main entrance was worked with military precision and after giving over your bags and coats the route into the venue takes you through the chill out room. This was beautifully designed, huge multicoloured lanterns running down the middle of the room. On one half of the room there was a huge white 'cube' that housed the Nokia trends lab, professional photographers, make up artists and bar. Whilst on the other there was a huge video screen where messages could be projected and hundreds of armchairs and settees.
It was pretty easy to navigate around as each room had been colour coded and everyone was given a programme of the line up when you got in. Despite the early slot time Crookers had already amassed a massive queue to get in, so we decided to head over to Hot Chip in the Blue room. Although the crowd were behind them and singing along to all their big hits, 'Shake A Fist' receiving a massive cheer along with 'A Boy From School', there seemed to be something lacking in the performance, almost a little too pedestrian.
As always line-up clashes mean that life or death decisions hav to be made early on and especially so here. With a 5,000 capacity at each room and a krypton factoresque entry system, queues were inevitable. Luckily Digitalism were playing next. Since first hitting the scene it has been very difficult to place what genre you would class these as. The favourite label seems to be techno rock and with some of the tunes they blasted out they certainly lived up to the name, Michael Jackson's 'Bad' and DeadMau5's 'The Reward is Cheese'. The set wasn’t without fault with some mixing slightly adrift and the fact that the room was hotter than the sun made it difficult to enjoy at its best.
Booka Shade were up next. At never having had the opportunity to see the masters at work live we stayed and it was no disappointment. Dropping hit after hit with such classics as 'Mandarin Girl' and 'In White Rooms'. The crowd rewarding them with their baying chants and them rewarding us with theirs.
One draw back for the event for me was the number of people there. It seemed to be a little too busy for its own good. There were huge queues to get into some of the rooms. With people criss-crossing across the floor like a plague of locusts, it was difficult navigating from one place to the next without crashing into someone. We tried in vain to get into the Ed Banger room to see the likes of Crookers, Mehdi and Justice, but due to the thousands of others trying to get in we decided that the point of a music festival was to listen to music and not to be stuck in a queue.
There were provisions for this as there was a large curtained of 'centre' room, which along with its own DJs, had at certain points of the night live streams of other rooms. A good idea in theory but there is nothing stranger than dancing with hundreds of others and then looking to the DJ booth to see it empty. Elsewhere in the Minus Room, a pretty much established formula for the Minus crew Ritchie Hawtin and the team they brought their Contakt formula along, with a few tweaks here and there. Some see this as a revolution within music, others view it as a little pretentious. I am neither impressed nor unimpressed; however, it is a nice little treat for Joe Bloggs being able to interact with what's going on. Of all the sets I've heard this has got to be the best so far. It wasn't the typical minimal music I've become accustomed to with Minus but a lot more industrial. As always though Hawtin himself was in a class of his own and I was absolutely gutted to find out that he dropped 'Spastik' as his final tune, to my understanding the place went mental.
Tying to get as much of a feel as possible for the place we headed over to the Red room to see Dave Clarke. With several hundred people singing along to Underworld's 'Born Slippy' earlier on in the room it was going to be a difficult act to follow. However Dave Clarke tears up what ever has been on before with his thumpingly hard techno. By the time he performed only the mental or drug-induced were able to keep up to the beat and with the sweat literally pouring out of us (cheers KP for letting us use your pants as a flannel) we headed towards the chill out room.
It was here that we were able to reflect on what an outstanding festival this had been. As with everything there are issues. The queuing systems for the trams and rooms were a bit of a nightmare, but there were other rooms to explore and apart from the disappointment at maybe not being able to see who you want this didn't detract from the event itself. The crowd there were young and old and very much up for partying no matter what. The drinks were reasonably priced and of course there was free water. Having to pay to go to the loo was a little bit of a hindrance but if you managed to sweet talk or sideswipe the attendant this was no big deal.
Having now been to Sonar and I Love Techno I have one thing to say to everyone. Europe is the way forward. Save your money, don't trapes all the way to some dingy field in the middle of nowhere, where it will probably rain and be as loud as purring cat get yourself over to mainland Europe where they obviously know how to party. The sound systems, visuals, and chill out room here were by far and away better than any festival I've been to in Britain. The crowd were friendlier and at 45 Euros it is an absolute steal in these credit crunch times.
All I can say is to those that didn't appreciate how good it was, maybe, just maybe it might be time to hang up those multicoloured Nike hightops and swap them for a nice pair of slippers.