Silhouetted by the Sea
You should always write everything down straight away before all the images in your head get swept away by the distractions of everyday life.
That's what I didn't do. I did have my laptop with me, but I never opened it once during that week in June, many weeks ago.
It all started last winter with a message from some Italian/Austrian guy. I remembered his name from some old e-mails.
He asked if I wanted to come to Sardinia for a week to play guitar on the beach as part of what sounded like a festival. He said it wasn't really going to be about the gig, the names of the bands, or the performers' egos, but about a communal experience called DUNAjam, an Anglo-Italian verbal hybrid that stands for, well... a jam on the dunes, in fact more something like a party than yet another festival.
Hipshakes - photo Tiberio Sorvillo
This year would be the third time, featuring around fifteen to
twenty bands from Germany, Italy, the USA, the UK, Denmark and
Austria. The audience was limited to 100 people, mainly coming from
the same countries with some exotic veterans such as a bunch of
kiwis for instance.
It all sounded
too good to be true. I said yes straight away, and took my wife with
me. Before we knew it, it was already June, and that spontaneous "yes"
had become a reality, as we sat in our rental car at Cagliari
airport with a print-out of an e-mail in front of us, describing the
route to the place where the bands and "the so-called audience" were
going to meet.
towards the Costa Verde, the southwestern part of the island that
the billionaires over on the Costa Smeralda have never heard of.
There's no glamour and glitz there, but all the more bendy roads,
endless bushes, roaming dogs, pigs and goats, lots and lots of
crumbling old mines from all ages between the Roman times and the
last century, huge caves, temples, empty beaches, smoky little cafés,
practically no billboards, no supermarkets bigger than an average
one-family flat, plenty of cheap, nameless wine that is typically
served cold and doesn't leave a headache, unpaved roads and a strict
lunch break between I and 5pm.
Costa Verde region - photo Poldi
But we were going to find out about all that later. First we had to find the meeting place, a country restaurant where tables had been laid for the whole company. After bread, spaghetti, fish and wine, the PA was switched on, and the first band blew the crumbs from the tablecloths.
Tracker from Innsbruck, Austria, played psychedelic noise rock of the kind that goes down well after a dose of Vongole.
It was fun to see bass-player Martin swing around his Rickenbacker, while singer and guitarist Max was filmed and photographed by several cameras as he twiddled various knobs on his effects pad. Boys and their toys.
The band following Tracker played heavy stoner rock without vocals. I only found out what they were called later (Rotor!), but then that seemed to fit the anti-stardom agenda of the event perfectly.
By the way, even the as yet unidentified organiser of DUNAjam himself, let's call him X, shows no interest at all to make a name for himself through his event. Not just out of principle or some kind of modesty, but also because the whole thing wasn't really registered, official or "legal".
On the first evening, X showed me flyers with all the correct band names, but different dates and venue details that had been distributed around the area to throw intruders off the scent, and give them a regular club show at a random club, which is what they are after anyway.
I have to admit that I didn't take any part in the illegal raves of the early to mid nineties. I liked the idea but I could never handle the straight beats. Now I was going to relive what I missed back then.
Intellectuals - photo Tiberio Sorvillo
In the week to come there would be gigs every afternoon and every
night. You heard of the locations the same way you hear of the
clocks going forward or back. There always seemed to be someone
around who knew what was going to happen when the time came, and
somehow everyone happened to be at the same place at the same time.
Plans were spontaneously hatched or changed, and a white van full of
extremely useful people from the scene around the Munich-based
Elektrohasch label helped put up generators and a complete backline
wherever it was needed.
I hadn't really brushed up on the current state of neo-psychedelia
during the last 15 to 18 years, but in the meantime some interesting
connections seemed have been made between that particular universe
and the sort of stoner rock that sees absolutely no shame in an
ever-elongating guitar solo.
I happen to have grown up with the anti-noodling ethos of the post
punk generation, even if I never quite stuck to it myself. But at
least I always had a bad conscience.
Now here I was, sitting on a dune, about a mile from the coast, listening to the vaguely South-Asian colourings in the musical excursions of the German three-piece Colour Haze. Seeing the audience dotted all over this natural amphitheatre made of sand, I couldn't help but be reminded of that mass sex scene in Zabriskie Point with Jerry Garcia's dreamy noodling in the background. It was just like that, minus the sex. And there was absolutely nothing wrong with it (the noodling, that is).
As a perfect antidote to this epic improv rock, two crisp-sounding garage beat bands played on the same night in - what else? - an open garage as part of the so-called
Prickly Pea Bowls event, running parallel with Duna Jam
for this year.
First up were the Intellectuals from Rome. Before their encore, their drummer seemed to claim, in broken English, that she couldn't really play (whatever that's supposed to mean), while the undeterred keyboardist Tina applied her one-finger technique to her little Casio and singer/guitarist Francesco didn't allow the flow of his expression to be broken by unnecessary formalities such as tuning his guitar.
Roll Adventure Kids - photo Tiberio Sorvillo
Next there were the Rock'n'Roll Adventure Kids, two brothers from California with one drum kit, one guitar, two voices, and an incredibly energetic set full of instant classics such as "I Got Your Panties In My Pocket". I'm not using the word "incredible" frivolously here. Let's just state that this minimal line-up doesn't necessarily need to end up sounding like the White Stripes. It can also be three times as fast and three times as loud.
In the meantime I tried to get some information out of X about where he wanted me to play, according to his secret master-plan. Somewhere among his cryptic explanations, I seemed to catch the word "village fete". X also introduced me to Tom aka Gown, a cousin of Gram Parsons' no less, suggesting we jam together.
The next day, with this mission in mind, I went up to the house on the hill, known to everyone as The Base, because it was the place were most of the musicians were staying. It was the kind of place where someone who is actually supposed to rehearse gets drafted in to fry the pork chops, while four people set up amps on the veranda, getting it done after a healthy dose of chaos.
Tom was almost scared away by the bats living in the rehearsal area of the house, which was something like a garage, one wall short of being a proper room. But after recovering from the view of the bats Tom's songs were beautiful, melancholy and austere.
and Gown - photo Tiberio Sorvillo
In the meantime we went to see some of the caves and ruins. In the nearby former mining town we saw a poster for the "Festa Patronale" in honour of the patron saint Sant' Antonio. Beneath the route for Thursday's procession I read the fateful words "spettacolo musicale con Robert Rotifer".
So that's what the village fete was all about.
I got sick instantly at the thought of showing off on a stage in front the Sardinian country folk, far removed from the safety of the indie crowd. In time-honoured Punic tradition, I was supposed to be the human sacrifice. Finally, I had found the catch of the deal.
The next day, or was it the day after the next, we could no longer be sure, I arrived at The Base for rehearsals with Tom, when the van of Austrian Garage Surf combo The Staggers rolled up the drive.
Later down at the beach, while the precise riffs of German duo Dyse bounced off the cliffs, accentuated by the brutal roar of a tortured larynx, The Staggers' inimitable front man Wild Evel showcased the last word in retro beachwear.
Hangee V - photo Tiberio Sorvillo
In the evening the Austrians played in the garden of a local pizzeria. Evel apologised to the audience for being "a bit lazy," because he had just gobbled up seven slices of pizza. What he calls lazy would be sheer abandon by most people's standards.
To be honest, though, whenever I see The Staggers play I can't keep my eyes of that bespectacled bass player.
What a band. They had the whole pizza place at their feet.
The Hangee V, a local Surf-Beat band with a charming Cinecitta flavour, were going to follow the Staggers, but on that night, the Carabinieri had finally caught up with us, and the PA was turned off after just a few numbers.
An hour later the band had set up the gear in the bats' hideaway at The Base, where they played until well after sunrise.
The next day we climbed up the cliffs, while in the background Baby Woodrose from Denmark played their bombastic Blues rock against the setting sun.
When night had fallen, audience and bands assembled at The Base to experience the frenetic punk sounds of the mighty Moviestar Junkies from Turin.
And then it was Thursday already, and we wound our way up the hills to the deserted mines of the Costa Verde.
Star Junkies - photo Tiberio Sorvillo
Later on the beach, I fell asleep from sheer exhaustion during Causa Sui's set. When it was time to go, we drove to the above-mentioned mining town for my sacrifice in the name of the patron saint of travelers and vagabonds.
Tom and I were going to play some songs together and divide the set up between us, but I had to start off on my own.
It was like a scene from a film when I wandered into town with, guitar case in hand, the end of the procession in front of me. I mixed in with the crowd. There was a festive silence, the scent of myrrh in the air, thousands of flowers crushed on the street, and up ahead in the dim street light in front of us the bald pate of the statue of Sant' Antonio that was pulled through the town by a tractor on a decorated trailer.
Rotifer and Gown - photo Tiberio Sorvillo
We took a shortcut through the side streets and made it to the main square before the procession came in. Right in front of the white church there was a stage that was far too big, with lots of lights, two mics and two lonely amps on it.
The procession reached the square and I was told to start playing. As a precaution, I had asked Max from Tracker how to excuse myself in Italian for not being able to speak the language.
X had been right, of course. There was nothing to be afraid of. Sardinians seem to be very open-minded, and by the time Tom, the fearless Texan took the stage, the mood was already relaxed, the Festa Patronale successfully hi-jacked by DUNAjam or PRICKLYpeaBOWLS or whatever you want to call it. Only after the third encore, when Wasted Pido, the Bakunin of Psychobilly, started his late set, the town soundman mercilessly cut him off, because Pido had banged his precious mic rhythmically with his forehead for
additional percussive effect.
Automatic - photo Tiberio Sorvillo
Afterwards, in a barn next door, the French one-man-band King Automatic played until the roof, which was made from palm leaves and plywood, was about to cave in. And in the morning the locals were already back out in force for their next procession, this time in full traditional regalia, with horses and carts and everything.
There would be plenty more tales to tell, but I better leave it at this before I bore everyone's socks off like some holidaymaker with his tedious slideshow.
Also, X doesn't actually want to see Dunajam promoted too widely because he's aware that informal events of this kind only work in small dimensions.
Actually, it wasn't the weather or the crowds, but the sudden change from this healthy disregard of the laws of expansion and finance that caused our severe culture shock when we returned to London.
In fact, I've never really recovered.
Pido - photo Tiberio Sorvillo