Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Rockness – Inverness, 8-10/06/12

22 August 2012, 12:43 | Written by Josh Hall

Rockness is defined by an odd masculinity. At first glance it appears to be the site of an imminent mass brawl; the location for a dramatically scaled-up version of the sort of fight that begins just after midnight on the High Street of a minor city, after a man who visits the gym twice a week consumes pints in the double figures, inhales a couple of lines of shit coke, and takes umbrage at the behaviour of another man with whom he went to school ten years previously.

But the atmosphere is not as straightforward as it first appears. Gradually you begin to notice a latent campness, a strange vulnerability – you notice that the men to whom your first reaction had been an instinctive desire to avoid eye contact are all dancing to Mumford and Sons, their arms hanging limply above their heads in a slightly fey approximation of an appreciative wave.

Waistcoat faux-folkers aside, Rockness attendees have refreshingly little care for the bands on the bill. There is none of the clash-induced panic that characterises other major festivals. The primary attraction seems to be not the music, but rather the drinking. A very specific type of inebriation prevails at this odd little festival. It’s the sort of drunk that can only be achieved with lager; the sort of drunk with which the effective use of limbs gradually disappears, starting at the ankles and gradually working its way up. Movements become elongated, as if there are water balloons filling arms and legs, while sense and restraint are depleted at a startling rate. You sit on the hill overlooking the main stage, the unending grey of the Loch behind it, and you hear a clattering behind you, like a train beneath or a small cavalry regiment above – and then you look up and narrowly avoid fatal injury as a group of young men in boilersuits leap over your head, their feet a shoelace’s width from your face. Relaxing it is not.

It doesn’t get dark at Rockness; you’re too far north for that. Instead an odd semi-pall materialises – not the sort of shimmering twilight that one associates with the hinterlands of the northern hemisphere, but rather a semi-opaque overcoat, as if someone has sellotaped a bit of black clingfilm to your glasses. Similarly, it never rains but it’s always wet. Because you are sat in the middle of a cloud the air is constantly waterlogged, such that your bones are sodden but your clothes stay dry. It seems fitting; a climactic challenge to fit the arresting, darker-than-dark landscape. The site is surrounded on three sides by steep, monochrome hills populated, sparsely, by sheep for which simple survival looks like an existence-long struggle. Two days in, you begin to understand how they feel.

In the semi-dark, Rockness gets even stranger. The young men in boilersuits seem to be slightly less connected with reality, seem increasingly to have originated from a world only tangentially connected with our own. As they parade around the main stage holding aloft a plastic model of a baby, painted browny-green and with a fin taped to its back, I wonder how long it would take, if all that were left of humanity was a photograph of this group, for a cult to form around them. “We must hasten the return of the fish-infant,” they would insist, in the tone adopted by that man who used to scream damnation at tourists near Oxford Circus, before he was given an ASBO and moved to Australia.

Handily Best Fit had regular opportunities to escape the millenarian oddness, thanks to a Drambuie van that had parked up opposite one of the dance stages. The liqueur company had kindly taken us up to the Highlands, and did their utmost to keep us fuzzy-headed throughout the weekend. A very nice man in a kilt made us a series of ever less comprehensible Drambuie-based drinks (including one made with coconut that I am convinced was actually just a milkshake), while holding forth on the libationary wonts of Charles Stuart. Charles, of course, despite his admirable anti-English sentiment, wished to restore an absolute monarchy in Scotland. So he was a shit, but the drink he inspired is, in fact, very enjoyable.

Back outside, the boilersuited chaps congregate around a twelve foot flaming stick at the foot of a ferris wheel. Surrounded by a combination of flamethrowers and hastily bungeed Funktion Ones, and decked out in Warhammer-meets-Camden Market-cyber-punk Styrofoam cladding, the construction houses a series of DJs playing variations on psytrance – until James Holden appears and plays the best set of the weekend; a series of selections which, in classic Border Community fashion, are bulging with both bass satisfaction and melodic melancholia. It’s unquestionably the zenith of a pretty drab lineup. Otherwise, Rockness seems to be the place that French electro comes to die – a characteristic summed up by a preternaturally uninspiring set from Justice, a band that is little more than five years old and yet which already sounds fatally dated.

But you don’t really go to Rockness for the music. Certainly, few of the attendees did. Instead, you go for a weekend during which all sense of normality is suspended; a few days during which you sit, waterlogged, in a field by a loch, as your memory of London slowly fades, washed out into the Loch in a fuzz of gawping confusion and whiskey liqueur.

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