By Christina Schild
I usually dislike the practice of narrowing something down to a description of five words, but there is something comforting about the condensation when trying to review the experience of Freaky Forest. An experience that takes places annually over the last weekend of November in the Tsitsikamma woods, bringing all sorts of folks out of the woodworks for what is easily becoming South Africa’s best trance party – or at least that’s what the talk on the soft, jiving dance floor was.
So here are the five words I would use to describe Freaky, in some sort of an order – scent, dance, clarity, goodness and beauty. Well, maybe some more order than I think.
This year, it was my sense of smell that was particularly heightened at the party – whether from the incense wafting around the dance floor and camp sites as I gallivanted through the treacherous pine forest, the wholesome cooking aromas of the various food stalls and private kitchens and then those earthy, good, natural smells. The scent of pine needles in the air, the mud squelching between my toes on the most fun Sunday I’ve had in a while, or the sweaty reminder from my fellow party-goers that we were in the middle of a forest dancing rhythmically to sublime beats and hadn’t washed in days. Come Sunday morning I think we were mostly all smelling more sweaty than sweet after the particularly mind-buzzing and gloriously lengthy set delivered by High Style, having followed the feet moving magic of both Ben and Jack Source the previous night. For the hi-tech fans, Ben delivered a sneaky track that had many of us grinning from ear to ear! Earlier, we were treated to the grooviness that Cripz and Floating Grooves emulated which got the bums moving until Phillipa came on – bringing the girl power to the floor and easing us into the night time slots.
This moves me onto my next word – dance. And boy, oh boy, did we dance! I was captivated by the dance floor from the opening set of Lucy in the Sky, grooving my way through the Friday afternoon until the darkness brought in a proper dosage of psychedelic music that I’ve found lacking at larger sized parties. That’s the magic of Freaky Forest – I find – that the intimacy of the venue and the dance floor itself is what makes for an old-school party atmosphere. There is no space for the ego, bad vibes, Red Bull cans to litter around the edges, expensive looking visuals to distract you from the song you’re pretty sure you’ve heard before (although there was a stellar showcase of visuals; one of a morphing cat’s face particularly stole my heart and mind for awhile), or the risk of something being pinched out of your tent. Not to hate on the larger parties of course; they are playgrounds and magical in their own right, but Freaky feels like a throwback to what I’ve heard my uncle reminisce of what trance parties were, it brought in the community elements of Rainbow Gatherings and the collective consciousness and intent of experiencing another version of reality for a weekend.
This intention was so clear through the weekend, the intention of the organisers whose dedication to the event can be seen through the small touches like a tap right off the dance floor, an expansive chill tent with soft sawdust and wood chippings, bumper stickers we all secretly go crazy for that were handed out with the armbands and the ultimate treat of sprinklers on at night. Don’t get me started on the bubble machine. It’s elements like these that move Freaky away from the small, local jols and into a lingering space between the larger beauties of Vortex and Origin. Or it could be the elevated bicycle riding man; whose neon cycle was a cheeky fright for many. This neon paint was echoed in the creative yet minimalistic shades drawn on either side of the DJ booth – depicting psychedelic sights that would have made Alice feel at home in this clearing of the pine tree wonderland.
A clearing that became the sight of a musical jam session with an abrupt halt to the music on Sunday morning, bringing out the didgeridoo and drums that supplied moving and intricate trance tunes for the next half hour or so. We forgot about the powerful speakers behind us as we formed a circle around the musicians. That moment, of laughter and music echoing in the forest, was a magical one that linked us of different mindsets and preferred music genres in an ecstatic dance that flung our hands up in the air, spun our feet around us and left not a face without a smile.
This takes me to the next word – goodness. There was goodness to be found in the sunrise that pierced through the trees and spilled onto the dance floor that Sunday morning, goodness to be found with the warmth that the gate crew greeted everyone with, goodness with the heavenly pile of fresh fruit underneath the chill tent and goodness in the conversations with the attendees who were happy to be precisely where they were. I somehow didn’t make it into the open field this year – only the pine one for the insane sunrise on Sunday – but heard many a tale of the good laughs and connections created out there. How often is it that we get to sit in a field/forest with some of our best friends and listen to well-crafted music? Not often enough, I say.
Freaky Forest reminds me of that which I don’t do enough of – dancing for hours, creating instant connections with strangers and letting go of past insecurities, covering myself in glitter, eating food with grubby paws and having my ears ringing with a pleasant doof-doof-doof. Kabi played a set that left us begging for more that Sunday afternoon, and then Missing Codec storms in and gave us exactly that! It’s an unmentioned fact but we all know that the party doesn’t really end on Sunday, and as one of the organisers Carika du Rand says with a cheeky smile when you enquire about when the music will end, “When the generator runs out of juice”. And that kids, that is mindset that is behind this party.
A mindset which encapsulates beauty, and encourages healthy and clean attitudes and practices at the party with a momma bear like attitude. I am unsure if it is respect for her and her partner Licinio Oceti Sakowin, the venue or the other ‘Foresters who attend, but I encountered not one person particularly out of their depth or looking to spread negativity. Despite my necessary critique that there could be more lighting in the forests and leading down to the camp spots near the river – this was a light party that attracted some of the best looking people I have seen in awhile, dressed up in fantastical gear, glittered to the nines and ready to share their paint, watermelon and sun block with you. All seriously necessary.
I left Freaky in a literal dust cloud, obscuring the venue from my rear view mirror which made me nostalgic already. But I also left incredibly excited for what the future holds for this party. The numbers of attendees are increasingly annually, there has been a March party added to the roster, the decor gets more elaborate each time round and this event is situating itself as a permanent ‘must’ on the party scene in South Africa. I only hope that the numbers stay within an amount that the immaculate venue can accommodate, the music is as crisp and of as high quality as I heard it and that the support for this little slice of wonderment grows stronger. Dance on tranclings, until next time.