The Mars Volta Channel

I’m in a field about an hour outside of Bristol drinking spiced rum mixed with Asda own brand cola straight from the two-litre bottle. It’s drizzling, or it has been drizzling, or it’s about to drizzle, but there’s that vague haze in the air like the drizzle is, has and always will be there regardless, and it’s grey and stuff, and the clouds exist, and what have you. The rum is not mine. I have recently played Scrabble aboard a double-decker bus that is also a cafe and book exchange for about forty-five minutes with two gentlemen who feel younger than they probably are. One is ill and lacking in energy, but throws quips and jokes around with ease. The other seems full of energy in an almost desperate fashion, like this is his last chance to do something fun and exciting and stupid with his life before it all crumbles back to mediocrity. He is the one who offered the rum and a beer. Coors Light. I have never liked beer but I suppose now I’m getting used to it.

A friend and I are telling these new people our life stories. They seem far more taken with my friend, whose musical prowess easily beats mine, and who, unlike myself, doesn’t hide behind modesty for fear of appearing arrogant and then inevitably appears arrogant in other ways. I’m comfortable with this. I don’t have to answer any real questions, I don’t have to worry about being misunderstood or looking strange or annoying. It will annoy me later when people can’t remember my name at all, because “quiet” is not an attribute that makes a lasting impression, but I don’t know this yet, and have already forgotten their names anyway. We ask them for their stories. We discuss the festival. We say it is our first time. We ask about the silent disco, if the others are going, what was it like.

The rum is passed. The silent disco? Oh it’s great, like, you look at everyone here and the bands playing, and you have all these obscure names and the genres and stuff, and these people who think they’re really cool, but as soon as Beyonce comes on over those headphones everyone knows the words, and they’re all singing along. It’s madness.

OH and there was the Mars Volta channel, that was weird.

Wait they had a channel specifically for The Mars Volta?

A grin. Oh yeah! They had two DJ’s and then just, like, this one channel that played The Mars Volta non-stop. It was crazy. All these people dancing to, like, Rihanna, and you’re just stood there watching and listening to The Mars Volta.

(The Mars Volta, for lack of a better explanation, are an experimental rock band, which really can only be heard to be understood.)

We laugh at the concept. Only at a math-rock festival. Of course there would be a Mars Volta channel.

Other people arrive, saying hello, being introduced. We discuss geography, determining who is the most Northern of the group, which is obviously me, it was pretty much always going to be me, and someone proclaims they have a pork pie, which they do, and that I should eat it because it’ll make me feel right at home, and I smile sardonically and eat it because I like free food and don’t mind being the butt of the joke. We talk about ages and university and subjects. We ask about the silent disco. Apparently there was a Mars Volta channel? Are they doing it again this year?

Someone pipes up that they had a chat with the guys selling the headphones, and apparently there might be, but there’s no official ruling yet. There’s a collective sense of disappointment, you can feel the air sink out of the group and into the atmosphere, which reacts and begins to drizzle (if it had not already been doing so). Oh and speaking of the silent disco, you should probably get your headphones now, they sell out fast. Oh ok. We set off.

The headphones are in abundance, it’s fine, we probably didn’t need to set off so soon, but we’re here now and there’s a screamo band playing, so why not. We queue, as we do. A discussion kicks up at the front. Will there be a Mars Volta channel this year? It was the best part!

Ah. Yes. The Mars Volta channel. That was actually a mistake. See, there was supposed to be an iPod playing through a whole load of songs, but it broke, and got stuck on these three Mars Volta songs, and we couldn’t fix it, it just looped forever. We didn’t even know people loved it so much. So no, we hadn’t really been thinking about it. Sorry.

Oh no worries.

The rum is passed. I swig just a little too much and then some more for good measure. No one else wants to drink it, and the guy with the nervous energy doesn’t want to be carrying it round all day, so he’s willing to share, and my friend and I are willing to drink, and before I even step foot in the large tent to watch a nineteen-piece indie-pop band play happy, uplifting music to a damp crowd, I can feel my footing start to loosen and my head begin to lighten and everything at that moment is great, forget the weather, I’m here amongst nice people who are drunk and high and loving everything, and I am young and carefree and have plenty of money and it’s just lovely, everything’s lovely.

The day progresses. We nap and sober up and battle through the now torrential rain to get front row positions for a band I really want to see, and they are amazing, and I eat a burrito and it’s lovely, and we decide to drink again despite the horrific prices at the bars, but the mellow feeling returns and suddenly I don’t care, and the final band say their goodbyes and the headphones begin to light up. Queens of the Stone Age come on just as I’m finishing up my third drink, just as I hit the nice point of drunk, so basically it’s perfect, and we head to the throng of soaking wet bodies thrashing around in the mud. Two DJs stand on a stage surrounded by others, making gestures to the crowd to make some noise, have a good time, dance, etc.

I flick between channels on my headphones, watching the inside of my hood light up in the alternating colours to represent which channel I’m tuned into. I switch from rock to hip-hop to rock to hip-hop to rock to a strange almost crackling sound to hip-hop and then pause. I look around and watch the mass of bodies change the channels on their headphones from red to blue to red to blue to red to green to blue and raise an eyebrow. I switch the channels again from hip-hop to rock to piano and maybe some guitar I can’t really tell to hip-hop to rock to crazy drums and my vague knowledge kicks in and I smile.

We have found the Mars Volta channel.

You can see everyone else slowly realise this too, people who have no idea what it is, people who remember it from last year and smile at what feels like a huge in-joke for the regulars, people who just really like The Mars Volta, and it’s a magical moment. People flip between the channels still, some staying longer than others, a few staying there forever, the headphones a bright green to give away the fact that they are in their own little world of Mars Volta, watching others sway to a time signature far far away.

Later the rain will become too much, my legs too tired, my alcohol level too inconsequential, but for that moment there was only the bodies, the headphones, and the Mars Volta channel, and all was good.

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