A Letter to the People Whose Festival I Broke Into
This summer, I went, and broke into, Momento Domento—or Modem. Tucked between the two Croatian cities of Oštarje and Slunj, Modem is a psytrance festival of about ten-thousand people; a gathering grown and borne from a woodland that every August unfurls, stretching limbs of pine into a week-long utopia; to recede back once more, unmolested, ready to house again its annual occupants—the ModemHeads.
Afterwards, I wrote the organisers an email; the email printed here.
Subject: Let me explain…
Dear Organisers of Modem,
Please don’t attribute this letter to a festering ego—the admission of a perfect crime. This is not a confession. It is a compulsion. A need to communicate with you openly, cleanly; to paint the whole picture. As you so fittingly wrote on your website when expressing your gratitude, “In moments like this, the best way to go is with the truth”. It is with this initiative, then, that it feels appropriate to write this email expressing my own gratitude. To tell you the whole story. To tell you that I broke into your festival. (And why I will never do it again.)
But firstly, let me explain myself. I tried to buy a ticket. I really did. However, I was only told about your Modem two months before the festival started; before the baggies opened and the feet started stomping. (“Broke in” is such a horrible term of phrase. One connotated with defiance and a “fuck you” attitude. It implies something is broken: boundaries, trust; neither of which I wished to break. My motivation was derived, not from defiance, but determination; desperation, not disrespect.) I was in India when I learned of Modem’s existence. I’d spent all my money on charas and night buses by then. I had little money for a rickshaw, let alone a festival. By the time I had suitable funds, the tickets were sold. I was undeterred—dogmatic —captivated by a friend and the experience he painted. It wasn’t a festival for him. It was a pilgrimage. So, I took a bus—France to Italy—hitchhiked to Croatia, traded a joint for a lift in a van, broke in, and put my dancing shoes on…
So, that’s my excuse—I was poor. As with all life’s quandaries, however, poverty can be either a stumbling block unto you, or a stepping stone; a ball-ache, or a catalyst, precipitating the unknown, the unexpected, and most importantly: the hilarious.
But mostly ball-ache.
From London—Sunday Evening—I took a night bus to Paris. Tentatively drawing every ounce of sleep osmotically from the window through my cheek, I was awoken—the last man on board—ushered onto a ferry, and herded half-asleep upstairs. I found two seats to span myself across, and pushed myself back into a dream.
Again, the last person to get the message, I woke to someone commandeering my footstool. A man in a uniform. I looked around to see everyone else had gone. I’d been left. I’d actually been fucking left. Like Kevin McCallister—abandoned—not by parents, but the Frenchman I’d accidentally dribbled on—forgotten—not in a house inundated with Christmas presents, but a ship.
Now, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for the all the thought, the effort, the attention to detail, the time, the expense and the energy invested to create your festival. It is impeccable. Each component, each piece of infrastructure; mindfully designed and implemented. You have taken every measure to mitigate environmental impacts and it shows. You have not twisted nature to the needs of the party, but made nature part of the party. Crossing rivers to The Seed, walking beneath trees—the call, the energy of The Hive reaching through the woodland—one does not feel a stranger here, but a guest, welcomed by the forest and the waters that run through it. Modem is a reminder that we needn’t fight nature, nor correct it, but instead work with it, around it, between it. To me, being human is to be aware of our animalism, to understand that our place is not beyond nature, but beside it. Modem achieves this beautifully. Modem made me feel human. And proud of it.
The bus was full, idle, waiting. My fellow passengers: ready, disgruntled, pissed. I scuttled sheepishly back to my place—avoiding angry eyes and all the faces reading: I’m so glad that’s not me—and we pulled off. My face reconvened with the window and again I slept; finding comfort in the impersonal bone-juddering of the glass.
Monday night and finally in Lyon, I met with Lubna, a friend of a friend. She’d just gotten back from another festival—and with me, carrying the weight of shitty sleep and public transport in my throat—we offered our broken hellos, stowed our bags and boarded another bus to Venice, where the newest adversary to my well-being took form in the shapeless silence of the air-con.
Capitalising on my lack of suitable clothing needed when one is transported, not as a human, but a frozen vegetable, the relentless puff of the AC became unendurable. That is, until I tore the drape from its rail, mummifying myself in the faux satin innards of the bus.
I literally had to sleep in a curtain.
It is not just the setting, though—the eco-toilets and the dizzying graphic mappings of the mainstage—or the location; nor even the eclectic mix of movies tailored to the “too fucked” and any voracious acid-heads; the music, or the food. No. That which makes Modem—made Modem— so unique, so perfect, is the people; and the vibe, the atmosphere—the momentum—created as an extension of those people. I have never been somewhere with such little litter, with such orderly queues, with so much love! I have never been somewhere where everyone smiles back. It is as though you sieved through the assholes and the self-absorbed, entertaining only the aware, the honest, the happy. The best of us. Standing beside the main floor of The Hive so as to watch over the nocturnal inhabitants, following as intermittent lights break into the mass of bodies. Watching whilst limbs cut into darkness where fingers twitch and tremble, like the puppeteers of tempo—shoulders ricochet between leads, and feet break down upon the earth, unified in the bassline—together creating one collective body. A physical incarnation of a larger consciousness. As individual thoughts tie together to become the mind, like the components in a circuit, at this moment, we are connection manifest. I do not see people; I see brothers, sisters. I don’t see separate bodies, I see an organism; the cells of a muscle; the fingers of a fist. I see the height of human potential. I see a tribe.
In Venice—rather miraculously—we hitchhiked to a hotel; asked and received instruction from the lovely receptionist, filled ourselves with complimentary cakes, and went back outside to attempt a hitch…
Don’t hitchhike in Italy.
People look at you like you’re a knob; or they turn away like you have one in your hand. Someone even stopped, waited, and drove off when we got close.
The only person to genuinely stop to offer a lift was going the wrong way—then his car wouldn’t start. We watched on piteously as he fumbled in muted desperation behind shut windows, like someone trapped on the experimental side of biohazard trial. It was awkward, so we walked on.
Eventually, we conceded to the sun and the selfish and caught a train—jumped off the train because we had no tickets—caught another train, and hitchhiked—now in Croatia—to the outskirts of Rijeka.
Night began to pry away day and we ended up pitching my tent in the car park of a Lidl. We smoked a spliff and returned the stares cast by the final, trickling streams of customers.
We were nearly there.
In the end, it is thanks to you, you brilliant curators, you fantastical fabricators of trance-based silliness, that these flocks of dread-woven, hemp-cladded hash fanatics migrate annually to Croatia—simply for a party. You did a wonderful job. You took a movement and made it a moment. And I am sorry for breaking in. I realize that festivals are designed to accommodate people up to a certain capacity, and were more people to turn up uninvited it would affect everyone. Therein lies the reason why I will never break into Modem again: I will always buy a ticket.
Come morning, we again attempted to hitchhike, using signs written with locally sourced lipstick.
As we waited—drink and food provisions placed tactically beside a permissible pick-up site—a Croatian bloke thought it okay to rifle through our wares; pilfering an entire six-pack of cheap Croatian lager. Lubna saw—luckily—and gave chase. Initially, I thought she was running to someone offering a lift.
But no, just someone stealing our beer.
It wasn’t long though, before we were picked up again: an interesting guy, asking simply: “Party?”; stopping on a slip road to peel back the side door of his van and welcome us onboard—a vehicle held together with seemingly little more than extremely tenacious tape and Eastern European pragmatism.
Half-way through the journey our driver called someone. He began reciting in direct English demands to be met upon our deliverance; asking for asking for what seemed like far too many Kuna, his voice unattributable to one particular sentiment, confused somewhere between malice and amusement. Not for the first time, Lubna and I looked helplessly in the eyes of the other.
“Weed?” I asked. Shakily.
I appreciate, however, that festivals do not operate with a “try before you buy” incentive, and understand if you wish me to pay the fee for this year’s festival now. Also, and finally, if you are ever looking for assistance for the set-up, or additional creative input (or maybe more security), I will always be happy to help. Modem is a world in which I’d love to invest some energy of my own. (And I guess I do owe you one.) I hand back the trust to you now by signing this email with my name. (Please don’t blacklist me!)
All the best,
We exchanged two beers, a few Euros worth of Kuna and a handsome bud for our (relatively) safe passage. We’d made it—well, Lubna had. I was still without a mode of entry. (Up until this point I had no idea what to do when I actually got to the festival.)
We were met by a friend—someone willing to leave the festival and walk several kilometres uphill to give me the wristband—a festival pass—of someone able to take theirs off.
I ducked into a porta loo, lubricated my wrist with hand sanitiser and delicately inserted my fist through a fabric wristlet hardly larger than the thigh of an infant. I left the toilet, sweaty but successful.
I was in.
Once hugs were exchanged and the wristband returned—an assembly of needle-wielding French girls set to work stitching a new, copycat band using the off-cuts of others.
Then I drew on it.
Then we partied.
Hi There Will!
Thank you for this completely honest and entertaining message! It has been read and passed on to some of the crew to read, as we just loved the flare you have in this message!
We have decided not to blacklist you but to rather offer you a volunteering position for our 2019 addition during pre-fest to help with the build up. Anytime from about 2 weeks before if you are interested let us know. At the moment applications are not yet open so we don’t have all the details for you yet. But I can say you will be able to camp with us all in the crew camp and get 3 meals a day and have a whole new view on the Mo:Dem experience from the otherside 🙂
Thanks again for your kind words about our festival it seems you have really captured and understood all we have aimed for in our event!
Much love and blessings from the whole Mo:Dem team!