Camp A Low Hum: An Obituary

ARTS, Music
img_campalowhum1A fond farewell to Blink’s singular summer music festival.

Camp A Low Hum has finished. And not just finished, with the promise of another year and all it entails, but finished with a capital F, a single decisive full stop. Fin. I sit in the lounge at my father’s house, empty. A solitary tui sings outside in the wet bush and patches of rain dance across the harbour. The world moves on, and I am left behind.

To try to explain Camp A Low Hum to someone who has never been is to approach the sort of zeal usually reserved for those of a religious bent, certain that theirs is the absolute truth, deaf to detractors and those who might question the details of doctrine. Superlatives fall flat and the arbitrary symbols we assign to emotions seem miles removed from the visceral pull they exerted in the moment, retold a world away to sceptics, sure that it couldn’t be that good.

How to describe such an event? Camp A Low Hum began in 2007, and is the prodigal child of Wellingtonian Ian Jorgenson, or as he is better known, Blink. The premise of Camp is simple: four days of music across a number of stages, organised in a manner that might best be described as unique. As Blink writes, Camp is his “quest to create the world’s most unique, considerate, and musically astonishing festival.”

The acts are not announced; the rules are almost non-existent. BYO reigns supreme and hallucinogens feature heavily. Bands play at multiple times and are spaced out to avoid clashes. There is a renegade room, where festivalgoer musicians can book slots to perform. Stages take any number of forms, with the emphasis not so much on where, but how. From a collection of amps in the dense bush to a seething room of noise and fury, Camp manages to capture that ineffable sense so often present at house parties and late night jam sessions, reproducing it on a commercial scale that feels anything but.

It has always been a view of mine that the best artists don’t just perform to a passive audience, but actively create alternate worlds—spaces where the audience is drawn into their vision and made part of the artist’s own reality. Music in this sense isn’t just transcendent, but transformative. In the midst of performance we are reborn, reconceived as part of a wider whole. This is what it is to go to Camp: to be part of Blink’s universe, active in its orchestration, an actor on his stage.

There are many moments that I could point to to illustrate this, and anyone that has been to Camp will have their own, cherished with that weird sort of elation that accompanies the memory of an alternative reality, once present but now forgotten. Had it ever existed? These were the questions I pondered as the sky seethed and I lay prostrate on the couch, certain I could remember—yet drifting, landless—stripped of conviction by the very process that had created it.

It is the second day of Camp, and still early in the morning—or at least, early given the late hour at which we went to bed. I am part of a stream of people, walking through the green undergrowth of Wainui’s hills, en route to the aptly named Journey stage and still beholden to the fugue from last night’s excesses. The path splits and we head right, up a muddy ascent and down through the trees to where lilting piano can be heard. Shenandoah Davis is playing, an American artist, and we stand amongst the punga, eyes cast skyward at the soft green rays that light the forest floor.

Davis begins to sing and I feel a growing sense of elation, hard to pin down even then but present nonetheless. Her voice is crisp, the piano perfect, framed against a backdrop of singing cicadas and the gurgling stream. For the briefest of moments time stops and we experience something that approaches the magical, fragile as it is. Even in the memory, it feels like a dream, that we might all have arrived at this moment: here, together, now.

Davis’s set finishes and the crowd disperses, moving at a leisurely place to whichever stage the next artist is on at. The moment passes; they always do. But as the rain came in and the stages slowly closed I clung to the memory: that sense of being part of a greater whole, a member of the tribe. In the end it wasn’t the weather that mattered, but how we approached it—and what Blink had built fostered a culture determined to give effect to his vision, despite an increasingly swampy setting.

So we partied, wet to the bone and frozen, forced to dance to stay warm, committed to giving Camp the send out it deserved. It wasn’t the end Blink would have imagined, when he made the decision to focus his attention elsewhere, but in many ways, maybe it was better. Gone were the detractors and those who doubted what Camp could bring out in us. The weather had stripped out much of the noise Camp already worked to transcend and in its place that special sense of community: the night and us; action, reaction, stillness.

It was with a heavy heart that I left on the final morning, sodden and serotonin deprived. Camp had taken it all, or rather, I had taken it all: consumed myself in the search for the End of the Night, the End of Camp. Would there be another event so adept at building what Blink had made look so effortless? I couldn’t be sure. I pottered around the house, avoiding the work I knew I had to do, lost in a reverie for the wettest weekend of my life and admiration for the man who made it happen.

Camp wasn’t something that I could explain to everyone, but it didn’t need to be. Blink had taken a vision and made it ours: inspiring, engaged, unique—perfect in its impermanence.

The Lumière Reader covered the first Camp A Low Hum in 2007.
Dan Kelly recently graduated from the University of Auckland with a BSc/LLB(Hons). He blogs about law and sustainability at elhombredelsur.com, and edits Lostravellers.co.nz, an online magazine for travelling creatives. You can send him photos of trees and other plants on Twitter.