Book Club: A Rough Gide to the Dark Side

Ever thought about throwing a music festival? Then check out Daniel Simpson’s book, A Rough Guide to the Dark Side. It’s a chronicle of his attempt to throw a “Summer of Love” festival in the Balkans — and what goes spectacularly wrong. The author sent us over an excerpt. Check it out:

Music and Drugs
Taken from A Rough Guide to the Dark Side, Daniel Simpson — published by Zero Books 2012

Our horizons had expanded quite dramatically. A one-off event on a Saturday was too small. G said serious festivals lasted a weekend, so we’d agreed to run from Thursday through to Sunday, with four different stages. And that meant lots of slots left to fill. I felt sure we needed names to make it work. Glastonbury could trade on reputation. Their tickets would sell whoever was on the bill. We wouldn’t have the same luxury, and Serbian aspirations knew no bounds.

G refused to see this as a problem. ‘What you wanna give to them?’ he sneered. ‘Like Coldplay, Britney Spears and U2? Youngs here they much more influenced by urban styles, like a hip-hop, break-beat, reggae, whole that fusion. I have in mind a stage of Bristol sound. You know scene they building up there since in Eighties. I get all those guys for just few thousand pounds. They wanna send to me full program, fifty artists. With Massive Attack together, that can kill it.’

‘Sounds great,’ I said. ‘But who else are people going to recognize? They’ll want to see someone famous every night.’

Bookings always touched a nerve with G. Of course there were bound to be limits to what we’d get, but if we had to go begging to agents, why not think big?

‘Can’t we try for R.E.M. or Radiohead?’ I said.

My partner winced. ‘Man, those guys they crying on a stage. We need more sound of positivity. I am thinking now one stage just for reggae. Lotta people here they would appreciate. Skies above this country cry for righteousness, and will come, you should believe.’

He stared at the mist through the window. We’d adjourned to a tower-top café, above the confluence of the Danube and the Sava, where Romans built the first of Belgrade’s forts. Nowadays, the complex housed a war museum. Its overgrown maze of ramparts couldn’t host a festival, but they afforded clearer sight lines to our target.

G’s first suggested venue was no use. Though its glades were undeniably enchanting, they’d only hold some fifteen thousand people. Our aim was now to lure five times as many. Another idea was a park by a bombed-out skyscraper, but we heard it had just been earmarked for construction. That left an island in the Danube, which my partner called ‘part nature reserve, part pleasure beach’. The season for both had ended weeks before, and crossings by boat were finished for the winter. But G said he’d find a way to get us over there. From the tower, we only saw a greenish hump.

‘I tell you man, that island can be perfect,’ he said. ‘For centuries was frontier here of empires. On one side was Turks, other Austrians. Now it brings magical energies, like crossing to extraordinary world. You know that anarchistic space in Copenhagen, Christiania? We make here similar Interzone in Belgrade. People they will come here just to see that. We don’t have to sell them with cheap names.’

G could be unnervingly inspiring. I sometimes felt he’d tapped my buried thoughts. When he winked, I even wondered if he’d planted them. Either way, I felt closer to my instincts.

‘I’ve been thinking,’ I said, abandoning all caution. ‘Imagine if Serbia legalized soft drugs. They could call it learning lessons from The Hague. The Dutch have shown the benefits for years. People there don’t even smoke all that much weed. Coffee shops are full of foreign tourists. Imagine if we ran one on a beach, in hot Balkan sunshine. This place would be crawling with Westerners and cash.’

My partner laughed. ‘Many here would like that, sure. But mafias did make powerful friends for trade. This is the country where dealers hide in church. Police will put you to jail for smoking joint, while they give clearances for transit of the heroin. And most of the people whacked out still on tranquilizers. Memory chips on Balkans should be wiped man. You know, reset all fucked-up wartime connections.’

‘Why don’t we put acid in the water?’ I said.

G shook his head. ‘Radicals had that dream already years ago. But I think chlorine can destroy it. And also you should bear in mind commandments.’

‘Which ones?’

‘Only two what count in age of molecules. Not to change the consciousness of others, and also not to stop them changing consciousness.’

‘OK, then let’s just offer them the option. I know where to get a jar of liquid acid…’

‘Don’t you worry yourself too much about all that,’ G said. ‘Already cultural program has that form. Plan is to make new summer of love in Belgrade, and I am pretty sure that island is predestined. You know what is name of that place?’

I glanced at the wooded shoreline in the distance. Before today, I’d barely even noticed it.

‘No idea,’ I said.

‘They call it Veliko Ratno Ostrvo. Big War Island. Where Serbian heroes go to lick their wounds. What can be better location here for love-in?’

Born during a backstage Bonnaroo downpour, Vito's mission in life is to dance, write, and travel to all the great festivals that this wide world has to offer.