They are the folks who add dash of controlled lunacy to the modern festival experience, providing us with sights (and sounds) that provoke a combination of wonder, bafflement and hilarity. No one has yet come up with a suitable snappy collective name though, so for the moment it’s probably best to describe them plainly as the ‘unusual sound systems’ (USS).
For each their route to creating their own USS was slightly different. For Joimson, it was his job at a Dorset recycling facility. He had become frustrated by the sheer amount of useful material – and decent records – that were being thrown away and decided he’d create (what he thinks is) Britain’s first 100% recycled mobile disco,‘Tip Of The Pops’. “All of it is reused,” he confirms. “From the wheelbarrow to the turntables. Over the years I’ve picked up lights and decor, mirrorballs. About 5 years ago someone dumped two virtually brand new batteries – those became my power supply.”
“People seem to love it though. When you get on the mic and explain to them where it’s come from they are pretty amazed. It’s great to be able to educate people about all this stuff as well as having fun yourself.”
Meanwhile the Police Rave Unit, a posse of police impersonators that blast their sounds from what looks to be a riot van is a “joke that got out of hand.” 2CI Wogan of the PRU was the organiser of the backstage area of Shambala when one year they had a police-themed party. “We had this old transit van knocking about in our yard and said ‘wouldn’t it be funny if we turned it into a riot van and a load of coppers got out the back at the end of the night and got some speakers out’.”
Needless to say it has often created confusion amongst punters. “People do have to do a double take quite a lot of the time. And we’ve had a couple of pulls on the motorway – we even got followed by some plain clothes at Bestival.”
Odder still is the Anarchophonium, a battery-powered barrel organ that plays ska, punk and old rave tunes whilst being wheeled around in a pram by a bunch of jokers dressed as monkeys. “Ah the monkeys have thrown off the shackles of oppression and are playing the organ themselves. We’re trying to encourage other people to join the monkey revolution,” explains Erasmus of the Anarchophonium collective. “Barrel organs were amongst the oldest devices for recording music so you could say this is proper old skool.”
Add to this list firmly-established yokel DJ team, The Village Disco and you could even describe this as a movement. But does anything link the unusual sound systems? “I think there is a rebelliousness to what we all do,” suggests Joimson. “Festivals are very regulated these days but mobile systems give an edge that reminds people of the early days of rave culture. Despite all the big names on at a festival very often it’s the odd sights and the walkabout acts that are the highlights for people.”