Top fear: Discovering unusual points of reference at Latvia’s Positivus Festival
“James May from Top Gear?” I asked, wondering if perhaps he meant Brian May. Hoping he did, keeping my fingers crossed that it was the cherry vodka that I had drank on my way here, to Positivus Festival, that had affected my hearing.
“Yes!” he smiled. “I love Top Gear, it’s my favourite show, and James May is my favourite. He’s much better than Jeremy Clarkson and that small one.”
I never imagined that the first Latvian I spoke to at the festival would be so up to date with the BBC’s programming output. Saying that, our brief conversation, enjoyed as we reclined on powdery sand looking out across the glittering Gulf of Riga on a mild Saturday afternoon, also compounded my fears that Top Gear is the Swine Flu of modern media.
His knowledge of middle aged men who (probably) fantasise that one day the entirety of Britain is Tarmacked so they can roadhog their way up and down the country in cars that cost more than a nurse makes in a lifetime, terrified me. It shows that as you read this, Top Gear is spreading from television network to television network like an antagonistic virus dispersed by a loose cough that sits upon an arsenal of phlegmy faux-laddishness that is unique to men over 45 who still insist on wearing leather wristbands.
Do they think that the strip of animal skin that grips the wiry hairs sprouting from the no man’s land between hand and arm somehow acts as a tourniquet, stopping an invisible seepage of street cred that oozes mercuriously between either hot or not? Are they honestly not aware that they serve no purpose other than to make their reddened, thick-skinned hands look even more monstrous?
Sadly for my new friend, he never saw James May either driving through Guildford or just going about his daily business in the town centre, so he returned to Latvia. I could tell he was disappointed about the outcome of his British adventure, but I chose not to pry/encourage him to talk about James May anymore, as frankly I had a review to write, and not much time.
From the moment we landed at Riga airport, my friend and I had slightly over 24 hours until our flight home. The first chunk of the adventure was spent travelling to the festival site in the remote village of Salacgrīva, which was about ninety minutes drive away. Here, five stages offered an abundance of local and international acts, so it was no surprise to see weary festival goers recharging in an idyllic garden of hammocks, reading their programmes in the dappled sunlight before heading off to see C2C, Darwin Deez or The XX.
I hoped for their sakes that they had seen Jimi Tenor the night before, the Finnish electronica hero who never fails to put on a show as trippy as it is technically impressive, especially since unleashing a monstrous jazz saxophonist side for his new project with disco-fiends Jesse.
Positivus is the region’s biggest festival, and this year grew even bigger when for the first time since it was established in 2007 it featured programming across three days, rather than two. With a daily attendance of 40,000, Positivus managed to be busy without being manic, and it was nice to see families enjoying themselves alongside trendy 20-something urbanites and other enthusiastic music lovers, some of whom had travelled from Estonia, Finland and Germany.
It was also possible for festival goers to reinvigorate themselves (and avoid a queue for the showers) by taking a dip in the glittering water, which stretched as far as the you could see once you made it down to the beach. In fact, so vast was the open stretch of water it was almost like you had accidentally arrived at the end of the Earth and were standing looking out in to nothingness, it was amazing, like a Stephen Pearson painting.
Along with the calming view, which inspired one woman to meditate, there were a few other things that struck me during my short trip. Firstly that it was so strange to be openly relieved to be visiting somewhere ‘not as hot as England’; that Crocs seem to be part of some unspoken national costume; and that Latvia is a beautiful country that I will definitely return to in the not too distant future, and not only so I can geek out over some of the Soviet architecture in its capital.
As night fell it was time to up the fun levels – which meant getting as far away from Sigur Ros on the main stage as possible. Thankfully, the Red Bull Music Academy Stage was just getting started, meaning that there was plenty of room to literally kick off our shoes and dance ankle-deep in the cool, velvety sand.
Somehow, on the way, we made a new friend, Peter, who was wearing a yellow hi-vis coat. If he was working, he was quick to abandon his post and hang out for the next couple of hours, dancing around our bags with us, a shoe in each hand, smiling through the language barrier.
MJ Cole took to the decks just as the full moon reached its apex in the pitch black sky. It was so bright it was almost eerie, and as the bass rumbled beneath our feet, it felt as if it might become dislodged from its astral perch and fall in to the water below and cause the festival to be soaked in the tarry-looking liquid.
Of course it didn’t, but if it had, and things really had gone ‘a bit Stephen Pearson’, it definitely wouldn’t have been weirder than travelling all the way to Latvia and meeting a James May super fan.
Photos: Positivus Festival, Martins Otto, Eva Maria Keranen and Emma GrittTagged in: Jimi Tenor, Latvia, MJ Cole, Positivus Festival, Red Bull Music Academy, Riga
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