Home Is Where The House Is 5. Carnevale 1nfinito @ El Rechazo, Mendoza
Thursday 14th November 2019
I must apologise in advance for the delay in publishing this. I have only just begun to feel myself again and am now able to reveal the details of this life-changing event. Good appetite.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It's not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." - Timo Cruz
1 Carneval 1nfinit0.*
Or so I thought... More anon.
'Beware the ides of March', once quipped Julius Caesar. He was right. About 2018.
My March (March 2018) gave me nothing. My diary did a pretty decent impression of the Arctic Tundra, completely full of nothing and remote (my diary is basically just my Google Calendar, so literally remote). My mind was untested, my hands idle. I tried to get back into my own producing, returning to 'Wake Me Up Before You Togo' - my 12'' cuts of Wham's 'The Final' mixed with the work of Togolese performer Akofah Akussah - nothing. I started to see what Des Lynam's life must be like.
My usual passe-temps and mass-romps had lost their shine. After dropping €2,500 on Elesse's Primavera Collection and dropping nearly €70 worth of 'Mint Green Tonies' (pills) at an improvised electro-performance art get together in Telford, and actually dropping €70 cash somewhere on the floor (v annoying), something had to give. Something-- everything was missing. I was lost. I was a man without a grater in a world of cheddar. I was Andrew Ridgeley without George Michael. I was Dre without Snoop. I was French.
I was heading into the proceeding month an April Fool until a letter of Hogwarts parallels arrived through my letterbox, much to the dismay of Uncle Vernon (my step-"dad", Peter Ballard).
I recognised the troubled scribbling and fucked up use of capital letters immediately on the parchment. The letter was from my Norwegian exchange: Lars-Bø "Selecta" Bakkerud, a man I hadn't heard from in five years. His grip on conversational English language was sensational and, because of his time spent with me in Surrey in March 2007, his accent: flawless with a Godalming twinge. However, Lars-Bø missed his English writing lessons at Tore-André Flo Grammar School in Stryn every Thursday afternoon because he would go and train with the national DJing team, to prepare for the annual Nordic Cup (a yearly held competition that pits the best Norwegian, Danish, Finish, not Swedish (thanks Avicii) Icelandic and Faroese DJs against each other in a winner takes all slap-up at Tórshavn's Mynystry øf Súnd. Because "Selecta" missed his writing lessons, his letters were borderline unintelligible. It made for a pretty difficult correspondence. Until 2010 I presumed he was writing in Norwegian until I managed to make out the word "sample" and work backwards in a Bletchley Park-style enigma breaking fashion. Luckily for me then, I could make out this letter alright.
[The Letter Image attached}
Getting hold of a ticket to Argentina's Carnevale 1nfinit0 is a bit like getting hold of a ticket to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory...it's really difficult. An exclusive, boutique steak and Latin influenced electronica festival, 1nfinit0 was founded in 1991 and is held every three years in a converted abattoir somewhere on the outskirts of the vineyard-laden region of Mendoza near the Chilean border. Each time the festival comes around a new abattoir is given a wipe, a good airing and the prestige of hosting just 64 spectators (eight squared - there being eight cuts of beef per conventional cow) for one of the most mysterious and full-bodied, and I'm not just talking about the Malbec, music events on este mundo. According to festival founder José "El Problema" Roschmann: "Carnevale 1nfinit0 is for everyone who loves music and loves life, doesn't matter if you're rich or poor!"
1,912,750 Argentine Pesos (roughly £25,000) will buy you a ticket to a five month festival of red meats and incred beats, but it's invite only and "El Problema" is not exactly short of friends. Despite constant enquiries into his heritage, and questions like: "are you the son of Eduard Roschmann, the SS Officer who would later be known as 'The Butcher of Riga', who fled to Argentina after the Second World War to avoid arrest?", José Roschmann is one of the darlings of Latin America's Libero-House scene.
My personal Top 5 things about Carnevale 1nfinito:
1. It's BYOB. The festival has a rule that allows you to bring your own BBQ sauce.
2. Malbec To The Future: every second Friday the festival stops to watch Back To The Future 1, 2 and 3 over a bottle or six of red wine - attendance is compulsory.
3. Nude Burgers - if you don't want your beef-burger served the normal way there for the equivalent of £2 off, you can eat your burger nude.
4. You Know When You've Been Tangoed - it's not just the dance they love at 1nfinito. They do not serve water anywhere at the festival for the five month duration and instead serve Cherry Tango from all sink taps on premises.
5. Seven Minutes in Heaven - for fans of swinging, guests can engage in a blindfolded moment of passion with another guest of the festival for up to seven minutes in the abattoir's locked refrigerator. As far as I am aware, no one has taken the festival up on this offer yet...
Because of José's global fan-base and industry connections, 1nfinit0 has been attended by the likes of Pete Tong, Fabricio Coloccini, Diana Princess of Wales and, most memorably in 2014, Pope Francis. 'Manky Franky', as he is still known in the North-West of England, because of his love of the Manchester acid house scene, celebrated becoming the head of the Catholic Church at 1nfinit0 the same year that Underworld headlined alongside Vatican favourite Trevor Nelson. His visit eventually resulted in a cadre of Swiss Guards having to airlift the 77 year old Pope out of Western Argentina amid fears he was about to break his vows of celibacy after drinking hourly bowls of Peruvian ayahuasca spiked with common Viagra, or 'Resurrection' as some of the younger Archbishops had been calling it.
After deciphering the last of Lars-Bø's scribblings, I made out the key details:
- An invitation for one to 2018's Carnevale 1nfinito. Pukka.
- Flight from Biggin Hill airport at 06:30am.
- Headliners included: PATron, Lady Gacksmith Mambazo, schizobelle and Koldbath*.
- Begins at 15:00 on March 30th 2018.
- Ends at 10:00 August 30th 2018.
- Location: secret (I was to be picked up at the airport and taken there by shuttle bus, driven by "El Problemita" - José's younger sister).
*Oh, okay, so just four of my Top 200 acts of the last six weeks....
After a twenty-six hour, two stop flight to Mendoza, during which I managed to smash back a bottle and a half of Middleton Very Rare (you can take the boy out of Cork, and all that) and all of HBO's Band of Brothers, I touched down in Mendoza.
My mind was racing... why did so many men have to die on the fields of Europe? Is killing in wartime just murder by another name? Do Luxembourg and the Netherlands know that their flags are the same flag? I was brought back to la vida loca when in Arrivals I made out the diminutive "El Problemita" stood with an A3 whiteboard that read 'Sr. Pfizer-Caskey' (a nice touch). We walked out of the terminal, bag in my hand, bag in my bag, blood in my heart and music in my toes.
We walked. And we walked. And we walked. After 25 minutes of walking, I turned to my silent Latin hostess and asked "¿a dónde vamos?" (I did Spanish GCSE despite my father's protestations).
She halted. A swivel of those all-telling hips, a turning of stiletto-clad heels, (at this point I will just say that she was pretty tasty for someone pushing sixty five) and, suddenly, a flash of steel. "El Problemita" pulled a custom-edit chrome bodied 2004 Beretta Px4 Storm pistol (or something) from her pants and pointed it at my face. BANG. Noir. Darkness.
_"Is this the real life...?
Is this just fantasy?"_ - Rami Malek [from 'Bohemian Rhapsody']
Que será, será
The wool was pulled from eyes. The light was blinding. How long had I been under? Five minutes? Five hours? Five centuries?
Objects began coming into focus over the course of a few misty seconds, lit by the trailing light of a snow white over-head light focused on me: what looked like a desk, a fridge-freezer unit, straw bales, a man in an Adidas Argentina change strip from the '02 World Cup in Korea/Japan and some frightened cows. I was in an abattoir, yes, but it was in no way converted for electronic music. Darkness came again. Someone had stood in eclipse of the lamp. Someone bearded. Hipster? Terrorist? Both?
It was both.
I don't know if any of you have ever been tied up and then had one of your musical icons standing over you with a warm can of Quilmes Lager in one hand and a machete in the other but it is both exhilarating and thrilling.
"Mr Pfizer-Caskey, bienvenido a hell." A low, blended rain-forest techno pulsing bass beat and chuckles from his shadowy armed cronies in the background accompanied the familiar tones of a man whom I long thought dead. Swigging, burping and then crushing the can like it were made of Quavers was none other than Tropical House legend and Argentine nationalist Augustín G.
[Tropical house legend Augustín G before his alleged 2013 death - image attached]
"You seem surprised to see me, amigo. ¿Por qué?" asked the man whose edits of 10cc I had regularly cum myself to. "Perhaps you thought I was dead? Perhaps you thought you were coming to Carnevale 1nfinito? Perhaps you trusted your friend Lars-Bø? Strange to hear from a man after five long years without any palabras?"
Thank god I recognised the first few questions were rhetorical, it would've totally interrupted his flow if I'd answered.
"You set me up. You arranged the whole thing. Where's LB?" I demanded.
"Don't worry. He's happy. He's sailing around the Bahamas right about now. Benefits of the Norwegian free market, you can buy anything at the right price." Augustín smirked. God he was good.
"Look, this clearly isn't the festival. What do you want with me?" I probed.
"You English are so naive. You really have no idea do you... This is 1nfinito's fallow year you idiot. Do you really think we could've got PATron, Lady Gacksmith Mambazo, schizobelle and Koldbath on one line-up? Do me a favór. Do you know who I am, Ollie?"
"Why you're Augustín G, the most successful tropical house producer in--"
"NO! What am I?" His vascular neck reddening with the strain as he removed his 1992 Ray Ban Wayfarers.
"A bloody chief." I was nae wrong.
"The G, Ollie. What does it stand for?" holding an edge of the machete up to my chest.
"Great?" A whimper of an answer came from the darkness behind Augustín, towards where the cows were being kept. "I bet it's great."
I knew that pathetic Farnham-cultivated mumble from the otherside of a room any damn day of the week.
It was my godmother's son, Jake.
"What the hell?!" I asked the blackness beyond the crescent of armed henchmen. "Jake, I thought you were working at Deloitte with your uncle?"
"No mate, sacked it off. I came out for the festival last week. Then these boring cunt$ got me." He was some man for one man, I must say.
"¡Silencio! You have both been captured by the EEA, the Ejército Electronico de Argentina. My full name, boys, is Augustín Federico Galtieri. I am the son of Leopoldo Galtieri, the last dictator of Argentina and the rightful head of state of Las Malvinas... The Falkland Islands."
My heart skipped a beat. I knew why I was here.
My mother is another story altogether, but my father was an incredible man, he's still with us but fucked off with my sister's ballet teacher in 2002. Born in St Helens in 1959, my father, Jonathan "Jonny" Caskey not only played keyboard for New Order before Gillian "Gill Gil" Gilbert took over his mantel. Dad left the ashes of Joy Division only three months after joining up with the band, in the summer of 1980, to pursue a career in the military with 3rd Commando Brigade. After months of developing inconceivable mental and physical reaction speeds improvising post-punk standards on keys alongside Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris, dad still holds the course record on the Royal Marines assault simulation course at Lympstone, Devon. Dad cruised through the 200m interior/exterior course in 24 seconds, smashing the previous record by over a minute and shooting dead only four civilian mannequins.
Rising fast, my father was promoted to Captain in 3 Commando and led one of the first amphibious landing craft assaults on San Carlos in May 1982 - it was here that dad ended up (six hot pints of London Pride deep that he'd smuggled in his jerrycan) killing a three-year-old Luqito, the rabbit of the then ten-year-old nephew of Leopoldo Galtieri, with a hand grenade. The minced rabbit had been one of the 3 Commando's top priorities during the second-half of the Falklands War once the British Armed Forces learned of its presence on the Islands for a check-up with famed veterinary surgeon and Falklands' synth consultant/impresario Griff Brándan.
[Luqito, in the hands of Dr Brándan, 1982 (main image)]
The killing of Luqito spelled the start of the end of the war in Las Malvinas. In Buenos Aires, tears were shed over his killing. Back home in St Helens, my dad would never have to pay for a pint of familiar again now that he'd destroyed that rabbit.
The Dots Are Joined
"That's right. Not just any rabbit..." We had been piecing this together for a while now, Augustín was not just speaking entirely out of context. "My rabbit, muchacho. And now you are going to stay here with me until your government agrees to annex Las Malvinas to Argentina. That is the ransom. And if they don't agree to it before the 30th August and Carnevale 1nfinito's end, you will both end up like one of my cows here..."
"Dead?" asked Jake seeking confirmation.
Four months, four weeks, two days and four hours later
I think it was in June that Jake and I accepted that we would spend the rest of our days in the abattoir. During spring, we had taken some purposeful pleasure in the labour that our captors put us through, our whispering of Argentinian Romantic poetry to soothe the cattle was part of a fulfilling working day in the delightful growing warmth and splendid light of April and May in whatever part of Cuyo we found ourselves in.
But with each day beyond, we began to feel the sweat-beads of work and anxiety develop on our brows. A scorching June was followed by a dry, sapping July. No word from home. Even Augustín had become distant, only speaking to us once a week to get our feedback on his latest EP and then torture us.
The guards subjected us to torture strategies I hadn't even fathomed the evil of... During the World Cup in Russia, two of the guards gave us Germany kits and made us support the old enemy. Jake went so far as to learn their national anthem, I even saw a glimmer of a tear developing in his eye when Son Heung-min ended their Round of 16 qualification hopes. Jake had started to crack.
The World Cup was one element alongside a plethora of other activities to break us before our weekly video pleas to the British government. The guards would serve us warm Riesling with lunch. Pepe, the oldest of Augustín's men, would call me 'Molly' as opposed to Ollie, no one correcting him and him not speaking one word of English. Everyday for two weeks, and perhaps most brutally, the gang would don earmuffs before, over the PA system, The Brighton Port Authority's 2009 debut album 'I Think We're Going to Need a Bigger Boat' was played in its entirety. Norman. Fucking. Cook.
Occasionally, they would kick us or talk about us negatively in broken English so that we understood that we were disliked.
With our energy levels at all time low, the men neglecting Jake's strict "no dairy before the Canaries" rule, late August came around and we were resigned to the modern-day equivalent of the gallows. Lars-Bø had failed me, my country had failed me, but most troublingly...music had failed me.
If music be the food of love, get on the decks.
One chink of light in an otherwise stormy sky was the abattoir between the hours of 8pm-3am where Augustín and his nationalist gang held nightly 'Open-Deck' sessions. Myself and Jake were used to sleeping for ten, maybe fifteen minutes before work (when we weren't 'freelancing' each day back home) so the lack of sleep was water off a raver's face.
[Image attached - One of the rowdier open-deck sessions in the abattoir, July 2018]
Each night, members of the faction took it in turns to DJ with Augustín headlining the Friday and Saturday night 1-3am slots, whose piercing new-wave Amazonian quant-beat sounds were so mellifluous and yet so disruptive to the meta-narrative of electronica in the 2010s that I would often forget I had been tricked, abducted and tortured at all.
The clock struck 1am on what we knew to be our final Friday alive. A squat, Diadora clad and sub-machine gun draped father-of-three, Miguel, handed the headphones and turntables to Augustín G. Jake and I had earlier agreed that day to put our impending death out of our minds, and simply bask in the terrorist-cum-DJ's idiosyncratic music genius.
"Gringos..." Augustín hesitated before raising the head-phones to their natural resting place, the head. "Come here."
What more could this terrible, fantastic man do to us? What further insult could he do us? Our obituaries seemingly written, our funerals planned, we had nothing to lose by joining him at the sky blue and white custom-built Denon D4.
"I have a confession to make. When the EEA identified you both as the keys to our little operation, we found your stuff on SoundCloud." Augustín rested a revolver on Jake's shoulder, and a tepid bottle of Quilmes Lager on mine. "The stuff you made together back in 2010. You spent New Year at Jake's house and produced three tracks together..."
"...'Tyldesley's Remorse'?" I asked.
"That's it!" Augustín walked over to his desk, lay his weapon on the splintering wood, and sipped from the bottle. "Play for us."
"We don't have our records." Jake mustered. "What can we play?"
"Don't worry about that. Just...improvise." As Augustín's words fell out of his mouth like a vapour, the poisonous quality of which we were unsure about, several of the men laughed with raspy, smokers' lungs. "Improvise, like your father did, Ollie."
Was he talking about the New Order stuff, or the fact that he used a hand-grenade to kill a rabbit? I decided to crack on regardless.
Jake and I started to file through the tracks loaded onto the system in a desperate bid to cobble together a set worthy of what would surely be our final act. After 45 seconds of searching and selecting, we turned to each other and nodded. Jake on back beat, myself on samples. End as you begin. And so we began...
_Booph, booph, booph, tick.
Booph, booph, booph, tick._
Jake's introductory techno-meta-pacesetter beat had a few toes tapping and heads nodding. Augustín took no notice, sitting stoically at his desk, enjoying the last of a small cylinder of Pringles.
There is a brief moment before you drop the first sample track into a DJ set that feels almost entirely someone else's, watching you from the outside expectantly. And yet it is a moment so steeped in the self, body and mind, timing and execution, that is simultaneously the most personal experience one could imagine outside of spooging one's self.
It is a moment twixt consciousness and sleep, a bridge to the next-world. A bridge myself and Jake were on, as much as this set was on. Would the bridge take us to the world dreams or nightmares...?
It was dreams.
I flicked on a building trumpetic backdrop of Peruvian virtuoso Elmer Chrumpai's 'Hasta El Fuego', to the perking up of several of the men's ears. I layered the brass with class. I inter-wove José Carreras' 'Madame Butterfly' b-sides before a brief delay, suspension and synchronising a sample drop of Koldbath's deep-house track 'Turn It Off For God's Sake' with Jake's raising the beat to 150 BPM. The guards, laying down their weapons, stepped towards the decks. Shoulders were swaying, beers were being clinked, some of the village's women had even started to come into the abattoir to see what the beautiful music was all about. A few of the junior members of the death-squad began to pop to the gents in groups of four or five despite the bouncer's protestations, coming out at the same time, rubbing their noses. The vibe was growing. And yet...Augustín was mere furniture. Still, collected, absently but wholeheartedly unimpressed.
For the first time in nearly five months of captivity, I began to feel tired, deflated. I let out a yawn as I span the track into samples of Simple Minds playing Simply Red's 'Money's Too Tight to Mention'. Nothing from the statuesque leader of the clan.
"Ollie!" Jake yelled at me over the loud but near-perfect electro-symphony we were leading amongst the cow carcasses and Falklands pro-annexation terrorist group. "Take one of these, they'll perk you up."
"What is it?" I held the lightning bolt shaped blue crumb in my right hand, my left hand firmly on the fader.
"It's just Ritalin mate, the study drug. My brother's girlfriend's girlfriend's cousin makes them in Croatia. It'll just keep you going." Jake's beaming smile and excited eyes betrayed a childish gait in a now harrowed man's eyes, "you're doing great!"
I threw down the blue pill and sipped on a nearby room temperature Quilmes Lager.
Now...I don't take drugs anymore. After a bad night out in Inverness while I was at University I won't take them, especially not while playing. Drugs completely cloud my judgement. I don't mind people who take drugs, whatever kind, but I just prefer to experience music sober.
Having said that...
It turns out what I had taken was an altered form of the popular party drug ecstasy, called 'Nikola'. I had never heard of it before, but after about 28 minutes with the recreational pill in my system I was beginning to feel its effects in full flow. 'Nikola', conventional E and Ritalin's love-child, has many of the effects that one would assume a hybrid of those two hyper-activity inducing narcotics to have, with one key additional feature.
'Nikola', named after electricity's true inventor, the Croatian quasi-wizard Nikola Tesla, gives the consumer instant awareness of all material being played over the radio waves at that moment in time, across the globe, and the ability (for as long as the high lasts) to tune into that material within seconds using radio. The USSR developed the drug in the 1970s to try to intercept the West's Cold War spies' transmissions and track their locations.
After nearly half-an-hour of technically exceptional sampling and beat accompaniment from myself and my godmother's son, Augustín G had a face like a disgruntled war-lord. But with 'Nikola' coursing through my veins like agua down the River Plate, I felt unstoppable. If Augustín wanted action, I'd give him action.
Using my powers of radio transfer I went seeking. From spinning OG Chicago house, into Japanese terebigēmu techno; I'd work my way from South Armagh republican electro-trad to South Armagh loyalist garage. From Jamaican trap-dub to Belgian Trappist-monk chanting. Augustín G rose from his chair, a wild look in his eyes. Jake's back-beat remained steady, a 120 BPM skeleton to the musical meat I was cooking and serving the room. Who needed 1infinito...?
[Image attached - Me, Ollie, a bit worse for wear on the decks]
Jake left his post for the final track, standing back and taking photos with his phone (something that I would question him about later on) as I stepped up and played out twelve minutes of the finest tropical-house I could tap into across the radio-waves...eventually spinning Augustín G's own alternative chart number nine single: 'Palm Trees & Calm Knees' before bringing out his music, the back beat and then playing the heart-wrenching sound of 'Hear, mortals, the sacred cry: Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!' sung a capella by Vitoria Di Raimondo, the significance of which I don't need to tell you I'm sure.
I pulled the plug on the set, on the decks, potentially...on our lives.
A low, infantile sob could be heard. The crowd of paramilitary thugs and village folk cleared to reveal Augustín G stroking a young calf with his back to the makeshift dance/slaughterhouse floor.
"You may take Las Malvinas, but you can never take our freedom..." Augustín patted the calf, and turned slowly to face myself, jaw going around like a waltzer, and Jake. "What good can digging up the earth do when we have so much we can build on top? Go. Pepe will get your things. I will book you an Uber to the British embassy in Buenos Aires. I can only apologise for what we put you through, and thank you both for your music. You have serious cojones. I just ask that neither of you reveal the location of the abattoir nor the identity of your captors, for we will surely be punished. You have taught us that music has the ability to transcend conflict and dispute, we will think very carefully about our future actions."
Unfortunately, Jake spilled the beans on both the location of the EEA and identified Augustín G as their leader. A joint special operations mission between UN forces and the SAS then resulted in Augustín's arrest and the deaths of over 20 of his paramilitary DJs.
I think it's not unfair, nor unrealistic to say that the best thing about festivals is often the unknown. We presumed we were attending a boutique £25,000 per ticket electronica and food festival where some of the world's finest EM practitioners would be plying their trade. Instead, we found ourselves embroiled in an international situation, held captive by the sadistic but lovely nationalist DJ nephew of a former dictator, subject to torture, awful conditions and some of the greatest tropical house music to come out of Latin America. So maybe next time you write off a festival, challenge your perceptions...
RATING: 6.4/10 (the killings took the edge of what was a powerful five months)
*written over the last few weeks having consulted a documentary team who may produce it for the screen