Festivals are strange, hedonistic places. Yet whether you're searching for the life-affirming embrace of watching a headline act, lighter fuel for old friendships, or just an amphitheatre for sniffing gak, music festivals eventually lead toward one road: the cul-de-sac of human connection. Why? Because ultimately, we’re all sweating, eating, shitting, and searching for escapism among thousands of strangers, who are all doing the same thing.
The fact that music festival’s are based on connection is important, because for those lonely hearts seeking romance, these summerly events can supposedly offer a connection that’s more meaningful and long-lasting than the “bat-shit crazy” and “absurd” online dating scene most millennials have to submit themselves toward. Or at least that’s what the people at Camp Wildfire, Britain’s weirdest music festival, explained to me, in a press release they fired over in a letter they'd placed inside of a bottle of wine.
I had to hear them out, because with its endless stream of activities like raft building, kayaking, climbing, horse riding, watercolour painting and, of course, music, Camp Wildfire is essentially a year’s worth of awkward first dates rolled into one festival. This year they’ve gone a step further by setting up a “Cupid’s Singles Club”, which features “vintage speed dating”, intimate wild parties and romantic retreats all coming together into a new, extremely alternative take on dating. Basically it’s like Tinder, but with less ghosting and more hand sanitiser.
I couldn’t be sure if Camp Wildfire had it right or wrong, but one thing was for sure: I wanted to know whether a music festival could be a good place to find my eternal soul mate. Why not, right? YOLO, etc. So I turned off my phone, packed a bindle and caught the train to their festival. Instead of listening to music, I’d be taking part in the festival’s dating activities – which happen throughout the day – and seeing whether these outdoor conventions are our generation's last hope in switching off and finding true love.
On arrival, I realise that if I was going to meet Mr, Mrs or Captain Right, I would need to embody the values of modern dating within a man. I guess I could tell people I love long walks in the rain, rock climbing, and am up for anything, but this is a far more existential issue than that. I would need to dig much deeper, into the far crevices of my soul. Besides, the folks of Camp Wildfire are abstractly dressed, unhinged, laughing, and letting loose. So I down a bag of wine, peel off my H&M jacket, and search for something far more hemp-Vogue.
There are many many things to do here, including: a tie-dying centre. I’m a natural apparently, and I'm gifted a badge by the prefect for the ‘best shirt’. I’m an achiever in this universe. I’ll never go back. Once it is dry, this shirt will provide the statement piece of my 'single and searching man' look.
To feel comfortable in oneself and and seek out true love, one must work out their own issues first. Not having mastered the hula hoop has haunted me since childhood. Today, I breathe. My confidence rockets. Time to find myself the final touch: a scent.
My favourite fragrance in the world; basil. It is fresh, continental and endearing to all: three ingredients that I don’t bring to the table, added to the recipe. If there’s a soul on this earth whose knees don’t weaken with a whiff of this Mediterranean beauty, they’re dead to me.
My transformation was complete. I had injected some character and charisma into my lonely vessel of a soul. Finally, I borrowed a novelty cap which I could point to as a ice breaker during moments of terrifying silence, and some sunglasses to mask the existential panic in my eyes. Now: I’m ready to date. As Paddy McGuinness says, let the thing see the thing.
I arrived at Camp Wildfire's Cupid’s Club to find that it would be taking place in this yurt, which – depending on how you think about it – is either pretty cool or pretty creepy. Set against the warm and soothing sound of natural ambience, the confines of this tented realm were supposed to help us become comfortable and intimate with sensuality. Like a lock-in, but where everyone is single and sat on a bit of carpet over some damp grass, rather than slobbering in the toilets.
Once inside, you can only touch or be touched when it is reciprocated by the person who comes and touches your shoulder. We’re off to a good start. There would be no unwanted approaches here, let alone an unrelenting stream of unsolicited and strangely angled dick pics that would make someone's mother weep with despair.
Life inside the yurt is respectful. Yet, it's also without boundaries. Is this the dating utopia that people dream of? I'm used to sexual attraction being sparked by a phone alert saying "You've got a match!" Yet here I am, in a world where conversation is started by a simple hand on a shoulder, a giving look, and a reciprocated smile, rather than someone passive-aggressively bumping into you on the dancefloor or peacocking their way into your contacts. My brain tingles like its been dipped in Listerine. Possessed by a life force I’ve never felt before, I delve even deeper into the woods. In search of something more, I happen upon a life drawing class.
Buoyed by my experience in the yurt, I immediately offer myself over as a subject. As the wise RuPaul once said, "If you can't love yourself, the how the hell are you going to love someone else?" Letting these people paint me was a natural step to readying myself for amour.
They begin feeding me wine, painting my chest and flocking around as the strokes and scribbles form a chorus of concentration.
These young artists... They see through my translucent skin, through to my core. My soul, my spirit, my essence; it becomes framed. Even if Draw Something, Tinder, and Snapchat combined into one ultra-app, they couldn’t recreate this experience.
Upon finishing, I realise the class probably know more about my body than I do. This was a far cry from the maligned world of pouts and practiced selfies I’m used to. We enter a symbiosis whereby we’re giggling at my decision to leave my socks on, but the laughter is also coming through a mutual comfort at the situation, hopefully. Is a connection as flippant and impulsive as this even possible outside of a festival? The most impulsive thing you’re going to get from a dating app like Happn is regret. This was much more meaningful.
I gather my thoughts and head to the group speed dating. Time to put my experiences to practice. I begin by sitting next to a group of open-minded people. To break the ice, I follow my usual dating introduction protocol by handing over a picture of myself for judgement.
“Is this a life drawing picture?” She asks.
“It is, yeah. I’m Oobah.” I stretch out my hand.
“Then why are you wearing your pants and socks? Aren’t you supposed to be naked?”
“Well, I was a little bit uncomfortable if I’m honest.”
And like that, the conversation had gone sour. Clearly, this was not someone looking for love, so I moved on.
I went in with the drawings again, but this guy didn’t want to take one either. He just kept asking questions about my interests or whether I’ve travelled. It’s almost as if people in the real world don’t want to look at cropped pictures of someone’s naked body, despite the attempts of almost every man I’ve ran into on online dating sites. Weird.
I was sick and tired of trying to solve the Rubix cube of these conversations. I craved clarity. I yearned for simplicity. I needed to know: could you love me or not? I decided to give them a simple option: if the answer was a ‘no’, they’d take a handful of red paint and slap across the right side of my face. If it was ‘yes’, they would take yellow paint and slap – or swipe if you like – across the left side of my face. Orange bad, yellow good. Binary. Sure – this is exactly like Tinder. But it was also the only way: the millennial way.
Within an hour, I was done. It was a mixed bag, really. An even split. But even the people who decided to swipe me left didn’t want to talk about things like Clarissa Knows It All or have 100m sprints. One potential love interest simply broke into hysterics at the drawings of me and, without even sharing a word, took a load of orange paint and spluttered it across my cheek.
Bruised and dejected, with my ego in tatters, Cupid’s Club was over. It seemed even the concentrated attempt of a festival dedicated to helping you find love was just as tedious and contrived as Tinder itself.
I end up at the bar again and, as usual, I’m alone. Gazing at a stagnant pool of lager, it’s hard to figure out what I did wrong. Then I get a tap on the shoulder.
“Orange suits you!”
“What?” I reply.
“On your face, you muppet! You look like you could use a drink, mate?” The man asks.
“I would love one.”
This man, this giant of a man: Clive. Reaching down to me in my hour of need, restoring my faith in humanity as we know it.
Shooting pool, sinking bitters, playing darts and dancing to Chas and Dave – we have a lot of fun. We even stop at the festival’s pizza place for a bite of Romano-style pizza. Clive picks up the bill. This is one of the best dates, no, one of the best nights of my life. It’s what festivals are about: fun! I went in search of love and companionship, but I think what I was really searching for was Clive.
Did I enjoy our night together? Fuck yeah. Will I ever see him again? Probably not. And therein lies the problem. You see, it doesn’t matter whether you package it in rowing boats and tie dye sessions or Carling cans and laughing gas, festivals are not really for finding true lasting love. They may be love-fuelled, but they are loveless extravaganzas. As I learned from my desperate flailing and slapping: this is a place for short term flings. Flings of the heart, flings of the mind and flings of the senses. A place to detach from your usual thoughts and realities. A place for Clive.
I may not have found true love at Camp Wildfire, but I found something else guys. Somewhere between the basil, life drawings and shoulder touching... I found myself.
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