Freeze Festival 2012 review – A winter wonderland

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Freeze

I’m not sure what I expected. But with ‘Freeze’ in the title I naively expected/hoped for the romance of a Nordic cabin at Christmas and the comfort and embrace of the cold side of a pillow. What I discovered was the arctic tundra, rendering everyman’s penis redundant. Non-smokers became addicts in an attempt to defrost their frozen lungs. Even the unwanted toilet breaks one despises at festivals became a welcome indulgence of warmth – though warmth at a level with a hobos cardboard bed.

I arrived just after midday at ‘Mount Batterseato a derelict concrete wasteland and with the iniquitous clouds consuming London – everything was grey. Before my soul completely slid out of my arsehole, I seized a cider (the allure of this festival is that for a writer with a drinking habit exceeding the upper end of social, a bar is at all times at arm’s length). With alcohol somewhat numbing the cold I headed to the only open attraction at the time – the death ramp or ‘Big Air Jump’. The ski ‘professionals’ were impressive, yet bordering on mentally unstable and despite their experience, were landing on their heads far too often , in what seemed the beginnings of a suicide pact with an impressive nonchalance.

Freeze snowboarder

As 3pm loomed so did the prospect sex, drugs and… bingo. Taking over the Desperados Factory (a perfectly placed bar amidst… the other bars) was the Underground Rebel Bingo Club – bringing their sex fuelled degenerate take on the pensioners favourite to Battersea; not only “changing lives” with their prizes and anarchy, but changing faces with every wild eyed bastard leaving Desperados as walking Picassos with Crayola soaked faces. In an effort to find somewhere approaching room temperature I made my way to O’Neills Cinema and its bar. A film calling itself ‘Further’ was lighting the back of frozen retinas, and though I imagine the film may well have been an interesting and compelling insight into world of snowboarding and surviving arctic conditions, it was clear the only reason people were here was to warm up. A mass exodus occurred when the lights came up and the mob made their way to the Main Stage to catch ‘old skool’ garage in the form of DJ EZ. My thirteen year old self was dancing on the inside. My current twenty eight year old self was crying on the outside – though the man did get the crowd dancing and warmed up nicely for DJ Supergroup A-YO! (Mark Ronson & Zane Lowe).

DJ EZ

As I reached the front of stage I was greeted by a young man whose name I didn’t bother to remember in the cinema. “Want some vodka?” he asked pulling out a giant glass bottle of Grey Goose. His eyes looked naive yet wild and menacing, “What are you?” I asked. No response, though a wry grin crept onto his face. Firstly, how he managed to get the bottle in is beyond me with security going as far as cavity searches as well as snipers taking out smokers in the vicinity of the arena tent, and secondly Grey Goose? I admire his class but the boy looked fourteen. Where’s the Skol? Before he even managed to pull the bottle from his bag, he was plucked from the ground and thrown five metres – his face twisting from its former grin into a terrified fear as a security guard flicked him like an ant into the back of the stage to never be seen again. I was left in the company of his girlfriend who seemed strangely unfazed by her boyfriend being purged by Freeze’s NKVD. However, despite the fact I found her detached lack of concern for loved ones attractive, her vocabulary matched her subatomic thoughts and I immersed myself at the front of stage for fear that conversing with her might have me joining my fallen comrade’s purged corpse.

A-Yo!

A-YO! arrived on stage bringing a canonical body of tunes to make John Peel proud, tearing their way through hip hop, blues, soul and dance – one of the best DJ sets I’ve witnessed and the crowd converged as one, conveniently creating some body heat from the friction. There’s clearly friendship over music between the pair with plenty of interaction from the two, fighting and rewarding each other over each track, with Zane dropping his own beats and vocals on top of every record. Mid way through the set, a group of boys attempted a mosh circle but were quickly taken out by Freeze’s ever growing collective of storm troopers with bodies dropping everywhere – re-enacting Jurassic Park’s raptor field. Those boys didn’t even see it coming. I was beginning to fear for my safety, with what seemed like the beginnings of Stalingrad.

DJ Shadow

Closing Day One was DJ Shadow – returning to the UK for the first time in 15 years to play as he describes, “some fucked up experimental shit,” and that he did, with what seemed a fairly vacant arena suddenly spilling at the seams and more than Freeze’s storm troopers could handle. With no laptop in sight he tore through a landscape of bass, beats and cut up vocal samples – offering a hard slap in the face to the modern DJ. There was an after party – but all I can offer you is the empty Jäger glasses in my jacket pocket and some mystery bruises.

We have now learned to wrap up. Saturday’s festivities came alongside some well needed blue skies and sunshine as I made my way across Chelsea Bridge; guiding a herd of lost Swedish tourists to the festival site and upon arrival receiving a shot of vodka from each of them as a thank you. After they coloured my face yellow and blue during another session of rebel bingo, we parted ways. They managed to sneak in a biblical proportion of vodka – enough to put a prohibition gangster to shame – I just hoped they wouldn’t be another number amongst the Freeze purges.

Up next in Desperados tequila fuelled den was Duke – a live beatbox trio incorporating vocals and instruments  – fresh off the back of supporting Example, Pendulum and Prince – shredding their way through genres, most notably with the guitarist playing two guitar parts at once, jumping between The Prodigy and The White Stripes – quite a feat considering his fingers were tequila popsicles. After realising I don’t actually like tequila, (though the thought of throwing up did seem warm) I moved onto the Main Arena via the Big Air Jump to catch the Snowboarders competing in the Big Air Super Final; the crazy bastards were still committed to their suicide pact, and as the skies fell and a downpour dropped over Battersea, Stanton Warriors managed to pull a larger crowd than they might have expected. Rain will always help a forgotten big top band, and credit to Stanton Warriors – they rewarded the crowd for it, creating an echo of an 80’s M25 rave.

Grandmaster Flash

Up next was hip hop pioneer and legend Grandmaster Flash with the crowd all but forgetting the unforgiving temperature and jumping to his beat – perfectly setting the crowd up for Public Enemy. Flava Flav arrived on stage with his infamous clock, after almost finding himself behind bars for allegedly threatening his fiancée and pursuing her teenage son around their house with two knives. Say no more. The biggest cheer from the crowd came in response to ‘Harder Than You Think’, the track used as the theme for Channel 4’s coverage of the Paralympics, and, this year, Public Enemy’s highest charting single ever in the UK.  “Fight the powers that be!” shouts Chuck D to the crowd – but we’re too busy fighting the icy horizontal rain to worry about sticking it to the man. Despite a curtailed 75 minute set the New Yorkers still bring their intimidating racket to wild eyed heights finishing with ‘Fight the Power’ as I notice my Grey Goose comrade from yesterday being swallowed by the NKVD again. The after party resulted in spirit experimentation with my new found Swedish comrades and I woke up with ‘Puerto Rico’ and ‘Jesus forgives you’ written on my arm. Christ knows.

Public Enemy

Final word

The cold was as unforgiving as Freeze’s NKVD, and even when wrapping up its difficult to fully enjoy Freeze’s endearing Alpine spirit. The snowboarders were incredible to watch and the calibre of music from the unknown to New Yorks finest was something special. Freeze did and does manage to turn an ugly derelict wasteland into a winter wonderland of sorts and being surrounded not only by public transport but a number of bars and clubs for those wanting to carry on with the party is great. The crowd and staff are incredibly warm, engaging and wild, and the atmosphere brings a winter rave merriment to the festival. It’s soaked in Snowboarding culture and the music that goes with it, and I’d certainly recommend it – I’d just ask Freeze to provide a bonfire next year as my nipples haven’t forgiven me.

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Image credits: Graham Joy (www.grahamjoyphoto.com)