Sunrise: Another World 2013 (review)

Kristina Georgiou signs up for sunshine and good times as a citizen of the ‘festival micronation’

Last year, Sunrise: Another World festival was a washout but the weekend of 30 May – 2 June 2013 brought golden sunshine and a new site, Thoulstone Park near Chapmanslade on the Wiltshire border. This was heaven-sent, as solar panels were an important part of powering the event, which this year claimed to be the first festival in the UK to have a renewable energy smart grid.

At the heart of the festival was the idea of developing a micronation; to imagine itself as an independent state that invites its citizens to co-create their society, while having fun. Close to 7,000 Sunrise dwellers received visas on entry with the opportunity to participate in activities that earned them a Sunrise passport.

The 150-acre former golf course was split into regions, like the Underworld with its kaleidoscopic décor and dance music focus, the mythical Storyland for children, or the peaceful wellbeing area with wood-fired hot tubs by the site’s small lake.

One of the pillars of the micronation was its ethical trading policy. 80% of the food and drink sold at the festival was organic and on Saturday night we even enjoyed a five-course banquet sat on hay bales at long communal tables in a pop-up restaurant, The Elderflower Kitchen. From the nettle and wild garlic soup to the homemade raspberry and rose ice-cream – all with ingredients sourced locally in the Blackdown Hills – greasy festival burgers this was not.

In addition, local currency the Bristol Pound was accepted at all stalls across the site. There was also a noticeable lack of branding and advertising at the festival.

Jon Cousins, a trustee of Sunrise’s charity The Natural Communities Foundation, explained that the idea of building sustainable community through festivals, is being increasingly absorbed from Sunrise: Off-grid, a smaller 5-day event in August.

“The sanctity of matter, the interrelationship with the planet we live on – this is at the heart of Sunrise philosophy,” he told Positive News.

“All festivals should be about celebrating and showing the creative, positive possibilities of a better world. There is still some tweaking to be done, but this year we are smaller, more authentic, and truer to our philosophy,” he said as we sat in The Shire, an embodiment of the village green, where children and adults played games in the sun and craft makers wove and carved their wares.

With the London Orchard Project offering us freshly pressed pear juice and the air filling with the sound of gypsy swing from the Spit ‘n’ Sawdust stage, there was a feeling of much joy, freedom, and unity. Coming to such events and meeting people that live what they preach can really change your view on alternative culture and how festivals can be run.

The Cat’s Cradle Green Talks Dome held inspiring talks, with the backdrop of a ‘hanging garden’ – plants with their roots and soil netted in tights and suspended from the dome roof. Saturday afternoon offered a panel discussion with Resurgence & Ecologist editor Satish Kumar, environmental lawyer Polly Higgins – who dared us “to be great” on behalf of the planet – and the Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett.

“We’re pushing to transform the British economy, to bring manufacturing and food production back to Britain,” Bennett told Positive News, and said that Sunrise festival complimented this.

“People getting together, sharing ideas, sharing experiences – that’s important because it energises people, it informs and educates them, and it sends them away with a new energy to get out and actually act … The knowledge that’s here can spread around the country.”

But let us not forget the music. We heard blends of dub, hip-hop, folk, psy-trance and drum ‘n’ bass. The Sunrise Pub was a hub of entertainment as the scorching days rolled into chilly nights with performances from the likes of Babyhead and activist band Seize The Day.

Dub Pistols closed the main stage on Saturday with an energetic performance that included guest appearances from Rodney P and Roots Manuva, drawing in the festival’s biggest crowd. We also enjoyed bouncing around in the sunshine to the Inexplicables on Sunday afternoon, who paid homage to Roni Size with their mix of sax, guitar, vocals and beat box.

But for me, it was the Tribe of Doris programme in the Global Village area that stole the show. They consistently brought people together with drumming, dance and singing workshops, exploring rhythms and colours from around the world.

“People getting together, sharing ideas, sharing experiences –  it energises people, it informs and educates them, and it sends them away with a new energy to get out and actually act”

Up in the Ghetto Funk area with a boat for a DJ booth, we loved the mesmerising laser lights, the xylophones made from recycled materials and the treetop children’s play area. Just beyond was the Earth Circus café, which hosted powerful poets such as MC Angel and Sirena Reynolds from London’s all-female hip-hop collective, Lyrically Challenged.

“This is the first festival of the year and a nice start to the summer,” lead singer Daniel of the south London reggae band, The Drop told us, after their upbeat main stage performance. “It’s relaxed, not too hectic and has a diverse mix of people. Our music has a conscious message about positive change; we’re trying to be aware of the injustices of the world and it definitely ties into a festival like this.”

Inevitably for an event pushing the boundaries, Sunrise didn’t always reach the mark. Some citizens chatted with us about whether the music ethos fitted the festival’s manifesto, for example, or how it would have been useful to see more information around the site explaining what the micronation is.

But feedback like this will be vital to the Sunrise Moot, a new forum that citizens of the micronation can take part in. As one of the festival directors, Alex Lepingwell explained: “The moot is an ancient concept where issues are thrashed out among the community. In our online and physical moot meetings over the coming year, micronation policy will be developed… We really want input from our citizens on everything to do with our development, from which bands to book, to evolving our micronational stance on nuclear power.”

Sunrise: Another World is an evolving concept. The organisers want to build the event as a physical meeting point for a growing community that can celebrate through culture, music and laughter, while responding to social and environmental issues and exploring a positive vision for the future.

It’s been great to see their philosophy put into practice and be part of it, and I hope they continue, as spoken word artist Sirena Reynolds put it, to “step fearlessly into the new dawn.”