mon 17/06/2024

Medicine Festival review - the new New Age gathers in leafy Berkshire | reviews, news & interviews

Medicine Festival review - the new New Age gathers in leafy Berkshire

Medicine Festival review - the new New Age gathers in leafy Berkshire

No alcohol, no meat and naked swimming - tribal gathering of the new counter culture

Ajeet at the Sacred GroveCharlie Orellana

Fia is a Swedish singer with a crystalline voice and a ear for a great melody - her singalong choruses are not typical for a festival Friday night headliner, like getting the audience to join in with “Sit with your pain/ cradle it close/ and when you’re ready/ Let it go.” This had a hypnotic effect on the audience, more mass therapy than a having a good time.

The lyrics won’t go down as great poetry, but the point of the song was the effect it had, there was an undeniable group energy in the audience - a growing group empathy that every single person in the audience had varying levels of pain and loss to deal with.

If that was a sign that the Medicine Festival is not your run of the mill event, there is no alcohol or meat available, smoking is hardly to be seen and there are only a couple of places selling coffee. The hot drink of choice seems to be chai or cacao, very rich hot chocolate that feels like you don’t need any more food for hours.

Another novelty - hardly anyone was glued to their phones. “There is method to our madness” Remi Olajoyegbe, one of the organisers told me. Unlike most modern festivals there is no app - people actually looked at notices on site a lot and to get a decent signal you often had to go to higher ground. You were forced to escape the contemporary behind-a-screen alienation, and there were numerous touches to further break the ice.  

Naked swimming in the lake, for example. As has often been noted, naturism is strangely not erotic. And you ended up covered in algae so you emerged looking like the creature from the black lagoon.

Healing algae?  The many herbalists and alternative medicine types could have told you. The festival was wellness central and it would be easy for some to satirise some of the treatments at the Healing Village - hundreds of them, from Celtic Shamanic Healing ,Thought Field Therapy, to Womb Reiki. All I can say with limited knowledge is that when I have actually tried any of this stuff it usually works to some extent. I’ve had Ayurvedic massages, reflexology and acupuncture and maybe some of it is psychosomatic, or simply the benefit of having someone pay attention to you for an hour, but people would not be shelling out £70 an hour if it didn’t have positive effects.

There are several such festivals springing up, like All About Love. As a teenager growing up with punk and with a certain disdain for hippies, this was not my most comfortable terrain. But it did feel more than just rehashed hippiedom with a New Age flavour. The talks programme was heavy on practical ecology and things like indigenous rights (they say they will donate some of their profits to assorted indigenous projects).

One of the talks I attended showed they are trying to deal head on with elements that have previously been a turn off in this type of cultural arena - discussing “spiritual capitalism” (over-priced therapies and assorted rip-offs) the bad actors like exploitative gurus and annoying “spiritual narcissists” who are often hugely privileged but who start looking down their noses at anyone they perceive to be more materialistic than them.

If there was no alcohol, there was a distinct mushroom undercurrent and a fair amount amount of micro-dosing going on (drugs without the hallucinations and bad trips?). One talk, a riff on the expression “we are spiritual beings having a human experience” by Darren Le Baron was amusingly entitled “Are we mushrooms having a human experience.?” You could follow that by a “psychedelic speed dating” session.

While music was only part of the Festival, it was an important part, there are stars of this tribe like the angelically voiced Nessie Gomes, or the celtic-tinged Ajeet, who even if the music wasn’t your usual cup of chai was gorgeous framed by the lit trees at midnight. There was a Ghanian-Anglo band called K.O.G. whose fierce African grooves and dynamic brass was somehow surprising in this context and their glorious funk- reggae was as tight as anything on this or any other circuit. One of the highlights was waking up to hear the evocative Indian bansuri flute played by Aura Rascòn, a student of the great Hariprasad Chaurasia, who was then joined by assorted musicians to create a magical musical moment.

Only going a few years, the Festival has expanded its capacity year on year to 6,000 and sells out months in advance with thousands on the waiting list. It feels like something new is brewing here - whether it’s the making of a new counter culture or just a more friendly and connected than average gathering of seekers, healers and escapists, this kind of festival seems to be on the rise.  

Instagram : Peter Culshaw 

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