Reveling in spontaneity I booked a flight to Istanbul on Tuesday the 11 of June for 12am the following day. After quickly packing some festival necessities and doing last minute tent repairs I soon found myself questioning what the near future may have in store for me. Beginning my journey the next day from Cape Town, South Africa, I flew to Dubai and then to Istanbul where I stayed the night and recouped before the final stretch of my journey to the party. Waking at the crack of dawn to catch an early flight to Izmir, excitement finally grew as I touched down at the airport and found the Tree of Life shuttle representative who guided me to the ‘dolmuş’. Dolmuş translates to stuffed or filled, which is what they are, small mini bus taxi like vehicles use for short expeditions. While waiting for others to arrive as the shuttle service had a minimum capacity of 15 people per trip, I met Yaygon, the Australian genius behind projects like Kayla Scintilla and Merkaba. After sharing some Israeli tahina on corn crackers and hearing a sneak preview of his Kayla Scintilla set we began to grow restless and he decided to pull the ‘I need to get the party for my set’ card. With a taxi now organised by the party we swiftly left the airport for the mountains of Tree of Life. Accompanied by a Portuguese traveler, Yaygon and his American girlfriend I set off into the mysterious lands of Turkey.
Once in the mountains the landscape showed its luscious green nature, and even with weary traveling minds a common eagerness to explore could be felt among all. Getting to the venue on day 2 I was greeted by some of the best faces, not only those of friends but even those of the girls working at the door who were also from Cape Town, Legends. With armbands secured I was guided through the newly formed lakeside community which was to become home for the next week. A tranquil atmosphere existed as the simply majestic scenery and stillness of lake water astonished the eye. With abundant forestation parallel to the lake we ventured slightly upward and set up camp. With our ‘home’ taking shape and a mild level of comfort being achieved, I sat back in a hammock looking out over the party and thought to myself ‘Where am I, is this really happening?’ With my moment of realisation swiftly coming to an end it was time to see this dance floor.
A short walk down a ridge from our campsite found us in amongst the action. The main dance floor was a very open space with a somewhat daunting looking sound rig and focal point of a giant tree situated in the middle of the floor. Decor on stage was limited, yet two large statues stood on either side of the DJ. On the left was what appeared to be some sort of intergalactic knight and on the right an ancient Egyptian with the head of a serpent, these guys came to life at night I’m sure of it, some night at the museum business going down I suspect, or perhaps it was just me, who knows. The emphasis was undoubtedly on the tree – giving life to the party for the duration of the festival.
Settling in nicely while MayaXperience were playing, I couldn’t help but think that no matter where you are and in which country you may find yourself, delicious psychedelica will always trigger those receptors in the brain. Such triggers are associated with moments of ecstasy and leave you suddenly feeling right at home even in the most mysterious of surroundings.
The last day of traveling and endless hours flying all rapidly became worthwhile as they played Side Winter vs MayaXperience – The art of flight, a song hard not to get excited about and almost impossible to not bring a smile to your face. The cheeky minimalistic nature of the track creates a unique and playful energy on the dance floor. Next up was the Israeli Darma, an act I didn’t want to risk missing and with my clocks still a few hours out we remained on the dance floor until hearing him open with his remix of Captain Hook’s Alternative Universe, the banger set the tone for what was to follow, other solid tracks featured were the versus track with Numb – Armada and Signs of the Beginning Versus Vertical mode. With the sample ‘on the downside an ayawaska experience can be a very painful ordeal’, Signs of the Beginning is a very popular song back home on South African dance floors, usually played by Humerous.
Displaying some bipolar behaviour, the Turkish skies quickly turned releasing the tears of the heavens upon us. On route to the tent suddenly the clouds could no longer carry the burden of moisture and let it pour down over the party. Seeking temporary refuse in the tent while we concocted some vodka ‘nektari’ drinks, the cleansing showers quickly subsided. On the path back to the dance floor particles of gloom lay before us as the sun once again began to scorch the earth. The unexpected rainfall had freshened things up and didn’t seem to have moved anyone an inch from the dance floor. The last act of the day was another Israeli Yotopia, who kept fueling the momentum already gained by the crowd. With crazy slick production and liquid sounding squishes in the background, my favourite song of the set was their new track with Motion Drive – Unknown.
With the music coming to an end and a great appreciation for the day being given by the crowd, the party immigrated down to the lake stage which was situated in close proximity to the stalls. This period of the day was used for relaxation, contemplation and preparation for the night by some, but it also signaled a huge down tempo act would be playing on the lake stage. This evening was Kayla Scintilla; the friend I had made earlier that day coming to the party. The atmosphere on the intimately packed Lake stage was relaxed, yet retained the vibrant feeling of the day, and with Yaygon’s unique style of music the dance floor was in for a treat.
Infusing his love for nature, sacred geometry, and spiritual wisdom he unlocks doorways into our personal and collective awakening. He plants seeds of galactic sound alchemy to be felt and experienced by all. With his girlfriend dancing on stage in perfect harmony to each tweak and strangely hypnotic rhythm he delivered, the audience was fully captivated by music very difficult to describe. I personally believe its best explained as cosmic gypsy fusion, the unusual elements are what make it special. My favourite song is from the new album ‘Dance the Spiral Never Ending’ and it’s entitled ‘Rises in East’, it’s just something else.
The sun had commenced its sneaky descend without much notice, yet its illumination of the water was unmistakable. Every light from the stage bounced off the mirror-like surface of the lake, resulting in the darkening water now becoming a celebration of colour. With very glance at this magnificent lake, a new found calmness seemed to sweep over me, almost like a perfectly balanced massage for the mind.
As the sun finally set, an eerie darkness fell over the party and the height above sea level could now be felt as an icy chill set in. Returning to the tent for a lie down after a long day, I changed into some comfortable clothes and only made a short venture to the main stage in the night before retiring for some much needed sleep. During my little trip to the dance floor, I witnessed the incredible transformation which takes place during the few hours of ‘off time’. The tree in the centre of the floor now appeared to look like something out of Avatar, with blue and yellow draping spirals in abundance and the foundation glowing neon green – it was something extraordinary.
The next morning, day 3, we walked to the end of lake to shower and get ready for the day, yet the hot water had just run dry and the outdoor showers seemed to be providing little more than a trickle. Nevertheless nudity was plentiful as the Brazilians seemed to enjoy the attention they were getting. With our ‘get fresh’ trip not reaching the levels of success we had anticipated, we cruised around the opposite side of the lake and found a secluded spot to swim. The cold water was a pleasant wake up and walking along the stone wall toward the food stalls we were once again enchanted by the mystical nature of the lake. Food was the next priority, a vegan energy ball and a pepper and olive pizza seemed to be the ideal combo. Next we went to check on our friend who absolutely smashed it the previous night and was only now rising from the dead. Once revitalised by a swim she too was ready to do it all over again and it was now time to explore the distance thump of the dance floor.
In control of the minds of the innocents was the Israeli Darwish. Possessing a quicker style of progression than the conventional and having a strong psychedelic focus with extremely creative leads he creates a journey, something adventurous which was taken too very enthusiastically.
The 7tl or R35 price tag on beers did not deter us in the least as a cold Tuborg was the perfect accompaniment to the flowing rhythms and spirally beats on the dance floor. The weather had been playing games all day, providing a sunny scorch for periods and then swiftly replacing it with cloudy overcast conditions, like a child who couldn’t make up their mind so too were the weather gods on this day. I wasn’t complaining, the sun rejuvenated and gave energy whether the cooler climate provided balance and allowed for less strenuous movement.
Next up were DigiCult, the Belgium duo with a deep, intelligent full-on style, which has a gentle old-school touch. I found their set clear and enlightening, some songs had a U-Recken sort of feel while others had a distinctively full-on oriented flux. A truly refreshing sound, something we don’t get in South Africa where sometimes we tend to be very stuck in our musical ways. We returned to our forest campsite to chill and puff something tasty while taking in the serenity this area had to offer in constant to the dance floor.
Assembling some fresh drinks we went to back to the action to catch Zen Mechanics, this was high on the priority list at the time. The Australian unfortunately didn’t make it, during one of his recent gigs he suffered some sort of food poisoning and was simply in no condition to travel and do the festival. It was disappointing but we do wish him a speedy recovery. I have no doubt he will be at Tree of Life 2014 and rock it twice as hard for us!
One of the local Tree of Life guys filled in and actually banged it with some huge prog drops. It was then time for the best live act winner Cavemen to play. These two put on the most energetic performance I’ve seen in years with dreadlocks becoming air borne they just didn’t stop moving. It had been a day of much consumption and now we sat above the ridge on the side on the dance floor for a chilled smoke session. During the final set of the day we wondered off into undiscovered territory and where the remnants of a face painting stall laid we found a hill with the most amazing view of the lake, this merely provided a backdrop for the individual personalities of the trees in front of us.
As the giant rig was finally given a breather we stumbled down to the food stalls for some potato vegan wraps, which quickly became my favourite meal at the festival. We sat and enjoyed our dinner to the worldly sounds of the majestic lake stage. On our way back to the tent for an early night it was interesting to observe how many were making fires to cook and stay warm during the night, something which isn’t allowed back home. It was a pleasant thing to see that with responsibility and respect for your environment there need not be many restrictions to a festival, common sense seemed to prevail here.
With a decent shift of sleep put in and it now being the early hours day 4, we headed to the dance floor to see Koxbox in action. With the night chill at its peak and the land covered in darkness we braved the ominous walk down the hill face and made our way toward the deadly psychedelic moisture that seemed to be spewing from the speakers. The music was deeply riveting with plenty wet tweaks and unexplainable sounds coursing through dance floor.
Para halu took over as the sun was rising and continued the fast pace onslaught, but introduced a more uplifting approach as he prepared everyone for the morning. Meeting a mad Turkish sidekick for this morning session, we combined forces to produce some fairly prolific drinks which went down oh so well as the Frenchmen Driss took control of things. Playing the proverbial morning set, this man reminded me of a European version of Bruce, laying copious amounts of energy with blatant disregard to the fact that one can only move so much. Hearing the song Bliss vs Ultravoice – Just a Beaver with the newly risen sun hitting my face an uncontrollable smile could not contain itself; this was one of my favourite DJ sets of the party.
Further alcohol acquisition missions were well underway with our Turkish cohort and some smoke was even rearing it head from time to time, feeling ready for whatever what may be thrown our way we decided to dedicate this day to the dance floor. The weather was hot and the line up ridiculous, what more could we ask for? The highlights for the day were definitely Loud and Symphonix, both have graced the dance floors back home but with longer time slots they produced impressively superior performances. I have to recommend the newly released Symphonix album to all prog lovers and admirers of the Spintwist style, it’s a must have for any collection.
Fast forwarding through some regular end of the day behaviour and a bit of sleep, I found myself now on the dance floor during Dust and LunaRave’s sets in the early hours on the morning. Both were deadly and fairly insane to be honest, with the dance floor the fullest id seen it the crowd were eating the rolling bass-lines and psychotic undertones alive.
I was fortunate enough to catch the fire show taking place on stage, with some intricate fire poi being displaying while huge streams of fire burst into the sky from either side of the stage I was mesmerised. Frozen in awe yet still unable not to think to myself this is fairly dangerous, no? Bloody awesome nonetheless! Realising stamina was wearing thin it was back to bed, well mildly comfortable tent floor, for me.
The day which followed, day 5, was to be one of relaxation and solitude from the madness, a time for lazing around camp, appreciating our surroundings and preparing our minds and bodies for the grand finale that was to be the last day. Finding myself conscious a few hours before my fellow psy monkeys I went for a swim, grabbed a delicious wrap and headed to the dance floor to see what had become of this sacred land of rhythm. A small crowd remained now fixed on the pulse being released by Dj Lucas, it was hard to believe only a few hundred individuals stood embracing the power, technique and control of one of Europe’s craziest artists. It was these moments that made tree of life a uniquely magical gathering as you realised how fortunate you were to capture these memories very few had the opportunity to experience.
A morning of relative calmness followed thereafter and it was only around midday that our weary bodies found their way to the mellow banks of the dance floor. With some large cushions providing comfort we prepared to watch the masters Braincell and U-Recken. Both delivered dynamic performances and showed exactly why Vortex has brought them down to South Africa over others in the past. Bright organic frequencies were the order of the day as the natural vibrations of light and energy seemed to travel through the air seamlessly.
Later in the day as the sun lowered its gleam which peaked through the trees of our campsite, a friend muttered ‘I wish there was some chai’ and suddenly as if sent by the Indian tea gods themselves a man appeared holding a massive container of chai which he then began to pour into a cup for us. Who was this kind stranger? The expression ‘ask and you shall receive’ was coming to live in a very literal sense. Sharing this mysterious tea we conversed with some German friends we met and got some pretty interesting insights into their thoughts and views of the party. I think it’s critical we expand our awareness and broaden our scope of thought, as the great Albert Einstein once said, yes I’m quoting Einstein just relax, ‘The intuitive mind is a scared gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift’.
Fires began to burn as the night set in, animal noises could be heard resonating from the lake stage as Eat Static was undoubtedly terrorising the dance floor with creativity. As the night progressed we continued to take it easy and only managed to catch Absolum that evening. The Frenchman was on a quest to create a formidably complex atmosphere with shadowy aggressive leads and punchy bass-lines. His set was less psychedelic than those of previously nights yet possessed an unparalleled intricacy. The 3D Vision sound was a familiar one as it is the sort of chaos which manifests itself as night falls on South African shores.
With an early night on the cards we curled up for what was hopefully going to be the rest that gave us the energy to fully indulge in the shenanigans of the final day. The slight incline on which our tent was situated seemed to be worsening as we continued to slide further down losing valuable space. This required some rearrangements in a state of mild consciousness, but with patience and some innovative comfort enhancement ideas we got the hours we needed in.
The next day, day 6, was a daytime enthusiast’s dream with huge names like Tristan, Basic, Born Sleepy and Protonica playing. Some of my favourite tracks from these sets were D-Addiction Vs Basic – Keep the Frequency and Born Sleepy – Wanted; both have huge drops and create excitement and silliness on almost any dance floor. With a proper a crew of South Africans now invading the dance floor we rocked it the only way we knew how, throwing wet scarves around and appreciating every break as if it was the last, Cape Town would have been proud.
Best set of the day, and the entire party in fact, was Ace Ventura in my opinion. What he did with two and a half hours was unreal. As he finished off his live set thunderous applause rang out until soon he was slamming us with a DJ set, dropping bangers like the Interactive Noise Remix of Presence and Sideform’s remix of Morten Granau – Natural Born Kick. This was not my first hearing the Israeli magician play but it was however my favourite and most memorable. The energy resonating from each individual at this time was something that could only be felt by those were there.
The last set was something equally as special as Perfect Stranger guided us toward the end of an amazing journey. The minimal-tech infused reverberations provided the perfect close to the party. During the last few songs the crowd proceeded to take the party to the stage, and the way in which people were reveling in the last few moments was beautiful to witness. Seeing two South Africans standing above Perfect Stranger holding a sign thanking Tree of Life was also just too cool for words. After a few encores the music finally came to an end and an appreciate broke out unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The love each person had for the party and the experience was so genuine that it restored the faith you first had in the culture that has shaped us all.
Eventually sitting back at the tent, one of the girls I was with returned to the campsite with what looked like the leaning tower of pizza, cheesy hey? Okay enough with the puns, the point is that buying these many pizzas is not normal and it just showed how NOT normal the day had been.
Now running on reserve tank with energy streaming directly from the excessive number of pizzas we ate, it was off to the lake stage after party for our last stomp on Turkish soil. A spectacular fire poi display grabbed our attention like a moth to a flame. I was seeing things I didn’t think possible, the conventional two poi at a time was out the window as multiple flaming balls were being hurled throw the air by one person. Impressed with mans wheeling of fire we settled into the dance floor with the music still raging in solidity. This was the ultimate end for me, I loved the intimate setting of the lake stage and being able to experience it with legends just made it that much better.
With a sense of accomplishment having lasted this long, we returned to our ‘home’ to rest our fragile minds for the last time. Waking to a surreal tranquility on day 7, we packed our things and proceeded to say goodbye to this miraculous place we had called home for the last week. This festival will forever remain high upon my wish-list every year, until we meet again Tree of Life. Thank you for something truly amazing!
Photos courtesy of Bobby C. Alkabes and lessandro Ragazzon