Treasure Island and the Escapist Impulse

the third in a three part TI series

Much work goes into the creation of another world. The Treasure Island Music Festival last weekend was a break from reality, dazzling and calculated.

You can tell you’re in another world by the distortion of time: I honestly couldn’t say how many hours Eric and I dashed about on that island, to which we had been shuttled by free buses running on a continuous loop from the Civic Center to the fest. Once there, a hot-pink Ferris Wheel cleaved the fog, leaving behind little splatters of light.  People convened under canvas tents or pressed against each other to get a better view of James Blake’s pixely O-face on either of 2 giant screens. Bodies wrapped in silvery space-blankets flashed through the crowd, bloodshot eyes the only human feature visible beneath their alien shrouds. At 6:15 pm, every (conscious) person gasped as the San Francisco fog came gushing across the stage, filling the space beneath James’  keyboard and decapitating one-fourth of the crowd. To be honest, it’s hard for me to remember Treasure Island as a whole, as a postcard in my mind. What I remember most was the motion of it: everyone swirling around each other, streaming in opposite directions (half pushing towards the stage where Disclosure was setting up, half towards the fleet of port-o-potties) and collectively retaliating—by way of head-banging, smoking, nestling with strangers, shouting to friends lost in the crowd—against the implicit sadness of our setting. Treasure Island is a literal island, sitting in a no-man’s land between Oakland and San Francisco, linked to the Bay Bridge (and the rest of the world) by a famously jank exit that innumerable stoners have nearly crashed their mom’s Jeeps on. Whipped by a Pacific wind at all hours of the day and sporting geometric rows of concrete bunkers, it has the arty eeriness of a vacant lot and the shabby lure of a bar at 11 am. You know the abandoned house in every neighborhood, where local kids go after-hours to smoke up and sit in circles and fuck for the first time? Treasure Island has a similar vibe: like a purgatory of firsts. People in out-of-place parkas navigate the scrub and broken bottles, wondering what next? The music festival takes this blank, sad setting and transforms it, until all that remains of the original wasteland is what was most important about it in the first place: its surreality. image It is by now a common trend for music festivals like Treasure Island, Bonnaroo, Coachella, Govenor’s Island, and countless other glorified county-fairs to storm into an unused space and enliven it for a weekend. The other world that we so crave is built from the ground up, then mystified by live music, drugs, and the excitement of a crowd. This concept of an “other world,” a glitzy plane that runs parallel to but is distinct and separate from the humdrum one that we inhabit daily, might seem fanciful, but we actually encounter other worlds on a regular basis. Think of the diehard popularity of virtual realities (with names as obvious as Second Life), immersive online games, and digital communications. Think of the thrill of tripping and watching your bedroom melt into tie-dyed cliche. Think of the awkwardness of finding a friend’s Tumblr, half-diary and half-Judd Apatow film—a strangely personal document despite its fictionality, boasting drinking-stories with an existential twist, poem scraplets, and reblogged photographs of bony girls (as overexposed by light on the lens as by wet t-shirt). You scroll down and the discomfort mounts: despite the belief of 3k followers, this is not the life your friend is living. Think of the last party you went to: what purpose did the ninety-nine cent decorations, punny theme, and Fireball serve besides subtle transit into a less knowable zone? For whatever reason, we can’t easily defy or forget the rules of everyday life; the solution, of course, is to slide into a world where such rules don’t exist. The everyday governance of touch is suspended, and suddenly dancing is possible. Feminist critique aside, there is a poetic notion to “blurred lines.” In a weird way, the desire for and pursuit of other worlds is a defining feature of modern society. This hunger for a separate space is the momentum that propels us to be a functioning member of the realm we least appreciate: everyday life. We rise, eat, do the stuff that must be done, follow orders, swallow shit, all for the promise of later admittance into a world detached from the daily grind. Some people swallow more than shit and drift through their daily duties with their mind elsewhere, not so much with their heads in the clouds as cruising far beyond them. All entertainment, from TV-series to big-budget raves, centers around the creation and occupation of another world. The strangest thing, however, is the point at which these breathers from real life become ritual: when we habituate the very activities meant to transport us into unknown depths. The gamer begins to take meals in his room. The raver’s questionably thin wrists disappear beneath bracelets; she exists in an overlong Halloween and can’t stop acquiring candy. Costume becomes uniform, festivity calcifies into task. Is this a bad thing? Or is it inevitable? If we are so hungry for another world, why shouldn’t we try to make a home of it? That the novelty will fade is certain; but maybe once the magic blanches, we’ll meet the neighbors. As technology is rapidly advanced, so too is our access to newer, wilder realms augmented. And so too are the expectations raised for a truly “different” experience outside the norm. The fetishes get weirder as the online chat-rooms surge. We can listen to music that simulates trips. The weird world of Treasure Island bears testament to this pressure. My biggest question regarding the festival is the same question raised by spectators of its silent disco: what was actually happening? Perhaps that is most commendable quality of Treasure Island (and all successful forms of entertainment): no one came away from the festival with the same memories. We were together (mostly for body-heat) at the same time that we were worlds apart. Eventually the difference between what really happened, physiologically marked by grass-ass, the shivers, a future headache, and what was imagined ceases to matter. What remains is how lovely it felt to be warmed by the sun and nipped by the bay wind at the same time. 2nd Photo from BPM

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