In the course of her set at Jupiter Rising, a festival of “cutting-edge music and performance” held outside Edinburgh, the comedian Josie Long ran through some things she hates. For instance: Keir Starmer (“not a fan”), Boris Johnson (“blood on his hands”), landlords (“parasitic… I hope you die”), lockdown novelists (“scabs”), and anyone who kvetches about the “woke brigade”, who “don’t exist” beyond the heads of people in Kent. (“Why not picket the Boys’ Brigade? At least they’re an actual brigade.”)
Long was easily the most starry (and grouchy) name in one-and-a-half days of Scottish sun. Jupiter Rising, which has run since 2018, is in all other respects a scattergun radar-tease: a blissfully small event, it puts acts with less renown than ability in front of a crowd of forgiving size.
The festival camps in Jupiter Artland, a 100-acre site with the prettiness of an architect’s cartoon. Between crescents of grassy hills, terraced in ascending curves – these, designed by Charles Jencks, are piously named “the Cells of Life” – lie open bathing-pools. Half-enclosing the park is a thickish woodland that could be drawn from a children’s myth. Much of the art on site is permanent, and ranges from those hillocks, the children on their summits backlit in the dusk, to the ones hiding deep in the woods, including sculptures by Ian Hamilton Finlay, Rachel Maclean and Anish Kapoor. (There are also, of course, bollards by Anthony Gormley, because nowhere in Britain is safe.) Among all this, you found wanderers, impromptu performances, curious goings-on by night.
The music was largely fine, though the highlights on the main stage were buried in the mass; from Lady Neptune, Friday’s second act, to Free Love, Saturday’s closer, the bookenders were heavier on bass than ideas. On the other hand, full marks both to Sacred Paws, stepping in as last-minute openers – any band whose post-punk reminds you of Life Without Buildings are doing well – and Pictish Trail, whose loping electropop was a treat.
Many of the others were closer to average: there were more ’00s indie guitars than I’d expected to hear in this brave new world. But as in the weekend’s other festivals, south of the border, the crowds were desperate to dance. They were a catholic mix of Gen Z, stylistically trapped between ’70s and ’90s, and a generation two decades above them, woollen-jumpered and clutching their wine. (In the small hours, a man of fifty: “The last time I saw Charlie Watts? Must have been Stephen’s wedding.”)
The mood was relentlessly amiable, which is (you suspect) encouraged by the festival’s frisson of cultishness, but mostly because enthusiasm just dies harder in the wake of Recent Events. And though Jupiter Rising is scattily organised – minimal signage, only two showers, food trucks under permanent siege – you could walk between the performance areas in minutes, and the sun was relentless, and the water was cold, and I didn’t hear a word of complaint.
Not, that was, until later on Saturday – just as the pools were looking like crystal and the mood was too upbeat to be true. Long’s ability to complain good-humouredly owes a lot to her politics: under Jencks’s otherworldly terraces, she declared herself “a socialist”, overjoyed to have got out of England and into a new Glaswegian home. She quipped that “if Jeremy Corbyn took us back to the ’90s, it’d be fine. 1976 was great – Bowie in his prime!”
And if some of her barbs felt dated, like relitigating the past from a place floating free of the present, Long reminded us genially, via bits about joy at the postman’s footsteps and the deluge of vouchers from Papa John’s, that “no one has news any more”. One purpose of festivals, anyway, is to leave earthly time behind. “Such a beautiful place,” Long said, pausing to marvel at the water, and the hills, and the sky.