Tuesday, September 11, 2012

To Neverland and Back: Magneet Festival

skyline of the Magneet Festival
Attending the Magneet Festival is the closest I have ever come to experiencing a dream while awake. For a month, every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 3pm to midnight, myriad Dutch gather on a man-made sand island and celebrate life, in the form of music, food, sculpture, dance, and good company. The organizers of each tent operated independently, resulting in a patchwork feel. Magneet’s website elucidates that Magneet represents “the first crowdsourced festival of its kind in Europe”, going on to explain that it contains “no spectators, only participators”. I had absolutely no idea what this meant, but after seeing Magneet, it made perfect sense. This festival focused on the experience itself; every attendee would have a uniquely beautiful adventure, and this was precisely the point.
We arrived around mid-afternoon after a 15-minute tram ride and subsequent walk of the same distance. A series of colorful archways welcomed us, a view already worth the measly 10 Euros we exchanged for entrance to the grounds. The skyline included various tents, sculptures (including a huge whale’s tail and lifesized, whimsical wooden house), huts, a boat, and a huge teepee scattered randomly throughout the sand.
Camera in hand, I attempted to capture the colors exploding in all directions and forms around us, but soon realized the impossibility of this task. I found the passerby as fascinating as the scenery—a man in a giant costume passed by, as did a crew of about 15 men carrying a canoe over their heads. More people than not displayed face paint. We meandered past a vintage clothing store, a huge garden for the “kinders”, a bar tent entitled “Willy Wodka” and complete with cartoon Willy Wonka image, and a open air structure covered in flags, where the dancers included a barefoot twenty-something girl clad in a orange bikini, hula hooping in time to the music. We finally came to rest next to a huge rooster sculpture made out of wood reminiscent of popsicle sticks and perched atop a large sand dune that overlooked the entire festival. Our view—and matching audio—included a stage made out of old boxcars and scantily clad singer crooning out angry lyrics at the whim of a stick-sized guitarist. In every direction were interesting combinations of objects, colors and sounds, all clamoring for my attention.
Part of the set for the guitar show
After soaking up the view, we decided to explore all of the structures before the sun set completely. Absorbed in the ethereal set of a Jack-Johnson-esque guitar performer’s stage, I turned around to realize my companions had completely disappeared. After unsuccessfully peering inside the teepee for my friends, I heard my name. It came from the inside of a hut straight from the fairy tale about Baba Yaga—I wouldn’t have been surprised if this structure, just like the one in the story, suddenly revealed that it had a mind of its own and decided to stand up and walk away. I climbed up a set of rickety wooden stairs and snagged the last available plush chair inside, and quickly realized I had just claimed myself a front seat to a live cooking show—performed entirely in Dutch! We pretended to understand as orange bikini girl explained to us the precise order and methodology of mixing pre-measured ingredients. Mostly, we just waited for the moment at the end when she passed around a tin of the final product: a tasty frozen cocoa-powder fudge of sorts garnished with walnuts. 
We climbed down and ambled past a techno tent and a huge collection of porter potties, exaggerated by the accompanying sign with “STANK” written on it, pausing at a tiny tree decorated with green and orange strips of paper and tiny pairs of wooden Dutch shoes. A man standing beside it encouraged us to write down a thought or message and tie it to the tree, perhaps to inspire later passerby. After thinking for a while, I summed up this month’s state of mind, scrawled it out on a message and tied it to the tree, feeling more complete than I had for a while.
The sun had started to set, but the energy of the crowd continued to grow, perhaps inspired by the music of all genres drifting through the air from the various tents. I looked up and found myself in front of a station dedicated to the art of hula hooping. Experts and novices alike tried their hands at this graceful task. I picked up an abandoned hoop and swayed in time to the chill-wave music playing from the neighboring cabana. The motion instantly sent me back in time to middle school recess, and I marveled how these two versions of myself, separated by 10 years, could feel the same exact delight from something so simple. I felt like a child: utterly intrigued by every aspect of the world around me.
Time lapse of the fire-dancers
Bonfires had started in the distance; people huddled around them for warmth. Enticed by the image, we gravitated towards it. After gazing at the sparks, we grabbed some snacks and headed back towards the rooster, whose neighboring tent now displayed a performer waving around two fiery chains in time with inviting, upbeat music. It had just gotten dark enough that the fire stood out brilliantly against a starry backdrop. Two more entertainers quickly joined in, waving brightly colored flashing lights, also on chains. The quick circular rhythm of their movements created mesmerizing patterns that stayed constant for just long enough for me to acclimate before they would shift in color or switch performers.
By now most of the tents had shifted to musical themes. We soon arrived at a techno performance and laughed upon realizing the stark contrast it presented with the guitar show we had seen that afternoon on the same spot. Each round we made of the grounds, we now knew, revealed new structures, sounds, and sights, each as interesting as what we had seen before. I started dancing in the most uninhibited way I knew how, just letting the music flow through my body in the most natural way possible. As weird as I probably looked, this form of dancing felt much purer than the usual socially-restrained shuffle found at most clubs or parties, and I noticed quickly that, judging by the crowd’s motions, everyone else probably had similar thought processes. The most notable sound emanating from the music was an extended “ziiiiiiiiiiip” noise unlike any I’d heard before.
festival-goers, conversing on the dune 
Scattered between my experiences at each tent were conversations with other festival-goers. I quickly registered that as a foreigner, I formed most of a practically nonexistent minority. Perhaps because of this, the Dutch eagerly conversed with my friends and I, on topics ranging from the festival itself to spirit animals. Conversation flowed as it often does between groups of people sharing a special experience. When I commented that everyone at Magneet seemed happy, the tall man I was talking to proposed “show me the grumpy guy! Please!” and we both laughed at the absurdity of that idea.  
 Magneet reminded me of the beauty present in everyday life. Anything can be beautiful simply if I choose to look at in that way. Growing up does not mean that I have to lose the magic present in childhood; life should be marveled at and celebrated the entire way.

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