26th-27th June 1992: Underworld and others at the Experimental Sound Field, Glastonbury


Why cover something that happened at Glastonbury, a festival that cost (even in 1992) a fair bit of money to enter? Well, because a lot of people, like Simon M whose report can be found below, hopped over the fence. Besides, Michael Eavis himself, seeking to distance himself from the rave phenomenon, only agreed to hosting the Experimental Sound Field on the proviso that is was not a part of the official programme. It was out on the edge of the main festival.

The first report is about the Friday night, and we don’t yet know who the DJ’s and musicians were, someone please let me know, thank you 🙂 The second report is about the Saturday night, when Underworld and guests played (by their account from 12 noon until dawn). Scroll down for part of their set (a snippet of it features in the video above).

The first report, by an anonymous raver:

Back then not much happened at Glastonbury after midnight, although things were improving by 1992, and the Sugarlump Sound System had an enormous tent pumping out tunes round the clock. I didn’t end up going there at night though, I remember spending a few lazy hours chilling and smoking there in a dusty sunny haze.

There were four of us, and this year I had a ticket. I was misguidedly camped on the hill with above the main stage, being a Glastonbury virgin. My friend T had brought two friends from university, and they seemed a little awed about the whole thing. I guess I was too. I was coming to the festival as a hippy, not a raver, and was blissfully unaware there would be a ravey dimension.

Not long after arriving we bought some Golden Lotus trips. The American middle-aged hippy we bought them off sung their praises and complained about the weakness of Purple Oms (standard 1992 UK acid). I was (and still am!) very cautious with LSD, and when I took it later on I only had a half.

We came up during an Orb concert on the Friday night. As the acid wormed its way into our awareness, we stood up, and as we stood up, the music phased, warped, and increased in volume. I do not think we stayed for the whole gig, but beat a retreat to the Sacred Circle (a stone circle high up on a hillside, built in the Anthropocene era). The acid was really working now, and we could hear, drifting up from the NME stage, the slurring Bobby Gillespie ruining my favourite songs from Screamadelica. Soon we were befriended by some kind of evangelist. I have no idea what idea she was trying to sell us (religion? road protest? nudity?) but she finally realised our acid-befuddled brains were not really taking in whatever she was on about.

Possibly as the trip was tailing off, we searched the perimeters for action. When we first came across the Experimental Sound Field it seemed very small and distant, with very mellow music. As we drew closer we could see large towers and screens with jagged, angry projections on them. These towers turned out to be a quadrophonic sound system. I heard a rumour at the time that the rig was something to do with Pink Floyd but have no idea whether this was true or not.

At some stage the music picked up the pace and we danced. I am afraid, dear reader, that that is all I can remember about this seminal event.

I awoke the next day to the dulcet tones of Rolf Harris and his wobbleboard, cranking it out on the Pyramid Stage. I resolved to camp somewhere else in future.

Here is Simon M‘s report:

I was sat in the Ropemakers pub in Bridport with D. Local hardman JM was asking around the pub if anyone wanted to go to a free party near Glastonbury festival. “Yeh, why not?” we said, as did H and P, a couple of other locals. JM was probably over the limit before we even got in his car, but we threw caution to the wind and sped off towards Somerset. On the way there JM was pouring grams of speed into Britvic orange bottles, taking a swig and then passing it round; by the time we got close to Glastonbury we were feeling pretty chatty. There were lots of police cars around so JM pulled over in a layby; we all jumped out of the car and continued on foot over some fields towards some lights we could see shining into the sky over the brow of a hill. We could hear a distant drum beat and convinced ourselves that this must be the illegal rave we were looking for. 

It was getting dark and becoming difficult to see where we were going and H lost a shoe climbing over a barbed wire fence. After a couple of miles of cross country we reached the top of the hill and realised we were at the actual Glastonbury festival and could see it spread out in the valley below. There was no sign of a free party outside of the festival so we decided to climb the 12ft fence and see if there was anything going on. As we jumped down the other side we were immediately accosted by a large security guard. Unperturbed JM slipped him a fiver and we were ushered on our way.

It was about midnight by now and the festival seemed quite quiet. We asked some revellers if there was anything going on and they pointed off into the distance and said if we went off in that direction and climbed through a hole in a hedge and we’d find a party. It sounded implausible but having nothing else to go on we followed the directions anyway. Coming out the other side of the hole in the hedge we found ourselves in a massive full on party. There was a tall scaffolding tower in the middle of the field, a quadrophonic sound system and thousands of people dancing to the most incredible music. High on speed and dope already we entered the moving crowds and JM scored some E’s and acid; Original NY E’s and green fluroescent tabs. As the drugs took effect the rest of the night became a joyous blur. JM disappeared almost immediately and we didn’t find him until sunrise, rocking out bare chested. I don’t remember hanging out with H and P, so it was just me and D.

Intrigued by the music we got closer to the scaffolding tower and could see that there were DJ’s plus live vocals and instruments. We had been under the impression that it was DiY sound system, but although the music was similar this didn’t seem like them. In amoungst the house classics and Detroit techno we could hear layers of guitar, percussion and looped vocals. Every so often the whole thing would slow right down and a voice would announce that it was time to play Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under a Groove”, or Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family”, sending the crowd wild.

In the morning as the drugs wore off we chilled and scored some dope. Somehow the dealer got the £20 off us before giving us a pitiful amount of hash, muttering something about “Glastonbury prices innit.” He turned to go, but D pulled him back by his shoulder. Quick as a flash he pulled a knife on us and repeated what he’d said before, but much slower, menacing and insistent “Glastonbury prices innit.” We agreed and after seeing the knife in his hand the deal didn’t seem so bad after all. As we sat enjoying a smoke an angry traveller with a stick was accosting everyone who had a Glastonbury armband asking for cash – he let us off because we’d snuck in. Miraculously JM found us in the morning and we wandered back through the festival hoping we were going in the right direction for the car. Walking out through the traveller fields we saw the performers and DJ’s from the night before dancing by a small sound system.

Somehow we got out of Glastonbury, found the car and drove back to Bridport; I have no idea how. I think H might have even found his shoe on the way back! I don’t think I ever spoke to JM, H or P again.The next weekend JM got into a big fight in Bridport and was bashed around the head with a baseball bat by The Viking. He was in a coma or 6 months.

For a while we were still under the impression that the party we’d been to was DiY. We were wrong, it was the Experimental Sound Field and the performers were Underworld. It was the first large dance music event at Glastonbury.

From an article about Funktion-One speakers:

“Tony’s loudspeaker designs through Funktion-One were at the forefront of musical evolution and the emerging dance music scene. It was early 1992 when he travelled to Glastonbury to visit his friend Michael, excited to talk about the new youth culture phenomenon which was happening and to ask Michael for a space at the festival where he could put on an electronic music party.

Castlemorton Common Festival and the legislation which sought to stop music ‘Wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of repetitive beats’ had not yet occurred and despite Michael’s aspirations to all things leading edge he thought it would be a rave and therefore it was a bridge too far.

However, he relented, setting aside an area for Tony’s idea and of course being careful not to make the area part of the official festival in view of the rising moral panic which seemed to be surrounding the early electronic music scene at that time.

The Experimental Soundfield, as it was named, was a great success and marked the first occurrence of an electronic dance event at Glastonbury Festival. It attracted around 8,000 people on the Saturday night, dancing within a four point soundfield surrounded by music that was a collaboration between some then unknown, now famous, DJs and musicians which included Darren Emmerson, Rick Smith and Karl Hyde from Underworld.”

Recording on Mixcloud:

1) ?
2). Underworld – Feel Me Dirty
3). Finitribe – Ace Love Deuce (Justin Robertson Mix)
4). Moby – Go (Renaissance Mix)
5). ? Sounds like Madonna I guess ?
6). ? (Just Reach On Out) ?
7). ? (Touch Me Over Again) ?
8). ?
9). Underworld and Super Peace Brothers MC Speech to the audience
10). Karl Hyde on Vocoder Jam (Robot Voice – Look At My Baby)
11). Acorn Arts – Silence
12). ?
12). Transformer 2 – Pacific Symphony (With Mother Earth Tomato voices elements by Underworld)
12). ?
13). Derrick May – Strings of Life (With Mother Earth Tomato voices by Underworld)
14). ?
15). Underworld – Dark and Dirty Telegraph
16). Karl Hyde plays bass guitar along with Dirty Telegraph
17). ?

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