It’s an inescapable fact of life, something that occupies your waking hours, in spite of your doomed attempts to sidestep, sidestraddle and otherwise confound the issue. We’re talking about the hot, or not so hot, more bleary, red-eyed and incoherent topic of sleeping at demo parties. This little article takes a closer look, with some fondly remembered accounts of various means of avoiding, getting or enhancing this over the past sixteen years of personally hard-won party* battle scars, even harder won beerguts and ogling things on a bigscreen that made you go “Oooh!”
1. Sleepless fortitude, or trying to run and hide from it.
“Also, back then, sleeping (properly) was really not part of the party experience ;)” – Nerve, quoted from Pouet.
Back when I was younger, and the demo scene and demo parties were in their infancy, many people tried to brazen away many of their more tedious bodily requirements. Being a hardcore scener demanded a macho approach to many things, coke drinking, pizza consumption, dissing rivals for alleged lameness in executing almost identical demo effects and so on. Likewise, someone who managed to stay awake for the whole three days of a typical coding party attracted a large degree of horrified awe. At least one person per party managed this, to be dragged off as a dribbling wreck shortly after the party finished no doubt. For some inexplicable reason, the final denouement was never recorded in any party reports or realtime texts.
Apart from the deliberate attempts to macho away the onrushing trainwreck of total collapse by different people, there have been several other occasions experienced by this writer of extended periods of enforced consciousness resulting from shitty-lucked ‘issues’ or good old fashioned cockney cock-ups relating to sleeping arrangements.
Symposium 96, the party forever doomed to be name-checked by me in these kind of round robin articles, had ample experience of sleep lackedness. Apart from the generally poor sleeping area, more of which will be discussed later in the article, there were long periods of total sleep-lack, particularly with the arduous journey there and back. For that first time, for reasons of cheapness and poverty, we opted for an overnight coach journey to Hamburg that was rejected by the Spanish Inquisition as “too inhumane, Torquemada knows, we like to make them suffer, but not by THAT MUCH! What were you thinking you crazy dude?!”
I personally discovered a number of things on the way there. 1. The Eurolines coaches dwarf seats are barely adequate for shorter journeys, let alone 24 hours at a stretch. 2. The autobahn has enough vibration and bumpiness to stop you sleeping. This may be a good thing though if you are the driver. This recalls an old joke, “I’d like to die peacefully sleeping like my dear old dad, and not terrified and screaming like his passengers.” 3. Eating is a very good substitute for sleeping at that stage, where do you think the concept of midnight feasts came from? 4. Felice had a blummin’ loud voice at that time of night! I think he was very tired along with the rest of us and didn’t quite realise it at that point. On the way back, where no sleep at all was possible, not even a pathetic attempt at such. 5. So I discovered that I could hallucinate sounds and started to have waking dreams of Commodore 64 SID tunes. So it was hardly surprising when I finally got home, I crashed out straight away and it was around fifteen hours before I first came to, and promptly went back to sleep again.
The other stand-out episodes where I simply tried to stay awake regardless of the cost are both related to different editions of the Alternative Party. The first 1998-bound episode at Turku resulted from my assessment of the limited and loud sleeping area as being too much hassle to organise, so I opted to keep going. The legenday analogue realtime as-written-on-paper-handtowels faithfully recorded a desperate and slowly losing struggle to stay awake. As I recall, I eventually managed a whole hour(!) that first night, of something which wasn’t really sleep, on a too small couch in a brightly lit computer room. There were other issues with air beds which will be discussed at the right time.
The record for staying awake by me, is close on 48 consecutive hours. This was the 2005 Alt Party Inc edition, where we gained a head start the night before the party. An early flight meant an 02.00hrs pick up by Felice, so we didn’t bother with mere trifles such as going to bed. This approach worked, but was not pretty to watch. The original plan was to sort of catch up with some sleep at the party as soon as reasonably possible. Unfortunately, no-one tipped off the baggage handlers at our connecting airport that we badly needed our sleeping equipment on the same flight as us, so it wasn’t. The whole dilemma was neatly summed up at the time on a realtime text with the following comment. “Saturday? It ‘aint stopped being Thursday yet!” At that point, we’ll draw a line under that one!
2. The good old fashioned kip where you drop approach.
I’ve never done this one myself, but we have reliable sightings, both at Symposium 96, where a very young Defjam coded up to the blissful moment when sleep overtook him on the spot as he left it too late to go to bed, and he ended up using his desktop and assorted hardware as a pillow. Something similar happened to Tat of Avena, but that may have been more of a deliberate decision on his part due to the poor quality sleeping area on offer?
As described previously, when fatigue comes a-calling, I’ve staggered around like a wounded stag for half an hour with enough barely remaining decision making power to choose a place to drop. I must say I’ve never kept going that relentlessly until I… ZzzzZZ!
3. There’s a flaw in this floor.
Some people have the happy(?) knack of turning up just in their day clothes and using nothing else perhaps apart from a thin strip of a foam rubbing sleeping mat, and they can sleep on this extremely limited arrangement. I have managed to sleep on a floor on a couple of occasions, once through choice at a smaller UK based gathering, the other due to small but vital and missing airbed components at the first Alt party. I have to conclude that yes, it is possible to sleep on the floor, but the process isn’t that enjoyable and the end result not what you could call deep and satisfying.
4. An automotive place of restful repose?
“My coldest party was m&s 2002. went to bed totally drunk at 11pm (in my car) and woke up exactly 12hrs later – and it was still dark – i was not sure if i had only a SHORT nap and was like wtf?! because it was so fuckin freezin cold – finally i found out that my windshield and stuff got snowed in. fallingbostel. april. great :)” Pro, quoted from Pouet. And I’m glad it’s not just me who felt the full force of Mekka Symposuim 2002! (Ed)
Some people bring their own modes of transport which can be made to double up as sleeping accommodation with a little effort. This is fine if you are driving over in a camper van. A number of these might well attend with some better prepared demosceners at more rural parties. Camper vans come in a wide variety of sizes up to a rockstar touring trailer home. Generally they come with a reasonable simulation of home luxuries such as beds, a kitchen, bathroom facilities etc.
This idea is not so clever if the vehicle is a normal car-sized car. These are not optimised for sleeping in and are notoriously tent-like with their insulation and heat retention properties, ie. not at all. It can be said that sleeping in a car is good interim training for sleeping rough as a homeless person.
5. The magic missing ingredient?
“People with problems sleeping at parties clearly are too sober.” (Punqtured, quoted from Pouet.)
I’m writing this article so far whilst oblivious to an essential truth. This will be remedied right now.
Quite a lot of people will be helped in their quest for deep and dreamless sleep in the majorly grotty conditions described above with the help of lots of alcohol! It cannot be overstated just how much sleeping at demo parties is done with the help of multiple glass and metal containers of booze. Unfortunately, for more sober people trying to reach the state of blessed unconsciousness with some difficulty, alcohol can also result in the wrong kind of hyper wakefulness for some animated idiots shouting around them!
6. Air-bedded and embedded?
This method has been the mainstay of most of the parties I’ve been to. A good airbed combined with a decent sleeping bag can take care of most sleeping issues, as long as you don’t get one of those defective beds that slowly deflates until you awake on a cold hard floor an hour after you blissfully fell unconscious. Which has happened on a couple of occasions. These are keenly remembered for precisely the scenario I just described!
Other pratfalls, which I learned to avoid early on, include over-inflating so you are effectively sleeping on a pressurised rubber rock. To get a comfortable airbed experience, you should leave some ‘give’ in it. Also that packing in proper sheets and pillows add to the usability no end. We have to thank Havoc from many years ago for that latter tip.
You do have to factor in pumping up the airbed before you get too tired to think straight. It made sense for me to organise my sleeping accommodation almost as soon as I have arrived and unpacked at a party. This saves a job later on and gives an illusion of achievement at an early stage. Plus you’ve created a handy bolthole to deal with any daytime nap attacks should they occur, or just want to get away from the endless party racket for a quiet hour or so. I find it is an excellent idea to keep your airbed inflated for the duration of the party and kept in the designated sleeping area, so you can return to it at any point whenever the heck you feel like it.
So unless you are able to take up one of the more luxurious options discussed further on in the article, an airbed and sleeping bag is a sensible, tried and trusted system to ensure a decent quality of sleep at demo parties. Where you may have problems still may well be problems with the sleeping space itself and the general ambience and noise levels, more of which we will discuss next.
7. Pardon me, but is the sound of my lying down in peace and quiet INTERRUPTING YOUR LOUD ONSTAGE ANTICS?!
This section describes the vexatious topic of sleeping areas which aren’t quite.
Many parties have a rich history of offering sleeping areas, which turn out to be somewhat tokenistic in nature. Generally this is a small room or random space on the floor, heavily oversubscribed and sort of hopefully distant from the main hubbub, but not really as things turn out. In this light, I take a few minutes to fondly recall the following.
1, Symposium 96, oh that one again, the sleeping room could have been fit for purpose, even with a degree of overcrowding, apart from the paraffin stove users, the casual theft and lung-cloying icy coldness mixed in with paraffin fumes.
2. Early editions of Alt Party, an unappealing toss-up between a noisy stage and stage facing area, and the slightly less noisy corridor area with stumbly-footed drunks. I fondly recall the coffin-style protective sleeping area I created from barricades of chairs at the old venue in Gloria. Didn’t stop the drunken eejit noises getting in though.
3. Error in Line had a variable track record, the junk room at the first edition was excellent due to ready provided foam mattresses, the second edition had a rather small room, the third edition a usefully sized and distant gymnasium building.
4. Mekka Symposium 2002 deserves a special write up all to itself… It was that bad, yes really.
5. Sundown 2009, didn’t really have a proper sleeping area as such. You just picked a spot where you could lie. I was sleeping backstage. Fortunately the overall noise level dropped right off at a reasonable time so I didn’t have any issues apart from the normal sleeping rough after drinking sensations.
6. On the other hand, I’ll commend the excellent provision at the 2000 Sillyventure party, which was in a school spacious enough to move the sleeping area right away from the main action. Also later ALT Parties have learned the lesson with a basement sleeping area that offers a reasonable respite as well. My favourite improvised sleeping area was the ‘borrowed’ lecture theatre at the 2000 Alt party which kept the noise out with the help of some wickedly thick ex-nuclear bunker soundtight doors. There were also handy airbed alternatives in the form of the padded lecture hall seating as well.
Some other more recent parties have been able to offer a better alternative to sleeping rough, due to the specific nature of their chosen venue. But I’ll get around to those now.
8. Camping up….
“For me TG94 (The Gathering) was the coldest (and generally most shitty) party . Not being allowed to sleep inside the hall (because of some electricity problems) so they managed to get a tent which they put up outside for people to sleep in. I ended up just rolling out the sleeping bag on a snowy plain.” – Mel, quoted from Pouet.
This refers to a couple of new scenarios. Some people at certain Dutch rural demo parties have taken the option of using the campsite location to set up their own canvas and cloth home away from home in the handily provided field. This is fine for naturally hardy people who like camping and care not for the vagaries of typical European weather. It is probably idyllic for those rare occasions when blissfully nice weather can be guaranteed. Otherwise for most other people, this idea sort of sucks and I wouldn’t do it voluntarily. Oh how I inwardly chuckled when Cal had to return to his dark and cold tent in a midnight thunderstorm blasted field earlier this year.
However, I do unfondly recall a previous Outline party where a teepee-shaped surprise was sprung on us without prior warning. But that was not the suckiest camping experience at a demo party, not by a long way.
Which brings me nicely to the second scenario. This is when a very large and important easter demo party in 2002 makes a really determined effort to provide sleeping accommodation which tries to tick all the habitability boxes including space and warmth. However this was let down badly by the execution of the thing.
The Mekka Symposium 2002 party provided a large marquee tent with hot air heating blowing in constantly, no doubt arranged at huge expense. But if I were the organisers, I hope they asked for their money back as due to a design issue with the properties of hot air rising, none of the heating actually reached the floor area where the sleepers lay. Combine this with a constant stream of coming and going, an imperfectly sealed tent and doors left open by unblinking idiots, the ground level area of the tent enjoyed the same low ambient temperature that could be found immediately outdoors.
Now that SUCKED properly! Taking refuge in the warm main hall exposed you to an even more frenetic noise level than usual. The 2002 party was probably the party where I felt the worst during and after-effects of any party.
9. Dorm blimey, you’re gonna need the room with hardcore snoring!
We’re just about up to the present state of the art for the Outline series of parties. They opted to use campsites which have their own hostel or dormitory style sleeping arrangements in the main building. Generally these have been up to the task of providing a restful night and as good as you can get for most demo parties. A proper mattress even on a basic bed taken in conjunction with your own choice of sleeping bag is still better than an airbed. It is even possible to get dormitories according to sleeping habits at very recent parties. The ‘no snoring’ rooms are probably populated with delusional people who don’t realise they have a problem with nocturnal noises until it is too late, leaving us heavy snorers in (relative) peace!
For sheer entertainment value, and just to show that things can go wrong even here, there was the fateful year at an Outline party where the campsite had managed to procure beds with a structure seemingly made of matchwood and freshly mown grass. So they tended to violently collapse when slept on by pizza eating sceners, or indeed anyone of normal weight who couldn’t flutter onto the bed in the featherweight and carelessly rotational manner of a sycamore seed.
But otherwise this is the best option available, unless you go one step further, which I’ll talk about next.
10. Okay I give in, and I’m made of money, or desperately hoping the bank won’t notice that I’m not!
Finally, it is possible to opt out of the whole urban camping farrago and do the sensible, if expensive thing, and book into a hotel. For those people with money-shaped burn holes in their pockets, a selection of hotel and other paid for accommodation at a range of different prices is available. We have actually gone down this road on two recent occasions.
The Sundown 2010 party necessitated a hotel booking, due to the female contingent who would have naturally and sensibly objected to sleeping any other way. Oh did I mention that everything written about up to now is almost exclusively a male pursuit? Apart from scener girls and ladies, which there are quite a few of by now, but demo party sleeping is not something to be undertaken lightly by unprepared non-scener ‘civilians’ of a female nature. Or even, at all, if you wish to keep the relationship intact. We sort of wrapped a more general holiday around the Sundown party weekend, so booking into a seaside hotel in the seaside town we were partying at was not an unsensible idea and fitted in totally with what we were doing anyway. And it had breakfast too, a nice cooked traditional english style heart attack on a plate.
People of a Swedish Atarian disposition have opted for something ritzy and upmarket when they came to Helsinki town for various recent Alt parties. They chose to stay at a nearby Holiday Inn, around five minutes walk away, and avoiding all of the issues described above at a cost. Due to a lot of people who might have provided off-party accommodation not being available this time around, we’re trying that one this year ourselves. I will say that it scores very highly on the comfort levels, providing a fluffy haven of warm softness to provide welcome relief from the party buzz. I guess it might well feature again in a return visit to a future Alt party. In fact this may be the future in varying forms as increasing maturity overcomes youthful resilience to discomfort. However I’m still struggling to get past the feeling that I’m indulging in an expense account lifestyle when I don’t actually have an expense account and I will have to run and hide when the credit card bill comes in!
CiH – 22/23.10.10 for Low Res Mag, written in-party at Alt Party 2010. Some additions during 11.10 period.