Twenty-foot flames erupt into the sky as electrical flashes pulsate from the gnarled metal structure up ahead whilst the thudding sound emanating from it verges on deafening.
A sea of thousands of pairs of eyes, which look as though they haven’t managed proper sleep for days, all gaze up to the sky as cranes tilt back and forth, swinging dark objects in the night sky.
Suddenly, a giant spider lurches from above and grabs someone only a meter away. There’s a short struggle, but cocooned they swiftly disappear into the chaos above, leaving only the sound of their desperate cry.
There’s another eruption of flames, this time close enough to burn the cheeks of anyone daring enough to stray close to the madness, and a roar of disbelief spreads across the crowd.
“Our real drive was to recreate that free-party spirit on the biggest scale possible”
This isn’t the set of a Ridley Scott film. It isn’t even an imagination of a dark dystopia at the world’s end. It’s Glastonbury last June in its infamous Arcadia area. The sound is rave-era icons Altern 8, and their classic, Activ 8.
Regarded by many as the most exciting outfit on the festival circuit right now, Arcadia has seen the likes of Orbital, Fatboy Slim and Disclosure on deck as well as bright lights in underground dance music like the Swamp 81 crew, to soundtrack its spectacular live show.
Arcadia has carved itself a niche in the festival circuit as something that, once experienced, is never forgotten.
The giant fire-breathing spider, which you’ve probably seen plastered over social media during festival season for the last few years, is a full-on 360-degree attack on the senses.
It’s the brainchild of Pip Rush, who started the project at Glastonbury with Bert Cole in 2007.
Rush grew up around Britain’s free-party scene during the eighties with his brother Joe Rush. Joe is the man behind Mutoid Waste Company, who took Car Henge to Glastonbury in the 80s and are now behind the festival’s equally batshit Trash City area.
“Joe was having a pretty lawless time doing shows in big warehouses in London that my parents would take me to,” Rush explains. “So I definitely grew up around the madness.
“It’s just got bigger, better and wilder every year”
“That’s definitely where we’re coming from with Arcadia too. Our real drive was to recreate that free-party spirit on the biggest scale possible.”
Pip worked with his brother on Mutoid Waste Company from being a teenager before breaking away in 2007 to collaborate with Cole. The first Arcadia stage was built for what was intended to be a 500-capacity after-hours chill-out area.
“By 11:30pm on the Saturday night we had 4,000 people dancing all over it,” he continues. “It was mental. Up to that point, we’d just been looking forward to having a good Saturday night at Glastonbury, but we’ve never really looked back since.”
That’s an understatement. After starting their own festival in Bristol last September, 2016 sees Arcadia travel to Gravity festival in Bangkok on January 23, then onto Miami’s Ultra Music Festival in March, before landing back in the UK for Love Saves The Day in Bristol on May 28-29. That’s all before returning to Glastonbury in June.
For The Spider, which is built from parts of helicopters, jet engines and a myriad of other technology that’s found its way onto scrapyards across the world, it’s going to be a busy year.
“With the highs we’ve had it gets harder and harder to take it to the next level”
“We didn’t set out to build a spider at all originally,” explains Rush. “The brief was just to create an environment that people could really let loose in.
“Bert and I felt the visual side of a lot of festivals was really lacking. You’d have incredible musicians making these incredible sounds, yet they’d be surrounded by fencing and security. It didn’t feel like there was much love or creativity put into all the other senses that are really heightened when you’re having a festival experience.
“So our challenge was to try to design a space that people can immerse themselves in. It wasn’t until we set up the original tripod and stepped back that we said: ‘Bloody hell, it looks like a giant spider!’
“It’s just got bigger, better and wilder since as we’ve got more ambitious, dragging bigger things out of the scrapyard every time go back.”
The Spider was packed onto four shipping containers in November to make its way to Bangkok for Gravity.
“It was only originally designed to travel between Bristol and Glastonbury,” says Rush. “Which is only about 15 miles. So it’s been a mammoth task to work out how to pack it down and ship it across the world.”
The fact that The Spider was floating down the Suez Canal when Rush spoke to Loaded will be a point of concern for many long-term Arcadia fans, whose Glastonbury experience wouldn’t quite be the same without it.
“We’re always trying to push the boundaries and do bigger and badder things”
“I suppose it’s a concern,” Rush continues. “As we definitely couldn’t build another one. We’d never find the parts.
“But I believe things work out when they’re supposed to, so we’re always confident about Arcadia.”
Their website states that the show is anchored in themes of transformation. And this certainly rings true, with The Spider and its Metamorphosis live show getting steadily more insane every year.
“We always strive to take it to the next level,” Rush explains. “And we’ve had some pretty serious highs over the last few years, so it gets harder and harder.”
“But we’re still trying to push the boundaries and do bigger and badder things. We did a new show last year and it definitely felt like we took it to the next level,” he explains. “It was much more immersive and engulfed the crowd.”
Rush says that this year will be a move along from last year’s show rather than a new performance entirely, but that many secret plans are on the boil for Glastonbury to make sure anyone returning won’t be disappointed.
“Glastonbury will always be an evolution”
“Glastonbury will always be an evolution,” he explains. “We’re cooking up some really big ideas right now, exploring lots of different scrap yards and seeing what the reality of pushing what we do a step further again is.
“At the moment we want to integrate what we do with as many different cultures as possible. I spoke to an aboriginal Australian recently who was telling me about their ancestors and the dances and gatherings they would have around big fires with mythological spiders.
“It’s exciting scheming ideas with him and I think there’s actually quite a lot to be learned from tribal traditions,” Rush concludes. “But right now our main priority is to soak up as much inspiration from our travels as we can, ready to bring that back to Glastonbury in June.”
For more information on Arcadia, see their website.
Loaded reporter Robert McCallum has written for many leading culture magazines and websites about music, sport, science, politics, fashion and arts. Follow Robert at @therobmccallum