I still can't believe we did it.
Somehow, despite this ridiculous rollercoaster of a pandemic, despite schedule changes last minute, despite the incredibly complicated logistics of getting nine people together... we did it. Nine of us met up in London, England, to go see Pendulum Trinity @ The Drumsheds, packing into a single AirBnB in Stratford. How the hell did we pull this off?
Earlier this year, Pendulum announced on their social medias that, with vaccines coming into play and restrictions beginning to ease, they were going to host their own little festival in London in August at the Drumsheds venue. It was going to be the event of the summer, they said, and the first foray back towards normalcy, to help bring back shows and DJ sets.
Immediately, our little discord server - PKP, as it'll be referred to from here on - got talking about it. How many people could go? Was it feasible for a group meetup? Were international ticketholders going to be able to enter the country? These questions and more spurred on the server to start formulating some plans and see what we could do.
A little searching around online determined that for those outside of the UK, getting in wasn't impossible, but we were going to have to be lucky with timing. With the UK's green/amber/red system for determining who is and isn't allowed in, the US was - at the time - on the red list of countries. However, with the US vaccination rates increasing dramatically and our own restrictions beginning to slowly dissipate, it was looking like they would be open by the time of the show.
Now, the question was money. For obvious reasons, this wouldn't be cheap. Already, there were three Americans pledging themselves to the trip, with a fourth supposedly joining in, two from the UK, one from Spain, and another from the Netherlands. Some of them would have it easier cost wise certainly, but still, lodging for a few days in the London area is not cheap. Plane tickets are not cheap. Realistically, for the amount of time we'd want to be there, it would be really hard to justify that cost - none of us are rich, after all.
But, when someone suggested everyone pitching in for a big AirBnB together... well, suddenly, lodging costs just dropped tenfold. Now my interest was really piqued.
I was still on the fence though. Plane tickets are very, very expensive! I'll admit that at this time, I'm doing really nicely financially as I haven't moved out (can't afford it lol) and don't have rent or car bills to pay. Still, does anybody ever like watching a grand come out of their bank account for any reason? Not me, anyways.
The morning tickets for the show went public, I sat down at work and stared at the PKP general chat on my phone as half a dozen people bought tickets. A million thoughts were running through my head, and I really had to wonder... could I do it? There would be a massive laundry list of things to deal with, and making sure all got done within a reasonable time frame would be a tall task, no doubt - especially as I was already putting together plans for other trips, eg. LS&I, 261.
I took another look at the tickets to the show, I took another look at how many others were going, and I realized I needed to hold myself to a promise I'd made to myself a long time ago. To say yes to things and just go.
It was at 8:30am at work that I bought my ticket to the Drumsheds and joined the fray. I was going to London.
That laundry list from earlier... a long one to be sure. The major points were plane tickets and passport. The former was easy enough, and within a month of the groups final makeup being decided, I had secured my transit to and from London via British Airways after we had confirmed our Airbnb dates. The passport took some more work, as that had its own list of to-dos beforehand, mostly in terms of document collection. With about 10 weeks to go to the show, I got my passport info sent out under express service.
And then... a roadblock. Pendulum and the Drumsheds put out an announcement that all August shows were being pushed back a month due to uncertainty with Covid restrictions, as the UK government hadn't made everything quite clear to them yet. That simple announcement threw everything into disarray, and we had some serious work to do. Rescheduling the plane tickets was the first thought, but we also had to get a new AirBnB as the one we had booked wasn't available at the new times. It took a lot of trial and error, and a few cancelled bookings, before we had a new place sorted out and all our plane tickets rescheduled.
The good news? Shortly after we had everything squared away again, Union Pacific announced the Big Boy 2021 tour, and that happened to overlap with the original dates of London, so because of the push back, I got to make that trip happen, which was a delight. Also, we had better weather ahead - late September temps are definitely cooler than late August, and going to a huge populated concert was already going to be hot enough. The cooler outside, the better! Also, it was somewhere in this confusing period where the US was put on the amber list, giving us our greenlight to enter.
So, now, with everything figured out, we just had to wait. The only hiccup was one member of the group needing to duck out last minute because of a sudden illness, unfortunately. We all wish Kana could have made it, but it just didn't work out that way sadly. If you're reading this Kana, know that we missed you and you were with us in spirit!
Nine of us set to arrive, we counted down the last days, and then it was time. My brother drove me up to O'Hare and dropped me off, all my documents in hand or on my phone and everything I would need in just a few small bags. It was a surreal experience to step into the airport with the knowledge I was about to fly a few thousand miles away.
I've only flown once, back in seventh grade, I did a trip from Chicago to Washington DC (and back). That was a short flight, and I slept through it both times. I didn't really remember anything else of the flying procedures though, since, you know, that was a really long time ago. But, other than a long wait at the check in desk, everything went pretty smoothly. There was a small delay on the flight, about a half hour, but once I got checked in and through security - which wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting, thankfully - it was just over an hours wait to board.
Flying is... strange. You know, oddly enough, when the engines spooled up to get us taxiing to the runway, the sound of the 787 reminded me like some sort of EMD 645/710/GE 7FDL-16 mashup. The turbo of a notch four 645 and the high end of a higher notch (6-8, maybe?) 710 particularly came to mind, with some GE bass. Maybe that was just me though. The feeling of taking off and rocketing into the sky is really just insane, the fact we've managed to nail this thing down and make it a regular occurrence. I had a window seat in the right spot to watch Chicago tilt shift and disappear beneath me as we ascended.
I didn't sleep much, really at all, on the seven hour flight, but I made it there in one piece. Upon arriving and disembarking from the plane, I couldn't get any phone service despite paying for the Verizon Travelpass stuff, but after I collected my checked bag and got through customs (which was almost laughably easy, just a scan of the passport and walking through some gates), I got onto Heathrow wifi and back in contact with the group via our discord server. It would turn out I just needed to do a quick restart of my aging phone to get the data working, which I figured out a few minutes later.
Thanks to schedule changes, one of the group, Sys, had arrived at almost the exact same time I did. A little back and forth and figuring out where we each were, and we met up there in the airport. It was great to see her again - we had met before in Minneapolis in 2018 to catch El Hornet do a Pendulum DJ set there, literally days before I started college. Thanks to her having been through London a few times before, she essentially guided me out of the airport and across the transit systems towards our Airbnb, which we were now all set to check in for.
You know what's sorta odd? Despite being so very into trains, I never ride them. It was sort of strange to actually ride them everywhere in London, but it was nice to not have to worry about cars and traffic and such. It certainly took some getting used to, what with figuring out how the whole thing worked, but after a train to Paddington and rides on the tube across London towards Stratford, we were nearly there. All we had left was one short bus ride...
And then we were there. A very quick walk from the bus station led us to our Airbnb, which we checked into without issue. By this point, just after 10am on Wednesday, we'd been up and awake for a good 36 hours or so, and tired didn't even begin to explain how we felt. We ended up taking a brief nap each after settling into the place.
The rest of the day, Wednesday, was spent greeting everyone as they arrived at the Airbnb. By the end of the day, all but two of us were there, and they would be arriving the day of the show. The next to arrive was Dylan, who had landed about two hours or so after us, and ended up being forced to take an Uber to get to the Airbnb after the train to Paddington apparently hit someone and had to shutdown. Safe to say Sys and I were lucky on our timing. Like us, he was completely exhausted as well - a common theme for a lot of us!
The three of us were from the US, and aside from the two to arrive on Friday, that was the last of the Americans to arrive. The next to show up were Stan and Tal, both from a little ways up north in England. Stan was a member of our discord group to start with, and Tal was a friend of his who was getting into Pendulum. He suggested the show to her and she agreed to come along for the journey, making this the first time she'd properly meet any of the rest of us, either in person or online. It wouldn't be terribly long after they arrived that Alvaro, our friend from Spain and a fellow railfan, would join up. We'd then collect the (temporary) last member of the group - Frank, from the Netherlands - when we went out to Nandos a bit later.
We spent the day mostly just sort of hanging out - for most of us, this was our first time meeting up at all - and doing a little exploration of the surrounding area. It was also my first introduction to walking everywhere being a much more common way of going places. If my memory is also serving me right, it was also the introduction to Tesco's, which became an in-joke for much of the trip. We quickly found that our group got along really nicely in person, and things started off strong with plenty of laughs to mark our first day in England.
The next day, Thursday, was an important one. We had Covid tests to take - for the Americans, our test here would simultaneously cover our Day-2 UK entry test requirement, the 48-hour negative test to enter the Drumsheds, and our three-day test to fly back home. Sys, Dylan, and I all had our tests booked at the same place about a half hours walk away, so after we all slept in a fair bit, the three of us - joined by Frank - headed out to get that all squared away.
A longer walk in the daytime definitely let us see plenty more of the area and sort of experience more of it. Things in London and the surrounding area are a lot more tightly packed together - not exactly big yards or spaces between homes or anything like back in the States. Everything's crammed in, from homes to shops to people. It was rather eye opening to see the differences between there and home in person, to say the least.
Once we had taken our Covid tests - no big deal, though a bit more involved than the test I'd taken back home to get there - we headed back to Stratford proper to meet up with the rest of the group for some food before taking our first proper journey as a group - Camden. Before leaving, we made a quick run back to the house so I could grab a bag I'd brought over specifically for record collecting and for some of the others to drop off and grab various things of their own.
We returned to the nearest train station, Maryland, and used that to take a train over to Stratford and catch a different train that would take us over to Camden. It really is incredible how generally smooth the system works, and it was these couple interactions that helped me better understand the system, which was good for a future endeavor. It also told me I needed to invest in an Oyster card...
At Camden, our group went through some of the markets, in particular for a place called Cyberdog, and we spent a pretty fair amount of time around there. I would then look at my phone and the Discogs map to note there were a few record stores in the area, and then the gang indulged me and we went to look for those. The first one we found had a whole section dedicated exclusively to Drum & Bass / Jungle, which put a stupid grin on my face. You know how much DnB vinyl we have in record stores in this country? None! Well, at least anywhere I've been, at least. It's hard to find in the US, and so I was hoping to find more stuff like this.
The guy who ran the place was definitely an old school junglist. He pretty quickly outed us Americans and briefly chatted about drum & bass, the stuff he sells, how Americans seem to prefer the mono editions of Beatles records that he sells overseas a lot, and he even suggested some records to look at. I ended up buying two on sight alone - I recognized labels and artist names and said hell, why not? First records down! (They'll all be listed later)
The group checked out a few more places, followed a stranger who suggested some place (an interesting decision to be sure!), and we tracked down another little record store crammed into the markets, where I found another record I picked up. The markets area was really neat, all cobblestone streets/alleys and these old brick buildings. It's a totally different vibe than anywhere I've been through in the US personally.
After we'd all been through the markets and we'd done our share of exploring, we walked the canals back to the train station to head home again. Talk about an interesting walk - I can't say that I usually walk along actively used canals and under tunnels with crazy tight clearances. I had to duck down a few times to get under them, and I'm not even a tall guy!
We did return home, naturally performing what was becoming an almost ritualistic Tesco's run, and hung out at home the rest of the night. We talked eagerly about the next day - the big day, the reason we were all here - and about the day we'd just had. If memory serves me right, this was also the night we discovered the strange basement and had plenty of laughs about cryptids and demons and such under our feet. Trust me, you had to be there.
Bed came late, but as the next day would be a long one, that was fine. There was a lot happening then.
Friday came, and so to did some adventures. Dylan was planning on running over to Morrisons, the nearest large grocery store, and myself and Frank opted to join him. I guess this is where I note that I didn't eat much on this trip (do I ever on any trip though?) due to various reasons, and the selection of foods I eat is rather low, so out of curiosity to see if there was anything I could pick up, I went. Not to mention, getting used to walking around more was always good.
Spoilers, I didn't get anything, but I expected as much anyways. The walk there and back was nice though and definitely woke me up properly. When we came home, more of the group awake now, I did a little research on getting an Oyster card, and realized I could get one at the Maryland train station. Coincidentally, Alvaro needed to run to the store as well, so after a little while, we decided to kill two birds with one stone and head out yet again, Dylan once again joining us.
By the time we got back, I had an Oyster card - essentially a universal train/bus ticket in the form of a simple pay-as-you-go system - and the last two members of the group had arrived - Martin and Mark, both from the US as well. So with that, all nine of us were together at last!
They took a bit to decompress after the flights and train rides alike, and after we all met and greeted each other, they and some of the others had some at-home Covid tests to take care of to get into the show later, so they carried that out, which was quite a spectacle, I have to say. Also a side note, Mark had brought the long fishing hat, which was simply stellar. If you know, you know.
Before long, the Drumsheds show was coming up. We got ready and headed out to eat first, this time in a place at the mall by the Stratford train station. We'd made the decisions to skip out on the first opening act, as we were in the VIP section and wouldn't be camping the barrier right up front anyways. We just had to be there before 5pm and we'd be golden.
Then we were off, back to the train station to catch our one train up towards Edmonton, where the Drumsheds were located. We got a little separated in the crowd momentarily, a few of the group lost us, but we managed to meet up after a quick couple minutes and find our train. It was pretty packed in there! A good number of the people on the train were there for Drumsheds, too. One couple that was pre-gaming for the show was pointing out people wearing Pendulum shirts, even noticed my maze logo tattoo, hah!
`After a crowded train ride, we arrived at our stop. We piled out, grouped up again, and made our way across the way. Thankfully, event coordinators were set up for all the crosswalks and helped get the flow of people towards the show
Then, we got in through the necessary checkpoints - security/covid test results/tickets - and... we were in. We had actually made it to the Drumsheds!
All of us had tickets for the VIP section, so we had a raised platform in the back so we didn't have to try to camp out to get good spots - we had our own good spots to start!
This is what we were greeted with when we entered, a sort of "private" bar and seating area for VIP ticketholders:
Our merry group headed up the stairs and watched the tail end of 1991's set, which sounded pretty good to my ears. A few familiar tunes I knew, which told me I was definitely in the right place.
As DJ Fresh took to the stage and many of us switched spots on our own VIP barrier section, clouds fully rolled in, and the sun began to set. We had a wonderful view, watching people skank out down on the gravel below, the incredible light shows each opener had with them, and witnessing the crowd grow ever larger and larger the closer we got to Pendulum's set was a beautiful sight. Hearing Fresh drop The Nine and fuckin' Gold Dust (because of course he would, he's Fresh) was just too fun. Tunes I knew, tunes I didn't know, but with the overall theme of drum & bass - it just felt good. This was what everything had led up to.
I took only a handful of photos, and all of the show itself, but as always, Alvaro was getting photos of the gang from different angles. I'm so glad he did!
As others in the VIP section moved around, our group split, reformed, and moved about a few times. Initially I was a bit farther away from most of the others, but then I ended up sandwiched between Tal and Sys. We also were able to momentarily say hi to a former member of the PKP discord group who was also in attendance (and also a member of the Pendulum/Knife Party parody project "The Sistine Chapel") - quick shoutout to Likko!
As the sky darkened and Hybrid Minds took the stage, I had made up my mind - I was going to join the rest of the crowd down below. A little deliberation and I decided to wait until it was maybe 15-20 minutes left in their set, then head down.
Speaking of Hybrid Minds, they put on a really great set. I don't listen to their stuff, but they played a great variety of tracks - great liquid tunes, some heavier dancefloor stuff, and even ended off with something a little house-y. I couldn't tell you a tracklist, but they had us all moving from start to finish, and I'm glad to say I've seen them! Fresh's set from earlier was alright, for that matter, and considering it was his second gig in, what, 5+ years? It went pretty well. Volume balancing was a little wack at times, but it was fun all the same.
Somewhere around 20 minutes until the end of Hybrid Minds' set, I noticed that Dylan had joined the crowd down below. I pointed that out to Tal, who was stood beside me, and she asked if we should join him.
Well, yes, of course!
With that, we headed out to join the crowd, plenty giddy. It was really happening - we were going into the thick of it. We stuck close together and started to weave our way into the mass of people - not without a wave back to the rest of the gang back at the VIP section, of course - and work our way closer to the front. Obviously, we wouldn't be getting to the front but I was confident we could get somewhere in the middle at any rate.
With myself in the lead, we did make good progress, but when I told Tal that if she saw any openings she should take them, we made even better headway. I think she was a bit more willing to push past people, which worked pretty well for us! Before I knew it, we were practically smack dab in the center of the chaos, with everyone dancing and bouncing to the last few tracks of Hybrid Minds.
You know, this was my first time in the middle of the crowd. For the other shows I've managed to go to, I've been right up at the front, but this time around, we weren't that insane to try it. Being in there is intense, and not having the support of the barrier up front is unfortunate, but it's certainly worth the experience of seeing the show. It tired me out a lot quicker than the barrier back at the VIP section, but that hardly mattered!
As Hybrid Minds prepared to close out their set, Tal took my hand in hers. In the heat of the middle of the crowd, getting split up from one another wasn't exactly something we were looking to do, after all. I think that helped us both - not only was this a rowdy crowd at a dnb festival, but this was also her first time at a big rave. Having a sort of "anchor point" amidst it all really made a difference - for the both of us, really.
And then... it was time. A few minutes - no more than two or three, but they felt twice as long - and there they were. Rob Swire, Gareth McGrillen, and Peredur ap Gwnyedd. Two of the founding members (and also the duo behind Knife Party) and the guitarist from the live band. El Hornet, the last founding member of the group, was unfortunately stuck in Australia due to new travel restrictions. I think we all wish he could've made it, but by god, the three who were there put on one hell of a show.
At this point, words only mean so much when describing a heavy drum & bass show. All I can say is that every tune they played sent the crowd absolutely wild - from the insanity of Driver VIP as the intro to the vocal breakdown of Witchcraft, there was something for everyone there. The mosh pits came out in full force for this one!
Tal and I got caught on the edge of those a few times, but we held on tight and checked up on one another throughout the insane hour and a half of Pendulum's sonic assault. We'd glance at each other and give a thumbs up to check in, and we'd get back to enjoying the show. God, what a show it was.
I couldn't believe they played out Pack of Wolves with the Mo' Fire dub intro, and the Sub Focus remix of Eric Prydz' Breathe with Rob doing live vocals was an unexpected but so welcome surprise. The live vocals for everything, for that matter, were fantastic - Witchcraft, Propane Nightmares, The Island Pt. 1 (Dawn), Nothing For Free, Louder Than Words, Granite, and of course, Watercolour.
Of course, as always, I recorded the highlights. Here's a video of my phone clips:
Man, that Voodoo People remix really hit the right spot - I lost my fucking mind when that dropped. Hearing Propane live alone about made my damn night, but they just kept coming with the hits over and over again. Someone said they played part of Toxic Shock at one point, but I didn't catch that if they did. Everything that I did catch, though - wow. Of course, I can't not mention some of the other artists tunes too - I didn't recognize many of them, but those that I did and those that I didn't really were great picks from an exceptional catalogue of artists. Some of the new Sub Focus remixes made their way into the set (Rock It is so heavy!), HVMP's Pipes of course made an appearance for The Island and whatever the hell they played underneath Voodoo People was nuts. That MUZZ VIP of New Age mixed with Pack of Wolves (Mo' Fire Dub) also went off!
Really though, the clips of Louder Than Words take me right back to that night. Something about those two clips is just so visceral - I feel like I'm back there in the crowd, one hand wrapped in Tal's grip and the other up in the air, my legs absolutely furious at me for all the walking and dancing and bouncing. I can still feel the sweat pouring off of me, the smell of hundreds of others in the same boat, the pounding of the bass, and that feeling - that indescribable feeling - of utter tranquility during the breakdown as everyone prepares for the buildup into that simply stunning second drop.
Man, they call that track Louder Than Words for a reason, don't they?
I wouldn't hesitate to call it the greatest night of my life. Somehow, all those months of planning and stressing out about flights and ever-changing Airbnbs had come together and we were here. We were here in London, at the festival, listening to Gaz shout "clap! clap! clap!" to us as LTW built back up into that incredible second drop that was accentuated so perfectly with Perry's guitars and Rob's live vocals - it was just one absolutely insane night. My favourite band, my favourite people, all in the same place - a place I've wanted to visit for ages. God, how could it get any better?
That hour and a half went by fast. Watercolour was playing before I knew it, and I wished for more! But that was the end of the show, and Pendulum isn't usually one for encores anyways. It was a worthy ending to a really fantastic show all around - great mixing, great song choice, great vocals & guitars & everything.
Suddenly, we had to actually, you know, get out of there. Oh, boy, that was chaos. Tal and I really had to keep that grip firm as the crowd turned, and almost as one, headed for the venue's exit. We practically stumbled into the rest of the gang and quickly found ourselves all forming one big chain, holding onto each others hands for dear life! Trying to keep nine people together in a crowd of hundreds is no small feat.
At the bend where everyone turned right, we went left instead. At this point, I was practically dead and just following the others, hoping they'd know what to do and where to go. It turns out that in order to get away from the crowds and the limited capacity of the incoming trains to head home, we would instead walk like a mile through some parks and canals into a nearby sort of 'suburb,' where we'd have to then find a particular bus stop that is an optional stop, requiring us to flag down the bus to ride. Well, alright...
It felt like walking a marathon after the intensity of the past few hours. We did make it to the bus stop, though (despite getting to one stop and realizing after a few minutes it wasn't the right one... whoops lol). While there, I opened my phone just in time to see a new notification from Instagram. Wow, hey, why did uprr just message me...
Hey if you read the Big Boy 2021 post, you'd remember I mentioned at the end something extra happened there. Guess who won a contest on Instagram in the middle of the Pendulum set at Drumsheds! More on that in its own seperate blog post, but that was a completely unexpected surprise that just made the night that much better.
Our bus did arrive and we successfully waved it down, and then we decided to experience the second floor of the night bus, because... well, why not? Spoiler alert: it's kinda wild! Sys got a great photo of us up there for good measure.
We changed buses once and managed the short walk home. Some of the gang nearly made a Tesco's run at the last minute there, but it was so close to midnight that we all just clambered into the house and collapsed.
Half of us were pretty much out and went straight to bed, the other half stayed up talking all about the night and sharing stories. Tal and I got to recount our experiences deep in the crowd, Dylan talked about the crazy stuff he saw in the crowd from his position, and Alvaro showed us the photos he had gotten from the night. We stayed up far too late talking and laughing, but eventually, we all dropped to sleep in our respective beds. I think Sys was the smartest one of us all though, showering immediately while the rest of us were too tired to even try it, hah!
God, damn. What a night.
The next morning was quite a late one indeed... We all had different plans to spend our last full day in London, but we did start the day together for the most part. We naturally talked plenty about the previous night again and a myriad of other things before we all started to split up to go do our various little individual adventures.
For my part? I grabbed my bag and went record hunting.
One thing I had been planning from the start was to buy some vinyl while I was there. In the States, drum & bass isn't very popular, and finding dnb on vinyl in record stores here is pretty close to impossible most of the time. So, seeing as the majority of the stuff is pressed and sold in the UK, why wouldn't I go hunting for a bit?
I use Discogs to buy most of my vinyl, and coincidentally the app has a map section, full of listings of record stores and sellers. It was this handy Discogs Map that I would use as I trolled across portions of London on foot. Now, it wasn't perfect as we'd discover, as it also listed places that weren't in business anymore or online-only sellers (funnily enough, I recognized one that was near us as a seller I'd bought a bunch from over the years).
So, off I went, taking the public transport on my own for the first time and getting a little while to explore just alone. I was able to find little clusters of store listings in the general vicinity of train stations. I started by heading from Stratford to Hackney Central and wandering through that area a bit, starting with the stores to the south of the station. I was able to find a couple of the places listed, some I didn't, and I did manage to grab a couple records from one of them.
Heading north of the train station, I was able to find a couple more places and grabbed a few from them. One was half record store/half coffee shop, they had a copy of the Brotherhood album from New Order I've been looking for, so I just had to grab that of course. A small, plenty cramped, but so very classic UK record store I ran into had a few dnb records I bought on name alone. Nice guy who ran the place, noticed pretty easily I wasn't English and we had a brief chat while waiting for the Paypal transaction to go through. Those sort of interactions are the ones that stick with you the most, I think. Definitely gives you a bit more of the experience, as it were.
Then, meandering back towards the station, I got a message on Discord. It was Tal! She wanted to know if she could join me in record hunting. Well, sure, of course! I told her to meet me at the next station - Dalston Kingsland - and we'd see what we could find. An unexpected surprise, but a welcome one!
Side note, I am glad to say I was able to navigate the train system without issue. Since I drive everywhere back in the States, relying on trains and buses to get places is far out of my comfort zone, but it turned out to be fairly understandable after having gone through it with the gang a few times. I think I'll be comfortable enough using it when I inevitably go back.
After a short train ride to Dalston Kingsland, I met up with Tal once more! We got right to it and started off in search of the locations that Discogs Map said were around. Some of them we didn't find, but a couple we did, and we spent a pretty good amount of time wandering the area in our search and chatting plenty the whole time. A bit of everything made its way into our conversations, from the last nights show to differences between our respective countries to just personal anecdotes. It was really nice, honestly. Refreshing, too, to have someone to talk to and explore with, while not being beholden to any hard schedules or anything.
After we'd exhausted the nearby/walkable locations from the map, I suggested we try a couple spots we hadn't gotten to in Camden that the map claimed were there, and she agreed. So, returning to the station, we took a train to Camden and made our way to a few more spots. We found a few, but there wasn't much luck in the way of the records themselves, but that was okay as we'd simply had more time to hang out together.
With the sky beginning to darken now and most record stores closing about that time, we decided to head back to Stratford. However, on our way to do this, we realized two problems: 1) Neither of us had a key (there weren't enough for nine people anyways), and 2) Nobody else was home or expecting to be home shortly.
So, while debating what to do and waiting for a response to some messages in the Discord, we wandered the mall area near the Stratford station for a little bit. Finally, we did get some responses, which all said that yes, nobody with a key would be back for a while yet, and some of them were considering going out to eat somewhere soon. We decided to join the larger of the groups at this sort of underground arcade place and follow them for the time being, sort of play it by ear at that point. The trouble with that was, though, that it would take a little while to get there, and a few buses.
We did make it there, although it took some time. At this point I'd basically just been following Tal the whole way there since I was feeling pretty tired - I'd done a lot more walking in one day here than I would have in a long while (normally I'd be walking tons at work, being in a warehouse and all, but earlier this year I was moved to a data specialist job instead, so I hadn't been on my feet quite as much. It really made a difference!) - and she had gotten a little turned around near the place itself, leading us to head the wrong way a few times before we got on the right track. In her defense though, it was a wonky area in terms of street layout, and the arcade place itself was a bit hidden after all.
At any rate, we did find it, and before we went in and paid money to do it, we checked in with the gang on Discord to make sure they were still there, only to find out they had in fact left there earlier to head back home instead. Welp.
So, it was back to the buses again, where we'd venture back to Stratford yet again. You could call it a wasted trip, but honestly, it was still a good time since Tal and I got to spent more time on a little adventure together. We were both plenty tired, no doubt there, but talk about having time to bond, eh? I'd be hard pressed to forget the moment when we realized we were walking down the wrong road and we just stopped, laughing at the slight absurdity of it; she leaned into my shoulder, apologizing profusely while I just insisted it's fine (and for the record, Tal, if you're reading this, it really was fine) while laughing to ourselves.
Eventually, a few buses and a short train ride later, we were back in Stratford and were able to return home just after the arcade group got back - though not after our own quick Tesco's run, of course! While they were out, the group at the arcade had picked up a friend and ordered delivery. We recounted stories of our respective days, then we were joined by Sys, Alvaro, and Frank. They brought with them their own stories from the day, including a stop at a Lego store at the Stratford mall. Man, if I'd known that was there, I reckon Tal and I would've probably stopped by for the hell of it, honestly!
Later yet still, Dylan rejoined us, the last one out. He'd been out at a bar when the place had just up and closed at midnight, and apparently most of the buses and trains did similar, so he'd had an interesting night to say the least. Some of us retired to bed then, others of us stayed up later talking and hanging out, as had become our ritual. But, eventually, plenty late into the night, we all did finally call it a day.
And what a day it had been. It had been a success on all counts for me, as I'd had a great time exploring parts of London with Tal, plus I'd picked up a few records for myself. I was hoping to have gotten even more, and if I had had more time (left earlier in the day, another day, whatever it may be) I would have gone deeper into London to find more, but I did get some good stuff all the same.
Speaking of records, here's the list of what I did manage to get:
New Order - Brotherhood (FAC150 / 2564-68879-5, 1986, 2015 Repressing)
Shy FX & T Power - Feelings (SBOY 001, 2005)
4 Strings - Day Time (LQ008, 2000)
Shimon & Andy C - Mutation / Genetix (RAMM18, 1997)
Spectrasoul - Alibi (Break Remix) / Organiser (CRIT038, 2009)
Various - Mind, Body & Soul Phase 1. Mind (DFNKDLP2-P1, 2003)
X-Plorer & DeePulse - Silhouette / Deja Vu (MTRR015, 2005)
DJ TeeBee - Assassin / The Abyss (AC 006, 1998)
...plus one or two others that have already made their way into my shelf and I can't remember. This is what happens when you only write it all out well over a month later, hah.
It was hard to believe that our last full day was now over and that the next day would be about returning home. As we had been up plenty late that night, we were all up pretty late in the morning. A few had to leave early though - Frank had an early train to catch to return home, Martin and Mark had an earlier plane, so we'd wished them all goodbyes the night before.
Tal and Stan had a train a bit later in the day, Alvaro's flight was around a similar time, while myself, Dylan, and Sys had our flights in the afternoon at about the same time. The three of us agreed to just take an Uber to Heathrow instead, as it was much easier than trying to groggily lug all of our stuff two hours across public transport.
While we still had a few more hours together, we spent them getting ready for our trips back home and hanging out for the last time on the trip. I think it's safe to say all of us wished we had longer together. The week had been fantastic and we'd all made memories to last a lifetime - how could we ever want to leave? The last few hours were a bit somber as a result, but we all knew it wouldn't be the last time we'd see each other. There was excitement from the past few days and for the future, too.
Eventually, the time came for Sys, Dylan, and I to leave. We said our goodbyes, including some brief hugs (and one not-quite-so-short, haha), loaded up our bags, and with a last wave goodbye, we were off to the airport. The ride itself was fine, and I fell asleep a little while later (around the time Dylan and our driver started to talk about some of the recent UK politics, hah!).
I woke up about the time we were pulling into the airport. We hopped out with all our stuff and said our goodbyes to each other there, then I was into the airport while Sys and Dylan were off to their respective terminal. I made it through the airport without any issue, got my boarding pass and through security and all that jazz. Frankly, I found Heathrow a bit easier in that regard, security and all, but maybe that was because now I felt a bit more confident with airports after having done O'Hare.
Really the only noteworthy difference between the flight home versus the flight to the UK was that we were bused to the plane rather than walking into it straight from the terminal. I had a seat at the very back of the plane, giving me a lot more legroom than I expected. The flight was a little longer, but I still had plenty of audiobooks to go - I think I was relistening to the Star Wars Thrawn Duology, great pair of books - so that was fine. Tried to sleep, but like last time, I didn't get too much.
Back at O'Hare, back in the States again, I got through customs with no trouble - the officer who checked me through tossed my passport back to me when he was done and said, "welcome back, dude." Dunno why, but I thought that was pretty damn funny myself. There was a particularly long wait for the baggage claim, but after enough time, my old bag with that little old 261 tag as my identifier rolled out, and I was able to grab that and get out of there with ease.
Since landing, I had been texting with my brother, and after I got through customs, he rolled up in my car and picked me up, and off to home we were. Of course, this was when I'd learn my car was starting to have some problems, but that's a story for the 261 trip post.
While I was glad to be home, I was definitely missing the group and the UK. It had been such a wonderful trip, meeting the gang, experiencing a new country, and the incredible show at the Drumsheds itself. It was in every way a dream come true, a perfect trip. There really weren't any hiccups at all! The plane rides there, getting to the show, the show itself, the covid tests, and everything in between. It was just a fantastic trip in every way.
Meeting with the rest of the group for the first time was wonderful and really solidifying all those friendships even more so. Being able to see my favourite artists and experience that rough and rowdy crowd at the Drumsheds was nothing short of amazing, and the adventures record hunting with Tal that next day were just so much fun. Those nights we all spent talking and laughing and making jokes, all of us wandering around Camdem and learning the transit systems...
Honestly, I couldn't have asked for a better first time in the UK. I just had a great time and I can't wait to go back in the future. When will that be? Who knows! It's not cheap, that's for sure, but I know I will be back, and another group meetup in the future seems inevitable some day. Right now, we're planning on bringing a certain someone over to the US for a week next year. And hey, you never know, maybe I'll be back over there within a year, or maybe the year after.
At any rate, though, this trip to London was one to remember. This will be one of those things that sticks with me, probably for the rest of my life. I'm glad I took the plunge and made it happen, and I hope to do it again sooner rather than later.
To think this all started on a spur of the moment decision to buy some show tickets...
Hello, my name is SM, and this is where I write.
This little blogspace is where my thoughts go - whether it's talking about a photography trip or a DJ mix, this is where it all ends up.
SMWorks isn't free to run! Consider sending a little support our way if you can.