This is the tale of the insider, the secret investigator, the role we all wanted to play when we were children; where hidden in the sole of your shoe was a compass, a plastic knife was strapped to your waist, and your briefcase fired deadly pellets at your sworn enemy.
Back in April 1996 I was invited to Oslo Norway to perform at one of the legendary Hyperstate festivals. The list of artists was in itself overwhelming, headlined by Josh Wink, The Prodigy and Mental Overdrive. I wrote this piece immediately afterwards to try and capture the mood, as I felt like an alien in this environment. Some 25 years later, at the time of writing, I can still vividly remember this trip. Here we go!
My code name is Scanner and my role is to infiltrate the territories of foreign fields, disguised as an entertainer to find out all I can about these alien cultures. Not quite Mission Impossible I know, but still an important role to play.
I have been given the mission of performing in front of around 8000 youths in an arena in Oslo for an event called Hyperstate. I left London at 10:00 hours UK time, valuables packed neatly into my bags, and passport at hand.
What is it really like behind the scenes you may wonder at an event like this? What is it like to perform on a stage before a staggeringly large crowd and support the likes of Josh Wink and The Prodigy at a gigantic venue? Well, let me remove my laser protected sunglasses and tell you – it’s a strange and sometimes too surreal experience for words to capture. Maybe this little tale will reveal something of the flavour, the taste of the adrenalin rush, the sweat of the crowd.
I flew Economy and ate cold bread rolls. Through a crack in the curtain it was revealed that pop stars eat hot food and are constantly served drinks and newspapers. At Oslo airport two mini-buses await our arrival. I walk with Liam Howlett of The Prodigy who it turns out knows my work and we laugh about my controversial scanned telephone recordings. The paintwork on the bus in front has a shine on it so bright it’s like looking into a mirror, and tiny brown freshly dry-cleaned curtains neatly cover every window for guaranteed privacy. The bus behind is the kind you see at second hand car sales, the kind of vehicle your great grandparents would have driven across Europe in and should have been retired long ago.
It doesn’t take long for me to work out which one I will be travelling in and I shuffle across the concourse to the rear bus, struggling with my bags, trying to balance them all with all the dexterity of a ancient tight-rope walker and quite literally fall into the bus. We follow the other bus all the way to the hotel in the centre of town, almost a little embarrassed at the back.
On arrival the Pop stars get out first of all and smile warmly as teenage girls and boys stand outside the hotel, crowding the street, and squeal like tiny chickens when they recognise their tanned MTV features. As they sign autographs on young girls arms and who knows what else, I am the phantom magician trying to wend his way through the crowd into the sanctuary of the hotel and trying to re-materialise inside my hotel room. I casually notice a 5 star sign and dreamy Hollywood images float through my head. This can’t be the correct hotel for me. I begin to wonder, shouldn’t I really be booked into the local youth hostel?
I smile as Keith of The Prodigy is strictly told to sign his name on the hotel document, an abstract X was no sufficient he’s told. All around me are people, managers, fans, staff. It’s impossible to focus clearly. A set of glistering keys are passed over to me with a smile and I enter the lift. Have you ever been into one of those shopping malls that has mirrors on all sides and you can watch as your reflection deflects, reflects, reverses and inverses into infinity as you swirl your head from side to side? I pressed my thumb onto the wall just to see if it left any kind of print, whether it was for real or not, but no mark remained. It was truly magical – a stainless golden lift, as if straight out of a James Bond movie set.
This is too surreal I thought to myself as I stood outside my room on the sixth floor. As Virginia Woolf said, A Room of My Own? I doubted it – I would be sharing the sanitised surroundings of a five star hotel room for the first time in my life with a chain-smoking, alcoholic roadie whose name would be something like Rockie or Pinko and whose body odour would kill all known living creatures in less than five minutes. I slid the key in the door gently so as not to wake him, slowly turned the handle, my heart beating ever faster. The glow of a television set lit up the darkness of the room. I was right, there he was, fast asleep.
I crept in as quietly as one can laden down with keyboard cases and luggage and found…no-one. Turning round I noticed a text on the TV set. Focusing in on the words I could translate it roughly as “The Elegance Hotel welcomes you, Robin Rimbaud, to our Hotel.” A smile suddenly creased into my face and I’m sure my mouth must have dropped open wide enough to drive both the mini buses back into it and double park there. An interactive TV set in my own personal hotel room! I took a photo for my archives using my special pen equipped with a camera; these things are important for missions like this. A good spy always maps out his territories and makes notes for future reference.
And the show itself? Well, it was rather like trying to do last minute Christmas shopping with the crowds in a tropical heat. The volume of the music made the engine roar of an aeroplane sound truly tranquil, and the lights were straight out of Close Encounters of the Techno Kind. Twice the age of most of the audience and probably half their weight and height, I battled against all the odds and played a stomping, hyperactive, rhythm-charged set of cybersonic electronic tunes that I was led to believe these humans might enjoy, and then retired to my dressing room. A secret agent can only do so much work in a day.
As I walked back to my hotel, wheeling my live equipment along on a portable trolley I could hear the roar of The Prodigy as they played out to a capacity crowd. But I had other hopes and ambitions, and they were to be met by fresh sheets and a fluffy pillow.
At 4 a.m. I filed my final report of the evening and laid my head down. An agents work is never easy.