Published Aug 01, 2003It's, oh, sometime after eight a.m. on Sunday and the uplifting atmospherics and positively jackhammer beats of post-dawn Goa trance are still barrelling into a speaker-ed circle of frenzied Om survivors. A dreadlocked girl in fluorescent cyber-hippie gear rides a forest swing while the DJ launches his fists in the air and the weary but still up for it crowd bounces en masse like an old-school mosh pit. The music cycles down to give the dancers a rest for a moment. Stop. Start again. Another psy-trance track kicks in its wicked vocal sample demanding to know, "Are you or are you not fucking with me?" and the forest dust floats back up into the sunbeams. As pretty much the last bastion of old school rave culture, the annual summer solstice three-day party attracts thousands each year to rural Ontario and gives them us an opportunity to remember the days before superstar DJ fees, cigarette-sponsored parties and anti-rave bylaws. But since we're really only talking about the late '90s, the festival feels less retro, more like a miraculous holdout. Returning to the same spot as last year's unexpectedly popular party, it became obvious that the numbers had dwindled slightly, but the thousands of tents scattered about the fields and forests still gave off a vibe of potent excitement. The six stages were similarly scattered about the property, with several located deep in the woods, alongside treats like the "land of hammocks" and the dayglo spiders, and delivered pretty much every genre imaginable in both live and DJ sets. But with so much music running at the same time, the only way to tackle it was by chance. The Om Festival comes at you in surrealistic flashes and that's how you remember it Solvent and Lowfish's disturbingly sexy, dark electro set amongst the trees; the Resinators' smoked-out dub in the sunshine; State of Bengal ripping some seriously epic Bhangra beats while fire dancers spun insanely up on the hill; the Japanese accordion dude singing "Baby, One More Time"; the cross-dressing girl guides; the guy in the bear suit wrestling the cross-dressing girl guides. Om is about random fireworks and evening gowns and b-girls. It's about Hare Krishnas and DJ Chocolate and trombones. It's even about yoga workshops and techno, and that weird naked dude we called Mr. Bean all day, who at night put on a shawl, but alas, still no pants. The vibe can get overly granola if you're of a more cynical persuasion when Julia Butterfly Hill, the girl who sat in a tree for two years, told us we all "need to find our own personal tree to sit in," I laughed out loud and had to slink away from disapproving hippies. But by the time the sun rose on the second day, my year's accumulation of downtown cynicism had been sloughed off. I sat up on the highest hilltop looking down upon the madness below, the differently designed beats sifting through the air from far-flung stages, the smiling faces, the flailing arms, the bouncing feet, then I re-joined them.