An Interview with Dougald Hine of Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Festival

UNCIVILISATION: The Dark Mountain Festival took place in Llangollen in late May 2010. We wish we'd made it along ourselves but instead we managed to have a little post-festival catch up with organiser and co-founder Dougald Hine.

Written by Calum Ross

dougald_hine_by-asli-ozpehlivan
Dougald Hine by Asli Ozpehlivan.

In May, Dougald Hine, co-founder of new literary movement The Dark Mountain Project organised Uncivilisation in Llangollen, Denbighshire. The three day festival of music, writing, thinking and doing was an astounding success, challenging the preconceived notions that our current way of living can be made ‘sustainable’. I caught up with him for a post-festival chat…

How are you feeling now the festival is over?
I’m exhausted and still piecing together what exactly happened, but it feels like it was something big and worthwhile.

Were you pleased with the turnout?
We had 400 people over the weekend, which was as many as the site could handle – and a real mixture of those who already felt deeply connected to Dark Mountain, those who were sceptical but wanting to engage, and those who were just curious to find out more.
 
Dark Mountain by Emma Raby
Dark Mountain by Emma Raby.

What were you wanting the audience to gain from the experience?
We wanted people to come away with a sense of the conversations going on around Dark Mountain and the spirit of the project.
 
Explain the dark mountain project in layman’s terms:
Dark Mountain invites people to think about what we do, if it turns out that our way of living can’t be made “sustainable”. It’s also about questioning the stories we tell ourselves about our place in the world, about progress and our ability to control nature. What if the mess that we’re in – ecologically, economically, socially – is rooted in those stories?

How easy was it to handle being a speaker and the organiser?
It wasn’t easy – I was living on four hours sleep a night, at the limit physically and emotionally, after the most intense few months of my life. Looking back, we really needed a larger team around the festival, but that’s hard when you’re doing something for the first time. We’ve had a lot of people getting in touch since who want to help organise future events.
 
time-to-look-down (dark-mountain)-by-Mags-James
Time to Look Down by Mags James.

How did you get the guest speakers involved?
For me, a great event should be a mixture of people you’ve wanted to see speak or perform for years and people you’ve never heard of, but who turn out to be amazing. It’s hard to choose highlights, but Jay Griffiths and Alastair McIntosh were particularly important voices for me – as were Vinay Gupta and Luke Concannon. There were things which, in hindsight, we might have done better. The main stage was too male-dominated – and we needed more convivial spaces for conversation and participation. But I was pleased with the contrasts between the speakers and the interweaving of ideas and performance. I just wish we could have spread it out over three weeks, rather than having to cram it all into three days.

Were you aiming for a specific ‘sound’ for the festival?
One of the surprises after the manifesto came out was how strong a response we got from musicians and songwriters. Chris T-T and Marmaduke Dando both have songs inspired by Dark Mountain on their new albums, while Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. has been involved from very early on. So the festival sound was shaped by the places where the project has struck a chord. There’s a lot of common ground with some of the powerful folk stuff going on with people like Jon Boden and Chris Wood, who was our ideal choice to close the whole weekend. But there was a real diversity of other sounds, whether it was delicate jazz ballads from Billy Bottle or hilarious death blues from Bleak.

Dark-Ruins-by-Lisa-Stannard
Dark Ruins by Lisa Stannard.

There seemed to be a lot of misunderstanding in the media about the purpose of the festival. Why do you think it was so hard for some people to understand?
Well, firstly, because Dark Mountain is work in progress – it’s a conversation, an exploration, not a single line of argument or a political platform. Most campaigns and movements deliberately try to distill what they’re doing to simple soundbites. That’s not a priority for us, because we’re trying to hold open a space for difficult conversations, for figuring things out together, rather than claiming to have a set of answers. Secondly, the stuff we’re talking about freaks people out. If you try to talk about the possibility that we might not go on getting richer, living longer, having hot and cold running electricity 24-hours-a-day, people think you’re predicting – or even hoping for – some kind of Mad Max scenario.
 
Are there plans for another festival?
Paul and I are still recovering! But we’ve already been contacted by someone who’s planning a four-day Dark Mountain gathering in Scotland this autumn, which is great.

There-is-no-PLan-B-by-Lisa-Stannard
There is no Plan B by Lisa Stannard.

You can read our original listing for the Dark Mountain Festival here.

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