This year was my second visit to Electromagnetic Field, the UK’s hacker camping festival, and by a weird twist of fate this year’s camp was held at the former site of a music festival I used to work at around 10 years ago. The new site was a lot bigger than its former location in Guildford back in 2016, but EMF had the same friendly vibe that I loved about the last event. In fact if I had to try and sum up EMF, I think the term “techno-socialist utopia” comes pretty close.
A couple of us from Build Brighton joined the South London Makerspace camp who I first met at EMF 2016, and we had a great spot near the London Hackspace and Imperial College Advanced Hackspace camps (although the clanging from the nearby blacksmithing tent and pumping techno from Camp Holland over the road were less awesome!). The South London Makerspace crew ran a popular breakfast club out of our camp every morning where people could come for tea, coffee, and cereal, and it was great getting to start the day with a chat with folk from other hackerspaces who’d come round for breakfast. The contingent from Build Brighton also met up for our traditional photo by the EMF sign.
I went to a few talks and workshops over the weekend and most of them are available on YouTube and worth checking out:
- Why The World Needs A Vagina Museum by Florence Schechter. Schechter founded the pop-up Vagina Museum (the first of its kind in the world) which is currently looking for a permanent home. Check out this talk for lots of eyeroll-inducing examples of why public education about gynaecology is so necessary.
- Hackspaces Round Table by Iulian Arcus. Iulian from EOF Hackspace in Oxford organised this round table for current and former hackspace organisers to exchange knowledge about running hackspaces. A full recording and summary of the discussion has been posted on EOF’s website.
- Urban Beekeeping: How to Get Started by Henry Sands. I have a small-ish patio that I’d love to put beehives in, so I went along to this talk to see if that’s in any way feasible. My takeaway was: yes, but it’ll be a lot of effort, and will probably annoy my neighbours.
- Adventures in DIY Electronic Instruments by Scott Pitkethly. I’ll be honest: I thought this talk would be about circuit-bending and making chiptune music. But it was actually about making instruments out of found objects, mainly using contact mics, which was also super interesting. And it was great to find out that the speaker is a fellow Brightonian.
- Document & Quantify Informal Learning by Tudor Tarlev. This talk by a fellow makerspace researcher encourages hacker/makerspaces to come up with design patterns for documenting how learning happens in them, which I think would be great for demonstrating how useful makerspaces are.
- Things That Go Bump On The Net by Henry Cooke. A collection of weird tales and legends from technology history, including the origin of Morse code as a method of communicating with ghostly spirits, Titivillus the “printers’ devil”, and the similarities between the Slenderman and traditional faerie legends.
- Hackers screening and director Q&A with Jake Davis. Hack the planet! I ended up doing the camerawork for the post-film Q&A with Hackers director Iain Softley, check it out for his anecdotes about working with actual 90s hackers and why the film is just so weird!
On Sunday morning I also ran a workshop on Building Inclusive Makerspaces, and I’ve got a separate post on how that went down.
Apart from that I spent the rest of the weekend checking out the other weird and wonderful stuff that people had brought to the festival. Some favourites from the last event were back this year (like the Entertentment late-night karaoke tent and the retro arcade tent), but there were a lot of entirely new things. There was a whole new area called Null Sector that was like a cyberpunk annex within the main festival (see header pic), with a night market where you could buy LED eyelashes and a mega soundsystem with DJs playing everything from UK garage to hardstyle pretty much 24 hours a day.
There was also a Hacky Races area down by the lake for racing tournaments between home-made motorised soapbox cars that mostly looked like death traps. And one of my favourite things from the weekend was the Dreamcatcher puzzlehunt, which was sort of like a scavenger hunt with locations around the festival which involved solving some really mean puzzles. If this is back at the next EMF in 2020 I definitely want to dedicate some more time to solving it before the festival finishes!
If I have any criticisms it’s that the festival could be stricter at enforcing their Code of Conduct: I saw several men openly walking around wearing t-shirts with sexist slogans on them without being challenged by anybody. A huge positive of EMF Camp is that it attracts a lot of women and families so hopefully this kind of behaviour will become more and more rare.