16 July 2010
Dan Frost looks ahead to one of the most intriguing and extraordinarily beguiling festivals in the UK, the Secret Garden Party.
What is it?
Welcome to the rabbit hole. The Secret Garden Party is a delightfully surreal and impossibly fun weekend that is as much fairy tale adventure as it is festival, where live music is just one of many ingredients in the potent good-time cocktail. You're as likely to find yourself mud wrestling, joining a giant game of 40-40, doing a pub quiz, helping to write a festival anthem, watching an outdoor production of the Wizard Of Oz, playing extreme tiddly winks or unleashing your best moves in a dance-off as you are plonked on the grass watching a band. Like with many festivals, the SGP crowd has gradually edged towards the mainstream over the past few years, but the event remains an avant-garde antidote to middle of the road, main stage monotony. In short, expect the unexpected.
Where and when?
The Secret Garden Party takes place at a not very secret location near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire from 22-25 July. Essentially shaped like a giant doughnut, with a large lake as its hole, the circular site is a beautiful pocket of East Anglian countryside that lends a deliciously quaint feel to the festival's notorious surrealism.
Five to watch
Horace Andy And Dub Asante
To reggae fans or anyone who has ever listened to a Massive Attack album, this 59-year-old Jamaican rasta should require little introduction. For those in the dark, Horace Andy is a reggae institution who has been in the game since the late 60s. Blessed with an instantly recognisable voice, he has released records at a prolific rate typical of reggae stars, and become known for singles such as ‘Skylarking’, ‘Government Land’ and ‘You Are My Angel’ – not to mention his many collaborations with the afore-mentioned trip-hop pioneers.
Kitty, Daisy and Lewis
Of the vast surplus of acts currently peddling a small town America, jump blues nostalgia vibe, Kitty, Daisy and Lewis manage it with perhaps the greatest semblance of authenticity – which is ironic seen as they're middle class kids from north London. But this shouldn't count against them; the multi-instrumentalist siblings are a talented brood who dive head first into their rear-view references where others merely toe-dip.
With songs of creeping power and weight, delivered by an ordinary yet remarkably captivating voice, Fionn Regan is a potent and persuasive folk singer, the likes of which seem to be a dying breed. There's something of the Dylan about him, certainly, but also a subtle warmth that draws you in without resorting to any of the strong-armed faux-emotion favoured by many lesser peers.
Eddy Temple Morris
A pivotal figure in contemporary dance music, Eddy Temple Morris presides over XFM's long-standing Friday night Remix show, which helped popularise the now prevalent blurring between rock and dance, and gave outfits such as Justice, Simian Mobile Disco and 2ManyDJs their first ever air play. He's also a prolific remixer (with Tom Bellamy under the name Losers), so expect plenty of bassy, banging and generally better reincarnations of indie hits.
Falling squarely on the destroy-your-speakers-and-shake-your-pictures-off-the-walls (while you cheer him on) side of the dubstep divide, Doorly is likely to be a heady highlight for any bouncing bassheads. Look out for his remix of ‘Bonkers’ – the place will erupt.
One to miss
Gorillaz Sound System
Not so much one to miss as one to approach with a degree of scepticism. The promise is for a "multi-sense experience" involving DJ Kofi playing remixed tunes by the cartoon band. There'll be bespoke visuals and live percussion as well, but it sounds suspiciously like a plain old Gorillaz DJ set is being lined-up as the festival's big headliner. We hope to stand corrected.
Playing a rare UK festival date
Though these American cult heroes never managed to recapture the acclaim and popular appeal generated by 1998's ‘Deserter's Songs’, they have continued to bubble comfortably under the mainstream radar, steadily releasing records that have been critically, if not popularly, well received. Closely linked (and compared to) The Flaming Lips, it will be interesting to see if they approach their live show with the same penchant for outlandish spectacle.
Few of today's festivals would be complete without at least a token nod to the growing ska revival. One of several SGP head tilts comes in the form of top Edinburgh good time merchants Big Hand, who are as comfortable in a swaying, contemplative mood as they are in the throws of sweaty abandon.
Be at the Secret Garden Party if...
You fancy a genuinely alternative festival experience: if you love the sillier, non-musical side of Glastonbury; if you're sick of traipsing from stage to stage, watching forgettable bands; if you're longing for festival experiences that go beyond getting pissed outdoors in a field; if you're comfortable leaving your real-world hang-ups and inhibitions at the gate.
You're just in the market for beer swilling to big name bands, have any kind of problem with weird art installations, absurd games or interactive performance, or are in any way opposed to random strangers smearing glitter on your face.
Lose yourself, lose your friends, meet new people, try new things...generally get into the spirit of the festival.
Oh, and don't keep putting off your trip out to the pirate ship. The queues go pretty quickly and it’s worth a short wait. More to the point, they burn it down on the Saturday night and stop taking people over that afternoon, so get in there while you can.
The only festival that's...
the Secret Garden Party – it really is a unique occasion, as in tune artistically as it is musically, swelling with good vibes from a crowd whose intrinsic common interest is a simple hunger for discovery and singular experience. Rarely do you find yourself on such a flimsy, flexible schedule at a festival, where the only thing you know about the day ahead is that it will most likely be unlike any you have ever had before. It's also the only festival that's got a pirate ship in the middle of a lake, avec thumping sound system.
Fashionista or folky?
A bit of both really. Over the years the festival has moved increasingly in the Hunter Welly direction, and its hip credentials inevitably attract hip customers. Nevertheless, the Secret Garden Party retains a relaxed, laissez faire attitude towards appearance that rewards the fancy and ridiculously dressed far more than the well dressed.
Alcohol of choice
Something fruity, exotic and sweet to keep you excitable and engaged all day (and night) long.
Take your mum score – 4/10
There's much to be said for the broad appeal of the event's many quirky goings-on, but this is fundamentally a festival that caters to a younger crowd, with the zany vibe edging a little too close to deranged debauchery for anyone old enough to think plant food is what you get from Homebase. That said, if your mum is a 60s throwback who matches you joint for joint, get her along.
Can I still get tickets?
Yes. Adult weekend tickets are available for £142 plus booking fee.
Click here to buy Secret Garden Party tickets.
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