It’s hard not to get stuck in hyperbole when trying to summarise my experience at Beacons Festival in Skipton, North Yorkshire. The line-up was incredible, the crowd was lively and the campsite was surprisingly bearable. I laughed uncontrollably with old friends (and the help of a balloon or two), met some cool new people and smiled at more strangers than I can remember. In amongst all the nonsense conversations with forgiving friends over pints and 4×4 beats, I managed to have some memorable encounters with the artists playing the festival, some of whom, after chatting to me and my friends for a while, will have left with a rather strange impression of the kind of people who attend Beacons.
First off, the music was unbelievable: reflecting the current festival trend for focussing more and more on DJs and electronic producers than guitar bands, the most eagerly anticipated acts were as much knob twiddlers as face shredders (though Darkside provided a nice amalgamation of the two). Saturday night saw Jon Hopkins headlined the Resident Advisor stage, our adopted home for the weekend. His album was perhaps my favourite of any released last year, and the live set did not disappoint. At a particularly euphoric crescendo, several huge coloured balls were released into the crowd, reflecting the lights in a hundred different directions and mixing with the large screens’ technicolor sensory overload to make the entire crowd’s hair stand on end. Doing some real investigative journalism the next day, I asked various strangers what their festival highlight had been: without any exaggeration, every single person I asked listed Hopkins in their top 3. Outside of my own personal experience, there was a definite sense that the Londoner’s set was the defining moment of the festival, Beacons’ equivalent of the Tupac hologram at Coachella.
Elsewhere, I can still remember enduring a fairly dark, brutal two-hour set from Mano Le Tough in the same tent, swaying as if hypnotised and thinking ‘not sure I can take much more of this’, only for him to drop Caribou’s ‘I Can’t Do Without You’ to close. In one instant the entire two hours that preceded it paid off. Suddenly I was glad I’d toughed (excuse the pun) it out, it was all worth it. Not only was it a perfect set closer independent of what came after it, but was a brilliant introduction to Dixon’s set immediately afterwards. Playing a lighter brand of house and techno, it was less attrition and more euphoria. I was not alone in manically Shazam-ing every ten minutes as he mixed beautiful soulful house and bassy techno that was impossible to stand still for.
When we weren’t enjoying the sizeable talents of the artists on stage, we spent a pleasing amount of time actually meeting them. Shortly after all the music was finished, we were sitting on a bench outside the main bar when we spotted East India Youth peacefully sipping a pint near the cigarette stand. With enough beer in our bellies to do away with any inhibitions about awkward introductions or leaving the artists in peace, we strode over and jumped into conversation. He was a genuinely lovely man, happy to chat to a group of slightly rowdy festival goers in their early 20s. Having performed on the Friday night, he had just decided to stay for the rest of the festival, chill out and see some of his favourite bands. It was genuinely heartening to talk to a musician so interested in music and willing to sleep in a sodden field to see it when he could have been forgiven for taking a day off. After revealing, to our excitement, that his next record was nearly ready for release, he shook us off for the evening and went off to, presumably, get drunk with some people who weren’t going to drunkenly treat him like an A-list celebrity.
In another ‘they are human’ incident, my friend nipped off to the press/artists toilet immediately after The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s set. After she had been gone for a while I decided to go find her, only to spot her chatting to the band’s keyboard player just outside the cubicles. Seemingly deep in conversation, I was intrigued, hoping she was securing guestlist for an exclusive artists’ party or arranging to meet at their campsite later. However, upon her return, she told me they had simply been talking about the necessity of antibacterial gel for ten minutes. She never quite filled me in on how you could talk for that long about the most mundane thing imaginable, but it was still the longest conversation any of us had managed with one of the performers that was not the general ‘I really like your music’ small talk. Turns out rockstars have to wash their hands, just like us!
Perhaps the defining characteristic of Beacons is the relaxed atmosphere and real sense of holiday around the campsite. At some festivals, it’s hard not to feel like it’s an endurance test: you have three sweaty, rainy days of hangovers and comedowns to get through and you just have to try enjoy some music in the interim. However, at Beacons, there doesn’t seem to be the same pressure to go all out. We paced ourselves throughout the day and didn’t feel like we were missing out. It was quite common to head back to the campsite in the middle of the afternoon and see plenty of groups sat drinking or smoking weed, quite content to head down later on for the specific acts they had come for. With the affordable tickets and the amount of good acts, as long as you saw a few acts a day you felt you had got your money worth out of it. The only real unwritten rule seemed to be to get to the Resident Advisor tent for the end of the night, where it often felt like the entire festival had been packed in to dance the remainder of the night away. It was as good a crowd as I’ve ever experienced: mostly people in their mid 20s who were polite and friendly but also ready to party when it came to it. It was nice to be in a crowd that wasn’t going to headbang to Perfume Genius (yes, that did happen last time I saw him), but also was willing to lose their shit for the last half hour of Erol Alkan.
Ultimately Beacons was everything I wanted from a festival: big enough to feel it was a significant event, but small enough to feel everyone was having the same experience in a communal atmosphere. The food was excellent, the crowd knowledgeable and friendly and the line-up incredible. It’s taken me a week to get over the nostalgia, and that is a pretty good indicator that the festival achieved what it set out to do. The one complaint that I would have, and a lot of people felt this way, is that the nights perhaps don’t go on long enough – the DJs stop at 2 o’clock on Friday and Saturday and alarmingly at midnight on the Sunday. People want the party to go on and on, and there is plenty of drink and food revenue to be had from letting them do so, as well as the obvious contribution to the fun of the festival experience. Sort that, Beacons, and you can sign me up for next year straight away.