When Redfest asked us to go down to Surrey and review their event of course the answer was yes. Redfest is known for championing up and coming music and providing a high spirited and safe weekend for all their punters. However, as the date got closer I must admit I became increasingly anxious. Redfest is designed with a teenage audience in mind and I’m getting on a bit now in my mid twenties. As we pulled up (a little later than we had hope due to M25 rush hour) there was, as I had anticipated, a gaggle of youths: 16 years olds, several with their tongues down each others throats, surrounding the front gates. This didn’t really help my nerves and wasn’t particularly reassuring for the friend who had joined me for the event. We ploughed on through the mildly muddy field with a positive mindset: if we couldn’t beat them we’d join them, after all we’ve all been 16 before.
The security were friendly and helpful, as were the stewards and despite the dark we had our tent up and a beer in our hand in minutes. Unfortunately due to our lengthy journey we had missed the bands for the Friday evening but arrived in time to get a good few hours in at the dance tents.
There were two dance tents, which during the day time acted as the two smaller stages. I thought this was a great money and space saving idea as no one really wants to be raving throughout the day. At first we decided to indulge in a little ‘festival tapas’ (trying a bit of everything in small portions, exactly like the Spanish style food). We quite soon discovered that the tent at the edge of the field was probably more our scene, the DJ was playing some great hip-hop and garage. Despite being pretty much sober we stayed and danced until the end of his set then we moved back to the more ravey dance tent. It was still pretty hardcore in the ‘middle’ tent. However, we met a sweet guy who told us he was a 25 year old statistician, we didn’t really believe him but he was cool so we hung out with him. Later the three of us retuned to the other dance tent where two guys in hoodies and leather jackets were absolutely ripping everyone’s ears and bodies to shreds with there dirty mashed up dub step beats, good enough to compete with Skrillex, these guys were great. Unfortunately we never figured out which was dance tent one and which was dance tent two so we have absolutely no clue who they were.
The nice fella we had met then invited us to come and meet his friends back at their camp, keen to meet other people and get into the spirit of the festival we agreed. The group were great ranging from a 23-year-old birthday girl to a 29-year-old gorilla. So, as it turned out I had been too quick to judge and it wasn’t a festival only suited to teenagers. We stayed up until dawn drinking and chatting with our newfound friends and a few others from around the campsite. It probably got quiet around 3am but we were having too much fun to notice everyone around us go to bed.
We woke up on Saturday to discover the festival looked quite different in daylight. Redfest is small, really small. This fact turned out to be part of its charm. For one thing your never going to get lost, neither are you going to lose your friends or acquaintances. Which makes it probably not the best festival for a one night stand because you will see them again, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing (I met my first boyfriend at a festival when I was 15).
The basic layout of the festival is a small valley with the car park and campsite on opposite sides and the main arena at the base. The arena is long and thin with the main stage at the far end, the Gozibe stage at the near end (closest to where you first enter) and the acoustic stage in between the two. The food stalls are based around the Gozibe stage and the bar and market are more towards the main stage. There was, as promised, a shisha bar and an oxygen bar. There was not, however, a ‘cocktail bus’ but a very quaint cocktail bar instead. That’s it, which is great because it means you never have to walk far, you can pop back to your tent for another layer of clothing or whatever in a matter or minutes. Also, we found that later on in the day the acts were spread out so you could see all of the headliners and most of the follow up acts. As one was finishing on one stage the next would be starting on the other stage. Although this probably doesn’t work if you include the acoustic stage into the mix too. We didn’t have a great experience with the acoustic stage. A couple of times we tried to check it out but the acts were just poor to be honest. One exception (in my experience) Jazz Morley on the Sunday; she was stunning.
Saturday morning kicked off with Billy Vincent on the main stage. A great first act. They made it feel like we had had a lot more sleep/ been awake for a lot longer than we actually had. After passing through the acoustic stage we decided it was about time for some breakfast. We grabbed a chicken wrap, £5 from the barbeque tent where the stall owners were hovering over an actual charcoal fuelled barbeque, hardcore! We met a few lovely people whilst we ate who had travelled from as far as Brighton and King’s Lynn and met in the campsite, proving it isn’t a ‘locals only’ festival. We caught the tail end of KK before heading back to camp to begin ‘curing our hangovers’ with more cider.
Back at the tents the boys from Friday were up to all sorts of tricks. They had decided that it must be physically possible to explode a watermelon by putting multiple elastic bands around its middle. They had also purchased a pineapple as an easier challenge. The pineapple worked and the watermelon was thrown around until it broke. They then hollowed them out and used them as vessels and passed then around the group. There were some great campsite antics taking place at Redfest. And it reminded me of the first few festivals I went to where you have the freedom to try such ridiculous things you wouldn’t do in the ‘real world’.
It was starting to get towards dancing time; we headed back into the main area for Crowns. They were really energetic. Actually every single musician we saw the entire weekend had a lot of energy, a lot of passion and really, genuinely wanted to be playing Redfest. Almost all of the bands spoke directly and personally to the crowd and most did signings at set times in a signing tent next to the main stage. On multiple occasions bands dished out freebies to the crowd (if they cheered hard enough) and a large number of frontmen got into the crowd to dance. The crowd/band interaction at Redfest was probably the best I have ever experienced over an entire festival. It was brilliant. If you are really into several of the acts then it’s definitely worth going just to see them be so happy to play a set.
Things really began to hot up that afternoon, we saw: Ursa Major, Mordecai, Sonic Boom Six, Deaf Havana, Fei Comodo and Kids In Glass Houses. And as the evening progressed the crowds just got bigger and better along with the acts. To be perfectly honest by the time the bands were over we were all pretty drunk and just needed to dance. More. And dance we did until both dance tents were shut. We then moved onto the cocktail bar where they had a DJ, cocktails and enough space for about the 50 people that were still going. By the time we got back to the campsite it was dying down and we could no longer handle being upright in wellies so we headed for the hay.
I’m not going to lie, Sunday morning was painful and the weather was very hot, my feet were blistered and I had been bitten by some killer mosquitos. We slept until 3pm! Considering we had to drive back Sunday night after Foreign Beggars this was a very wise move.
When we finally managed to move it was to see Yearbook, these lads had been very good at promoting themselves by flyering the entire festival and for that I thought they deserved a look at. They were good, perhaps some room for development but they are only young (and they look quite a lot like the Inbetweeners which gives then a lot of charm). Straight after we headed to Don Broco, apparently I should have already known who these guys were. The crowd was big, the frontman had balls and was really excitable; he leapt off the stage to widen the circle pit himself. There was a wall of death and a kid in the crowd got a boner and was crowd surfed to the front so the band could check it was real. Everyone cheered. Don Broco was one of the most fun sets I’ve seen in quite a while.
Next up were The Skints who I thought were fantastic but maybe the crowd weren’t really that into reggae; there were a lot of people there but no one was really dancing. I’m going to check them out on tour later in the year. We followed The Skints with dinner. If there was one major let down of this festival it was the food, possibly because Redfest promised more than they delivered. There was no Mexican, no specific vegan/veggie stand and the Indian and Thai were quite poor (Indian on portion size and Thai on flavour) which left the charcoal barbeque, stone baked pizza and hearty soup; which I hasten to add were all very good and well priced. Just not what I was looking for, unfortunately.
We polished off Redfest with the two Sunday headliners Hildamay, who were really great, probably the heaviest band of the weekend and a lovely bunch of lads. If there’s one band I’ll take from Redfest who I didn’t know about before it will be Hildamay. And the big finale Foreign Beggars! Obviously they tore the place apart. The bass was so loud, they got a lot of the crowd to get dolled up in fancy dress and they made the effort themselves. Everyone was dancing, it was beautiful.
If you have never been to a festival go to Redfest (note to parents: it’s super safe, I went to the medical tent on Sunday evening with my mosquito bites because they had blistered and I couldn’t wear my boots anymore and it was the worst injury they had had all day). If you are into more than 2 bands on the line up go to Redfest if only to see them play in such a positive environment. If you live near Redhill and are aged between 14 and 30 go to Redfest because it’s affordable and close to home. If you want to be clean, dry, sober and boring stay at home.
In one line: Redfest is the perfect first/teenage festival for music and fun.
For more information, see our Redfest Guide.