The Secret Garden Party is one of those festivals I’d been meaning to go to for several years, but never made it. I had a ticket last year, however my wallet and my little noggin were both suffering from a such severe case of festival burnout that I begrudgingly sold my little voucher of fun at the last hour. I never did quite forgive myself for what was possibly one of the most sensible actions I’d ever taken and this year I was determined to redeem myself.
Every year there’s a theme to this festival. This year to celebrate their 10th birthday it was based on “Ceremonies, Anniversaries, Rituals and Initiations” which I thought was rather fitting as this was to be my initiation into the Secret Garden Party.
My first full blast of the hedonism on offer here was when we came to the lake. A regular feature of the Secret Garden Party is a musical stage and bar that sits slap-bang in the middle of the water. Some of the brave amongst the crowd had decided to go skinny dipping and I wondered if they were going to try to make it all the way over to this musical flotilla.
As we moved further into the festival we were amazed by the cornucopia of visual imagery and crazy sights. Everywhere you looked there was something that dragged your body towards it by your eyes. To see it all in three days would have been a massive ask, as you’d be hard pushed to get a good look at everything in three weeks. Looking back it’s so hard to remember everything from this multi-coloured maelstrom, but one thing that I really enjoyed was the psychedelic fire-engine, that sprayed out party tunes instead of high pressure water. It had a bunch of people dancing atop of its construction without a care in the world, making everyone who passed by smile with their insanity.
As we watched Little Dragon we found ourselves involved in a makeshift giant game of human skittles. We weren’t sure if this had been put on especially or if it was just a result of the bar being placed at the top of a hill with a giant mudslide acting as the only path in-and-out of the said area.
It’s worth mentioning the bald, egg shaped head of Hospital Records favourite DJ Danny Byrd too. He really made our first night rock with his crazy blend of old skool anthems and new school breaks in the Temple of Boom. Indiana Jones references aside, the one thing I’d like to mention is that strangely the stage wasn’t actually booming. Sound engineer to the stage, please?
This, apparently, was the dress up day. You wouldn’t have guessed as the people here seemed to merely need the incentive of a half smoked roll up to jump into a spandex bodysuit. None the less the theme was “Standing on Ceremony” although in classic UK festival fashion you could say it was more like standing on mud.
First up was a trip to the mud wrestling in the Colly-Silly-Um. This was totally in line with the crazy vibe to the whole place. It seemed to be the place to go for twenty something blokes to touch up their male friends in a way they’d always wanted to, but had always been afraid to do so down the local boozer.
Later that day we watched the floating lake stage burn like a casino in a Deep Purple song as we marched on a mission to catch the legendary Orbital headline the Great Stage. This has to be one of the musical high points of my summer, as we watched the hairs on ten thousand necks stand up to the icy cold melodies of Chime.
The memory that rides over all others of the day was at the fireworks display. A young woman standing with her fella broke down in tears, exclaiming her emotion for the incandescent, fleeting beauty of the moment. All her bloke could do was place his hand on her shoulder in some kind of attempt at sympathy as she sobbed “It’s just so fucking beautiful!”. Frankly we agreed and I think so did he.
As we ventured into the festival from the camp-site for the final day of revelry, we noticed specks of colour on the breeze. Apparently I’d missed the Veterans vs Virgins Gardeners Paint Fight, a fact I decidedly felt two ways about as I watched the rainbow of painted up party people stomp up the path like a cross between Woodstock and a gay pride march. Some guy stopped as we walked past to shake the spectrum of colour out of his hair. “This is the best moment of my life so far” he said, smiling at us.
Later on I saw a small crowd gathering and wondered if it was an impromptu band session or some performance art, but no, this was way better. Some dude had just helped himself to whole gram of ketamine and was attempting to dribble his way back to sanity. There’s always those who simply don’t know when to say nay to K.
As the sun set we saw a sight that sums up the vibe of the Secret Garden Party. Two stunt planes flew high above us in the sky, blazing a trail of smoke as they careered round the heavens to draw out a giant love heart. The crowd all watched in union, taken in for one sweet and soppy second where we all remembered what was important to us in life. The whole world of us suddenly conjoined in bliss for that wonderful moment.
Finally night fell and the Temple of Boom was now booming so we went to dance away the last few hours of our freedom to the wicked mash-up mixing of Krafty Kuts, before taking ourselves on a trip down memory lane with the Utah Saints. One of the best things about the Secret Garden Party was that, apart from the guy who was trying to save a thousand horses, you didn’t see that many people with eyes rolling back in their heads, sweating profusely. It’s like the vibe and the atmosphere were so good that you just got a real high from simply being there.
This was a festival that was all about the people and the atmosphere. There were good acts there, and it must have been about 70% DJs and 30% bands, but in all honesty (and I like to think I’m up on my music) I’d not heard of half of them. They seemed to book less well known, but still cool acts, and then spend the rest of the budget on production. You didn’t get Fatboy Slim or Kasabian, but that’s what made it good. Every act there was awesome and so up for playing the shit out of the event, that we didn’t hear a bad sound for the entire time we were there. Top marks to the selectors for picking out such a great musical line-up.
The food was excellent and thoroughly captured the street flavour vibe that’s been so popular these past couple of years. The organisers really do know how to make every aspect of their festival that contemporary. This even extends to the security where the usual bunch of ‘joke happy no-necks’ have been exchanged for polite and helpful types who look like they’re enjoying themselves as much as the campers.
For me, the true mark of a good festival is the after-taste. Like a good whiskey when the flavour returns to your mouth to give you a faint memory of the gorgeous, golden drop you’ve just put down your throat. You find yourself looking back over the experiences in your memory, chuckling to yourself as you stand in a queue at the bank, and you wish you were back there. That’s how I felt after the Secret Garden Party. Like there was a little part of my soul still there, dancing, smiling, being part of something bigger than myself in a world where the sun’s always setting and everyone’s in love with the world.
For more information, see our Secret Garden Party Guide.