Reviewing the Beat-herder festival according to the acts who played there is like judging a painting based solely on the particular brand of acrylic.
So that won’t be happening.
Instead, let’s just say that Primal Scream weren’t too badly missed, thanks to last minute replacements, James, making a heroic effort with what they called their ‘dance’ set on the main stage on Friday night; Easy Star All Stars, Digitalism, Beardyman and Gentleman’s Dub Club were the perfect daylight crowd-pleasers; and Todd Terje predictably tore up the main arena with a Sunday night headline slot that saw bouncing all the way up the hillside.
Notable mentions, too, should go to Abba tribute band Abba Arrival, and to Donovan, for successfully carrying out their role in bringing the vintage vibes this year.
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Mr Scruff’s epic Sunday set brought the chill, while the rave choir sang pop hits during Saturday and Sunday services round the corner. Regulars Utah Saints stormed a set that included New Order and Pitbull, and Captain Hotknives plus the Lancashire Hotpots led comedy singalongs as good this year as they ever have been.
Now, on to the main business. Beat-Herder Festival was the winner of the Extra Festival Activity Award at the UK Festival Awards for a very good reason. That reason being that it’s essentially a playground for adults, with some bands and DJs slotted here and there to entertain the explorers as they go.
A weekend isn’t quite enough time to see everything Beat-Herder has to offer, despite the fact that it’s still a relatively small area, because the level of detail put into this set-up is astounding. It lives on private land, owned by a very accommodating farmer, who loves the festival so much that he judges the annual talent competition, and lets the organisers take their sweet time creating the world of the festival.
The result is pure art. The ‘stages’ this year included standards such as the 70s paradise Beat- Herder and District Working Men’s Club with vintage corrie and cabaret; the Beat-Herder Parish Church complete with pews and stained glass windows; the Maison D’Etre live music venue styled up as a house; the Gay Paris disco with light-up dancefloor; the Toil Trees woodland stage; grassy arena Pratty’s Ring; Trash Manor, where the pole-dancing robots live; the flame- spouting Fortress; and the hard-edged Stumblefunk tent.
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The gradual growth of this festival from a one-night wonder of around 5,000 people to a three- day blow-out of around three times the size has been done so well that the original freeparty spirit is maintained, but with new additions every year that make arriving on site a lot like Christmas.
New to the landscape this year were the Bubba Gumma mirrored dance studio, the Sunrise UV psy-trance tent crevice, and a Wall of Death. The finest new entry, though, was the Illustrious Society, an oak-panelled hideaway with pass the parcel around a boardroom table, champagne on tap, and only the best dressed guests allowed to enter.
To top it all off, the ten-minute, unannounced firework display on the Saturday night rivalled any Bonfire Night celebration, and was a needless extravagance that demonstrates the festival’s desire to keep the nice surprises coming. Extra Festival Activity Award or not, Beat-Herder goes above and beyond.
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Words: Kate Wellham