“I bet this place is well Brexit” I hear the person next to me say, as we take in scene of freshly mown verges, charity shops and a pub with a Union Jack fluttering lazily on a flagpole outside. We're following a stream of ravers pouring out of Baldock station dispersing out into the town to find taxis, off licences and pub toilets. Once a year this sedate town in Hertfordshire is a way-station on a small but meaningful migration. An exodus of people with questionable morals, outlandish attire and a penchant for glitter as they travel from their dull, concrete abodes to the pastoral playground that is FARR festival. The inhabitants of Baldock watch on patiently as we waft about the place, chattering like troupes of sequinned monkeys.
FARR runs from Thursday to Sunday but we're only up for the Saturday night. London is a hot, stinking mess as we traverse the mass transit system, heavy denim tugging at our clammy legs. After a few days of hot weather, any escape from the concrete prison of the big smoke is a blessing but the spot chosen for FARR is like some kind of Shangri-La. Set in an endless expanse of golden wheat fields, the stages nestle in a series of clearings in a small wood and that only enhances the feeling of seclusion from the outside world. The only sinister aspect is the numerous shotgun cartridges that litter the floor. I presume that this is part of a local tradition where the villagers come out to hunt down the stragglers at the end of the festival. I keep this to myself, not wanting to spoil the anyone's fun. They'll find out soon enough.
For a moderately sized festival, the line up is impressive. The organisers clearly know their onions. We have US house royalty such as Maurice Fulton and Mike Dunn; for the techno connoisseurs we have the likes of Helena Hauff and Ben UFO; for the Caledoniophiles we have the likes of Harri, Telfort and Optimo and for those continental sorts we have the likes of Young Marco and Moomin.
With no clear goal in mind we wander aimlessly through the woods and, at the end of the night, I'm surprised I've managed to tick off quite a few of the artists I wanted to see. Paranoid London ripped things up with their live set of jacking acid. I love their records and so was very pleased that they make the transition to the stage so well. Helena Hauff is a formidable DJ. After listening to lots of her mixes I've wanted to see her spin in the flesh for some time now and I was not disappointed one bit. And, last but not least the Optimo boys brought the proceedings at the Adventures in Success stage to a hugely satisfying conclusion.
With the current proliferation of small to medium sized festivals it's clear that there' a lot of competition in the market at the moment but with its setting, musical outlook and friendly crowd you could do much worse than choose this Hertfordshire mega-rave next year. As we stumbled back through the wheat fields in the cool early morning to find a cab to take us back to civilisation I'm wondering, with a contented (and contorted) grin on my face “why has it taken me so long to come here?”
Writing courtesy of Joe Europe...
Festivals are a great place for mates. Like those people camped opposite you, hey wow they’re not weirdos, let’s hang out and be mates! Or perhaps the mate you didn’t really know that well before, and through a whole weekend of shared euphoria you become best mates. Or maybe the humble ‘already good mates anyway’ and a festival just added another string to the rainbow coloured bow that is you guys being mates. Either way, a good festival is like a bottle of gin to a mates tonic. And Farr Festival, being just that, is like a whole big mates club, mates everywhere, mates as far as the eye can see.
Situated in Baldock, Hertfordshire, only a quite big stones throw away from London, the festival is ridiculously easy to get to, and even though I came at peak time on a Friday there were ample taxi’s available and getting onto the site was a doddle. From the leaving the train station to being spruced and ready to moose I’d say it can’t of taken longer than an hour, and that included me wrestling on the floor with a cheap Argos tent whilst pissed on those fruity Strongbow cider cans. That’s the good thing about Farr, it knows that it’s never going to be a behemoth like Glastonbury or even a sprawling Tory fest like Secret Garden Party. It’s grounds are only a modest campsite, a sloping open field with bars and fairground rides and a forest area where all the raving, dancing and becoming mates takes place, under the dappled sunlight of the day or luminous glowing lighting of the night. You could see the whole site in about an half an hour if you power walked it, but that for me was a massively positive thing rather than anything to discredit it. At a time when promoters and festival curators are always looking to expand, get bigger and ram more people in, to have a truly; and I hate to use the word but I’m going to have to, to have a truly ‘boutique’ festival that is small but perfectly formed is refreshing, and something of a relief.
And perfectly formed is exactly what it was. Every stage in the woods was a thing of beauty. When Dance Tunnel took over the ‘Adventures In Success’ stage, they managed to get the lighting so that it actually made you feel like you were at Dance Tunnel. At ‘The Shack’, the ground sloped all around the stage so you felt like you were in a little mini woodland pool, and the bright shining white lights it beamed out cut through the trees beautifully. The most impressive stage for me though was the new for this year ‘Hidden Palace’, with it’s huge towering eye looming over the decks and secluded location it really cranked up the atmosphere of any set being played there, especially at night. It looked like every single stage had been lovingly crafted, rather hastily built, and was lovely to see.
Also what was lovely to see was a line up on Friday and Saturday to rival any dance music festival out there, as well as having room for some new and upcoming names to boot. In Friday day time there were great sets from the Love Glove boys, Funkineven, Ally Tropical, Mr Solid Gold and Park Ranger, perhaps lesser known than the headliners but still playing some serious tunes in the scorching heat. Then on Friday night there was really, for a festival as small as this, almost too much choice. Andrew Weatherall played a blinder with his ‘Love From Outer Space’ alias at ‘The Hidden Palace, Jeremy Underground got me all choked up when he dropped ‘Liem - If Only I Could’ at ‘The Shack and then there was The Terrace, where Trouble Vision hosted a six hour back to back to back of perhaps the finest three selectors out there at the moment in Joy Orbison, Midland and Ben UFO. I could try explain how intensely amazing it was but the only thing I can say about it is that I literally needed to have a sit down a good couple of times over the course of it. All the while, because the festival site was so neatly compact, if you wanted to flit between stages at any point, or perhaps pop off to rush your nuts off on the swings whilst listening to jump up Drum N Bass, you could.
Saturday rolled around, and my was it a scorcher. Both in terms of how good the music was but also in terms of me now having an extremely burnt head and a vest tan that makes me look like Cletus The Slackjawed Yokel. Obviously the Adventures In Success Stage was easily the best and most cutting edge stage all day and night, because it was hosted by your very own Ran$om Note (good mates). No but seriously, from midday onwards they had hardcore blaring out, then jungle, then some amazing DJ’s in the shape of Young Marco, Maurice Faulton, Paranoid London and Optimo, all playing one after the other, with incredible visuals behind (a fruit machine seemed to stick in my mind) and amazing lighting in the night.
But enough about how great Ran$om Note is (pretty great just FYI), believe it or not there was also a whole other festival to see and pump my techno fist to, and pump my techno fist is exactly what I did to great DJ’s like Giles Peterson, Denis Sulta and Red Light Disco. By the time John Talabot played the final set at The Shack, that carried on an hour longer into Sunday morning than it should’ve, I was tired, sunburnt but elated. And Talabot, being the cheeky selector he is, still had a few surprises in store, namely playing Traumprinz - All The Things (a personal fave and a bit of an emotional moment for me) then finishing up the set with a huge extended mix of Chic - Everybody Dance. It was a special moment to finish such a great festival with such a classic song as the grey of the morning slowly drifted through the forest, and one I’ll remember for a good while.
So that, as they say, was that. After a few after parties back at the campsite in which my mates took it upon themselves to be queens of the dance to the tinny sounds of dancehall blaring out our mini rigs, I got some kip and was ready to roll out fresh as a daisy Sunday morning. Again, by shortening the length of the festival to just Thursday on till Saturday it actually works so much better for a working week, and getting back to bed on Sunday night was much needed.
So all in all, a great time was had by all, including many new mates made, and many other mates ties strengthened. Because it’s hard not to have a great time with your mates, new or old, when you’re at as good a place as Farr, and long may it continue to reign as the king of the small festival circuit.
Writing courtesy of William Wasteman...
Photo Credit: Here & Now Photos