The sun is out and everyone’s chattering at once as we head out of London on the M4 on our way to the depths of Wiltshire for this year’s Wild Life festival. It's been a long week but that's ancient history and I can't help but smile as this mess of concrete and white lines takes us further from the city.
Wild Life is the festival set up a couple of years back by Frank Broughton and Bill Brewster, the guys behind the clubbing institution that is Low Life. After two successful years at an idyllic location in darkest Dorset volume issues raised by neighbors forced them to up sticks and look for a new home. Originally they planned to have a break this year but a perfect site came up and there was no turning back.
Set just down the road from Avebury, at the heart of pagan Wiltshire, the site was a contrast from the intimate, wooded bowl from last year. Over a mile from the nearest houses, you pull off a winding country lane and head up a private farm track and you feel like you’re leaving civilization far behind. Before long the lane gives way to a wide, open field at the head of a little valley. Up ahead is the main tent, the food vans and the caravan parking. Off to the right the path winds its way around broken ground to the after-hours woodland tent and the campsite.
Image credit: Instant Forever
The line-up is a nice mixture of old and new. There’s a healthy crop of acts that regulars will be more than familiar with such as the Low Life crew themselves, and also the likes of Chris Duckenfield and Ray Mang. Alongside these guys they’ve brought in some great new blood such as the Peckham impresario Bradley Zero and Debukas, whose live set of warm open house music with him singing over the top was a breath of fresh air. During the day the action takes place in the main tent and this year, thank all that is sacred, they can really let the sound system rip. After 2am though this shuts down and there’s a wobbly, wonky exodus to the after-hours tent in the woods where we dance until the sun is trying to poke its head above the valley top.
For me, festivals often involve a lot of compromise. Ok you get to enjoy some amazing music but you have to put up with a lot of shite. You have to put up with expensive drinks, money grabbing corporate bullshit and often draconian and invasive security measures. You have to put up with a lot of crap to get your fun and this is why, as a rule, I avoid them. If you’re like me, you will find Wild Life the perfect antidote to the usual “festival experience”. It’s small enough to feel intimate but large enough to make new friends. The music is on point but still varied. You haven’t got security breathing down your neck the whole time and the portaloo fairies manage to keep them as fresh as a daisy for the duration.
For the whole weekend there’s a real sense of fun in the air. Up on the hill above the food stalls the team have set up huge, white, Hollywood-esque letters spelling out LOWLIFE. It didn’t take long for some joker to rearrange them into LOLWIFE (have they met my Mrs?) My one complaint is that, come Sunday at 3pm, it really feels too early to be leaving. But you have to remember that this isn’t the kind of big operation associated with multi-day, multi stage festivals. Wild Life really is just teetering on the brink between well organised rave in a field and a festival and that, for me, is the beauty of it.
Image credit: Instant Forever
The recent announcement by Bill and Frank that they were bringing both the festival and the club night to an end brought mixed emotions. I totally understand why they want to gracefully retire Lowlife after 20 long and wonderful years. It’s better to go out on a high rather than limping to the knackers yard. But it was their decision to nip Wild Life in the bud after only 3 years that I couldn’t get my head around. After the first two installments there was such love from everyone I spoke to
, which seemed to have increased after the current year. Why would you get something so good up and running only to knock it on the head straight away? So it was a huge relief when they informed me that they’re hoping to keep this going and plan to be back either in 2016 or 2017 in the same location.
Whenever they decide to do it again, and I know a lot of people will join me in pleading with them to go for it, I most certainly will be there.
With bells on.
Saturday night in the “main arena” with the Lowlife Allstars smashing it out of the park all night.
Disco dodgems on the dancefloor.
Some guy coming up to me to ask if it was actually my hair or a wig. Apparently he and his mates had been having an in depth discussion on the point. It was a fluffy hat.
Deciding to take the direct route through the long grass, boulders and nettles in the pitch dark whilst “a little bit tipsy”.
Disco-ball-gate: under the decks is no place for a disco ball. End of.
Signs up stating “No Human Sacrifice”. Three words: Nanny. Fucking. State.
2 nights just doesn’t do this place justice.
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All images copyright Instant Forever Photography