Herd ’em up! 3 days of glorious sunshine in the Ribble Valley set the tone for what is consistently one of the highlights of the alternative festival season, The Beat-Herder. After the mud bath of 2012, did the festival hose itself down sufficiently to live up to it’s hard earned reputation in the alternative Northern dance scene?
One of the most noticeable things about The Beat-Herder that hits you from the very first moment you arrive on site is the attention to detail. Walking through the gate for the first time it is immediately clear that you are leaving normal life behind for at least the duration of the festival. The tongue in cheek humour and touches of genuine brilliance permeate everything. From the signs giving information out to “babbers” which manage to explain how it all works in a way that gives the impression of a truly shared endeavour, to the array of sculptures and epic structures that make up the main arena, the organisers seem to have their fingers firmly on the pulses of those who come here.
It’s sometimes tempting to forgive a lot of organisational mishaps at small festivals, but Beat-Herder raises the bar so high in this respect that it should be seen as the model for others. The feeling that the organisers and attendees are in it together is stronger here than anywhere else that springs to mind.
As a festival that is slowly growing in size, almost with a feeling of reluctance to grow too big, new introductions to the site are always going to be a potential minefield with such a staunchly loyal following. As with other elements, the organisers managed to get this spot on. The main new feature of this years festival was the impressive Fortress stage, a gigantic corrugated steel castle in the field beyond the main stage with fire-toting ramparts and a huge courtyard for revellers that was consistently packed to the rafters.
Also in this new field was the Maison D’Etre stage that showcased some amazing new talent with highlights being one man wonder THePETEBOX on Saturday night and the hugely impressive Public Service Broadcasting on Sunday who soldiered on through a set that unfortunately lacked (through technical malfunction) their giant television set for accompanying visuals.
Ticket sales for this year seemed slow in the build up which can likely be attributed to people waiting to see the weather reports following the torrential rain of 2012 creating an energy sapping mudbath. The organisers acknowledged this and many turned up on Friday to buy tickets on the door which may well have mopped some sweat from organisational brows. The adverse conditions last year meant that it took a full 2 months to disassemble a site which can usually be brought back to normal in a matter of weeks yet there were no signs of festival fatigue from any of the crew we met.
The intense sun created its own problems during the hottest parts of the day and several revellers suffered from sunstroke (and some pretty impressive sunburns) yet one of the biggest attractions at Beat-Herder is the ToilTrees sound system in the small wooded area at the centre of the site. Along with offering welcome shade from the sun, this area is home to some of the audible and visual highlights of the festival. This is where it all started before the festival grew to what it is today, and also where the organisers really go to town with a plethora of weird and wonderful structures.
There is a wooden church that holds regular services (with the hymn books containing a variety of classic disco hits) and a tattoo parlour where a string of people wait patiently to receive a coveted tattoo of the festival logo, a testament to the cult status it has. Everything in this area is designed for fun and with artists this year including Utah Saints, Mr Scruff and the immense Jaguar Skills, it has the perfect soundtrack to go with it.
Main stage acts showcase a mix of Beat-Herder favourites (such as the always entertaining Lancashire Hotpots), established performers and some inspired choices. Chic featuring Nile Rodgers, blasting out timeless disco hits like “Good Times” to an ecstatically receptive crowd towards the end of a sunny Friday evening will long be remembered by those who were there. Other highlights of the main stage were a well polished DJ set by Groove Armada on Friday, The Other Tribe and Slamboree on Saturday and the legendary Jimmy Cliff on Sunday which rounded off the weekend perfectly.
The Stumblefunk and Trailer Trash tents provided just the right balance to the musical offer and ensure that it is easy to find somewhere to lose the afternoon dancing. La La & The Booya played an incredible set at Stumblefunk on Friday despite the stage appearing to be the quietest on site, victim it seemed of an environmental health order to limit the volume. Despite drawing a huge crowd to this tent, Roni Size on Saturday night could barely be heard as engineers seemed to be fighting with the PA to squeeze a bit of extra volume out and many left after a short period of time as a result.
Beat-Herder is more than just a sum of the artists performing. It is near impossible to avoid being dragged in by the charm of the event and it is easy to see why it has such a cult status. From the Saturday night fancy dress extravaganza that some people seem to spend the whole year preparing for (each year it is themed on a letter spelling out BEATHERDER and this year was the letter T), to lazy afternoons spent in the BeatHerder and District Working Men’s Club watching top acts like Biscuit Head and the Biscuit Badgers, Foxes Faux and Captain Hotknives. It is a world within a world and a sensory wonderland which will leave many counting down the days until it all gets going again in 2014.