With the hysteria surrounding Bloc 2012 down to a brooding hum, the two weeks after the fiasco feeling gradually switched from scornful disdain to dull aching disappointment. London's clubbing elite found itself in need of a little something to reinstate dance festival faith, especially after near-on three months of summer drizzle and a dearth of sunshine. As a result, all eyes are on the 10th anniversary of Secret Garden Party this weekend. Four days of quaint English countryside fit for a cider bottle label. The promise of the most creatively planned production in Britain and a covert, self-effacing booking policy. All just an hour and a half drive from London. No questions asked.
Rushing up the North Circular towards Huntingdon on the A1 on Friday evening in a bid to avoid the post-work traffic, however, the outlook is already slightly precarious. Reports that the site had already been churned into a giant Mississippi mud pie would mean one of two things: the likelihood of more rain would turn the site into a gushing floodplain of biblical equation or a pernicious swell of clay-like cement would follow a period of dry (god-forbid) sunny weather. For a change, the latter is forecast, meaning that anyone without a pair of wellies superglued to their soles is destined to encounter big trouble. For this correspondent – only able to grab a cheap pair of walking boots one size too big thanks to a delivery cock-up at a local superstore days before the festival – the prospect is a tad perturbing.
After an unsettling slide through a mud-tracked field/car park and a wading trudge toward the Close Encounter floodlights of the main site, the dramatic extent of the mud situation is revealed. Getting across the site is not only a chore. It's a struggle to avoid slipping bum first into a sea of glistening slop. Though, with the luminous-lit ferris wheel and helter skelter perched majestically on the horizon; arty treats and hay bales dotted at every juncture – a giant wicker fox, enormous fires and handmade timber stage structures surrounded by acres of forests yet to be explored – it's hard not to be consumed by the buzz. Plus, the prospect of unstable ravers falling arse over tit is always worthy of a wry smile.
Cartoonish animal onesies, foppish military attire and dainty parasols make up a mismatch of many flamboyant styles and discreetly placed placards reading slogans like 'Jesus Paves: Rates Competitive' and 'Blood Sacrifices Daily' reflect the tongue-in-cheek (and very much warped) pseudo-religion supporting the event. It's impossible to resist the incessant urge to explore.
A track through some spooky woods leads us to a place where Seth Troxler is enchanting an absurdly good-looking congregation at a busy The Artful Badger stage. Swaying and bobbing behind two scantily dressed dancers donning leopard-skin loin cloths and zebra heads, Seth's lascivious funk is clearly having primal affect on the writhing congregation below.
Meanwhile, just around the corner at The Labyrinth, a hidden outdoor stage with an undisclosed line-up serviced via a three-foot hole and a snaking corridor, Eats Everything is administering a familiar dose of his bespoke meaty re-edits of Crazy P, Adam F and Murk to this dimly lit clandestine corner of the festival adorned tastefully with glowing lanterns. More secluded and sheltered than most others on the site, The Labyrinth – host to superb DJ sets from Bad Passion, No Artificial Colours and Amos from Waif & Strays this weekend – is comfortably packed and the least mud-caked of them all, offering grateful respite from an evening of travelling, pitch-black tent fumbling and laborious stagger through sludge.
Day two, the sun makes its balmy and unfamiliar presence known as it takes strides stirring the ground into the thick, viscous paste we had feared. By 2pm, with remnants of yesterday's antics lingering foggily, the sight of frantic ravers in distress, rooted to the spot, being hoisted by the flailing limbs by obliging mates makes for a montage of amusing You've Been Framed moments until we make it to The Drop; a dancefloor pit at the bottom of a steep hill, with a sci-fi hexagonal pod for a DJ booth, where No Artificial Colours are easing the spritely people dotted across the grass through a heady deep house journey.
Beside the lake at floating stage The Pagoda – where Eats Everything (clearly the world's most prolific DJ) is working the rammed collective to extreme levels of fevered rapture – we find the queue stretching over the bridge, past the brook and presumably all the way back to Hackney. It's not likely to get any better either, considering Jamie Jones and Troxler are due to play in less than an hour. It's the same story the following day for Kubicle, which goes to show that witholding line-ups of this scale does little to prevent news spreading like wildfire, encouraging every raver and his dog to a corner of the site capable of holding just over a couple of hundred. The result is a trek back to the more spacious garms of The Drop, where the stacks of hay offer plenty of room for spangled ravers slathered in powder paint and glitter to get wonky and chat breeze in the blazing sunshine until night descends, and we are entitled to the most spectacular firework display we've ever encountered.
Despite not being able to catch an excellent selection of DJs in the blazing sunshine of The Pagoda, which serves as the only real disappointment of the weekend – apart from not being at the crew afterparty to confirm reports of anatomy exposure from certain esteemed members of the industry – Secret Garden Party has once again proven its worth as an exceptionally well-run music festival, executed with a remarkable eye for crooked beauty. Less reliance on music and greater focus on art, performance and cheeky faux-philosophy ignites this event within the collective imagination of its people, rather than weighing it down with an over-reliance on the usual who is playing what and where. After 10 years in the game, the festival has not only grown organically but retained is character without losing sight of its original ethos: to brighten up people's summer with an magical explosion of effervescent colour. Exactly what we've needed.
Words: Adam Saville
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