Secret Garden Party 2013 Review

From lake stages to fireworks to pig racing, Katie Grange reviews the bonkersness of Secret Garden Party

Jimmy Coultas

Last updated: 8th Aug 2013

Main Image: Marc Sethi

“Roll uuup, roll uuup for the mystery tour/ The magical mystery tour is hoping to take you awaaay/Hoping to take you awaaay…” To quote The Beatles is a brave move, but these famous lyrics seem to encapsulate what Secret Garden Party is all about. From the minute you walk through the gates it is clear that the aim is to take you on a journey.

From the stunning lake stage accessed only by boat, to the hidden forest wonderlands, random acts of debauchery, or art installations; every minute detail of the festival is well thought-out and integral to the Garden magic. Hedonism, patriotism, wonderfulness and weirdness; Secret Garden Party has it all.

This year’s theme was Superstition, and it is one of the only UK festivals where the fancy dress is as important as the programming. From day one people donned cat ears, feather headdresses and LOTS of glitter. The crowd is a blend of twenty-something hipsters, old school hippies and music loving families, and they all get involved in the dress-up… bar one or two naturists.

The Colo-Silly-Um, as you might guess from the name, is where you find much of the debauchery, from blindfolded boxing to naked mud wrestling, and even a game involving poppers. Move to dance-off stage and you have beatboxers and chicken dancers, or people who read your bums in the Clairvoyance tent and remember to dodge the pigs racing for their life. Only at Secret Garden.

With so much going on it can be easy to forget that SGP is still a music festival at heart. Shying away from the big headliners in favour of credible artists, breaking acts or underground musicians, a quick glance at the line-up would leave you feeling unimpressed, yet that would be missing the point. This festival is just as much about stumbling upon genres you’ve never heard of, as it is discovering new acts or reliving old ones.

An example was the feel-good sounds of group General Roots, who made us get our skank on to sun soaked reggae beats. Their high energy performance and personal nature created a great atmosphere and succeeded in getting everyone moving – a perfect soundtrack to a sunny Friday afternoon.

On the main stage The Strypes, a young four piece rhythm and blues band, blasted out their classic rock n roll sound that was reminiscent of a 60’s Dr Feelgood. Django Django, who brought their psychedelic rock to the Garden, played their first ever main stage headline set to a roaring crowd, their perfect blend of guitars, synths and visuals creating an infectious vitality.

2ManyDJs and Faithless took the tempo to new levels on Saturday night with hits such as ‘E talking’, from the former’s group Soulwax, and the latter’s festival staple ’Insomnia’ making crowds erupt with fervour. Slot a 30 minute firework display in between these two and you have yourself the start of a pretty special evening.

Image: Marc Sethi

The festival is well-known for their fireworks, and this accompanied with the lighting of the Lake Stage this is by far one of the highlights of the weekend. There are not many events that you can congregate 80% of the audience in one space at once but this is exactly what makes it so extraordinary. It’s the shared passion and bond of 15,000 people in between the “oohs” and the “aahs” of the stunning pyrotechnics and cheesy tunes.

Another highlight of the weekend was the discovery of secret gigs and, like Glastonbury, many artists turn up just for the sheer love of the festival. We caught an outstanding set from 2manydjs and Jarvis Cocker in the Black Cat, a gem of a find and a climax to the weekend. The duo weaved in electronic stompers from the likes of Hercules & Love Affair and The Chemical Brothers with 80’s classics such as The Human League and the blistering seventies rock of Ram Jam’s ‘Black Betty’, whilst the ever-so-smooth Jarvis crooned over the top.

This unlikely collaboration was exactly the feel-good set we needed and was made even more special by the intimate setting it was in. Other surprise gigs over the weekend included a DJ Set from Chase & Status, as well as not one but two back-to-back sets from Disclosure, Skream and Artwork. A bass and garage-lovers dream, the packed set was lively and every drop was met with sheer delight from the crowd.

However the best performance without a doubt was a short but sweet set from London Grammar on Sunday Night. The gorgeous band has become a new favourite after this exquisite set, with tracks such as ‘Metal and Dust’ and ‘Wasting My Young Years’ soaked in an aura of purple and green illuminated trees, quite literally taking our breath away.

As well as the live performance SGP also puts on a great dance program with stages such as The Drop, Temple of Boom and Pogoda providing the beats and taking the festivities into the small hours. One stage which we spent most of our sunrise shifts in was the appropriately-named Labyrinth. A hidden woodland passage filled with scenes from Alice in Wonderland made the find even more special, as we coasted our way through pianos, hanging mirrors, hidden doorways and a meeting with the Mad Hatter himself.

Once at the end we danced to sets from the likes of Eats Everything, Futureboogie and No Artificial Colours, taking in the summary house vibes under a canopy of lit-up trees. Our only criticism would be that the sound was way too quiet with no bass at all. In fact it’s the one downside of the festival as a whole, the sound was just too quiet after hours and sadly ruined some of the sets. Acts such as Public Service Broadcasting were hardly audible.

Image: Seb Barros

Other dance acts enjoyed over the weekend included Jamie Jones, Damian Lazarus and Matthew Johnson, who rocked the packed Sunday afternoon Pagoda stage with a tougher-than-average set. There wasn’t a Hot Natured tune in sight and instead we were delighted to hear classics such as ‘Downpipe’ from Mark Night & D.Ramirez Vs. Underworld.

Regina Spektor finished off a beautiful Sunday night and as we sat on the hill listening to the lovely Samson, we reflected on 4 days of utter exhilaration. Granted, the music programming could have been better. But where it falls behind in in big headliners and sound levels it more than makes up for in hedonism and brilliance.

The crowd is great, the fancy dress is fun, the food is delightful (the toilets not-so-much), the activities are bonkers and setting spectacular. Never before have we laughed, cried, cheered, booed, created or experienced as much as we had at this festival; and we can guarantee that you won’t either.


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