Secret Garden Party 2023 review: an otherworldly utopia

We sent Ben Jolley to check out Cambridge's Secret Garden Party.

Skiddle Staff

Date published: 24th Jul 2023

Secret Garden Party has always possessed an otherworldly aura. A temporary utopian paradise where real-life troubles are left at the gate, the Cambridgeshire four-dayer has forever been much more than just a music festival. And that was certainly the case for the 2023 edition: with its science-fiction-inspired theme of ‘A New Hope’, the rural farmland became a haven of endless discovery and hedonistic optimism.


On the ground, space-age fancy dress inspiration resulted in many Star Wars characters and aliens making an appearance, while the countless stages were decked out with handmade planets and giant rockets. On a deeper level, ‘A New Hope’ chimed with SGP’s long-standing inclusive ethos: it was clear that everyone on site - a mix of ages, genders, sexualities and races - felt free, and proud, to be themselves.


This was particularly true of Circus Maximus which, with He.She.They in charge of programming, became the place to be for ravers: Syreeta and Cinthie B2B Anna Wall brought the pumping vocal house vibes while the UK’s first drag queen drum & bass DJ, Nathan X, upped the tempo with wild pop edits. 


However, Circus Maximus was just one of many locations where dance music fans could get their fix. On Saturday evening, particularly, the main stage hosted some undisputed rave royalty, with Fabio & Grooverider, Leftfield and Underworld (‘Born Slippy’ remains a timeless classic) one after the other. First off, joined by the Outlook Orchestra, Fabio & Grooverider delivered a drum ‘n’ bass history lesson. “Make some noise for the longevity of this music,” Grooverider said, acknowledging that he and Fabio are still doing what they always wanted 30 years after people told them they should get a second job. The journey through the time machine was completed thanks to a mud-splattered orange space hopper which went flying overhead while everyone threw their best shapes. 


Contrastingly, by Sunday afternoon the annual paint fight had turned the crowd into a sea of colour – a picturesque sight ahead of SGP favourite David Rodigan’s hour of bass-heavy jungle, d’n’b and reggae. Now a Sunday staple, he dropped Nia Archives’ ‘Mash Up The Dance’, Willow Kayne’s ‘Mr Universe’ and a new Flowdan heater alongside all his old-school jungle selections. “I’ve got to go soon because I want to get home for ‘Antiques Roadshow’,” Rodigan jokes, having obliterated the speakers. “This garden party is still special for me, and I hope it is for you,” he says, acknowledging the fact that SGP was the first non-reggae festival he played in his 45-year career. 



(Image credit: Andrew Whitton/Fanatic)


Up next, the legendary turntable scratch DJ Grandmaster Flash delivered a humble speech before working his way through the history of hip-hop, which ended with a mass jump-along for the classic House Of Pain hit as the sun beamed down. On a different but equally exciting tip, Roisin Murphy’s futuristic disco hit the spot – and she clearly got the fancy dress memo: wearing a shiny multi-coloured dress and swishing its rainbow tail (the first of many outfits), she waved a floppy inflatable alien around while performing infectious groover ‘Incapable’, new track ‘CooCool’ and a gradually-teased percussion-heavy rendition of ‘Sing It Back’, which reached new levels of euphoria. 


The rave continued at the Where The Wild Things Are stage which was a home for several smaller electronic artists to prove why they are so exciting. A runaway highlight was Le Boom’s euphoric club-poetry (think an Irish For Those I Love, but far more energetic) who transformed an empty crowd into an intimate yet lively session. Less serious than Bicep but equally as fun and energetic as Fredagain.., it’s easy to imagine them blowing up very quickly, especially with songs like ‘Every Night’ and ‘So Close To Me’. Similarly impressive was Charlotte Plank who, despite the pouring rain, wasted no time in getting the party going. After kicking off with Rudimental collaboration ‘Dancing Is Healing’, she ran through several new tracks, including her upcoming Danny Byrd team-up ‘Let You Know’ and massive tune ‘Rave Out’. Throughout, the audience stayed with her - including a woman who was eight months pregnant. 



(Image credit: Andrew Whitton/Fanatic)


A few minutes walk away, the lakeside Pagoda provided a picturesque setting for upbeat house sets from Krystal Klear and Hannah Laing. The spaceship-themed Drop (shaped like a tie-fighter, of course) hosted Blond:ish, and gave a platform to many, including female DJ collective Huns N Roses whose energetic set cured hangovers on Saturday afternoon. 


As if that wasn’t enough, a plethora of pop-up clubs ensured there was plenty of fun to be had further off the beaten track. Venus Penis, which had its own checkered dancefloor, was full when Skiddle wandered in as a DJ played a hedonistic edit of Icona Pop’s iconic ‘I Love It’. Then there was Ministry of Hound, whose decks were positioned inside a glitter-covered toy-dog-surrounded kennel, naturally. And, for those who prefer their electronic music a little more experimental, the forest provided a fitting home for harder sounds, with sets by Ploy, Batu, Hodge and Peverlist taking things in a darker direction.  


Overall, this year’s Secret Garden Party - which also hosted a stunning drone and firework spectacle and a gravity-defying aircraft flyover - really did feel like visiting another planet. 



(Image credit: Matt Higgs)



Check out our What's On Guide to discover even more rowdy raves and sweaty gigs taking place over the coming weeks and months. For festivals, lifestyle events and more, head on over to our Things To Do page or be inspired by the event selections on our Inspire Me page.








Header image credit: Andrew Whitton/Fanatic

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