Beat-Herder has been my go-to festival as a post- Glastonbury antidote for a few years now - after the massiveness of the Glastonbury behemoth it's great to go to a festival that burns just as bright but in a more compact intense form. Of course there was no preceding Big G this year but that's a minor detail - we weren't going to let that stop us herdin' up again for fun and frolics in the Ribble Valley (and I have to get this review started somehow).
We time our arrival for mid-afternoon leaving enough time to get on site and pitched up with a couple of hours to spare before the arena opens at 4pm. Beat-Herder doesn't do the Thursday opening for a 'chill-out day' before the festival starts proper thing. The campsites open at 9.00am on Friday if you want to get on site as early as possible, but there's little to do until the arena opens at 4. Indeed if you live locally you could just about do this festival weekend without taking time off work (though having Monday off is desirable obviously!) and I spoke to a few people who were doing just that. I like that about it - it's uncompromising.
This year the percussive beats from drumming outfit Drum Machine are the first act on the the main stage and are like a cacophonous call to action as people pour in through the arena gates from the campsites. It's a warm dry evening ideal for ambling around, and on surveying the site the layout is unchanged from recent years with the stages and venues in familiar spots. For the circa 12k (I'm guessing) attendees there's an impressive 13 venues in the program to sample and then there's probably at least another half dozen micro-venues hiding around the site in various corners and via underground tunnels to discover - I'm sure I still haven't found them all.
The festival's beginnings as a rave in the woods is at the core of this festival but with an emphasis on dance rhythms of all shades (and more besides) now in evidence. Friday evening's mainstage line-up gets the dance beats going (after a mass-karaoke singalong that is) with the tight afro-funk sounds of Ibibio Sound Machine who are followed by a quality live performance of drum n' bass from High Contrast. Back again this year, Orbital topped the evening main stage line up off with a set of new and vintage techno bleepery and a visually great stage set. Things are far from over when the main stage closes (at midnight) and the beats continue oozing from every pore into the early hours around the site. Raving in the woods under lantern-decorated trees (The Toil Trees stage) is a perennial favourite place to go for many, with the downside that it can get a little swamped at times, and so it was that we finished this Friday night at the more chilled (but still jumpin') Smokey Tentacles tent - a fine first night.
The previous day's cloudy skies clear up on Saturday, raising temperatures, and it's apparent the hot dry weather of recent weeks had returned for the weekend ( due to the especially dry conditions a last minute ban on barbecues and cautionary advice to smokers about disposal of cigarette butts was issued by the organisers) so we adopt a strategy of watching bands on the open air Beat-Herder Stage and retreating to cooler shadier places in between acts. Fortunately there's lot of shady places to choose from so it isn't hard to get out of the sun and cool off and our between-band jaunts take us all around the site. The music on the main stage is a more eclectic mix today and quality stuff too with great sets from The Orange Circus Band, Honeyfeet, Morcheeba and Dreadzone.
Unfortunately seeing Boney M twice in two years exceeds my quota, so we swerve them widely in favour of a nice cup o' tea, followed by an Oasis singalong set by Definitely Mightbe in the surprisingly cool (considering it's corrugated tin-box construction) The Factory venue. As the heat of the day ebbs away and darkness descends the excellently crescendo-building firework display leads us into the 2nd night. French techno rockers Soulwax take to the stage with a curtain-drop reveal of monochrome stage set, and 3 drum kits no less, and perform a credible headline show.
And then the whole audience went Pete Tong. Well, not everyone - we take a look, decide it's once again too busy in the Toil Trees for us oldies, and go for an ambling tour around the site eventually finding ourselves back at The Factory in time for something completely different - the barmy world of sci-fi space rockers Henge who took us on a voyage to unknown worlds. Could anyone else see dancing mushrooms or was that just me? As if my noodle wasn't twisted enough already.
There's more than a few sore head's around on Sunday, and if you haven't got a sore head after 2 nights at Beat-Herder you're not trying hard enough. Thus begins the last day and this is a shorter day - when the cacophony of noise from the site suddenly goes eerily quiet at midnight. But a great day is had taking things at an easy pace and quite possibly my favourite day of the weekend this year. Not least because it's Reggae afternoon on the main stage - this year with Hollie Cook followed by David Rodigan whose DJ set was of the highlights of the weekend and had the whole audience digging deep for moves. There's also room to move this afternoon at the Toil Trees and time to take in some of Mr Scuff's four hour residency and sway around in dappled sunshine under the trees. On paper the London Afrobeat Orchestra playing Talking Heads material sounded like just my bowl of rhubarb, but in the event left me rather underwhelmed (not enough Talking Heads!). Over on the nearly empty Stumblefunk stage, Evil Blizzard blasted out the fuzzy cobwebs for those present with 4 x bass guitars worth of thunderous camped-up riffing - all good fun.
By the time Django Django took to the main stage for their closing set my fuel tank was running low - one more photo call, one more pint from the bar, and time to head for my camping spot on the hill to take in the search-lights and strobes sweeping the night sky, and listen to the sudden quiet that descends as the curfew hour arrives.
Goodnight Beat-Herder you've once again set the benchmark for putting on a great party for a great party crowd. I don't know how the scramble for Glastonbury tickets will go but I'll surely be herdin' up your way again regardless.
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