Every July since 2006, Lancashire’s usually idyllic Ribble Valley has offered visitors the chance to immerse themselves for three-days in one of the UKs most unexpectedly magical festivals.
This was my first time at Beat-Herder festival; a smooth entry on Friday afternoon compared to previous experiences of excruciatingly long queues at Glastonbury festival was an instant reminder of its relatively small capacity and size. Yet, Beat-Herder manages to attract some of music’s biggest names from a plethora of genres all the way from Pop-rock to Afro-funk.
The sun was scorching hot - despite the Met Office issuing amber warnings for potential floods. I was feeling smug to have left my wellies at home and survived the whole weekend without having to trudge through rain-induced mud. Within the cool shade of Toil Trees, the first stage created by Beat-Herder’s artistic producers, Carly G warmed up the afternoon with her set dedicated to the vocal house scene she has pioneered for the past few years. School disco classics from S Club 3 later on at the Beat-Herder stage reminded me of the ‘let’s not take things too seriously’ aura that the festival was already giving off.
[pullquote]School disco classics from S Club 3 later on at the Beat-Herder stage reminded me of the ‘let’s not take things too seriously’ aura that the festival was already giving off.[/pullquote]
It was hard to bypass Orbital headlining the Beat-Herder stage as I rushed past on my way to Toil Trees. Their set was as visually captivating as it sounded – technicolour strobes dazzled a packed-out crowd and lit up faces of those who have obviously supported brothers Phil and Paul since their rise to fame in the early 90s, and also those of a younger generation.
Delving into the early hours of Saturday morning, I alternated between Toil Trees, Trash Manor and The Ring. Another extremely likeable result of Beat-Herder’s size is that travelling between each stage takes a matter of minutes, and the journey isn’t something that needs to be pre-planned.
Grammy nominated ‘Cola’ and newest track ‘Panic Room’ have found unprecedented mainstream success for CamelPhat in the last year; they drew enormous attention from a sweaty broad of excitable onlookers in Toil Trees. However, after a while it was time to come up for air - Toil Trees was becoming a teeny bit too sweaty. I headed over to Trash Manor where two mechanical robots thrust themselves against a pole on either side of the stage whilst Horse Meat Disco played an eclectic disco-house set.
The journey from Toil Trees to Trash Manor took me through The Street. Many of Beat-Herder’s hidden gems can be unearthed here, such as boogying on the roof of a vintage car at The Garage opposite a tattoo parlour where you can get a Beat-Herder sheep tattoo! The Parish Church blared out heavy drum and bass and even hosted a secret gig from Paul Taylor on Saturday afternoon. On the corner was a telephone box masking the entrance to a random tunnel, which apparently led to a secret swimming pool, but after crawling through for 30 seconds I had to do an anticlimactic U-turn (the hoard people in front claimed it led to a dead end).
Next up at The Ring, DJ Zinc and Phibes managed to sustain an intense amount of energy with their appearances, a stage co-curated by Jez Willis –best known as one half of electronic dance duo Utah Saints. In my interview with Jez, he gave me his take on the transitions electronic music has witnessed since the beginning of his career in the early 90s.
I headed back to a much cooler Toil Trees to see Newcastle DJ Patrick Topping playing his set before OC & Verde closed the stage, an exciting prospect for the two DJs who have received acclaim in the past two years - being named as Pete Tong’s 2017 ‘ones to watch’ and then featuring in the dance legend’s 2018 New Names Mixes.
On Saturday, HoneyFeet graced the Beat-Herder stage before Boney M alleviated the exhaustion from Friday’s antics with their up beat, feel good set of classic sing-a-long anthems - even the most hungover ravers probably couldn’t resist enjoyment.
Next, I kickstarted a busy day of interviews on Saturday with Leeds-born house DJ Miguel Campbell, whose energetic set I caught later on at Toil Trees. In the afternoon I spoke to all female Mancunian rock band PINS. Lead singer Faith explained the logistics behind their recent collaboration with Iggy Pop on the track ‘Aggrophobe’. Initially this seemed to be something worth celebrating, however my curiosity was greeted with a bit of sarcasm that suggested the project has drawn the most attention in an EP containing other noteworthy and less talked-about tracks.
Saturday evening came quickly; first I sat down with OC & Verde, congratulating them on closing Toil Trees the night before. Next up, I speak to Erol Alkan - a highly regarded music producer with his own ideas at the absolute forefront, which has gained him consistent success in an ever-changing electronic-dance music scene for over 25 years.
Erol and I are both eager to see Soulwax headline the Beat-Herder stage straight after our chat finishes; the electronic ensemble exceeded my expectations in every aspect with the most intricate set of the weekend. Three onstage drummers performed perfectly in time on their single ‘It Is Always Binary’ and definitely affirmed themselves as my favourite act of the weekend.
Another chaotic night of catching as many sets as possible began with Utah Saints at The Ring, followed by Mella Dee at the Fortress, then Australian DJ and cocktail connoisseur Fisher at Toil Trees. To finish the night at Toil Trees there was a highly anticipated appearance from Global legend Pete Tong.
Just under 48 hours since arriving, and after an absolute whirlwind at Beat-Herder, I was disappointed that Paul Simon’s final gig in London meant I had to pack up my things and leave in morning. I was missing out on a stellar Sunday line-up: Django Django, Congo Natty and the Rezistance Live, Mr Scruff, even local heroes The Lancashire Hotpots, to name a few.
Inevitably, Beat-Herder is likely to increase in popularity – which it definitely deserves. However, I just hope this doesn’t alter its uniqueness, which has made it such a special destination for so many people. From what I witnessed it is perhaps one of the only UK festival that truly resonates with its humble beginnings as a ‘rave in the woods’ –And with so much of the festival yet for me to discover, I shall definitely be returning.