Live Review: Farr Festival 2014

As English festivals go, Farr is certainly not one of the biggest, but, for reasons described below, it’s one of our favourites around.

Thursday

Stamp The Wax opened the festival at the Flying Circus Stage with residents starting off with downbeat hip-hop and disco to ease the crowd into the weekend, while Admin later brought the evening sunbathers inside for a boogie, finishing with one of his own (Gold Soul) that left the crowd shouting for one more tune. People grumbled about the fact that the first night wasn’t long enough, but when the already stoked crowd made it back to the campsite, it provided time for some great bonding between groups, which would continue throughout the weekend.

Friday

Into Friday morning and the festival opened in earnest, with fresh-faced festival-goers meeting the now entrenched campers, a little slower to rise after a thrashing of rain and picture-perfect lightning the night before. Life drawing sessions were being run during the day from friends of STW Tin Can Culture, one of the many non-musical activities available through the weekend, which emphasised the imagination of the organisers to expand Farr beyond just a music festival.

A smorgasbord of different acts across genres graced the lineup during the day but, it wasn’t until the Pardon My French boys played at the Badger Hole in the forest area that the party really kicked off. Always ones to judge a vibe perfectly, they played precisely what we were looking for at that time as the sun was going down over the wooded area. Tracks like Terranova’s Wunderbar really sealed the deal, while X-Press 2’s anthem, Lazy, went off massively and put a smile on everyone’s faces. South London Ordnance made a smooth transition to a slightly dubby-er sound that seemed to really captivate the crowd and set the tone for the Hotflush takeover that evening that never was.

At this point a little breather was called for, with word that a thunderstorm was on the way. This made for some quick reactions from the organisers, as sets were moved around, but in truth everybody was still having the best time. Our time-out was spent on the hay bales, hearing the sounds of Mount Kimbie floating over, moving from long string sections to intense, dub-inspired techno. We re-joined with Move D smashing it on the Flying Circus stage with a vinyl set that was the talk of the festival. The gentlemen that are Optimo followed on with precisely what they are famous for; playing what they want but keeping you safe in the knowledge that they know what they are doing at all times. Some of their transitions can be a little brisk, but you’re never left wondering what happened; constant dancing is almost inevitable. Classics like The Eurhythmics’ Sweet Dreams and a rework The Clash’s Rock The Casbah were weaved into a plethora of house and techno beats. Âme‘s Frank Wiedemann had the unenviable task of following Mount Kimbie on the main stage but the affable German, even more buoyant than usual after returning from a victorious World Cup, did so without a faltering. With George Fitzgerald and Midland waiting patiently in the wings to start their re-scheduled back to back, it was hard to usher him off stage. Thankfully this wasn’t before a dramatic finale, conjuring the spirit of Frank’s Howling collaborating Ry X.

By the time Bicep came on at the Flying Circus, we were ready for some straight up bangers and that is exactly what we got with a spin of KHLHI by Percussions – Four Tet’s new moniker, a track that never ever fails to get people cheering. After some time here the heat in the tent was getting the better of us and we chose to sit outside, with the sound quality still holding out if you sat in the middle of the field . In this position we heard them usher in 3am with this year’s classic How I Wish by Beesmunt Soundsystem (on Bristol’s very own Just Jack Recordings). Sadly the weather got the better of us again, as the storms returned, lighting up the sky but forcing the whole site into darkness for safety reasons. It was a frustrating end for both organisers and punters, but not without a lot of fun in between.

Saturday

Waking up the next morning with the prospect of another day of music had the added bonus of it also being my birthday. We were blessed with more sun during the day, which encouraged us to enjoy some of the live music provided on the Main Stage. Dems, Woman’s Hour and Arthur Beatrice all impressed and it’s a credit to Farr for making such an effort to diversify the programming after four years of succeeding with a DJ-heavy lineup. Our first DJ set of the day was ushered in by Bristol mainstay Tom Rio at the Flying Circus, playing a set that was both mixed expertly and got the crowd going for what was the longest night of the festival. Before heading into the woods it was time to have a little look-in at the Main Stage for Hercules & Love Affair. The weirdness of their whole demeanour and styling contrasts so wonderfully with some of the meaty topics that their lyrics deal with; recent hit I Try To Talk To You, for example – also remixed by Seth Troxler – deals with the vocalist John Grant’s struggles to come to terms with becoming HIV positive. As expected though, their unique brand of disco-infused vocal pop was exhibiting, energetic and utterly fabulous.

The forest now beckoned louder than ever. It was time to enter the breach. The queue was long, as demand for Farr’s main natural attraction increased through a lack of supply the previous night. Despite some grumblings in the queue among the aspiring woodland warriors, the precautions for crowd management were necessary to create the perfect atmosphere inside, simmering at constant boiling point over two stages. We darted straight to Tom Trago, with the dutchman living up to his entertainer status donned in a gold cape. A highlight was his own track Two Together, whose broken synth melodies could get even your grandmother dancing. He was followed by a great set from stage hosts Waze & Odyssey, bringing in the sunrise and playing to a crowd who were still up for so much more. A look-in at Andrew Weatherall was certainly worth it, but a little respite in the form of Horse Meat Disco‘s set – with anthems like You’ve Got The Love – proved necessary before what was to be the final boogie of the festival.

Following on from HMD at the Flying Circus entered two DJs who keep the Warehouse Project moving week in week out as residents. Krysko and Greg Lord, played a high energy techno set, dropping killers like Serge Santiago’s Atto D’Amore, which could probably be heard from over the hills in Stevenage. Maybe a few of the far-off early risers called to complain, because after sneaking the volume up a little too high, the decibel authorities cracked down on the duo and sadly ended their set prematurely. This directed the late-night exodus back into the woods for the final set of the weekend from veteran Robert Owens. Better known for supplying the vocals on 90’s house hits like I’ll Be Your Friend, we’d never experienced an Owens DJ set before but it didn’t disappoint. The peak came when the familiar Ray J vocals of Burial’s anthem Archangel filtered in, revealing Saso Recyd’s dancefloor ready edit. A fitting end as the woodland community as festivalgoers sang, danced and fist-pumped their way into the morning together.

Farr Festival was full of the sort of moments that you just don’t get at any normal festival; the sort of moments where you’re itching to know the current track that’s playing so you can relive this experience again while at the same time not remotely interested in the outside world or even whether any of your friends are nearby. The size of the festival meant that it was impossible to lose anybody for a significant period of time. You really have to ask what more you could possibly want than the secure feeling of a small house party with perfect sound systems and acts that you wouldn’t see on a regular basis.

The programming and the overall organisation could not be faulted, especially given some of the unexpected difficulties to side-step. The mix and quality of food was excellent and the crowd was one of the nicest we’ve seen at a festival. Talking to the bar manager the morning after, she was surprised to encounter not one incident the whole weekend. Coming from the chief supplier of the fuel that usually encourages trouble, that’s really saying something. This is one event that we won’t even consider missing next year. Our only regret is that it’s not coming around sooner.

Photo credits: Theo Cottle. We had a hard time picking our favourites, but the full album is well worth checking out here.

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