A mere half an hour from London, Farr Festival entrenched itself once again within the Bygrave Woods in Hertfordshire, putting on the finest line-up of its six year lifespan.
The small number of people, only a few thousand, is Farr’s greatest asset. Even at full capacity, on several occasions you find yourself asking “Surely the big crowds will show up soon?”, and they never do. Five thousand people fit very comfortably within the festival’s main arena and its nearby campsite. There is always plenty of room to dance and having people like Tama Sumo on little stages with big Funktion One soundsystems is a rare treat.
Thursday night was a calm affair, set out nicely for the lucky few who either don’t work or could get the Friday off, with Shanti Celeste and Dan Shake headlining the second stage, and Romare headlining the lovely and intimate Corscia Village stage. Arnaldo was the highlight, playing very fittingly alongside the sun’s descent behind the rolling hills with tracks from Moodymann, Koze’s new track “XTC” and Opolopo’s ‘Kick & Bass Rerub’ of Gregory Porter’s ‘1960 What’ (which was played at least 3 times over the weekend by various DJs).
Pootling up to the arena on the Friday afternoon, we were unsure of what an all-DJ electronic music festival could offer us on a beautiful day with many hours of serious dancing ahead of us. Thankfully, it was the Stamp The Wax residents on our own stage (I wouldn’t be writing it if it wasn’t true) that provided some of the highlight music choices of the whole weekend. Raoul Edwards closing with Stealers Wheel’s ‘Stuck In The Middle of You’ (sounded so bloody good on a big system) allowing Harri Pepper to take over with what were the most appropriate light ‘n’ jazzy records for the fantastic weather we were given, cuts including Nina Simone and Nu Yorica! Culture Clash In New York City.
Later in the evening, Tama Sumo came in as the ultra-precision German engineer at 10:30pm, and blew us away with her restrained, professional warm up set. Whilst sound checking several sets of needles, she tirelessly worked to produce the perfect atmosphere before Berlin-based Mr. Ties, never with a beat out of sync. The juxtaposition of the two sets was quite something to behold; so completely different in their construction but neither would have worked without the other, with Ties playing great building techno before expertly realising the need to change direction after a festival-wide power cut. Instead of continuing where he left off, he played ‘Heart of Glass’ by Blondie at half speed before getting on the mic and singing for us. Dropping James Brown and echoing “CAN WE TAKE IT TO THE BRIDGE?” as well as singing his own songs over many different tracks before playing 3 or 4 seriously euphoric disco weapons.
It was a performance in the true sense of the word, as much about personality as records or mixing (which he is sometimes criticised for, but the mixing is loose in the same way that Coltrane is loose). Mr Ties is an incredible talent, one of the few DJs who seems genuinely interested in making a human connection with his audience – aside from a few of the Detroit house guys it’s rare to see a microphone used to this effect. In abiding by none of the usual po-faced rules of a professional DJ every set feels unique and vital, and this is one that will last long in the memory.
On Saturday Pender Street Steppers were as usual exemplary in their set construction, paving the way for Young Marco’s enjoyable and at times unhinged musical choices which led him to slow the tempo quite considerably for Hunee’s powerful arsenal of disco and house gems. Over on the beautiful main stage, Gerd Janson played a little too much for the crowd, as a DJ he’s very versatile but he is certainly better suited to small crowds and venues. DJ Koze was the final festival headliner, and closed with his usual inimitable mix of soft-edged techn,o with cuts from his own Pampa label, Roman Flugel and Four Tet. Closing out the festival, Tom Rio demonstrated his years of 4am-onwards experience, intelligently balancing emotion and energy throughout and perfectly finishing with Bronski Beat’s ‘Small-Town Boy’.
There has been a lot of talk around smaller dance music festivals in the last couple of years, with Dekmantel, Gottwood and others getting rave reviews. Farr this year made its claim to be right up there with the best of them. The campsite atmosphere is wonderful, music programming tasteful and the venue is completely gorgeous. The festival will inevitably continue to grow and if it can use the increased resources well (more daytime activities please!) whilst retaining its sense of intimacy it could quickly become one of the best small festivals in the UK.
Listen to 50 track IDs that graced this year’s Farr Festival right here.