So ya missed out on Glastonbury? Grateful to have avoided all the mainstream headliners and the “long-dead hippy commune crap”? Or gutted to have missed all the cool, creative and original arts and sounds that lurk in the furthest reaches of Worthy Farm as yet untrodden by Radio 1 and NME hacks? Either way, you could have found joyous consolation at Beatherder: as a substitute for the experience at Glastonbury’s original heart, Beatherder does a bloody good job of cramming, into 3 days of sheep-chaperoned fun, all the good bits people still really love about Glastonbury, and avoids the annoying verging-on-the-mainstream bits that everyone loves to bitch about.
When you arrive at the Beatherder site, a small collection of fields and trees snuggled into the West Lancashire hillside, it feels a bit different, a little bit special. After just a short walk round it’s clear that this a festival made out of love and the fun of it. It’s a DIY festival in every sense of the word and in fact it’s not long either before you notice the refreshing total absence of branding – even the cigarette kiosks have been made from scratch to avoid the mass-produced light boxes telling you which company paid the most to sell you their fags.
New for this year is Quality Street, an addition to the Toil Trees glade (Beatherder’s magical wooded clearing where at any time of the day or night you will find DJs playing to a full crowd of happy people dancing and/or relaxing in the coppice and some of the quirky chill-out areas Beatherder provides. Quality Street extends this quirky chill-out zone to include a row of specially made shopfronts and an extra looking-like-its-been-there-for-years bar (all the Beatherder bars are priced relievingly fairly and you can pick up cans of your favourite tipple straight out of a bog standard white fridge for two quid). One shop is a barber’s, staffed by hairdressers from a Manchester salon, and one leads to a tattoo parlour (kept clean in a room inside a properly decked out tipi) courtesy of a Leeds studio, but there are also clapped out vintage cars strewn around, installed with a set of decks where you can play your own vinyl. Or dance on the bonnet if you prefer.
Musically, Beatherder does what it says on the tin – dance, dub, and DJs are all coralled into the festival arena on the various stages, each one full of DJs, bands and acts the organisers are proud to have booked. Fun-loving heroes The Lancashire Hotpots and global dancefloor revolutionaries Leftfield, not to mention iconic Massive Attack founder Horace Andy take on the Main stage, while Mylo, Krafty Kutz and Mr Scruff, amongst many others, keep the Toil Trees glade bouncing.
Manchester’s Stumblefunk bassheads were there again too, hosting acts & DJs, notably From the Kites of St Quentin, their haunting vocals reminiscent of a heavier, dubsteppier Portishead. But there are also newer bands, many homegrown, and I found myself in the Rajazzled tent (yeah, careful how you say that one after a shot of Absinthe) for some genuinely brilliant acts. The Other Tribe appear to the bastard grandchildren of Gallops, Calvin Harris, Empire of the Sun and the Human League, finished off with feathers, facepaint and a compulsory dancing order. The Sound of Rum on the other hand, recommended to us by Counterfeit favourites Middleman, and who have earned high praise from master of lyrical profundity Scroobius Pip, were all about the words, their music in reality being incidental to the utterly mesmeric Kate, who in her own words looks like “a kid who’s got lost on the way to the sweet shop” but whose moving, intelligent, funny, non-stop, jaw-droppingly passionate rap had the crowd hanging on her every word.
Talking to fellow punters, a good proportion are from within a 30-odd mile radius, and have been coming since the festival’s inception, and there’s a real sense of community spirit. Yet this is a welcoming and incredibly friendly atmosphere. People bring their kids (but not enough to feel like you’ve stumbled into a creche), and there’s not even a hint of this being a local festival for local people. There’s no slickness, just a really happy atmosphere of marvel and enjoyment, that even has performers proclaiming on stage with genuine awe in their voices that this place is “truly wonderful” and “like paradise”.
So how do they manage it? Interestingly, “there isn’t an events qualification between us [the organisers]”. Instead they’ve honed their festival-hosting craft by spending “six years muddling through paperwork, legal jargon, budget balancing, and agent smooching”, all so they can spend time building and planning and growing and booking and making the next Beatherder even more fun. And it works. Trial & error combined with great ideas and wonderful obsessions, free from all the corporate trappings so intrusive in our non-festival lives, equals heart, soul and an uncompromisingly bloody good time.