We started previewing BeatHerder way back at the start of the year, and from the off it really stood out from the sea of press releases we have to wade through here at P&S HQ. The pre-festival PR oozed personality. This seemed to be a music festival for music lovers who don’t take themselves too seriously, which is pretty refreshing when set next to a sea of south of England hipster offs……. With a line-up that perfectly met my love of banging electronica and happy sunshine afternoon’s, I have to say, I’d built up my expectations somewhat before arrival.
So, did they deliver? They sure did. We arrived on Friday just an hour or so before the action kicked off and after squeezing our van into what seemed like the most disorganised crew camping field I’ve seen, we set ourselves loose on the site. So, before we get into musical musings, let us cover off some festival basics:
The site itself is based in the picturesque Ribble Valley in Lancashire, and a combination of open fields and woodlands mean that the site was interesting to explore, and just the right size to feel like there was plenty on whilst only ever having a ten minute meander (even at drinking pace) to get from stage to stage. This festival is small and cosy, but you’ll never be bored, with main open stages set against small hidden treats in the woods. When it comes to facilities: best festival toilets ever. No really, hats off Beatherder I’m yet to see cleaner. Food stalls a plenty, the same with bars (including many hidden ones about the place which added some extra joy to buying a reasonably priced beer) no real queues, all in all, the infrastructure just worked. For a small festival to get this attention to the details so right really does put them up there with the big boys.
So then, middle aged notes aside, time for some music. We started the day by catching Sound Assembly, the jump up electro swing act that bring banging electronica and sauntry, sassy vocals together in perfect harmony (one third of them is Jude Sebastian is of Koma and Bones fame, for all your breakbeat geeks out there) and despite the early afternoon start everyone seemed pretty much ready to get bang on it, the crowd lapped it up and the pace had been well and truly been set.
A little bimble through the woods led to the discovery of one of the weekends highlights – an amazing old car lot produced by the Garage Collective with a DJ booth built into one of the old cars, and ravers stomping all over knackered old motors- all in a forest, which made it triple ace. Over the weekend they had everything from funk grooves to dance classics all being played from inside a vintage morris-esq car. The woodland high street featured a range of micro-venues including a rather amazing the church, but more on that later..
Up in the Smoky Tentacles Shisha Lounge we caught a slice of The Fire Beneath the Sea – who as they describe themselves are “a 17-piece groove machine, fronted by a 6-man MC squad,” – hip hop grooves thrown together in a Latin, ska and funk melting pot that is pure party vibes fodder, seeing a band of that size on such a small stage was something else, and I’d highly recommend you check them out.
So, electro swing and ska you say? Don’t worry P&S fans, we know you guys are all about raving, and there was one almighty stage in particular where you could do just that in the form of the imposing Fortress. A huge Chinese-style structure complete with turrets, many a lazer and plumes of flames. Dancing in the fortress really did feel like being in a prison yard, but in a really good way. A prison of heavy beats where the guards were primed on 808’s and ready to punish you with savage drum and bass if you dared stop dancing. It didn’t matter what time of day it was, the fortress was having it. Elite force would have tore the roof off on Friday night, you know, if there was one, as would Justin Robertson. And the pace followed suit all weekend with the likes of Cut la Roc, the Squatters, and Jon Carter all taking their turn at drilling the fortress yard. Simply epic.
The other major stage to lul us in was Toil Trees, set once again in the woodland the Toil Trees’ stage was a place for breaks and beats, and provided welcome shade from the afternoon sun. Saturdays delights included Dutty Moonshine, whose combination of jump up party breaks, dirty basslines and vintage slices and samples left everyone jumping for sheer joy. And they were hotly followed by Featurecast, I actually needed a little sit down after he finished, the forest was stomping that hard.
Sundays forest adventures included a 4 hour set from Norman Jay – anyone who was fan of The Big Chill will understand the significance of Norman Jay playing a 4 hour Sunday set, it’s been a big chill institution form the off, and now that festival republic bought, then cancelled The Big Chill it’s an event that has been sorely missing from my festival calendar, BeatHerder, I really do applause you for this.
And of course, Sunday wouldn’t be Sunday without a visit to the afore mentioned church. An amazing mini church complete with pulpit, nuns, djing vicars, and pews on which to dance to uplifting house as the preacher encouraged us all to ‘believe!’ in the church of house. SO.MUCH.FUN.
Other musical highlights for me included Buraka Som Sistema on the main stage on Saturday night, Kormacs big band, and we have to give a nod to the Lancaster Hotpots for some Sunday afternoon main stage fun. Plus to many others to mention, all in all, the tunes were tip top.
My only gripe, Saturday nights sound systems were turned RIGHT down, are guessing was a visit from the noise police, which did flatten the atmosphere of some of the smaller stages, but that’s only a tiny gripe on what was a wonderfully produced festival. No hesitation, we’ll be back next year, hats off to Beat Herder for putting a huge grin on my face from start to finish. The benchmark for small dance festivals has been set.