In a crowded festival season, the Secret Garden Party has managed to stay small and under the radar, but also stand out from the others and become one of the most keenly anticipated of the summer. Why? Well, with this year’s theme being “fact and fiction”, we tried to figure out the facts for ourselves.
Now in its seventh year, it’s become the flagbearer for “boutique” festivals, capped at just a few thousand attendees (colloquially known as gardeners), residing in a stunning part of Cambridgeshire. The action is all located around a lake used to its fullest. That means swimming, rowing, floating dancefloor islands, that type of thing.
The Great Stage remains the largest, this year hosting a potentially excellent but, in truth, a slightly underwhelming selection of headliners when compared to some of the other festivals about. We have the Gorillaz Sound System, which is expected to be a VDJ set rather than a repeat of their opinion-dividing Glastonbury set. American psychedelic rockers Mercury Rev also get top-billing in a rare festival appearance this year and Welsh chart-botherer Marina And The Diamonds completes the three star turns with what must be regarded as a huge promotion for her.
Also featuring on The Great Stage will be Massive Attack veteran Horace Andy appearing with dub outfit Dub Asante, in keeping with the current trend of all things, erm, dub. Other highlights are likely to include Mancunian electronic band The Whip and ex-Beta Band man now gone solo, Steve Mason, supporting his thoroughly excellent album Boys Outside.
As the festival has expanded over the years, so too have the number of stages, each one with its own carefully sculpted theme and identity and this is where things start to sound a bit more identifiably brilliant. Designed with maximum wonder in mind, note that none of them are sponsored and named after Pepsi, Carling or Always Extra Heavy Overnight Maxi Pads with flexi wings, adding a welcome touch of non-branding to the event.
But yes, back to the identifiable brilliance. Where The Wild Things Are, essentially the second stage, will host bands playing in a treehouse while the gardeners look on from a cocktail bar. Swanky and imaginatively divine. Acts you’ll find here are a good selection of rising stars with lo-fi pop troubadour Darwin Deez alongside teenage punk brat Charli XCX and current indie darlings Summer Camp.
The Remix Bubble is where you’ll find the dance acts, playing till 6am in a giant sphere as aerial acrobats accompany the likes of Crystal Fighters, Echaskech and Fenech Soler. Meanwhile that floating dancefloor we mentioned earlier will offer prime position for watching performers playing at the antique pagoda from the middle of a lake. If blues and soul music is more your thing, they’ve introduced The Crossroads stage in the guise of a Deep South voodoo bar. And a festival wouldn’t be a festival without an acoustic stage, here designed as a 1930s English country house living room with a line-up including electro-whizz kid James Yuill, gentle singer-songwriter The Boy Who Trapped The Sun and Eliza Doolittle currently riding a wave that’s taken her into the higher echelons of both the single and album charts.
Add to all that further areas given names such as the Valley Of Antics, The Artful Badgers and the Collo-Silly-Um and it turns out there’s no secret to the Secret Garden Party. It’s not about the scale and it’s not particularly about the music and theatre. There are other festivals that do all that to a different level. What it’s about is the weird and the wonderful. It’s about fairy tales and fantastical imagination. It’s about fact and it’s about fiction, and the inclusion of all of us to be in on it. For those who haven’t been before, it’s time to find out what you’ve been missing.