Live Music + Gig Reviews

Secret Garden Party 2009: Day 1 @ Abbots Ripton, Huntingdon

24 July 2009

Secret Garden Party 2009: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Anyone who has been to the otherwordly Secret Garden Festival seems to come away describing it as the “best festival ever” – and in this case it is no exaggeration.

Almost certainly the prettiest and most spectacularly decorated festival in the UK, it is a joy to wander around the boutique carnival with a huge smile on your face, amazed by the sheer amount of talent, hard work and love that must have gone into making this surely the happiest and most enjoyable weekend of the year.
Beautiful art installations, mud wrestling competitions, Girls vs Boys dance-offs, ferris wheels, lazer domes – Secret Garden has it all, including a bizarre but beautiful journey through an enchanted fireplace into world where lampshades grow on trees. But the most magical feature of the site has to be the picturesque lake, illuminated by hundreds of coloured light bulbs – the most impressive swimming pool you could wish for. The Tower Of Babel, a floating stage dedicated to the funkiest DJs, rose majestically out of the water like a gothic cathedral, and played host to Bristol collective Funk From the Trunk, mix of funk, hip hop and bootlegs threatened to sink the stage.

An excited crowd swarmed around the main stage to see French indie/dance boys Phoenix. One of the coolest bands on planet earth at the moment, the Gallic scenesters turned in a blissed-out set that wooed the fancy-dressed crowd. Those feeling less energetic preferred to listen to hits Run, Run, Run and Too Young while lying back on the grassy banks and watching the sun set over the lake.

Jarvis Cocker took the stage directly afterwards and belted out tunes from his second album Further Complications. While the beginning of the set seemed to bemuse rather than enthral, by the end the stage had been invaded by hundreds of crazed fans going wild to Black Magic, so he must have been doing something right.

The Feast Of Fools stage and accompanying Bar (which sold eye-wateringly strong mead) was a woodland haven to the Pagan gods of merriment, serving as a theatre for tongue-in-cheek performances during the day (hairy men in dresses, anyone?) before showcasing the finest (and most obscure) selection of bands and DJs in the evening – ska, jazz, funk and practically anything else you could possibly imagine. Barn Core, anyone?

The Secret Garden Party encourages seeing bands and DJs that you’ve never heard about before and whom you’ll remember forever. Brown Star was certainly one of these. Perhaps the strangest looking band to grace the Feast Of Fools stage – vocals from a guy dressed as a Medieval Lord, and crazy synthesised sounds that caused internal organs to rumble from a keyboardist who looked like a young Keith Allen dressed as the Pope. Their hugely enjoyable mix of funk, rock and jump-up dance caused a red-faced young woman to hurl herself down the grassy bank into the mosh pit screeching like an unhinged Viking – summarising perfectly how every grinning person in the crowd felt on the inside.

The only negative aspect of Friday night was the sound system in the Dance Rocks VS Ninja Tune tent, which was kept infuriatingly low even before the midnight witching hour. Freeland, DJ Adam Freeland’s live band, was barely audible from the back of the tent. An immense, sweaty crowd had squeezed themselves in, and he did his best with party-starting breakbeat, passing the microphone out into the front row so the crowd could shout along to the chorus of We Want Your Soul.

After Freeland sidled off stage most of the audience retreated to the bar, only to come rushing back for the start of famed drum and bass producer Sub Focus. Dressed smartly with neatly combed blonde air, you’d be forgiven for thinking Nick Douwma was fresh out of Eton… that is until the filthy drum and bass kicked in. But the low volume quickly started to frustrate the crowd, and only some aggrieved chanting led to a bump up in noise, allowing the ravers to continue bouncing happily, remaining there for the well-received rest of the set.

After the hectic sweatiness of Sub Focus, a retreat to the Small World tent was needed to see ‘folk-stomping, barn storming’ orchestra The Moulettes. This beautifully harmonised, swinging quintet sang glorious songs about depravity, decadence and delirious devastation. It proved the perfect way to wind down this epic first day of Secret Garden Party.

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