The one thing that slaps you in the face the moment you pass through the gates at Secret Garden Party (SGP) is the immense party atmosphere. This year I arrived with a group of friends, with the sun in full blaze, the familiar smells and scenes of the Garden Party all in place. As soon as we arrived we could feel the mix of anxious-excitement for the weekend ahead.
As we entered the arena on Thursday afternoon we were greeted with the same 30ft fox sculpture from 2014 but with a revived paint job that made it even more spectacular than last year. Our first introduction to the music this year came courtesy of the ‘Little Horrors Stage.’ Curated by Maya Jane Cole’s, it was welcome addition to this year’s lineup equipped with an outstanding speaker and lighting set up. Eager to see what else was on offer we soon wandered, only to find ourselves caught up with the jazzy eclectic tunes of the Rhumba Rum Bar. After a brief interval we decided to explore the remaining stages. The Pagoda, The Drop and The Great Stage did not fail to impress, each having very individual structural styles which created the unique and diverse individual atmospheres we’ve come to expect from the festival.
When I finally got a chance to thoroughly look through the programme I was reminded of one of the festival’s cheeky surprises. The organisers have a habit of adding big artists to the line-up ‘in secret’, very sneaky indeed. I was shocked to see acts like Ibiza heavyweight Richy Ahmed, DJ super group J.E.S.u.S, Bontan and Hot Since 82 all making appearances over the weekend. With mental notes made, the night continued and drew to close with a house dominated set from Ejeca and an awesome performance from The Martinez Brothers.
We awoke at around 10 on the Friday to some quite upsetting scenes. The rain had begun and not just any kind of rain, the infamous ‘wet rain’. It didn’t look like stopping and we made the executive decision to try and wait it out in the tent. The hours went by with the rain pouring down. Finally, around 8, we plucked up the courage and ventured out to try and see what had become of the site. It was not pretty. The festival was deserted compared to Thursday and all of the walkways had turned to a muddy slush. Most people who had made it out looked to seek shelter in nearby beer tents or food stands. We attempted to make the most of the night by seeing sets from Waze & Odyssey and Darwin Deez but found ourselves growing cold very quickly with the rain unrelenting. Our hopes of a big Friday night had been dashed, so we headed back to camp for cover.
With great relief we awoke on Saturday to clear skies and somewhat fleeting sunshine. We bounded out of our tents, threw on our wellies and headed for the Lost Woods stage for a melodic disco orientated set from Zero 7 that did not disappoint. After this set and two days of braving the festival, I had developed a pretty significant appetite and headed for the food stalls to get filled up with some of the unbelievable munch on offer. From the succulent churros to gourmet pies and extravagant burgers, it could be easy to forget there was anything else going on. After destroying an ostrich burger and washing it down with a banoffee pie milkshake I felt like a new man and bounded across the lake to the main stage. On my way I had an opportunity to appreciate this years Lake Stage which took the form of a LEGO inspired tug boat that acted as home to various DJs across the weekend. I also made a pit stop at the ever-popular dance-off stage that once again did not disappoint. There were a few hilarious dance-offs between some wackily dressed participants that had us chuckling, but also some banging house tunes that made it a sick area to hang out even when the dance offs weren’t in action. Saturday night saw performances from the likes of Temples and Crazy P as well as successive sets from Bontan, Hot Since 82 and Maya Jane Coles on her Little Horrors stage. There was no better way to end the night than with a the annual lakeside fireworks show.
Sadly Sunday brought more rain but as it was the last day we headed out early. The weather momentarily and quite conveniently cleared for the paint fight that is an annual favourite to frequent gardeners and this year was accompanied by another small firework display. Following this, The Correspondents returned to the Main Stage with their upbeat drum and bass inspired performance. Unfortunately they also welcomed back the rain, but spoke of their appreciation for ‘the hardcore’ who had made it out nonetheless. The wet evening also saw performances form the legendary Rodigan, Roots Manuva, BBC representative Monki, Nizlopi of The JCB Song fame and dance music big name Patrick Topping.
There’s no denying that the rain did somewhat interrupt the weekend and as much as I hate to say it, it did seem as if the organisers were slightly unprepared and caught by surprise. That being said, when the rain subsided the festival returned to the party that the organiser’s intended. The sound systems and intricate light set ups were hugely impressive as usual, not to mention the attention to detail to every aspect of the site. Whether that’s in the quality design of the stages, the random installations that are dotted all around the trees, bushes and fields or just all of the activities and amenities that were on offer. I love Secret Garden Party, it truly is a magical, musical utopia that hits the nail on the head for what I believe a small family run festival should embody. I can’t advise it enough for anyone who loves a good festival; and like their slogan says, “This is a serious Party”.