by / July 29th, 2010 /

Secret Garden Party – Cambridgeshire, England

It’s Sunday afternoon and the sun is beating down. To the right is the burnt out skeleton of what was, up until last night, a floating blimp in the middle of a lake where hundreds of people danced to all manner and variants of music, colourful boats and rafts now circle the charred remains. In front, a sea of people in fancy dress groove to the sounds of Rusko dropped by David Rodigan, an influential reggae DJ who gives a lesson in the evolution of dub from the back streets of Kingston to the clubs of Croydon and the 40 years in-between. As nerf rockets fly through the sky and the constant whizz-pop of balloons you wonder why can’t everyday be like this. Your mind rewinds to where you are and how you got to this point you are at the Secret Garden Party.

Set in the beautiful Cambridgeshire countryside the site is easily accessed by rail (only an hour or so from Kings Cross). The fun starts on the train down with each mile of the journey another friend is made. Reports of 4 to 5 hour queues to get into the site as other friends who arrived on the Thursday recount with tales of security guards who love there jobs a little too much – this becomes evident as we reach the gates however the queues have abated and in a short time we are in time to start the party.

Entering the SGP is an assault on the senses as everyone has taken the theme of “fact or fiction” on board and the whole site is in fancy dress. The first act of the day we check out is Hoodlums who draw crowds into the Where The Wild Things Are Stage with their take on ‘Paper Planes’, the jangle of their guitars and bouncy riffs along with a charismatic lead singer nicely sets up a day of exploring into new music. Walking by the Great Stage the sound of Fionn Regan wafts through the air, he is playing to a considerably sizable crowd for so early in the day and his chilled out Dylanesque sound is perfect for the first few beers of the day.

It takes some time to explore the garden, as there is so much to see and do and be prepared to lose an hour here and there, especially upon entering the Dance Stage with moves are thrown throughout the day.

The Collo-Silly-Um Tent is packed as two grown men in onzies swing from ropes while fighting with space hoppers, people line up to climb into oversized sumo wrestling suits and settle bets as to who will be victorious. Hilarious fodder, but it’s moments like this that cause the SGP curse, failing to see intended act. The first to fall by the way-side is Steve Mason, who reportedly played a great set. This in mind caution was taken to find a good spot for Marina and the Diamonds, who is playing her first headline slot at a festival. After initial nerves Marina plays a energetic, pop-laden set and the crowd relish the opportunity for a mass sing-a-long, not being a robot never sounded so appealing. With the first night almost over sleep is evaded for a while because of the mighty Delays who play a superb set culminating in the wonderful ‘Valentine’.

Not quiet refreshed but ready for more Saturday is all about healing, food helps. There’s a lengthy queue for the Blimp Stage, the floating stage is so impressive the queue barely moves and is subsequently abandoned. But it wasn’t time wasted, more friends were made and tips for acts to see are gathered. Run Toto Run are a band you may remember from last year with their cover of Passion Pit’s ‘Sleepyhead’; hipster indie-pop and electro fuse together creating perfect lullabies – another great act on the Where he Wild Things Are Stage, a beautiful boat shaped stage immersed in a wood clearing overlooking the water. The days continues at some of the smaller stages, soaking up the vibe of the garden. A stroll over the floating bridge towards the main stage reveals a group of people who have gathered around a makeshift water slide, and a competition is on as to who can stay upright and injury free the whole way down. Time to dance. The Whip provide the soundtrack, filthy electro-rock keep the crowd at the main stage bouncing but it is High Rankin‘s infectious selection of drum ‘n bass via dupstep in the Remix Bubble Stage that get the feet moving, this man is one DJ to watch.

Crystal Fighters keep the party going – Electric Picnic-er’s should be sure and check them out. Summer Camp offer a nice break from the intensity of the dance area, perfectly accompanying the sunset with their sublime melodies and upbeat pop. After, crowds veer towards the top of a hill near the Great Stage. A samba band snake along the site collecting more and more dancing people. Then it starts. Lanterns fill the sky, fireworks explode and the tradition of setting the Blimp in the middle of the lake on fire commences. The crowd are enthralled, this is a special moment – you’d have to be there. To this back drop Gorillaz Sound System take the stage. The sound system features the Gorillaz music remixed to visual effects, along with other popular tunes – a kind of cartoon 2 Many DJ’s but really quite stale. Why they even exist with the Gorillaz now on tour and doing it so much better is anyone’s guess. Los Albertos are a Brighton-based ska outfit with some catchy tunes, one local act to go down a storm, the massive stage invasion proves the point. They are doing a tour of Cork and Waterford next weekend and are well worth going to see for their banter alone. Meath based producer and DJ Johnny Pluse has the remix tent bursting at the seams with his straight up unapologetic party music – giving the crowd exactly what they want with big heavy beats and breaks until sunrise.

On Sunday Dreadzone take to the Great Stage. For a band that have been around this long they know a thing or two about how to entertain a crowd, no fancy tricks just lots of tunes that are complemented by the clear blue skies above. Down at the Remix Bubble the Eskimo Twins are keeping the faithful dancing, making the tent feel more like a beach in Ibiza than a tent in the English countryside. Jakwob takes the atmosphere to a whole other level, with his slow heavy blissed-out beats, something the crowd lap up. This happens a lot, wandering from all manner of tented bars on site the seem to play just the song you want to hear at the right moment.

The SGP is as much about the people and the setting just as much as the music. There’s huge effort put into the site down, decorated to the slightest detail. The organizers have to be commended. Leaving the SGP it feels like you have been part of something special and unique. Long after the train pulls out of Huntington station you find your mind wandering back to David Rodigan and his lessons in the history of reggae you can’t help dwell on the utopian feeling the SGP has provided, if only for a weekend, an escape from the monotony of the daily grind. As the train pulls into Kings Cross plans are hatched to meet by the Helter Skelter in 2011.

Photo by Chris John Beckett

Full SGP Flickr gallery here.

  • Ivan, A well-scripted, informed tour of duty indeed! Nice to see the Meath Man, Johnny Pluse making his mark! Enda Casey