Books and Music at the Heart of Independent Publishing

So Farr So Good

September 24, 2013 | by Faber Social

Tags: Andrew Weatherall, Festivals

A few weeks ago I attended Farr Festival – a small dance-music event in the middle of a forest in Hertfordshire. It started a few years back as a private party, and has grown quickly to become one of the most lauded festivals of the season.

The idea to go came about with a group of friends over a Thai meal in Leytonstone. One of us, Steve, was getting married, and among the massaman and kaeng phet we tossed around suggestions for the stag-do. Life accrues responsibilities; here was an opportunity to throw them off and enjoy a lapsed weekend of dancing and indulgence. The rallying cry for Farr is ‘Get lost in the woods’. That is precisely what we intended to do.

And so we found ourselves, laden with rucksacks and plastic bags of warm lager, heading out of Kings Cross on a glorious July afternoon, the hazy fields of Hertfordshire rattling past. We alighted at Baldock, from where it was a ten-minute taxi drive to the festival site.

En route at the main entrance, we were pulled over by security staff and our bags searched – not, it seemed, for anything illegal, but for glass. After decanting a robust French red into a water bottle, we were waved through.

The first thing that struck me – before, even, collecting our wristbands – was that everyone looked a lot younger than at other festivals I’d been to in the past few years. There are some consolations in ageing, however. Experience is one. Common sense, perhaps, too. Note to Farr admissions staff: for running apps and web browsing, an iPad beats a clipboard and pen hands down. The same cannot be said of ticking a name off a list, via a QR code, in glaring sunshine.

Inside the perimeter, the main camping area, to the left, was a small sea of mainly two-man tents. To the right was a rutted path that cut through a cornfield up a hill to the festival site itself. At the top, multicoloured standards flapped in a clearing next to a partitioned-off congregation of teepees – our glamping home for the next two nights.

A few of our group had arrived earlier and had settled into a corral of camping armchairs, relaxed and chatting. Beyond the wicker fence separating the teepees from the main site, festival-goers lay in clumps on the grass, cradling paper pints. The damp thud of live drums – the last band of the day before the evening kicked in – whumped in the fading sunshine.

Outside of the stages, dodgem cars, and a smattering of food vans, there isn’t a great deal to do at Farr, and that is a good thing. It led to lazy days, throwing the evenings into relief. As night drew in, we ambled over for posh burgers and a gluttonous pint – yes, pint – each of Pimm’s, before venturing into the heart of the festival, the dance area.

The three main stages were situated inside a wooded copse, reached through a separate entrance beyond the dodgems. Security on the site was light, but here there were a couple of guards checking all was well. Beyond them, and beneath a canopy of branches, opened out a clearing about the size of a football pitch, with three competing stages towards the left and rear, with a long, covered bar running along the right.

As the dark settled, the atmosphere within the copse changed. There was a palpable sense of growing excitement – neon and multicoloured lights cut through the branches. Dust rose and the dancing notched up a gear. It was soon a full-on rave.

On reflection, dozing in my teepee the next day, that first night seemed a disorientating combination of medieval bazaar, pagan rite and Top Shop changing room on a Saturday afternoon, all held together with unrelenting duff duffs. The music, actually, was on Friday the least remarkable feature. There was nothing to object to, but nothing that really stuck in the memory. But there was so much choice in such a small area, it was likely a question of me simply picking the wrong stage.

This was not the case with the music on the second night – it was phenomenal. A similar atmosphere prevailed, but this evening we were treated to some proper squelchy house and techno. Justin Robertson was predictably fantastic, and Ben Pearce, coming on after, was unbelievably good. His set was one long crescendo. I loved it.

He could only have been followed by Faber’s artist-in-residence, Andrew Weatherall, who took the whole anarchic night in his stride and made it his own.

If there’s one real criticism of the festival, it’s that there was no listing stating who was playing when and at which stage. I’d really been looking forward to seeing Hannah Holland and her take on acid house, but I’d no idea when she was on, or where.

That aside, Farr is a wonderful, intimate festival in a bewitching setting, with just the right amount of chaos. If you like dance music, you really should go next year. But keep it to yourself.