Secret Garden Party

24th – 27th of July 2008
Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

by Sunny Pops

Secret Garden Party is a rousing independent music festival free of any corporate sponsorship, trotting on into its fifth year. Voted as the best British music festival of 2007 by BBC Radio 1, SGP has a warm and friendly atmosphere. Personally, I’ve never been to a festival where half of the boys have more makeup and glitter on than myself. (Only wished I had packed my makeup bag full of bolder colours) With their angelic faces and unshaven legs, the boys’ adorable little dresses put most women in the outside world to shame. Not to be outdone, the girls were decked out as various characters from movies to fairytales. What’s liberating about SGP is the fact that it is not only for fashionistas to showcase their latest clothes or muse on arm. On the contrary, it’s fifty percent occupied by families, children and pets.

Located on the grounds of a Georgian farmhouse, SGP’s venue has its own lake, river, landscaped garden and rolling fields in 10 acres of land. The focal point lake split the field into two with nine different tents apart. Apart from music, there are tents and abundant outdoor spaces filled with activities ranging from the scientific, historical, political, theatrical, comedic, sculptural, installation, arty and everything in between. I was made to confess at one point in a confession tent before running away at the speed of light.

It’s a lovely weekend, indulging in inactivity doing nothing other than sun worshipping. Musicians billed on this year’s listing are Grace Jones, Saint Etienne, Morcheeba, Sons & Daughters, Zero 7, Envy & Other Sins, Alphabeat, Little Ones, Florence & The Machine, Infadels, Cage The Elephant, Officer Kicks, Married To The Sea, Elle S’appelle and Atomic Hooligan.

Arriving on Saturday at noon, all I heard from my twelve companions is “You’ve missed this… and that was great”. Bearing in mind, SGP is not about the music. The highlight on Saturday for me was the burning of the boat after sunset and pyrotechnic show. Circus artists bordered the lake, juggling fire, bongo drums ringing in the air. (For two days prior, the boat can be reached by gondola if you can bear the queue to enjoy ‘romantic gondola ride’) The spectacular explosive display was dazzling. No words or pictures can describe the fluency and proficiency put into this programme. You have to be there to witness it for yourself and that’s the only way to do it justice. Once the boat was reduced to ashes, the Great Stage next to the lake was ‘graced’ by Grace Jones. Judging by the public reaction or lack of… most of the crowd started walking away after the second song. I overheard a Banana say ‘Grace Jones is SHIT’ surely there’s no better source to trust but A Man dressed as A Banana.

Narrowly failed to catch the one band that was on my list to see. I missed Fenech Solar however I did bump into Mr Lead Singer. Other then Fenech Solar, I did not expect to stumble upon any other good bands around. Having no expectations for others, I came across Olafur Arnald on a Sunday afternoon. His blend of classical music is heartstring-tugging. Behind his piano, Arnald pounded away with joy, sorrow and worries in the world. I felt the rush to run downhill from the bar to embrace a tree and cry my eyes out for no apparent reason only because his music is beautiful and I was enthralled with numerous sensations. Upon my return to the REAL WORLD, first thing I did was to log online to access my sentiment and scrutinise my peculiar compulsion towards his music. Blessed with the power of the Internet, I found out Arnald is supporting Sigur Ros over the next few months. Guess that explains it. If Sigur Ros picked him as the support he must be good. Also, worth mentioning is The Shortwave Set whose set is packed with vivacious performance amid dynamic rhythms and melody.

After being placed into a dazed and confused state by Olafur Arnald, I spent hours walking the fields and doing activities such as eating, watching children getting their faces painted, naked men, women and children wrestling in the mud pool (don’t worry, they weren’t doing it together or simultaneously) and sitting around aimlessly. The beauty of roaming is underrated and a clearly forgotten form of art when one’s at a festival. The ambience that SGP encouraged and branded themselves as, is a place where people gather for more than headlining acts and rushing between stages. The focus is on SELF. What SGP offers is a peaceful setting for relaxation and creativity.

Woke from dreaming, I spent the rest of Sunday being constructive and responsible towards the greater society at large by attending my beloved magazine/book (is Idler a magazine or book now?) The Idler Tent at the medieval garden, listening to radical discussion/debate on “Why is Tesco Evil?”. The editor of Idler Tom Hodgkinson, and New Economics Foundation director Andrew Simms chaired the talk. The most interesting part of the talk was the Q&A with a current Tesco’s employee in the crowd fighting Tesco’s corner.

Suffering from festival fatigue since last year, (which I can only blame on Glastonbury) I was convinced to attend SGP this year by dear friends. This review is written in broad stokes, you can come to SGP to get to grips with the string theory, learn to juggle fire, take part in surreal & outrageous action camps and much more. Without regret, I am rejoicing and celebrating last weekend and I shall look back in great fondness of what SGP provided.

Without a doubt, we all will be returning next year and might make it a yearly affair from this point onwards. SGP said it will be exploring the Revolutions of Past, Present and Future, from the physical through to the conceptual. Requesting the campers to stage their own revolutions, devolutions and evolutions bringing the Garden to life with parades, music, performance, sculpture, installations, happenings, and theatre. Secret Garden Party certainly have succeeded.

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