Beat-Herder Review 2013 Posted on Tue 9th July 2013

A wonderful festival. Anyone interested in festivals, particularly those who only think Big Is Beautiful and that a festival is simply defined by its headliners, should visit Beat-Herder to see how good a ‘smaller’ festival can be - and what they've been missing. By any standards this is a benchmark event. Size and bands don’t really matter – the ‘festival’ is the thing….it's all about the VIBE – without that there is nothing, and Beat-Herder provided a master class in, well, everything.

Last year our man rated Beat-Herder 2012 in his top three festivals ever, and 2013 only reinforced that view. Our high expectations were surpassed… we think it was the bloody FORT that did for us! We wandered on site and they had only gone and built ‘The Fortress’… a massive thirty foot high fort resplendent with turrets and belching flames and smoke. Once the strobes kicked-in, the large open air dance scene inside was reminiscent of the best of Ibiza – not a comparison usually levelled at my dearest Lancashire. That’s not the half of it of course – there are 5 distinct areas packed with goodies, 12, yep TWELVE, stages plus great scenes in the café’s and bars and loads of those little ‘flash’ happenings springing up around the place to make this all very special indeed.

The site looked beautiful – full of the casual creativity and imagination that you come to expect from Beat-Herder; set against a backdrop of stunning scenery the whole site was littered with in-house artworks and creative hidden spaces. You could sit in an old dodgem car or defunked fairground walzer and chill, or hang round the American garage and listen to the beats from the dashboard DJ’s. They've built a wonderful permanent Victorian village where you can rock in the Chapel aisles, booze in the pub, or be sprinkled with feathers by the flamboyant staff as you lie on the beds in the Hotel California. There are telephone boxes with attached tunnels to ‘transport’ you around the village…. And that’s just one of the many scenes. Remember that in Toil Trees they have arguably the most evocative dance scene space of any festival. You dance between the towering trees deep inside a raised copse. At night the hair on your neck bristles as you approach – it’s that kind of magical vibe. For a licence of 10,000 souls this is a big site of many fields and they manage to maximise every inch. They spend all year making all this unique stuff… It’s all home-spun… and wonderful.

The weather all weekend was glorious and FFA found our natural home around the camp fire in the stone circle listening to the splendid acoustic and ambient sounds emanating from Smokey Tentacles or the marvellous Yur Teas café and music tent. What a wonderful space to watch the sun go down, or indeed up. The list of spaces is endless – Beat-Herder can turn you in to a butterfly – not only do you become a beautiful thing for a few days but if the mood takes you then you can flit from one happening to the next, taking in the nectar along the way and then moving on. You want cheese – then that would be the Working Men's Social Club; you want Reggae – Bushrocker Hi-Fi is the place; for deep deep bass beats then Stumblefunk is ground zero. I could go on (and on) but whatever you want Beat-Herder has it in spades. You getting the picture yet?

You want practical – well we have never seen so many decent toilets and wash facilities at an event this size. Their loo / audience ratio puts other events to shame. In so many ways a visit to Beatherdshire provides an education in How To Do Things Right.

You can even take your own alcohol into the arena for goodness sake … all they ask is that you spend a few bob at the excellent bars – which, incidentally, all have their own unique scenes. It really is that good.

The audience is as varied as the offerings, although most leave the kids with the grandparents for this one. They have a decent kid’s area but Beat-Herder is a festival where the adults come out to play. Truly great friendly party people treating everyone else with respect… how it should be.

Musically, Beat-Herder has been labelled an electronic / dance festival by some… after all, the organisers backgrounds reside in the northern underground music scene and they give each club tent independence to create their own vibe. (Read what organiser Nick Chambers has to say about it all here.) FFA found that any labels do Beat-Herder a disservice – there genuinely is something for everyone to love here. They had reggae and disco-funk legends on stage like Jimmy Cliff and Chic featuring the splendid Nile Rodgers. Class dance from Banco De Gaia, Slamboree, and Utah Saints. Great DJ sets from Groove Armada and Dub Pistols, plus some wonderfully inventive cross genre bands like The Monster Ceilidh Band and Skinny Lister. Chill-out Sunday in Toil Trees with Norman Jay followed by the inimitable Mr Scruff  & MC Kwasi will long remain a classic memory. There are literally hundreds of acts appearing across all the different venues over the weekend. Here are just a handful that we recall…. It’s all personal opinion, each and every act we caught was high calibre but these guys lit us up:

Friday’s Chic show was excellent … only when listening to their repertoire can you fully appreciate the impact Nile Rodgers as had on the music scene over the years. His collaborations with the likes of Bowie and Madonna were all in the mix… a brilliant funked up Let’s Dance hit the spot for FFA. Sicknote was as manic and entertaining as ever over in Maison D’Etre and some mixed up good times from Funk Soul Sisters in the Workingmen’s club capped a great day of music.

Saturday – Blimey. Two back-to-back classics on the main stage, which, incidentally nicely illustrate the musical diversity of this festival – Skinny Lister and Mountain of Love.

Skinny Lister played some excellent modern folk-rock, even jumping in the crowd for an impromptu dance before continuing to rock ‘un reel. Excellent good time music and a great show. Mountain of Love … what can we say. Hands up we’d never heard of them before but arguably one of the sets of the festival. A thrilling amalgam of genre defying styles including pys-funk and techno intertwined with heavy bluesy beats. They are some of the founder members of Ababama 3 and that class showed. Shame it was just too hot to dance or the field would have been absolutely kicking. Great band – catch them before they are massive.

Beat-Herder provides top class sound across the stages, augmented by some cracking LED visuals on the main stage. Banco De Gaia took full advantage with a haunting AV backdrop to opening number, the stunning Last Train To Llasa, then it just got better and better. Smashing stuff.  Another bit of diversity with a refreshing blast of guitar based rock from Toy. Everything from psychedelia to polished guitar hero breaks. A great show and a really entertaining band. Roni Size & MC Dynamite had Stumblefunk absolutely bouncing as did a splendid urban reggae set from Suns of Arqa over in the Perfumed Garden. Class acts one and all. No wonder we had to retire to the stone circle to chill!

Sunday – Cor What A Scorcher! It must have been tipping 30 degrees. The vibes were as hot. The Lancashire Hotpots are staple Sunday afternoon fodder with their hugely entertaining and frankly surreal skit on Northern Life… the barmy / poignant Shopmobility Scooter never failing to bring a (mock?) tear to FFA’s eye.

Monster Ceilidh Band were stunning; a brilliant main stage set which managed to get the hot, tanned, but always well oiled crowd finally on their feet for a brilliant performance. This band play Folk Drum & Bass (yes that’s right) and were in excellent form, all the more remarkable given that their regular accordionist, the talented Amy Thatcher, was indisposed and her stand-in replacement did a sterling job! They also provided probably the best slap bass playing of the weekend. Marvellous stuff.

We let the heat of the day pass chilling in the stone circle and caught some lovely acoustic sets in the Smokey Tentacles, not least some wonderful alt-folk from Bells in the Birches. We headed for Maison D’Etre for one of our festival tips Public Service Broadcasting… and couldn't get in – it was a packer! FFA danced outside with the residual crowd before managing to squeeze in just in time for Spitfire. All was well with the world. Great set. Great day. Great weekend.

As I said at the beginning – if you think ‘festivals’ are all about big bands in a field – you’ve been going to the wrong festivals. Beat-Herder will change your horizons. Ten out of Ten.

See what you missed HERE.


Article by Barrie Dimond


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Last modified on: Thu 9th April 2015

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