Once a year for the last 13 years, not far from the lovely village of Clitheroe, fields of sheep are temporarily evicted to make way for a weekend long party like no other. It’s my second time at Beatherder and as it was my fave festival of summer 2017 I had high expectations, and it did not disappoint!
Travelling from Scotland we took the scenic route, but timed our journey well enough that we missed the morning drizzle, passed hills and overcast clouds until a patchwork of tents rolled into view; a couple of twists and turns later we had arrived at the gates and a welcoming bunch shepherded us into the car park.
The layout was much the same as previous years, each venue offering a different feast for the eyes. You’d be forgiven for wondering if it was a case of style over substance, as the attention to detail is outstanding, there’s so much to take in visually, towers and turrets, flags galore, a mansion, giant sheep sculptures, humorous signage, a street alongside a forest which includes a garage, church, taxidermy shop and tattoo parlour, and that’s before the music had even kicked off!
There was lots of water points spread throughout the arena and campsites, which is always a bonus. The terrain is pretty rocky and with lots of tree roots and slopes to contend with. Security was tight and efficient at the main arena but they were some of the friendliest security staff I’ve come across.
The music started at 4pm, the feisty Drum Machine came on, their energetic display of drumming and theatrical costumes were powerful enough to summon the sun through the clouds and the people started flocking! Back at the campsite we heard the crowd sing along to S Club 3, alongside the hum of generators, allusive beats and the murmur of happy campers getting set up, it was a surreal experience!
We headed to Trash Manor for Exe Project, who unleashed a pounding set of bass heavy beats as pole dancing robots writhed on stage and revellers leapt around huge bouncy inner tubes and danced by the fountain, while others sat around on sofas and armchairs, taking in the luxurious surroundings and ornate decor.
Soon a flock of owls on sticks appeared, handed out to the crowds by Nocturnal Notion, who twit t-wooed the sun bathed punters with some banging dance music. After perusing the various food stalls I had a vegan ‘duck’ wrap for dinner before catching some of Ibibio Sound Machine at the Beatherder Stage who performed a super blend of soulful African funk with heartfelt vocals and disco vibes.
We headed back to Trash Manor for Dohnut, a bouncy disco punk spectacle fronted by two glitzy female powerhouses, who dazzled an appreciative and playful audience. Afterwards it was time to head to The Parish Church to hear the sermon of Sister Goulding and the Biblical Bongo Bitches, we danced on pews as a nun mimed and raved along, the DJ span dance anthems and a thorn crowned chap played the drums, with a small brass section playing at the front, leading to high praise all round from a willing flock.
Next up was High Contrast playing at the Beatherder Stage, it was a dream come true for me, an expansive repertoire of live drum and bass and two amazing female vocalists, bringing sheer joy to a mixed crowd of young and old ravers. They were a perfect warm up for, Orbital, who were truly out of this world! Their audiovisual display was exceptional, they clearly still love what they do! There was a lot of older ravers in the crowd, long term fans of their old school vibes, and it turned into a total love fest, with hugs from strangers and high fives all around it made me so euphoric I wanted to phone my dad and thank him for introducing me to their music!
We made a quick dash to Boom Box for the last half hour of DJ Instinctive who played some peachy house remixes to a small but appreciative crowd and an array of people watchers lined the sides enjoying a seat and the ambience. My sister and I had so much fun dancing to the tribal house numbers a random stranger told us we were ‘a whirlwind of happiness’ that were bringing her joy just by being there! This was an ongoing occurrence the whole weekend. Beatherder is full of love and appreciation, their ethos of being built on unconditional love shines through. It’s rather impressively maintained that free party atmosphere despite the dedication to developing it into a properly established festival.
Friday night turned into an adventure! I conquered some fears, by teleporting in a telephone box (ie crawling through a dark and dusty underground tunnel), danced on some vintage cars at The Garage, visited Hotel California for a dance, but managed to leave to go on the waltzers and was given the confidence to go on the Vertigo ride by a total stranger, who soon became a friend, such is the nature of this super friendly and hedonistic festival!
I enjoyed an energetic set by Phibes, who was playing absolute bangers of all genres at The Ring, from the comfort of the big wheel! We were singing our hearts out and trying not to jiggle the seat too much as we viewed the festival from above. We popped into The Snug for a short boogie, then the Bushrocker Hi-Fi for some dub, then it was campfire and drum circle time for the truly hardy party animals, before heading to bed at a respectable hour of 4:30am.
We sidestepped, span and kicked our way into Saturday afternoon at a dance workshop ran by Northern Soul Dance School, at the Beatherder and District Working Men’s Social Club; it was great fun and suitable for all levels, even the hungover and sleepless, despite the rumours that it’s tough oop North we all had a blast!
Honeyfeet played to a jubilant and sunny crowd at the Beatherder Stage; front woman Rioghnach Connolly brings an incredible stage presence and belted out impassioned vocals with sass and ease to their multilayered genre-bending sound.
Beatherder is bold, intense, organised chaos, bringing all kinds of people together for the love of a good party. It’s part rave in a field and part high end spectacle, which equates to full on rambunctious fun! It draws an attractive crowd of party goers, many adorned with flower crowns, hot pants, glitter and UV bling and if you need to top up on such delights there’s plenty to be found amongst the stalls at The Lazy Meadow. There was a lovely vintage stall among the usual festival shops and we were enamoured by the beautiful goods at Sequinporium, with unique items to suit all budgets for those who simply want to dazzle. The delightful Vic guided us through her designs and many items on offer with enthusiasm and sparkle!
The afternoon sun was pretty fierce so after some shopping we headed for some shade at Stumblefunk, but were soon working up a sweat to a lively set from Cenote Sounds, who brought loyal junglists to the dance floor and threw some cheeky raggatek in for good stompin’ measure! It was somewhat hampered by the next band running their sound check over the top of the last 20 minutes or so which was quite bizarre, and medics driving partially into the tent to assist some poor soul who’d twisted their ankle, but Roodboy’s enthusiasm shone through and the truly determined kept bouncing along as onlookers spectated and lazed like lizards round the shady sidelines.
Morcheeba brought some glamour to the Beatherder Stage with intense, clean vocals and a musically tight performance. Playing a mix of older and newer tunes, including a great cover of ‘Let’s Dance’, their expertise showed, and Skye’s mesmerising moves melted a large crowd in the baking hot sun.
Afterwards, for a complete change of scene, I hung out on the balcony at The Fortress, fist pumping to the mayhem inducing guys from Off Me Nut records, watching the donk fuelled crowd was quite a spectacle to behold!
After that intensity we went for a sit down at Trash Manor and watched Tirikilatops, a synth pop punk trio from outer space, well technically Korea, who gave a kooky, gimmicky and colourful performance to a bemused and giggling crowd. They appealed greatly to the children in the audience, I saw more kids there than any other time during the weekend, as it’s not a family focussed festival, the children’s area is small, it really is a lot of grown up fun, which adds to its unique atmosphere.
Grace Savage entertained us at The Ring, with her impeccable beatboxing. She did a fantastic cover of The Cardigans ‘My Favourite Game’ while a middle aged man dressed as Einstein casually did forward rolls down the slope, landing in his own top hat (not an official part of the show but entertaining all the same!) A technical hitch interrupted her performance, but she handled it with real grace declaring that “When everything’s going wrong and the machines are dying we can always rely on the human voice alone”, before launching into an impressive mashup including snippets of songs by Missy Elliot and M.I.A.
There was a spectacular display of fireworks that night, which we enjoyed from the comfort of the campsite, my sister and our friend held each other and Oo’d and aa’d, we all agreed it was one of the best we’d ever seen!
Soulwax dazzled us further with their impressive troupe of no less than 3 drummers and all manner of fancy buttons and levers, and a spectacular stage set up, they took us on a journey of futuristic sounds, cramming their best known hits into a ten minute long medley at the end. Next up Utah Saints did what they do best at The Ring, serving up a heavenly platter of dancefloor bangers and mash ups; we reached for the lasers and stomped our way through their entire set! Drumsound and Bassline Smith followed, sparing no prisoners, throwing us straight into some seriously heavy and hectic drum and bass. With tired legs but buzzing minds we headed to the Toil Trees, the birthplace of Beatherder, a literal forest of delight; we hugged crochet clad trees and listened to Pete Tong play to a packed crowd, while swirling psychedelic lasers decorated the branches above. We made some new friends at a bench, then went to the church to confess our excellency. We strolled to The Lazy meadow where the stalls, sculptures and shiva pipes live and my new friend and I lay under the interactive, steampunk inspired light sculpture made by Spiral Tree Enterprises and talked love, life and the universe for a while. We mingled at the campfire and hung out in a small, carpeted tin shelter nicknamed that night ‘the octopus pod’, with some random oddballs. Looking out onto huge wicker badgers, we nibbled nuts from the welfare tent as the sun rose, before I bid them farewell and headed to bed at an even more respectable time of 7:30 am.
After a good sleep and a lazy start we chilled in the kitsch and bright garden of Bubba Gumma before the Toil Trees called us with the promise of the legendary Mr Scruff. Notorious for his epic long sets, barefoot and bountiful he revived a rabble of ravers in various states back to life with a blend of funky soulful beats in that scruffy Sunday style. We rested in the shade of the chill out tent next to the Beatherder Stage and watched London Astrobeat Orchestra perform songs by Talking Heads. It was an uplifting display, with their matching outfits and creative interpretations it was great for the relaxed crowd and we all joined in on a good sing along to their take on 'Psycho Killer'.
Late Nite Tuff Guy cast a spell over the Toil Trees with some cheesy disco crowd pleasers, temporarily giving off the vibe of a gay bar, it drew a stream of cross dressers, disco queens and all manner of camp costumes and dance moves, inducing contagious smiles all round!
Speaking of costumes this year’s fancy dress theme was the letter E, I observed many Eggs, Einsteins, Extraterrestrials, Eagles, Elephants, and a rather impressive set of his and hers Edward Scissorhands costumes. Egyptian Pharaoh outfits are a good strong look that the beautiful men of Beatherder wore very well, I certainly didn’t get bored of spotting them or the many ivy clad, wannabe Eves wandering around!
The last big dance of Sunday was coaxed out by the fantastic Freestylers with Navigator, who played a blinding set across all the drum n bass subgenres and a sprinkling of their hits over the years as the heaving crowd kicked up a dust storm on the dancefloor. We retreated to the balcony to dance to Ed Solo, as the sun set and the lasers came out to play against the dramatic backdrop of The Fortress.
A curious thing happened on Sunday night, as we did a last chance dash around the various venues and stages to say our farewells. We entered Sunrise, the glowing UV endowed area which hosts the psytrance DJs for the weekend, a genre which I generally tend to endure rather than enjoy. But Techno Hippie somehow enticed me in and I found myself absolutely loving it! Beatherder is simply full of surprises!
In the crazy upside down world of a Beatherder Sunday the dance music areas close down just before the main stage so we caught the last song of Django Django there before heading to the campfire. My friend and I enjoyed cuppas back at the campsite as our neighbours partied on through the night, I watched the Vertigo ride flow and spin on in the distance for those last minute thrill seekers and reflected on what had been a superb and satisfying weekend.
It’s hard to pinpoint what makes Beatherder so special; the spectacular creative decor, that independent festival vibe, the beautiful variety of people with hedonistic outlooks, the impressive and varied line ups or something about that fresh Northern English air, whatever it is it’s sure to bring people flocking towards its bright and dizzying light for as long as its beautiful heart is beating.
Article by: Celia Donovan
Photos by: Duke Studios