Review: secret garden party

Living in Cambridge, Secret Garden Party is the local festival that we all know about and save up to go to. Eleven years old, SGP is a crazy little bubble on a stately Georgian farm, crammed with more quirk and wonder than you can shake a stick at.

There are so many fun and weird components to SGP that make it so unique. This year’s stages featured the likes of Kate Tempest, Jungle and Roots Manuva among other artists, but it must be noted that music at SGP only comes second to the rest of the entertainment provided.

Given the misfortune of torrential weather for half the weekend, we stumbled upon a tent called The Forum, in which a selection of writers and editors from New Scientist were giving short talks on topics ranging from the multiverse to the question of whether animals like music or not. Despite the fact that all I was really looking for was a roof and a seat so I could eat my chips, I actually ended up laughing and learning quite a lot.

There’s almost too much to see and do. You can choose between every (extremely overpriced) cuisine from around the globe, you can see ‘Shitfaced Shakespeare’ at the theatre, and of course, you can leap into the big mud play-pit. The field is your oyster, because SGP is not a just music festival; it is an indulgent retreat, the hybrid of Edinburgh Fringe and a naturist’s back garden with crazy DJ sets in even crazier venues.

Well, it was. All the components are still there and the atmosphere is still vibrant, but something seems different. In the last couple of years SGP has reached new levels of popularity and interest, with tickets selling out almost immediately like so many other major festivals. Once the fields were filled with the mellow sounds of nearly unheard of bands and dancing hippies, but this year some of its charm had definitely faded.

After befriending a security guard I even came to learn that our sweet little festival had been corrupted with knife-wielding maniacs intent on harming innocent festivalgoers, and even a reported rape. I’m afraid it has to be said that the most prominent difference for this year’s SGP was the people that attended, and the general shift in attitude to both the music and the general peace-and-love energy that makes the festival so amazing.

Unfortunately the weather this year was horrendous too. For two of the four days we faced an evil and unyielding rainstorm, which, in its stride, flooded our tent and sent us homeward bound for the night. The sun-drenched hilly fields became an assault course of varying gradients, and the festival spirit was a tad soggy. But on returning the next day with a fresh tent and more beer, the situation soon got better.

Perhaps the very large physical shadows cast by the enormous rain clouds were the main cause for the metaphorical shadow cast upon my experience. With some sun, a tent that is waterproof (we learned the hard way), and a wide berth kept between you and the dodgy knife-wielding NOS sellers, I’m sure SGP will live up to its former glory.  Despite the awful weather and tent calamities, SGP still carries itself with an animation and musical charm that no other festival seems to come close to.

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