“The dance keeps going all night long, till the morning sun begins to shine… AY!”
Walking towards the main stages early on in the weekend and hearing Miriam Makeba’s “Pata Pata” waft out from the non-serious House of Dinosaur tent was a beautiful moment. This was not least because it was a pleasant surprise to hear this old family favourite of mine at a music festival, nor was it because the spirit of a song that I’ve known for as long as I can remember suddenly had more relevance than ever before. What made this moment really special was the realisation it gave me about the place I had come to: that from its small stages, to its larger ones, from its vendors of delicious food, to its campers who were assigned with aux duties and knew well the mantra about sleeping and cheating, at all corners, Farr festival oozed a pure and genuine love for great music.
The line-up included a handful of DJs that were already among the best I’d seen and a load more that were high on my “to see” list. As for all the rest, I assumed them to be first-rate by extrapolation. With perfect weather forecast all weekend, I and 7,500 other revellers headed for Bygrave Wood with great anticipation.
Landing in the camping area after an unfortunate 2-hour wait, to the east, at the top of the festival site, you saw the woods, the attractions, and all the fun that waited for you. To the west, there were moors as far as the eye could see and the flatness of the land where the sun went down made for some of the most beautiful sunsets I’d ever seen. In fact, the aesthetics of the festival, including stage designs, scenery, lighting and layout was impeccable.
My first proper taste of the festival was the Factory, which acted as the main stage. It was the largest one and generally the music there was the most accessible. It had a cool, illegal rave feel with stacked up cargo crates surrounding the 2,500-capacity standing area.
There were some magnificent DJ sets at the main stage from underground artists who knew which tracks from the top shelf would have appeal there (and were willing to dig them out). To close the stage on the Friday, Daphni blasted out big crowd pleasers in the form of: funk, disco, techno, house and electro and mixed these with supreme technical skill. He even threw in the classic curveball: “Up” by Butric without killing the vibe stone dead (something few DJs would dare to attempt, let alone manage to do). His selections, which included 2017’s big techno hit: “Vapour” by Slam and a popular Four Tet remix of Nelly Furtardo’s “Afraid“, were somewhat unsurprising but brought the house down all the same and his presence on the main stage seemed to make a lot of sense.
Programming at this stage was a little confusing at times. DJ Stingray, one of the least accessible artists at the festival, played here on the Thursday right after pop producer Jacques Greene. The following evening, Shy FX was there playing an off-the-shelf set of DnB rollers and jump-up, with plenty of pop remixes thrown in, to one of the happiest crowds I saw all weekend. I enjoyed it, however many attendees were not only crying out for more sets like this, but could be found in considerable numbers at the other, more underground stages scratching their heads, not really getting it and killing the mood slightly. It was a shame on the Friday when live band Mount Kimbie were on the main stage and a lot of people who were at a loose end were swept up by Or:la, who was playing at The Shack, and whose name probably just rang a Boiler Room shaped bell with many of them. In any case, her audience was a vast sea of disinterest which I didn’t feel like staying in for long.
It was Shanti Celeste on Thursday who stole the show for me at the Factory Stage. She seemed to know just how far out of their comfort zone the crowd were willing to venture with her. To close the stage, she veered through techno, breakbeat, garage and hybrids of these which really encapsulated her personal style. A sublime moment was when she looped vocals from Dee Jay Nehpet’s ghetto house fist-bumper “Na Na Na” over Sticky’s pensive 2-step garage rumbler “Triplets“. She also leant away from trending tunes and towards dance anthems, which I prefer infinitely and I’m not ashamed to say that “U sure do” by Strike was one of the first tracks I put on when I got home. In addition, some good programming saw Prosumer playing groovy house cuts in the woods as an alternative to Shanti, which did wonders for the atmospheres on both sides.
The other big stages – Ma Dahu’s, The Shack and Adventures in Success – were all in the woods, which is where the staple of world class selectors played, and where I spent the bulk of my weekend.
Ma Dahu’s – new this year – was hidden from the world by trees and the standing area was slanted upwards slightly, meaning everyone could see the DJ in the beautifully designed booth. With sponsorship from Smirnoff, they’d pushed the boat out production-wise; a huge bar spanned one side and served delicious, ice cold, albeit expensive drinks including perfectly prepared draft beers and ciders. And the sound system? Immense! You were surrounded by (I’ve since gathered) 4 state of the art Funktion One stacks which incorporated their latest Evolution 7 tops and F124 bass bins. To put it in layman’s terms: when a track with a fat, complex bassline dropped, you couldn’t wipe the grin off your face and it felt as if the dust from the dry earth that had gathered on you was being shaken off.
Mr G hosted this stage on the Friday and got many of us out of the campsite bright and early for his opening funk, soul and jazz set. He played records through to the end, changed the style frequently and set a carefree, relaxed tone. He even pulled out some beefy, reverbed dub records which slowed things down appropriately for the 30-degree heat while taking the bass bins for a ride at the same time. Seven hours and three DJs later, he returned to the stage to do a live 4/4 set. The music was thick rolling basslines, smooth, spooky pads and classic hooks like: “If house is a nation, I wanna be president”. What he created live by manipulating only a few elements was astonishing. The crowd, though humble in size compared to earlier, were locked into the music and the energy level set a perfect halfway house between his chilled opening session and the two and a half hours of DVS1 that were to come later. I remember thinking: damn, this guy knows how to throw a party!
Taking us into the early hours of Saturday at the Adventures in Success stage was the oxymoronic back-to-back between the seasoned, fine artists of Optimo and Farr fest’s very own class clown Young Marco (click here if you don’t know what I mean by that). Optimo were easily my favourite discovery of the weekend; they had a sense for textures, moods and emotions the like of which I’d never witnessed in a DJ before. The 20-minute stints where they were playing were real journeys though sound (and I don’t like clichés). Young Marco often broke periods of deep exploration with cheesier crowd pleasers such as DJ Koze’s – “Mi Cyaan Believe It” but, when he wanted to, he kept up with the Scottish duo superbly and, for me, the contrast and his presence in general added a lot of charm. I guess it’s Young Marco’s recurring job to give Farr fest a shake-up when people are getting too serious, which I admittedly may have been guilty of. Either way, at a set that received very mixed reviews, I had a ball.
Back at a now packed Ma Dahu’s stage, DVS1 started by mixing things up with some more housey tracks, but it wasn’t long before he broke into a style of techno best described as ‘full DVS1’. After hearing a good amount from him through my KRKs, I wasn’t ready for the sheer level of energy that he brought on a proper system – it’s indescribable. I was going it alone at this point, as were many others (you could be alone quite comfortably at Farr). I headed to the front where there was a serious party happening: Mr G was in sight, rocking out on stage and around me there was similar wild, careless dancing, interrupted only by occasional stunned astonishment with the music. I called it a night at 3:30 but there were people in the crowd that would have gladly gone for another 12 hours.
England were playing in the quarter finals of the world cup on the Saturday afternoon and Farr were charging people £5 each to watch the match at the Factory stage. These tickets sold out quickly meaning many of us had to venture to a local pub for the game. Though some people on Facebook kicked up a huge fuss about this, in reality it was only a minor annoyance.
By early evening everyone was back at the festival in good spirits from England’s victory. There was a lot of buzz for Dixon, who played an excellent set at The Shack. He mixed some upbeat synth pop cuts into his more textbook Innervisions sounds, thus catching the celebratory mood of the crowd brilliantly while giving lip service to his dedicated following. Job Jobse took on the baton from Dixon seamlessly and kept the party going into Sunday morning with more intelligent house, synth pop and a highly talked about, well received remix of “Three Lions”.
The last stage left to mention is the second smallest Campfire Headphase tent. Open till 6am and with more leftfield artists playing there, it was positioned to draw people in who were heading between the bigger stages and the campsite. Many people, me included, came here and heard sounds we didn’t even know existed. Among its line-up were Skee Mask, Antebop, Natureboy Flako and the sorcerers that managed to win a Farr fest DJ competition.
I found myself here at around 2:00 on Sunday morning with DJ Richard on the decks. His set was peppered with experimental acid and EBM. He was really pushing intensely aggressive sounds at times; 2AM & FM’s “Ctb” with its fiendish vocal drowning in multiple layers of acid was an absolute “wow” moment for me. Standing level with and only metres away from DJ Richard, I could see how unapologetically into his music he was; his crate-digging sprees were frequently interrupted by stints of heavy head-bopping. Watching him sweep in people heading to and from the main stages and show them how to get down to some weirder sounds was one of the highlights of my weekend. One track that pulled in about 50 people in one go was 33 1/3 Queen’s technoid house stomper “Searchin’”. I even cancelled my first date with Roman Flügel to see how DJ Richard would close.
At 4:00, I headed back into the woods to see the last hour of Willow at The Shack. Her selections were refreshingly unique and married in-your-face euro techno and electro sounds like Furfriend’s – “Fistfuck” with broken dubby and grimy tracks like Pearson Sound’s “Starburst“. Loads of people over the weekend were mixing big stage four-to-the-floor with decedents of jungle but, out of those I saw, Willow did this the most elegantly. She also played with amazing energy, as if she was one of the crowd. She basically ticked every box for me and seeing a relatively up-and-coming DJ perform like this to 100s of people on a big stage shows what excellent taste and keen eyes for raw talent the creators of Farr fest have.
With many people heading home, the Sunday line-up was considerably smaller, but with sets from Hunee, Zip, Antal and Interstellar Funk, very few people felt deprived musically and despite the downsizing, it felt like the festival went out with a bang. In fact, if everyone attending were to vote, Zip would be a strong contender for the ‘best set of the weekend’ award. Over four hours at the Ma dahu’s stage, he showcased his unique minimal house sound that told stories of Panorama bar and Sunwaves festival. He soared through rare, other-worldly gems that gave IOM a field day, such as Son of Sound/Jus Ed’s – “I have you on my side”, before gliding back down again with deep closing classics like Paul Johnson’s “Love is Free” and the perfectly timed double-bluff that was Richardo Villalobos’ “Dexter“.
In spite of a few hiccups, I had one of the best weekends of my life at Farr fest. Their passion for music is infectious and will stay with me for a long time. Crucially though, I feel like Farr really has its place among UK festivals; in the day, big groups can see cool bands and party sets together, then overnight the lunatics can find themselves torn between DVS1, Zenker Brothers and Skee Mask, all in a perfect location. On the whole, I would say that Farr is just a few minor changes away from being one of the best on the circuit.