Britain. One nation. One hundred music festivals. (Or thereabouts.) So forget the big swingers. Huw Thomas finds other fields, other music, other people to be enjoyed at more intimate events all across this green and pleasant land.
Too many festivals attempt to be all things to all men, women and children. A quick glance down the bill reads like a spin-the-bottle selection of confirmed crowd-pleasers and flavour-of-the-month filler. Really, there’s no reason to roll up to Glastonbury again. These days, it’s even on the iPlayer. Latitude. Park Life. Bestival. Lovebox. Reading. Leeds. They’re all just different sides of the same old coin. But that doesn’t have to be the case. There are plenty of festivals, enough to scratch any itch you might have, whatever your musical sensibilities. If you’re feeling the urge to unwind in a boisterous fashion, here are the alternative options for your summer festivities…
Beats & Bass
Rave culture was built on a formula that fused big speakers, empty spaces, and sweaty bodies to produce euphoric, ephemeral experiences. Thankfully, this is close enough to the festival template that bass music has lent itself perfectly to exhilarating alfresco settings. Predictably enough, London calls out like a siren to any up-and-coming producer hoping to break out, with stages at South West Four (Clapham Common, August) and Sunfall (Brockwell Park, July) offering an impressive array of artists who labour at the low end. The former can boast A-Trak, DJ Zinc, and Dizzee Rascal, while the latter keenly presents Anthony Naples, Kamasi Washington, Omar S and Zomby. Elsewhere in the big smoke, Junction 2 (Manor Park, June) will stage sets from Scuba, Move D and techno legend Carl Craig, all against a unique blend of the brutalist and the beautiful. The organisers boast of green field surroundings combined with industrial, sometimes-crumbling concrete constructions. Eastern Electrics (Hatfield House, August) is situated in the grounds of a stately home, transformed into the “ultimate hedonistic playground”. Croydon-based sound-sculptor Skream has his own stage, while MJ Cole and Bodhi are among the most exciting acts. Meanwhile, Rinse’s Born & Bred (Hackney, June) surveys the entire grime spectrum, from the chart-topping genre-don Wiley, through to local boys Newham Generals. One Love Festival (Chigwell, September) closes out the summer with the masterworks of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Big Youth and the Congos – Jamaica’s finest now found in Essex.
Blood & Thunder
One of the best aspects of festival culture is the chance to catch new artists. Exposure is essential for those trying to crack the mainstream, so festivals have been a vital part of rock, punk, metal, and almost every other genre for decades. Rather than the broad reach of the biggest gatherings, the more niche festivals cater to tastes old, new, and sometimes blue. Bloodstock (Trent, August) has metal titans Slayer and Venom, as well as the carefully selected best from the British Bandcamp collective. Wales’ eclectic Festival No. 6 (Portmeirion, September) promises post-punk pioneers A Certain Ratio and Echo & the Bunnymen, right next to Roots Manuva and Róisín Murphy (just try to ignore Noel Gallagher).
For those who fancy something that walks the knife-edge between uplifting and apocalyptic, ArcTanGent (Bristol, August) will host post-rock stalwarts Mono and Yndi Halda, while anarchist doom-merchants Godspeed You! Black Emperor headline. The Liverpool Psych Fest (Liverpool, September) is the epicentre of everything psychedelic, whether it’s kismet kindlers Demdike Stare or the alliteratively named and ever-so-exciting Rats On Rafts. Curation is the name of the game at Meltdown (Southbank, June), where Elbow’s Guy Garvey will showcase new and underappreciated talent, following in the footsteps of former festival directors Ornette Coleman, David Bowie and David Byrne. End of the Road (Larmer Tree Gardens, September) is the only place you can catch Omar Souleyman sharing a bill with Joanna Newsom and Scritti Politti.
Other & Out-There
Part of the joy of attending anything other than the most obvious events is discovering artists who will never trouble the charts. Exquisitely-titled folk social Sin-Eater (Ratlinghope, June), for example, includes a solo set from Ex-Easter Island Head and the inimitable Trembling Bells. Folk fans can also attend Wysing Polyphonic (Bourn, July) for a Luddite experience of “no microphones, speakers, backing tracks, laptops, or electronics.” Instead, attendees will be treated to the best music with “just voice, instruments, and objects.” Deep Minimalism (Southbank, June) is the chance to sink into the delicate chasm pried open by artists such as Laurie Spiegel, Pauline Oliveros and Éliane Radigue. With compositions, deconstructions, and discussions about the tiniest details that make up the world of music, it’s unlike anything else. Raw Power (Dartmouth Park Hill, May) is equally exceptional, with Melt Banana, Teeth of the Sea, and Sly and the Family Drone adding up to a “righteous psychic celebration of sound and fury.” Finally, Womad (Charlton Park, July) draws together the best music from around the world, whether it’s extraordinary salsa innovators La Mambanegra or technicolour funk doyen George Clinton. All in all, there’s no reason why you should stay indoors with Spotify this summer.