Last weekend something special happened. Not only did the sun come out, but 5,000 music lovers descended on Bygrave Woods, just outside of London, for Farr Festival - three days of stellar music, dancing and abandon.
After a long wait for a taxi and a longer wait to pass through security, we couldn’t wait to set up camp and crack open our first tinny. The campsite, noticeably bigger than last year, was filled with happy faces and much merriment as flurries of revelers readied themselves for the weekend ahead.
Entering the festival site, much of the layout remained the same as last year. Food trucks paved the way to the woods, the FARR sign stood proudly in the centre of the field and as you entered the wood, the stages were dotted around in their usual haunts.
Taking up the same spot as last year, This Must Be The Place sheltered its musical offerings in a colorful tent rather than the open stage we saw last year. Hosting the majority of live acts and Friday’s D’n’B showdown, the atmosphere inside was warm and friendly, pitching something disparate to the predominance of electronic dance music on all the other stages.
Across the field, last year’s Love Lounge, renamed The Raj Mahal, had been replaced by an open white tent with ornate hanging fixtures and housed some incredible music over the three days. On Friday Dan Shake joined the billing as a last minute addition, blessing those lucky enough to catch him with signature disco grooves and bouncy house numbers. But it was the penultimate set of the weekend that stuck with us - Vancouver’s Project Pablo. Playing to a small but dedicated crowd, he seemed to be having as much fun as us, dancing and singing jovially behind the decks to smooth cuts like Kennix and Bobby Youngblood’s ‘There’s Never Been (No One Like You)’ and Mark Seven’s edit of Ashford and Simpson’s ‘Lesson in Love’ - a truly wonderful moment.
Also a revision of the past was that the huge cinema screen had been moved undercover at the bottom of the field. Hosted by Hook LDN, the Shared Vision stage put on screenings of 24 Hour Party People and Human Traffic, organized Q&A sessions and even gave festival goers a dose of Karaoke.
Sat beside Shared Vision, a new addition, Locked Inn. The stage housed some smaller DJ sets, over the weekend and “Jamiroquai hour” on Friday night. Inverted commas: a distinct lack of Jamiroquai was played during that hour, much to the disappointment of the rather big crowd they'd pulled in who were raring to dance to B2B Jay Kay.
Journeying into the woods you find the remainder of the stages. Adventures In Success took the place of The Badger Hole stage, shaking off the tent and opting for an open space between the trees, which boded well with the wonderful weather.
Taking over proceedings on Thursday was Heist Recordings, who brought over the best in Dutch house music and a special live show from mystery man, Nebraska. Our favourite set of the weekend came from him, which was an hour packed with disco and soul saturated beats - including his new Heist release, ‘Khan’s Bargain’ - that gave the crowd an injection of energy. His predecessor, Frits Wentink, one of our five picks from the weekend, didn’t fail to raise a smile with his blend of wonky house and lo-fi goodness. Label bosses, Detroit Swindle took on the closing duties. Taking the crowd through cuts like ‘The Game’ - Jayson Brothers, they had us on tenterhooks until the final song, track of the moment, Midland’s ‘Final Credits’, that inevitably got a lot of airtime over the weekend.
Bringing a darker edge to the weekend’s proceedings was Hamburg native Helena Hauff. A blessing on a bill completely filled with male DJs, something the festival organizers need to address when making next year’s selections. Luckily Helena’s abilities are that of multiple women and she had Saturday’s audience gripped over two or so hours, churning out hazy kraut and solid electro-techno.
Earlier that evening Maurice Fulton swapped slots with Young Marco to give us a lesson in soul and disco. Standout moments came in the form of ‘Help Is On The Way’ courtesy of The Whatnauts and, with a tip of the hat to the other stage, Talking Heads’ classic ‘This Must Be The Place’. Young Marco followed and didn’t disappoint, the later slot suiting the electro and acid lines he played out - a perfect transition into the night ahead.
Two stages this year had had a revamp - The Shack, and The Terrace, formally Corsica Village. The organizers had widened The Shack, keeping the signature clothing lines criss-crossing above the crowd. Jeremy Underground’s set was our first slice of action at the stage. Weaving a mix of acid and disco, he suitably riled the crowd up before passing the mantle onto Rush Hour affiliate, Hunee. Never failing to disappoint, Mr Hun Lee dropped one of our favorite cuts of the weekend, Agua Re’s 1992 shimmering house groove ‘Holy Dance’ that transported us up into the cosmos. On Saturday, however, it was Palms Trax’s set that really blew us away. He moved into familiar territory with Stardust’s ‘The Music Sounds Better With You’, before pitching in pounding beats and clean kick drums in the form of Submission’s ‘Women Beat Their Men’, that worked the crowd into a frenzy.
The Terrace also enjoyed a new set up, ready to play host to the mammoth slot of the weekend - six hours of Ben UFO, Midland and Joy Orbison. Mood Hut’s new release mesmerized the crowd with its rumbling bassline and punchy trumpets before the hard edges of Fango - ‘Rectum’ shook the floor. Digging into the archives Joy O provided some nostalgia, playing out the VIP remix of Boddika’s ‘Mercy’ and then bringing us more up to speed with Mike Dunn’s BlackBall Ezee MixX of Gershon Jackson.
While we enjoyed the simplicity of The Terrace’s new look, our favorite stage of the weekend was newcomer, Hidden Palace. Concealed within the trees away from the others, it boasted huge sound and wonderful aesthetics - a giant eye loomed over the crowd and colorful bolts of light darted through the trees. It stands to reason why the queue for Gilles Peterson on Saturday steadily grew, sadly meaning we had to accept defeat and settle somewhere else.
When we did make it into the Hidden Palace, it was for the chunky offerings of Funkineven who showed complete disregard for the 3pm slot he was playing, shunning softer sounds to play out stompers like ‘XL’, his recent effort on Apron records and his Funkinevil collab with Kyle Hall - ‘Ignorant’.
Aside from the music there was some inspired artwork at the entrance to the arena. The letters that stood there read ‘Back To The Woods’. Well at least they did on the first day. Over the course of the weekend some clever people made the most out of those 14 letters. From ‘Take Tha Coke’ to ‘Do That Ket’ and ‘Boat Hoes’ to ‘Wack The Doobs’, the creative nature of the festival obviously stretched further than the musical talent on the line-up.
Much of Farr was a raging success. The sound, for the most part, was great, the staff and security were friendly and smiley and the bookings put many larger UK festivals to shame. But there are a couple of minor logistics that could take Farr to the next level - distinctly more security on entry to ease congestion and dedicated shuttle buses to avoid festival goers waiting hours for non-existent taxis.
More and more, people are choosing smaller boutique festivals over those catering to tens of thousands of attendees. If Farr Festival straightens out those small kinks they are sure to find themselves moving to the forefront of the UK festival scene.