Gilcombe Farm, Somerset | July 27-28th
Now in its seventh year, Farm Festival in Somerset manages to mesh the homely virtues of a family picnic with something more reminiscent of a scene you might stumble across whilst lost at Glastonbury at half four in the morning.
In a reasonable world, these two polar scenarios juxtapose in a way that should spur any parent into indignant violence in protection of their precious offspring’s innocence, but somehow this works. And at Farmfest, which covers a compact two-field site, no one ever gets lost.
With a line-up spreading 50 acts across a series of well monikered stages – The Battleground, The Den, Civilisation of the Rough disco soiree and the High Grade Rockers dub stage – the bash covered everything from acoustic to metal, classical to dub, reggae, blues, country, rap and virtually everything in between. And at £40 a ticket, it seemed almost rude not to.
This event is punching above its weight in an increasingly crowded festival circuit, and the standard of musicians performing is testament to the growing stature of this little festival.
Remembering a linear sequence of events from any festival weekend is always a tricky job; highlights return in their own garbled order, leaving a general impression of a good time had, with some bad dancing and much bollocks-talking thrown in.
Thankfully in this case, a few stand-out acts left an impression that managed to cut through the inevitable days of despairing introspection and bad karma that always follow such a huge withdrawal from the happy bank.
One of the featured attractions of the weekend was Man Like Me. Two guys fresh from international touring, well rehearsed and already sporting a modest amount of success, they distilled a whole boatload of disparate ingredients into a tasty, ravey pie that included pumping samples, blasting brass and impressive party vocals that tended to inspire wild arm movements in the audience.
“Sum these guys up in one word,” we said to the girl next to us. “Like Madness on drugs,” she replied, deadpan. That was four words actually, but fair enough.
The festival was buzzing for Submotion Orchestra, a Leeds seven piece, billed as dub but flirting with elements of funk and drum ‘n’ bass, sewn up by haunting cliff-hanger synth sections and a female lead vocalist that stood up the hairs on the back of your neck. Performing a tightrope walk between acoustic and electronic, their set constituted a lesson in atmosphere and musicianship.
UK Beatbox champion Reeps One turned out to be a massive draw in the bar tent. A diminutive young chap practicing what he calls, “organic electronics”, or to the layman, making awesome electro-sounds come out of his face and into a massive PA-system.
Looking like one of those dudes who are impossible to beat at Gran Turismo, Reeps walks onstage and, for almost 45 minutes, holds an entire crowd captivated as he spits his mind-boggling techno and chest pounding dub bass directly into a microphone. Mouths hang open in awe. “This is just me,” he suddenly says, stopping mid-beat. “Just me,” the place erupts …
We’ve all seen beat boxing before, but we doubt you’ve ever seen anything like this; watching Reeps One do his thing, you start to realise why Prodigy decided to take him on tour with them. “I always get more into it when I know the crowd are enjoying it,” he says afterwards. “It was brilliant in there, a great crowd.”
More happy memories of bumbling around the festival return like lost packets of rolling tobacco; a guy with a frozen chicken for a head walks past, you get inadvertently involved in a giant tug of war, rope burns all round. Somehow, you find yourself running a giant inflatable assault course, getting your ass kicked by nimble eleven year olds as you crawl, wheezing, to the finish.
Eventually you come across a full-size wrestling ring, complete with full-size leotard-wearing guys pretending to tombstone each other to raucous applause from a highly appreciative crowd. Whatever a festival needs to be successful, Farm Festival crams a frankly incredible amount it onto the equivalent of a pinhead.
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