Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire
El Dorado Festival is burrowed in the dense, jade-green countryside of Malvern Hills – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; its home a luscious corner of woodland and lake. It’s here that the hedonistic magic of the event happens. 2022 marks the festival’s first four-day celebration, adding a Thursday to the programme. Already, the gates are busy with drenched campers eager to pitch up and wind down.
Inside, festival-goers have the choice of heading to the Tipsy Tipis for some unassuming bliss – think funky basslines laced with garage, grime and noughties cuts – or get acquainted with the larger dance tents for a rather soaked, and soggy, dance. On the first day, Craig Charles closes the night with a shallow dip into his bag of classics, alongside funk-pop and disco bops. Fire dancers light up the set at Cirque Du Soul, bringing a flair of circus-themed danger to the opening of the theatrical event.
On Friday, we begin with a mouthwatering brunch from El Dorado’s restaurant. HotBox delivers with its rustic plates and cutlery, cocktails on tap, and a full hospitality experience – a festival feat. Come night the eatery turns into a haven for spliced-up broken beats. We venture to Mount Boom, an Aztec temple embellished with symbols beneath a canopy of trees. The space is a firm nod to the legend of El Dorado – whispers of a lost treasure that cannot be found. Crazy P Soundsystem heads up the Mount’s opening, treating listeners to cuts of slinky disco. Danielle’s intermittent vocals colour the mix, and she entertains the audience with an enduring attempt to climb from the temple face, onto its golden steps and towards the crowd.
The festival’s main live stage – The Garden – hosts a line-up of British musicians. Both Kojey Radical and Enny masterfully navigate their way through their slots; Enny earnestly delivering her bars and speaking about the importance of safe spaces. Monikah Lee hypes Enny from the decks, the dynamism between the pair creating a powerful atmosphere. On the Sunday, Afrobeat-jazz flavours from Nubiyan Twist galvanise a sleepy crowd into action and movement, whilst acts such as Riot Jazz and Barney Artist deliver affirmative, soulful sets. The daytime crowds for live acts, however, remain sparse throughout the festival. Perhaps this is reflective of an industry-wide struggle to fill boutique festivals in a post-pandemic landscape, with audiences carefully considering their finances and health. The ripple effect of festivals struggling to sell tickets can be felt here. However, those in attendance exude a ceremonious energy. This is exemplified by Hak Baker’s set, during which he says to the Garden crowd: “It’s about us being together, fucking off to Babalon,” before performing Venezuela Riddim and stirring surges of collective joy.
Over at the Nest – a space steeped in nostalgia for 90s rave culture – the space becomes a home to some of the weekend’s best DJs. The dense canopy of woodland provides a retreat from life outside of the festival, a space to tune into music and dance. It’s here that Sherelle electrifies ravers with a set of ferocious footwork, her infectious enthusiasm being soaked up by the crowd. In between – in her words – “chopping it up for you,” Sherelle creates an intimate dialogue between herself and the audience; her magnetism, joy and star quality shining through. Before and after, SZNS7N boss LCY and Bristol club royalty Emmy fill the space with breakneck beats and a blistering energy. The Nest proves itself to be one of the best areas at El Dorado, playing host to a line-up of favourites including Theo Kottis, Peach and Yung Singh.
The hotly-anticipated debut of El Dorado’s party multiplex, Vice City, transports its audience into a Sims-esque simulation of multicoloured estate. From the retro Motel and Diner, to the chic Boudoir and steamy Sue Veneers, its liveliness makes the City feel irresistible when night settles in. Sue Veneers feels monumental as El Dorado’s first queer venue, with its discotheque, catwalk and queens compelling you to detach yourself from any self-consciousness and embrace a sense of freedom. Shigella hosts a tits-and-teeth-themed evening, inviting partygoers to catwalk and pose amongst the Sue Veneers Club dancers, an exhilaratingly queer experience.
Directly opposite, The Boudoir is a notably good venue for late-night live music. Brighton-based label Tru Thoughts take over on Saturday, introducing an avant-garde, triple-A bill: Aurora Dee Raynes, Anchorsong and Anushka. All rhythmically vibrant and distinct in their own ways, the sonics are an ode to the independent label. This space, and The Garden, become platforms for progressive ideals and socio-political discussions that slice through the El Dorado utopia, as some acts use their sets to advocate for causes and criticise current structures. Elsewhere in the strip, Zaltsman is a highlight, his idiosyncratic way of collaging club tracks physically shakes the Good Life Hotel.
Fuchsia-coloured El Dorado ‘cash’ is circulated around Vice City, sticking out of bras and strung onto cowboy hats. The playfulness of the festival runs throughout the site, with its invitations to try aerial hoop and slacklining, or bounce on a rubber raft dancefloor floating on the lake. Björn Again are a testament to the enduring legacy of ABBA, the sunshine and the days’ gold outfit theme creating a radiant singalong to the greatest hits. The seductive cabaret at Club Rouge is a highlight that’s not to be missed, hosting outrageously sassy burlesque, provocative musical comedy and downright jaw-dropping hair suspension. Indulgently, we head back twice.
Towards the end of El Dorado, I realise I’m not leaving with a Notes page full of musicians to deep dive, but I am leaving feeling spirited, full of joy and in awe of the theatrics. El Dorado’s charm lies in its labour of love, the organisers having spent three years imagining and creating new alluring spaces whilst tenaciously overcoming obstacles. The re-opening of the industry has been turbulent, so grab your friends and party local. El Dorado offers the perfect playground for a revitalising dose of being together.