Bygrave Woods, Hertfordshire
5 - 8 July
At the heart of Farr Festival is a small, good-vibes DJ booth soundtracking a vast forest bunker. By 2pm, the people here are cheerful, gilded with sweat, drunk, decorated by woodland materials, and often topless, because the sun is devastating.
Nobody is not dancing, unless they have danced for so long that they are now on the floor, inhaling the dust kicked up by dancers around them. But they won’t be down for long. They’re probably already wondering if, in a moment or two, they might be ready to rise to their feet, readjust to the rhythm and rejoin the sweltering crowd, stamping their dusty trainers in the soil.
The dust is an unavoidable component of this dance festival, an hour east from London and now in its ninth year, expanding comfortably. The dust is everywhere and, in league with your sweat, it will not be stopped until it has coated your entire body, paying particular attention to your nostrils.
It is not optimistic or hyperbolic to say that Farr festival gets inside you: not only is it immersive and soulfully curated, but its very fabric, this telltale, floating-around soil, becomes insinuated into your own body. It is Farr’s calling card, imprinted on your skin like a magic tattoo that appears only when you rub it.
The five main stages across this dusty festival, with which Crack is partnered, and which takes about 10 minutes to encompass, are all midsize and appealing and at the right volume. For all the fripperies elsewhere, nothing beats the Campfire Headspace tent. It bears the closest resemblance to a perfect club: dark and narrow, with a red light and articulate DJs whose sets allure, rather than snatch for attention. Skee Mask plays Friday night with insistent beats and synths burdened with mortal unease. Rhythmic harmony meets a sense of technological malfunction, leading you somewhere oddly calm, a lifeline from all that’s broken and out of key.
The music is all dance-oriented but amply versatile with it. Josey Rebelle, at a side-stage in the woods, blasts out a raw set that feels like catharsis from the sun-blasted luxury. Mount Kimbie play a sequence of upscale pleasantries, sometimes resembling New Order minus serotonin. But by their 10.30pm slot on Friday night, it barely matters; a few in the crowd are already going nuts during soundcheck.
The de facto main stage – and Mount Kimbie’s location – is the Factory arena, a patchy field surrounded by shipping containers. On Thursday night, as if to honour the metallic enclosure, Jacques Greene punctuates his languid house set with 808 clatter. As ever, he turns elegant hooks into rabbit-hole odysseys, letting them hang around unresolved in a deep, slick humidity. The melodies seem perfectly still even as they intensify and circulate, so your mind can explore them like oceans. Before the show has a chance to feel aimless, Greene rewards us with Frank Ocean’s White Ferrari, and then ends, as he does, with a euphoric Another Girl. The tension he’d smuggled into our evening dissolves in a sunset haze.
Octavian’s Factory set is a Friday afternoon R&B booking that might’ve jarred on paper. But despite sometimes mumbling under his backing track, he’s a sharp entertainer. He sings in a blasé croak that, with each line, rises in hope and fizzles out like the end of a dream. Halfway in, he pauses to recall a recent show in Ibiza alongside Stormzy. “And guess what happened?” he yells, like a town crier bearing the morning news. “England won!” Waving his hands, he rockets around the stage and sings along to Three Lions, played in full by his DJ. The few hundred assembled lose their sun-stroked minds.
For some, the Factory’s unavoidable highlight, the following day, will be its broadcast of England’s World Cup quarter-final victory over Sweden. (“Wait, Davey’s just won 8-and-a-half grand!” one girl beamed afterwards. “It’s really coming home!”) But in truth, it was just one wave of pleasure in a weekend-long tide. After the game, past a few fairground rides and food stalls, Gerd Janson in the Shack bunker is charismatic enough to drown out the chants of “It’s coming home.” He glides from labyrinthine techno to mystical disco, to a crowd that’s seemingly doubled overnight, full of ravers in spangly silver hats and body suits. Later on, New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle plays as blue, purple, yellow and green lights patrol the treetops, and for a few moments everyone is illuminated, ecstatically shaking the dust from their feet.