Park View Farm, Wokingham
Tucked away by a farm near Wokingham – a small town around an hour’s train ride from London – Varkala is a brand new, 500-capacity festival that’s curated by well-informed enthusiasts of leftfield house, techno and experimentally-minded DJs.
Blessed with sunshine for almost the entire weekend, the vibe of inaugural event was notably relaxed, with punters soaking up the music while laid across the grass and DJs on the bill hanging around for the whole weekend. But musically, some serious consideration had gone into the bookings. With two tents, the Shantanu Stage and the Queen B (and the former particularly benefitting from the clarity of a high quality Martin Audio soundsystem) many of the line-up’s DJs were plucked from respected UK scenes. Andy Blake headlined the Friday night, Bristol’s Jay-L eased Saturday afternoon into the evening with an effortlessly eclectic set, and selectors affiliated with revered Leeds-based radio station KMAH played for the hungover and still-awake on Sunday afternoon.
There was some international acts among the top tier too, including Daniel Wang, Avalon Emerson, Intergalactic Gary and Mr Ties. For those who are excited rather than irritated by Ties’ loose approach to mixing, his Saturday night set was a highlight. Playing for four hours, the Homopatik head dug through a collection of obscurities, occasionally cutting the music to sing vocal hooks from behind the decks and climaxing his set with the I-F edit of the Duncan Sisters’ Boys Will Be Boys before conceding to demands for one more tune.
It’s to be expected of any festival in its first year, but Varkala had some teething problems. The festival was far from full capacity, and although this did nothing to spoil the vibe of those who were there, next time there’ll need to be more tickets shifted to ensure all the DJs get the sizeable crowds the deserve. And while the sun complemented festival’s daytime-leaning schedule and the bar provided a good after-party space, there would have been an appetite for the main music tents to keep going later into the morning. Still, with a credible music policy established and various underground dance communities already behind it, Varkala can only progress from here. Keep an eye out for this one next summer.