September 21st-23rd | Eridge Park, Tunbridge Wells
Playgroup Festival is rapidly staking a claim as one of the UK’s best small festivals. If you’re a fan of fantastic music, lush green surroundings, parking up who you are at the festival gates and entering an arena of weird and wonderful fun, then this this is the one for you.
Situated between Brighton and London in the beautiful ancient deer park just outside Tunbridge Wells, Playgroup Festival caters for an intimate crowd. It’s small, perfectly formed and teeming with art, music, magic and laughter.
In what has been a truly rubbish year for UK festivals with many failing to meet ticket sales due to poor weather, Playgroup festival had its own share of heartache. Two weeks before it was due to take place in early August, the organisers made the decision to move the festival to September. The continual downpours during those awful ‘summer’ months meant the festival site was water-logged, and any vehicles, crowds or stages would damage the ecologically protected site, entirely at odds with the festival’s green ethos. But the change in date did little to deter the 2000 loyal supporters of Playgroup, and the show went on.
Now entering its third year, the organisers consciously raised the bar, extending the event to five stages of music and two 24 hour cinema tents. Fancy dress is high on the festival’s priorities and this year’s quest was to join one of the eight lost toy ‘tribes’ – think dolls, toy soldiers, dinosaurs and robots for a string of puzzles, portraits, happy hours, tournaments, treasure hunts and more. And let us not forget the line-up, which involves over 350 diverse acts through to walkabout performers, DJs, installation artists, cabaret performers and others.
On Friday we was wowed by the beautiful dark tones of Anneka, before Brighton favourite Alice Russell and her band kept the crowd bouncing as throughout her headline set at the Playpen live music stage. Crowds poured into the Toybox stage to catch The Herbaliser’s soothing hip-hop, and later that evening electro pop band Kovak – who can only be described as the UK’s answer to Scissor Sisters – and dapper disco mavericks Transformer got the crowds dancing around, with Reso drawing the curtain on Friday night’s activities with a fully powered, high octane DnB/jungle set.
Waking up to bright blue skies and glorious sunshine on the Saturday definitely enhanced the experience. Most of the revellers were in fancy dress that day, with the festival field filled with smiley faces and glitteringly great costumes. Carnival Collective blew everyone away with their infectious party vibes accompanied by a forty-strong band. But act of the day was AK/DK, two drummers playing a sprawling mass of analogue and digital keyboards and synths. Creating a chaotically beautiful and experimental sound that just makes you want to dance.
Sadly on the Sunday, the heavens did open making a few pack up and leave, but for most it didn’t deter their festival spirit and attitude and a lot decamped to the dance tent to listen to Resonators, Roots Garden and DJ Yoda.
A colorful, brilliant boutique experience with a great atmosphere, Playgroup Festival really is one of a kind.
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Words: Bee Adamic
Photos: Barka C + Rosie Powell