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Festival review: Secret Garden Party 2012

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Tucked away in the rolling fields of Cambridgeshire the Secret Garden Party unfurls itself around the lake, waiting to be discovered by thousands of music-loving ‘Gardeners’ with the ability to make it bloom. SGP is independent in every sense of the word, from its independent funding right down to those responsible for the independent vibe: “It is your party”. 

Caravan PalaceThe little earth-embracing hub genuinely seemed to self-generate: each stage settled quietly into its place, and anyone who should stumble across it became another blossom on its branch. Forget the actual river; everything was connected by a downright torrent of mud. Refreshingly, this set the tone for the festival as decidedly ‘hippy’ over ‘hipster’: glampers need not apply. 

The crowds started to party, or rather hazily gravitated towards the tents mid-afternoon, in search of dark corners and bright new talents. Sun-drenched activities included electro-swing classes somewhat compromised by the mud, festival friends mourning your death at the funeral parlour, and a bit of S&M next door to the snake-and-tarantula table. 

The Crossroads tent got hips swaying as the sun went down with its mix of rock and blues. Spanish Juan Zelada warmed up passers-by on the Friday with his feel-good, listenable pop folk (which is ten times better live); teenage up-and-comer Jake Bugg packed out the floor space with his Beatles-inspired sound; and retro rock ‘n’ rollers The Jim Jones Revue tore up the venue with their late-night set. 

A few hundred yards away saw water nymphs queuing up to party out on the lake at The Pagoda. Meanwhile, neighbouring stage Where The Wild Things Are took a more laid-back approach with its rougher-than-gravel act Beans on Toast. Now part of the furniture in his sixth year at the venue, folk singer Jay’s set involved playing half of each song, royally messing it up when his new band tried to join in, and making us forget the train wreck with his big ole heart and a few witticisms. He was funnier than Tim Minchin’s Saturday slot, in fairness. 

The stage also welcomed the likes of Lianne La Havas, with her sweet soul that earned her a place in the top 10 album chart this month, and folk-pop monarch reincarnation King Charles. 

Not to be missed at the Great Stage was band du jour Alabama Shakes. Lead singer Brittany Howard turned up with a Union Jack flag and an uncontestably outstanding, no-frills vocal. By the time ‘Hold On’ was showcased the crowd was putty in their hands, and the rock quartet became the key act to every ‘highlights-so-far’ discussion for the rest of the weekend. 

Once settled at the main stage, watching the sun go down by the big red bar, it was difficult to find the will power to trudge back through the mud. So we didn’t. Jamaican reggae sensation Little Roy soothed us, while Vintage Trouble shook up an undeservedly modest crowd on the final hazy Sunday. 

Saturday night was when the festival really came into its own, though. After the ‘infamous paint fight’ at the Great Stage, a massive fire on the lake, and a blow-up moon being released into the sky complete with fireworks and smoke-emitting parachutists, Orbital took to the decks. The field was completely packed, lasers fired in every direction (including from the duo’s eyes), and the ravers’ new album Wonky sat comfortably alongside the established ‘Halcyon’ and co. 

The Great Stage may have come up with the goods, but SGP’s Gardeners were by no means satiated. The crowd dispersed, each in search of his own after party along the river. Hidden in the woods, dance tent The Artful Badger was tipped to boast some excellent DJ sets for those who could find it, with highlights including American electro talent Seth Troxler playing alongside Fabric nightclub’s resident DJ Craig Richards. 

More accessible in the main grounds were the towering walls of Temple of Boom, guaranteeing an energy-fuelled end to the night. A stone’s throw away was the after-dark social buzz of Crossroads, with a time machine of rock and roll blaring out of the speakers. 

The festival came to an almighty swinging denouement with Parisians Caravan Palace topping the bill at the Great Stage (read our interview with them here). They proved experts in overstimulation, creating an energy that rivalled even Orbital’s headline rave from the previous night.  

Secret Garden Party takes the finest elements of the best festivals and strings them up into a music-lover’s paradise. Here you can love the Earth and each other; descend into the debauched rockstar mentality; discover tomorrow’s talents; rediscover existing diamonds. Leave reality behind and make the Secret Garden flourish.




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