Farr Festival 2016 Review

· Farr Festival

The weekend of the 14th - 16th July marked the seventh installment of Farr Festival, something I had been looking forward to for some time given its impressive lineup. The fact that the festival is growing year on year in terms of capacity, the number of stages, and the variety of music on offer, just goes to showcase its increasing popularity and stature on the UK festival circuit. Located less than an hour away from London in Bygrave Woods in Hertfordshire it was easily accessible and within an hour of touching down at Stansted we had arrived at Farr.

Having pitched our tent in a virtually empty campsite at lunchtime, it was of course our investigative duty to take a tour of the site: rolling corn fields led the way up to the entrance of the arena, where more often than not revelers would trudge through the fields in contempt for utilising the designated pathway - a sight which became more prevalent as the weekend wore on. Heading up to the arena you would pass a red piano which frequently would be utilised by inebriated campers attempting the opening chords to a virtually indistinguishable version of John Lennon or the like. Further up, the marker of your imminent arrival to the site was the ‘Back To The Woods’ sign; over the course of the festival this sign suffered some light-hearted alterations, firstly to ‘Wack To The Boods’, then to ‘Smack The Doob’ and finally as inventiveness appeared to wear off, it simply read ‘Do Ket’. Perhaps that was symptomatic of the general gradual deterioration in creativity and dwindling brain function over the weekend. Our initial thoughts were to acquaint ourselves with the Locked Inn area, given its popularity from decent cocktails at reasonable prices. Before early evening had even hit us, the area was full of people swaying enthusiastically to the likes of ‘Body Heat’ by James Brown as they clutched their newly purchased Moscow Mules and Frozen Margaritas. A delightful little area adorned with hanging picture frames and twinkling lights rendered the area more akin to the back of a fortune teller’s caravan than a venue at an electronic festival.

Given its close proximity to Locked Inn, logic informed us to check out the ‘This Must Be The Place’ tent for the first time. A circular red and yellow circus tent played home to the Exit Record’s takeover, as well as various live music acts such as the Hackney Colliery Band and Afriquoi over the weekend. Here Rosh was playing to an unsurprisingly quiet tent given the time of day, but that didn’t prevent him from giving Flava D’s ‘Wheels’ a spin, much to the mutual appreciation of the few ravers present. Thursday night culminated in a packed out set at the Adventures in Success stage courtesy of Heist Recording’s Detroit Swindle. The duo entertained the early arrivers to Farr with a varied set encompassing disco and uplifting house grooves, while over at The Terrace a takeover from Birmingham’s Shadow City Soundsystem ensured everyone else was dancing. The adjacency of the two stages meant meandering from Shadow City Soundsystem to Detroit Swindle was simple, allowing us to dip in and out of each set, enabling us to catch Barbara Tucker’s ‘Beautiful People’ getting a run out at The Terrace, and merely moment’s later Moodyman’s ‘Freeki Mothafucker’ from the Detroit Swindle boys.

After Thursday night’s early finish with only a handful of the stages open, anybody would have been forgiven for mistaking Farr Festival for a relaxing few nights away. However by the Friday afternoon it was clear that this conception was to be wiped as all nine stages opened up. The Hidden Palace certainly seemed to be the most popular destination on Friday afternoon, firstly for Tesselate Soundsystem and then for Funkineven’s set which drew a huge crowd, with many agreeing that this was one of the sets of the weekend. The atmosphere was more akin to a later evening performance featuring acid house tracks such as his own ‘Dracula’, techno and disco, with Steffi’s ‘Yours’ getting a play out, keeping the atmosphere high and energetic throughout. In the early evening there was the option to rest our feet for a bit by attending the Q & A on ‘How to Start a Record Label’ at the Shared Vision tent, where Tasha and the head of Inverted Audio showed short films on the likes of Joy Orbison, as well as an in-depth discussion on Exit Records, spanning topics on the merits of pushing vinyl releases and how to ensure your first releases garner support. An unexpected early highlight came from Becca D, whose set brought a respite from the prevalence of house and techno, offering a switch up in BPM with a playful set which switched between reggae and dancehall. Perhaps a slightly unorthodox move for a set at Farr, the Beats 1 DJ opted to play Bieber’s ‘Sorry’ and Sean Paul that had even the most ardent electronic music enthusiasts smiling away. She seemed as at ease with mixing dancehall and hip-hop as throwing caution to the wind in her song selection. The focal point for many people on the Friday night came in the form of the 6 hour back-to-back set from Joy Orbison, Midland and Ben UFO. In what many people have dubbed the sound of the summer, Midland’s ‘Final Credits’ naturally received a very warm reception (as it did the other few times it was played out over the weekend). Additionally Joy O and Boddika’s ‘Mercy VIP’, ‘I’m not Dancing’ by Tirzah and 1000 Ohm’s ‘Love in Motion’ proved to be obvious highlights of the set, receiving the hands in the air reception that’s indicative of crowd appreciation. It seemed slightly strange that one of the most popular performances was scheduled at a smaller stage, and as expected it was rammed, yet something about that intimate stage and the way the sound was retained within the trees made you feel very much part of the set. Given the nature of a six hour set, we were able to flit between time spent at The Terrace, interchanged with Evan Baggs playing the Dance Tunnel takeover and then Move D at The Shack. This decision seemed to be a bit of a no brainer, and given the size of the crowd for Move D clearly a lot of people agreed. Even though the power was momentarily lost plunging the stage into darkness, hearing ‘I Gave My Love’ was a special moment.

While the majority of people had migrated to catch Andrew Weatherhall and Sean Johnston as ‘A Love From Outer Space’ or latterly Jeremy Underground, we opted for the Exit Records takeover at ‘This Must Be The Place’. Mark System provided the ideal warm up to one of my stand-out sets of the weekend in the form of dBridge and Skeptical. With Exit Records proving to be one of the most exciting labels around, constantly pushing the boundaries of innovative releases with the likes of the new Richie Brains EP, an opportunity to see its head-honcho playing b2b with Skeptical ought not to be passed up for a drum and bass aficionado. Offerings of Calibre got the crowd hyped (thanks also in part to the work of SP:MC), while Dub Phizix and Skeptical’s ‘Marka’ naturally got the rewind it so often does at DnB nights. The decision from Farr to include a tent showcasing drum and bass may seem brave to the tech-heads who see the inclusion of DnB as sacrilege, but in reality it acted as a metaphor for the feel of the festival: one which is growing and able to cater to tastes other than house, but also which wishes to retain its intimate atmosphere and doesn’t need to be taken too seriously. The duty of closing The Shack on the Friday fell to Hunee, whose set flowed with seamless ease as he meticulously chopped between disco, house and funk. It was instantly apparent that he could read the crowd and mood phenomenally well in a way that few other selectors could only hope to emulate, showcasing his distinctive style as a world-class selector by dropping in fan favourites such as Plastikman’s ‘Spastik’ and Agu Re’s ‘Holy Dance’. It rounded off a day’s lineup which constantly captured the mood of the festival by providing revelers with uplifting grooves.

The Saturday offered another day of difficult decisions in choosing who to see. Inevitable and often unavoidable clashes meant it wasn’t possible to see everyone you wanted to, and debates at the campsite ranged from Ben Pearce or Palms Trax? Auntie Flo or Gilles Peterson? Talabot or Optimo? As was often the case throughout the festival, The Terrace seemed to pick up a reasonable sized crowd relatively early in the day owing to its positioning as the first stage you come across. So for us it seemed wise to check out Aidan Docherty’s first set of the day, where we caught him playing out Pete Oak’s ‘Genus’ and the Autobahn edit of Adam Port’s ‘Here Is Why Tonight’ which made for perfect mid-afternoon listening. Once again The Hidden Palace drew a large crowd in the day, firstly for Leo Zero and Nancy Noise, and latterly for Terry Farley and Pete Heller who showcased a lesson in house music history to celebrate thirty years of the Boys Own label, playing the likes of the Ransom Note edit of ‘Ciquita’ by Bawrut and Qubiko’s ‘Disco Connection’. Up next was a trip to The Shack for what was ultimately to be my pick of the sets of the weekend in Denis Sulta, where Sub Club was providing a takeover. House and techno intertwined with disco to entertain a growing crowd which contained the Glasweigan faithful as a Saltire was raised at the front. His flawless tune selection switched between the likes of Jamie 3:26 and Cratebug, and Rhythm Masters’s mix of Todd Terry’s ‘Keep On Jumpin’. However it was when Sulta played Floorplan’s (the alias of techno mastermind Robert Hood) ‘Tell You No Lie’ that the crowd really got into the spirit of things; this was a moment matched by his own ‘It’s Only Real’ and his new one, ‘Dubelle Oh XX’, which was featured on Jackmaster’s DJ Kicks mix. As the latter track reached its brief dubstep break the crowd roared with appreciation and a unified sense of euphoria erupted in The Shack, paving the way for things to come later in the evening.