Highlights: Secret Garden Party 2008

April Welsh | Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Highlights: Secret Garden Party 2008

After a short, pleasant journey from Kings Cross we tumbled off the train into the sleepy village of Huntington. A ‘party bus’ (or a white taxi-van filled with excited revelers) took us to the site.

It soon became evident that The Secret Garden Party was to be a very English affair indeed, complete with picnics, tea parties and all their associated eccentricities. Think village fete-meets-Alice in Wonderland, on acid.

The setting for The Party was extraordinary; a landscape garden beautifully sculpted to include a lake and smooth sloping hills in its design. For this reason alone, it could be said to be a cut above so many other English festivals offering simply flat, muddy fields to enjoy.

It was impossible to lessen the beauty of the surroundings in any way, being so tenderly and thoughtfully crafted and glittering with a multitude of strange objects, characters and cozy hideaways in every nook and cranny. The Party had clearly been created with the blood, sweat and tears of those who have an eye for design and beauty.

This was a chance to leave normality at home for the weekend and to indulge in some serious excess and wayward nonsense. The Secret Garden Party definitely took the term ‘escapism’ to a new level. People had really ‘gone to town’ with the fancy dress; there were ballerinas, grannies, even a quartet of pall-bearers complete with a boom-box encased coffin.

Despite its arguably middle-upper class demographic, The Party was completely lacking in snobbery and insolence and I couldn’t have wished for a friendlier crowd.

One organiser said that it had taken over a week and a half to set the party up. After putting up our tent and spending some time taking in the ‘sights’, the Friday night kicked off with an electro-feast, Metronomy and Punks Jump Up both fighting for the crown. Metronomy stole the show, with their boundless energy and scorching classics like ‘You Can Easily Have Me’.

After these performances ended, there were enumerate tents offering a range of music from Dupstep to Gabba, brimming with sweaty revelers dancing by the lake long into the night, fashioning costumes from recycled foam, or playing piano with half-naked men sporting top-hats.

Another morning and another sparkling blue day. Despite having spent the night gasping for air in a tarpaulin tomb, it was impossible not to be raring to go. En route to the day's musical feast, some weird and wonderful sights caught the eye, including a lecture on electro-magnetism and mind-control.

On the stage were colourful Brazilians Bonde do Role. They roused the crowd with their good, clean fun and lively sound. However, they took it upon themselves to mix incongruous, slightly irritating 80s and 90s ‘classics’, so much so, that they could be regarded as a novelty act.

Whilst waiting patiently for Sons and Daughters to come on, the atmosphere was lacking. Perhaps explained by the fact that an Indie guitar band, albeit a good one, are not quite fitting to play the main stage of a festival where its guests simply worship anything with a beat. For example, The Whip, playing later that day, went down a treat, with their dirgy electro sound and relentless sweaty energy.

On a similar vein were electro-scenesters Kissy Sell Out, who also successfully entertained the masses. After escaping The Hoosiers to watch a rapping violinist, a return to the main stage saw Grace Jones performing.

It was an incredibly wooden performance, heightened by the fact that she clearly was not used to playing outdoor festivals, but is perhaps more suited to formal, theatrical concert halls. What was more disappointing was that I had heard on the grapevine that the organiser had blown half of the festival’s budget on acquiring Grace Jones.

Undeniably, Secret Garden Party was a well-thought out and well-organised festival which sustained its ethos of universality throughout by offering pretty much something for everyone. It also felt like one of the safest and happiest festivals, which is reassuring. However, perhaps next time the headliner could be someone just a little bit more accessible.

Rating: 4/5