Review: The Beat-Herder Festival

12:01 17 August 2012

Orbital headlined Saturday night at The Beat-Herder Festival. Photo by Ian Palmer

Orbital headlined Saturday night at The Beat-Herder Festival. Photo by Ian Palmer


It’s been great for sport, but this summer the capital has had mixed success with music festivals.

There have been devastating cancellations – Londoners were cruelly robbed of Kylie and Jason Donovan’s reunion – and even The Boss was cut off mid gig.

For dance music fans, the biggest blow was the demise of Bloc 2012, the highly-anticipated festival shut down by police after dire overcrowding on the first night.

While some will see it as a mercy that Kylie and Donovan’s show was canned, many were more miffed at missing out on Orbital’s scheduled headline set at Bloc.

Having seen the techno pioneers a couple of weeks earlier at a little-known festival up north, it was a crying shame I can tell you.

The Hartnoll brothers were among the headliners at The Beat-Herder Festival, a smallish, friendly and unpretentious party in the beautiful setting of the Ribble Valley in Lancashire.

The eclectic bill also featured dub legend Lee Scratch Perry, jungle megastar Goldie, as well as Mr Scruff, James Holden, Death in Vegas, Utah Saints, The Orb and many, many more.

Like all good festivals, amid the clutch of big names that jump out at you, there’s a conveyer belt of talent and up-and-coming artists that might go under the radar, until you stumble upon them. There were plenty of pleasant suprises.

As the name might indicate, it’s a dance-heavy line-up, but one with a fair dollop of live bands, especially of the ska-tinged variety.

We arrived fairly late on the Friday, and after getting set up, caught the back end of Death in Vegas on the main stage, a fittingly wacky, psychedelic induction to the weekend.

From there it was the Stumblefunk tent, where Manchester-based broken beats maestro Steve Thorpe put in a cracking set, and then on to one of the festivals biggest highlights: the Toiltrees ‘stage’.

Here we have a thumping soundsystem in a forest glade, with revellers dancing in between the trunks of some soaring, majestic trees. I’m not sure what they were, but they were big – this has to be one of the prettiest settings to host such filthy beats.

After soaking up Utah Saints, we left for a parade of wooden huts built nearby, which form a strip that feels like something out of an old western film, complete with saloon bar, church and the consistently heaving Hotel California blasting out house vibes.

Saturday night saw Orbital put in a high-octane performance, sporting their trademark head lamps and accompanied by mesmerising visuals, the crowd – a fancy-dress melange of Ali Gs, astronauts and Alice Coopers (can you guess the theme?) – lapping up their new material as much as the old. Earlier in the day, the Smerins Antisocial Club proved one of the discoveries of the weekend, a funk band from Bristol who had the main stage crowd rocking. Their dub reggae-tinged rendition of the Doctor Who theme tune was out of this world. Later, folk pop act King Charles didn’t quite live up to his regal name.

Goldie rounded off the night in consumate style, before we went on a rambling, late-night odyssey exploring the different areas, while Sunday saw Lee Scratch Perry and Mr Scruff, a regular Beat-Herder, pull out the stops.

The festival is into its sixth year, and despite easily selling out its 7,000 tickets, there’s ample camping room, which is indicative of the relaxed nature.

There are none of the drawbacks that plague many of the more corporate-feeling London-based festivals – you don’t get the feeling the organisers are trying to screw every penny out of you.

You don’t have to fork out a small fortune on top of the extortionately priced ticket for a programme; they’re free. You can even take your own booze into the arena.

And when I lost my phone there – a cheap, ancient backup handset that I wasn’t too upset about – they charged it, got in touch with my girlfriend and posted it to me. I honestly can’t imagine that happening anywhere else.

That’s not to say everything’s perfect; there was a problem with the length of queues to get into the arena at peak times, due to some ultra-vigilant drugs searches. But all-in-all its a wonderful festival, with a great atmosphere in a brilliant setting. And not a hipster in sight. Well worth the drive up the M6.

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