By Daniel J Broadley
The Beat-Herder festival prides itself on being one of the last truly independent British music festivals, starting out as a small rave in a forest. Now, eleven years later, it attracts ravers, freaks, hippies and weirdos from all over the UK, with a capped capacity of 12,000 helping it hold on to that intimate, local vibe.
The rain on Friday night brought mud for the rest of the weekend, but that didn’t stop Ronald McDonalds, Rubics Cubes, rabbits, South Park’s Randy Marsh and a whole host of other ‘R’ related characters (for ‘R’ was this year’s theme) from partying on.
The mud did make it quite exhausting to walk anywhere, and perhaps more could have been done to sort that out (some festivals, for example, have truckloads of wood chipping at the ready) but this is the North of England. And it takes a lot more than some light rain on the first night to dampen a Northerner’s desire to party.
With our tents up, we made our way to the arena, getting to the main stage for 4pm to catch a band called Tantz. I have never seen anything like them before. It was raining, it was muddy, yet I found myself doing some sort of Cossack dance to gypsy-jazz that would not have sounded out of place at a bar mitzvah.
Friday night headliners James were slightly disappointing. I’ve never been a huge fan, but seeing their hits ‘Laid’ and ‘Sit Down’ was all I wanted to see and they didn’t play them.
However, Will Tramp’s set in the Toil Trees, followed by head Dirtybird Claud VonStroke, house veteran Mr. C in the fortress (what does the C stand for?) and Appleblim at Trash Manor ensured we all forgot about the drizzle and danced until the early hours.
On Saturday, the rain stopped but the mud had got worse. Walking anywhere was treacherous and I saw many Herders fall victim. However, local rockers Good Foxy got everyone in the party mood before we moved on to Easy Star All Stars whose blend of reggae, rock and dub further lifted everyone’s spirits.
Afterwards, sets from Chicago-house master Marshall Jefferson, Booka Shade and hacienda-era acid house DJ A Guy Called Gerald saw us safely through the second night.
Sunday morning, we were all scraping down our boots, wiping down our muddy bodies and eating whatever scraps of food we have left when the sun came out. The warm light blessed us, we all smiled, and we all knew then that the final day was going to be special.
And it was.
Sets from Chris Coco and Beat-Herder old-timer Mr Scruff in the Toil Trees kicked things off on Sunday evening. However, it was at 7pm in The Perfumed Garden when things really got going. Local cosmic-dross band Henge had everyone jumping and sweating before having us all sing along to their final song:
“WE DEMAND / THAT THE WEAPONS OF WAR / ARE MANUFACTURED NO MORE / DEMILITARISE
WE DEMAND / THE WE HAVE IN ITS PLACE / THE MEANS TO UNITE / AND COLONIES SPACE.”
As the song finished, we were all led outside, still chanting, in to the glorious Sunday evening sunshine.
The last night was rounded off by Manchester funk band Buffalo Brothers, before the euphoric wave that was that weekend peaked at Todd Terje’s set, whose final track ‘Inspector Norse’ had everyone smiling from ear to ear.
The Beat-Herder weekend was as magical as it’s ever been. However, rumours that the land the festival is hosted on is changing hands raised concerns that this may be the last Beat-Herder at Sawley Brow. This festival is like Christmas in the summer for locals and is great for the local economy, so let’s hope this isn’t the case and that ‘Herder can continue every year at its spiritual home.
For more info about Beat-Herder and its 2017 dates, see the festival website.