Review: Beat-Herder 2018

A quick escape into a magical labyrinth for a few days

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The Ribble Valley might seem like an unlikely spot for seventies chart-toppers Boney M to spend their Saturday afternoon, warming up the same crowd that two-stepped the night away to electro royalty Orbital hours earlier, but that’s Beat-Herder for you. The line-up is as diverse as its crowd, with 5,000 people from all walks of life flocking to Dockber Farm every year to indulge in a weird and wonderful weekend complete with talent contests, blind dating, dance workshops and a working men’s club.

After going to larger music festivals, where it is generally accepted that you will have to spend hours queuing before schlepping a rucksack across a muddy field in search of a space to pitch, Beat-Herder really is a rare treat. The whole thing is just so easy, with most of the campsites within a five minute walk from the main arena and the car park close enough to do a few trips. Popping to Beat-Herder for the weekend doesn’t feel like a huge ordeal that has to be prepared for weeks in advance – it’s just a quick escape into a magical labyrinth for a few days. No biggie.

This year was my first trip to Beat-Herder since 2015, and although there have been a few additions since, it was nice to see some familiar faces. Stockport DJ Mr Scruff returned to the Toil Trees for what I believe to be the fifth year running for a mammoth four-hour set on Sunday afternoon. If I’m ever at an event where Mr Scruff is playing, you can safely bet I’ll be somewhere in the crowd hanging onto his every track, and so were dozens of glitter-clad, painted beings who turned up ready to dance to Scruff’s eclectic mix of soul, funk, jazz, reggae, ska, house and Latin.

Comedy folk band the Lancashire Hotpots proved they’re still good for a laugh, drawing in a respectable-sized crowd on the main stage for a quick 45 minute set. I only caught a little snippet in passing, but I did spot a sizeable conga snaking through the crowd while the Hotpots strummed out their discography of parody hits which include Chippy Tea, We Love the North, I’m Going to Poundland and I Fear Ikea.

Also on the main stage London Astrobeat Orchestra pleased Talking Heads fans by performing eighties hits Burning Down the House, Psycho Killer and Once in a Lifetime, bringing together West African musicians to perform a new take on the classics.

Larger acts included Soulwax, Django Django, Congo Natty and Pete Tong, but perhaps one of the best aspects of Beat-Herder and other small festivals is stumbling upon acts that you might not have heard of otherwise. In the small, low-key Perfumed Garden venue, where most people were enjoying cups of tea and slices of cake, I caught Riders in the Ska – a Cliff Richard and the Shadows tribute band whose members Skank Marvin, Spliff Richard and Ket Harris put a ska/reggae twist on Richard’s hits including Christmas Time and Living Doll. Sounds weird, and of course it was, but in a good way.

If there’s one thing the Beat-Herder organisers should be applauded for, it is their commitment to keeping the festival independent. Unlike most live music events, where people are charged astronomical prices for drinks bought near the main stages, Beat-Herder invites visitors to take a couple of their own cans into the arena while they watch bands. Of course, because the policy is so trusting and kind you naturally want to support the on-site bars, which are vital in supporting the festival but are also reasonable, with most drinks around £3.50.

It is nice to be somewhere where having a good time is prioritised over corporate greed, and it’s the reason I’ll keep going back to Beat-Herder for a quick escape into the labyrinth.

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