The Perfumed Garden at BeatHerder 2014
My fourth BeatHerder and accompanying review in a row… Again I am writing it while the festival is still on, as I recharge for work tomorrow. I’m involved in putting on the Perfumed Garden dome so have again spent most of my time there - for more info, photos etc, request to join “The Perfumed Garden @The Beat-Herder Festival” group on facebook.
After an absurdly protracted journey in which I somehow got lost and ended up driving around a housing estate in Preston, getting in on the Friday became easier yet again this year. I pretty much just parked up, walked straight up to the ticket office & walked in, a massive improvement on some of the lengthy hassles of a few years back. Car parking issues seem to have completely evaporated in fact, no need to chase stickers or escape from being blocked in or from mud. The closest I got to any hassle with the car was some dollybirds doing their hair in my car’s windows while perching their tinnies on its roof (caught in the act!).
The Perfumed Garden opened with a variety of Cowbell DJs, although I seemed to miss all of them apart from Ed Mahon, who was playing some nice house stuff as I came in. As promised, Pimm’s was provided for the occasion by Kath. Amiable Ed then stuck around while Stee Bowden laid down his usual extremely accessible selection of house, disco etc, before the appearance of Blackpool’s Davos. I won’t say too much about what he does as it’ll spoil it for if you bump into him at any point (and it looks like he is having a busy year), but the tent was as packed as it has been since System 7 a couple of years ago and I felt pretty proud to have had some part in arranging to get him on.
As usual, I had several wanders around on Friday night with my pal & Sonic Chefs DJing partner CP, but saw such brief snippets of most things that it is hardly worth mentioning anyone in particular, except to say that I finally (briefly) met On The Wire’s Steve Barker in the Bushrocker reggae tent. We also stayed in the beautiful pocket-sized Hotel California for a few from someone I only just remembered today had also impressed me at Solfest last year, Ben-Jamin (see previous post). On this occasion he seemed to be playing some rather nice baile funk. I’m sure that if you surveyed the whole site, you would find a bit of every genre going, but with Stumblefunk having been hidden so far back in a (quite nice) corner (very near us ironically) that I didn’t even find it on Friday night, the myriad variations of bass-heavy music that I personally favour over house, electro, breaks, techno etc seemed to have been marginalised this time, so it was nice to catch at least a smidge of something so different. Although opinions differ on the PG team, the tiny bit of Jagwar Ma that I saw on the main stage didn’t seem much better than they were the other week with Kasabian (see previous post). As ever, there were so many ‘attractions’ that I didn’t even find them all (barn? Underground vodka bar?), but as last year with The Fortress, this year’s main addition was a whole new arena, the Ring. Surrounded by a circular turf wall, the sound was pretty magnificent and the feeling reasonably intimate despite the fair size. I dropped in a few times over the weekend but unfortunately didn’t catch much music there that I thought really justified all the major effort that must have gone into it, although I believe my friend’s band Drum Machine enjoyed themselves playing there. Apparently they were only going to do The Fortress last year, which seems insane considering what a good venue it is. It returned to loom over the field we were in again though, spewing out the site’s more pounding grooves (but still no happy hardcore, gabba etc, I don’t think!). It looks wonderful and my encounter with their Sunday morning soundcheck when near-empty proved how hefty the system was in there, but it did look a little curiously flat at times when I was passing, ravers more bobbling than raving while soaking enough of the sound up that it didn’t seem quite as overpowering as you might expect. Although the festival was sold out and (certainly on Friday) there were people everywhere, the addition of new major venues does seem to also lead to some of the mid-size venues reeling a bit, with Stumblefunk definitely not getting quite the line-ups of previous years (although maybe becoming more of a local concern, cultivating talent in what they do from the area instead of just buying names in). Trailer Trash also seemed a little low-key on some of my brief visits this time, although I didn’t make it up there much as we are right down the other end of the site nowadays. I was meant to be talking to John in The Snug about playing some records in there but didn’t locate him on any of my trips past. I am gutted that I didn’t realise until this evening (skimming my Solfest review from last year) that one of the DJs I missed at The Snug’s name (Tim Hamblin) was familiar because of how much I liked his stuff in Dogs In Space previously. I must do better!
In amongst all my Friday wanderings, I didn’t have my full attention on Wales’ finest, DJ Fluffylovebubble & Jon The Bop, back in the Perfumed Garden, but everything I heard as I was in and out was lovely. We then had our headliners, Mountain Of Love, who are a classic festy-style band although somehow quite distinctive in the way they blend their reggae-influenced sounds. They later turned out to be nice to have a chat to in our new green room (of which more in a bit), while Waka’s sound was drifting in from the dome. Waka provided the delightful oil wheels etc that lit up the dome over the weekend and it was nice to catch bits of what he was doing having somehow missed him last year. Somehow less intense and more melodic than I was expecting but well danceable and popular. A little tipsy by this late hour, I then took on my time-honoured duty of sleeping in the dome for security purposes…for all of three hours.
While not the one hour legend that was last year’s Friday night kip, waking at 7am to torrential rain after falling asleep at 4am to the beginnings of torrential rain was not the ideal way to set myself up for the Saturday. In fact, although the rain marred much of Saturday, the festival guys really do seem to have worked a lot on drainage since the mudfest of a couple of years ago (or indeed the one back in the noughties). Barring the usual mess in the middle where the top field meets the main field and the Trailer Trash entrance and the Toil Trees being a little squelchy, it was impressively firm for the rest of the time I was there. As a result of my brief sleep and mild thick head, I spent most of Saturday staying close to home base, even missing the single thing I was going to make a point of going to see (Raikes Parade). The most I saw outside of the PG dome was a few numbers in passing back and forth from Chain Ska Brassika on the main stage (perfectly decent but more notable for their silly name than anything else). You’ll be pleased to know that ABC still sounded like ABC from inside the crew area toilets behind the main stage as well!
Our day started with Chris Boylan playing some quite nice classc-style chillout stuff and Rick T providing a more out-there take on the same theme. We then got a treat in the form of a short but sweet live set from the 8-bit and K-pop-influenced, luridly dressed Tirikilatops. Hard to describe without seeing, they perhaps wouldn’t look out of place doing music on some zonked kid’s programme like Yo Gabba Gabba. Hadn’t been completely sold on the recorded stuff so far, but it makes (non)sense live. Playing at Blackpool Catholic Club on Monday 28th July – don’t miss it!
Red Tin Dave played some appropriately-themed songs for the downpour before Two Man Ting. By then, I was orbiting my main resting place for the day, our new green room. Having hosted a few names the last couple of years, PG head honcho John Tree asked for a bit more space for workers to camp behind the dome and a green room tent so our guests weren’t sat out the back on palettes before their sets. We ended up with a virtual football pitch to wander around in (astounding considering we were essentially balanced either side of a ditch a couple of years back) and with a green room that rather than being the tiny little circular snug I was expecting was in fact big enough to seat the best part of a dozen easily plus oodles of equipment. From bust to boom. This was very handy for me, being as I could hardly open my eyes for most of Saturday after my brief nights’ sleep, but does leave me feeling a bit odd about my new perspective on the festival. As with any other festival, different garishly-coloured wristbands get you into different areas. This year, for instance, I was casually given one that meant that for the first time I could nonchalantly cut across the middle of the site (past the usually notoriously difficult to visit organisers’ area), without security as much as saying a word to me (getting in there to do jobs for the dome is usually like an encounter with the Spanish Inquisition). However, when I politely offered to help Earthdoctor carry his stuff up to the main stage for him to DJ there (and I have played on the main stage, early doors, many years back), he said there was no way they’d let me in because there was some other colour writsband required. Indeed, I eventually this time saw pinned up somewhere a key showing a veritable rainbow of wristband colours for all manner of access. The reason I mention all this is that some people very clearly spend half the festival squirrelled away in private areas, away from the hoi polloi, relaxing but not really seeing very much. The addition of our very own area to do this sort of thing in meant that several of our main acts actually stayed, hung out and camped with us (unthinkable before and very pleasant) (and us meaning all of us, not just the ones who could squeeze in), and that we could loll around even when the dome was at its busiest. It does however ends up like being on the best camping holiday ever, with your bezzie mates, instead of being at a festival. We still got plenty of people in, but all the people you were expecting to see in the dome watching and listening were out the back chatting and listening. I would imagine anyone who bothers reading this will wonder why I would remark on such a well-trodden aspect of the music world, but I must admit it was new on me, not at all unpleasant but a bit strange somehow. This desirable addition may also have helped contribute to the relative profusion of undesirables roaming around our area uninvited this year (who would have wanted to stumble about in a ditch, a couple of years back?). There have always been a certain amount of casualties at the festival, but the state of some of the brain-drained characters this year was a bit tedious, especially with some of them taking it upon themselves to fiddle about in the sound booth, try out the stage mics, climb up the side of the dome (!) and escape by smashing down fencing panels and running away!
After Fenny from On The Wire graced the tent with a typically esoteric selection of tunes, we were treated to The Family Elan, who also had a nice natter with us in the lolling around area after laying down some psyched-out bazouki rock just the right side of prog. Tooley accompanied our natter with some of his serious funk collection. Mrs Cakehead were on fire this year, claiming loads of new converts, repositioning old favourites over new riddims and building something unique out of chaos. I then did my spot with CP. It was too early to pack the dome out with anything other than the most straight-forward of music, but we gradually built a bit of a crowd and some people who looked like they might even become fans, going back over twenty years of our favourites and other random tunes, moving from reggae through all manner of electronic genres and back again and most enjoyably playing some ethnic techno stuff (for want of a better word) that you would have thought (correctly) would go down well at a festival like this and yet never seems to get played there and also playing out quite a number of tunes that we’ve always really liked but may never have found quite the right time to play out before. The ever-reliable Ennio Maccaroni then soundtracked our nattering with Rich & Nicola, two great old friends and relatives of one of the organisers, who I’ve been attempting to meet at the festival since something like 2008 but never seemed to succeed in doing so until now. My serious sleeping bag green room dozing action began in earnest during the Colman Brothers, which was a shame as these headliners are highly accomplished jazz players and what I could manage to stay standing to watch was being lapped up by a discerning audience in what in some ways was the quintessential Perfumed Garden headline booking to date. Earthdoctor groovesomely soundtracked more dozing on my part but I did get in to see some bits of John Tree, who had the room packed for his finishing set. John goes to a lot of trouble to work out exactly what records he is going to feature in sets like this and it does show. He has obsessions with things like how a record grooves and while I wouldn’t go strong on a lot of his selections for home listening, they really work in this sort of situation.
Four hours’ sleep is better than three, so I felt like a new man this morning, although my unavoidable Mondays at work always mean Sundays involve a drive back and hence no light ales. After our usual drum circle and the usual unusual DJ set from Kate Fear, we had the return of Veronneau. This act based in the States have ties to John Tree from way back, so it was nice to see him adding some percussion to their extremely delicate and light Latin jazz. After a bit more of Red Tin and helping bring Gideon Conn’s gear down I found myself loading my own gear up and too tired to walk back down to the dome so driving off mid-afternoon for some rest.
So another festival where (compare with other reviews) I was pretty useless after the first day. A combination of work-related body clock syndrome and the aforementioned security shifts, which I’m going to have to give up after four years if I am to muster enthusiasm for next year. I think any return would also need to involve a promise to myself not to spend too long in the green room. While the festival production goes from strength to strength and I didn’t really see enough of the other tents to make a proper judgement, I do also feel like too many of the DJs across the site this time seemed to be trading in fairly predictable, if effective, trad genres of dance music and that some of the more forward-thinking stuff from the likes of Hyperdub and Planet Mu wouldn’t go amiss in amongst all the hackneyed builds, well-worn samples and production that glitters while imagination falters. The sell-out crowd were more than happy with it though!