Secret Garden Party 2017 @ Abbots Ripton, Cambridgeshire, 20-23/07/2017

Secret Garden Party 2017I’m stumbling through a staff camping field at about 10pm on Friday night, with the first bit of time to stop and think in a few days.  24 hours in, a question pops into my mind, at the most inappropriate of times, that I am forced to confront almost immediately: What is it specifically about Secret Garden Party that makes it so much fun in comparison to all other UK festivals? Seeking immediate inspiration, I turn to my right as two gloriously bejewelled beings emerge towards me out of the darkness, as if by magic. I haven’t even had a chance to pose the question before they announce themselves as Honey Foxx and Manny Queen, a pair of trans divas attending their first ever SGP. I throw my question at them, almost immediately. “Well, darling – it’s pretty simple” one of them states. “Absolutely anything could happen tonight, and no one will turn a hair. I mean, imagine a whole world like that. This place is just fucking fabulous!”

All good things, as they say, must come to an end at some point.  Last weekend was Secret Garden Party’s turn to be cut into the epitaph of extinct festivals that have had their day, as the organisers threw their last ever event in Huntingdon, Cambridge. It’s one that will remain burnt into the memories of all those who ever attended for some time, and if you were ever lucky enough to go, you’ll know why. Not only did it provide one of the most immersive and interactive experiences of any event similar, but the attention to detail and therefore the atmosphere of the whole four days was exceptional. Their dedication to that atmosphere has reigned supreme on the UK festival scene for 14 years, and they were trying to send it out with a bang this year.

Thursdays music kicks off mid afternoon, and the sun is shining. Everyone’s hyped to have arrived and there is a buzz across the campsite as everyone heads in to take their first look. The Lightning Year do a fantastic job of getting everyone moving, before Nastia notches the tempo up at The Drop stage as the sun begins to set. She reads the crowd well and steers away from her usual heavier tech affair, uplifting them with smile-inducing house tracks. Loefah keeps it heavy at The Colosillyum and the Rinse FM takeover is a great opening slot for this stage.

Friday booms into life earlier than most are expecting and festival organiser Freddie Fellowes does an epic job of opening the main stage as Head Gardener. He has a good turnout considering how hard most people went last night, and is throwing us about with crowd pleasers. Will Joseph Cook lights up the early afternoon with catchy pop hooks, and although he seems nervous, the crowd are with him and it’s a lot of fun.


Heading into the Dance Off Stage we are greeted once again with one of the highlights of this festival. An entire stage (boxing ring) dedicated to a weekend-long dance off tournament that ends on Sunday afternoon. Today’s contestants are most likely still going from Thursday night judging by their pallor, and the tearing drum’n bass soundtrack gets even the most lifeless off their feet.

We’re exploring some of the further corners of the event into early evening, and we wander into the Guerilla Science tent. They host talks and demonstrations all weekend on the most intriguing and mind bending of subjects. Lucid dreaming, the science of hallucinations, and questioning whether or not your smart phone is conscious. It’s absolutely packed right now as the ‘Sensory Speed Dating’ has strangers writhing about on the floor blindfolded, smelling the armpits of one another to find their perfect match. It’s a truly fascinating and engaging break from the music of the Garden, and we have the distinct feeling we could stay here all weekend if we weren’t writing this review.

Krankbrother are doing a good job of rolling their ethno-infused techno sound over the swaying masses of The Drop early evening, warming the majority up for the last two bands about to take the main stage, starting with Wild BeastsChatter around the festival definitely singles them out as the most anticipated band of the weekend for many, and they’re opening with singles from 2016’s Boy King, setting the bar high. Crystal Fighters follow up and are now carrying the energy of the crowd with their savage bass lines and hooky vocals, and halfway through are solidly rocking it, with no real let up of momentum even through their slower numbers. It continues until the end. That’s how all first night headliners should sound.

Saturday begins with a fair amount of rain and as the Garden’s puffy-eyed creatures gradually emerge from their soggy dwellings, however the vacant stares through glitter-encrusted eyes slowly turn into smiles as youngster Ned Dylan is hitting us with a solid punk-wave barrage of upbeat pop tunes.


We stick around for Gardner’s Question Time, a Q+A with Freddie to see exactly what it is that has inspired him to call this the last SGP. It’s an unexpectedly emotional affair, as he relives some of his most impactful memories of the journey. There is an air of slight awkwardness here though. Freddie is being fairly damning of ‘festival culture’, what is has become, and the commercialisation of the entire movement in the UK over the past ten years. It’s an opinion most in the audience share, but I can’t help but feel there is a hint of hypocrisy here. The field behind us contains a luxury spa, with an all-white champagne bar cited next to it. It’s these ‘glamping’ features we’ve all seen slowly infiltrating the UK festival experience that are to blame for this blatant  commercialisation. It’s these features that have made a muddy weekend more appealing to the very punters he is criticising; the ones concerned only with being seen there rather than being part of the experience. Whilst clearly remaining very dedicated to independent retailers, the Garden has hardly escaped its share of corporate partners this year either (i.e. Meantime). This is something we can all forgive, given the quality of the experience here, but it feels strange to have the collective responsibility of this passed back to us as the festival attendees by Freddie.

His thoughts on the next move for him and the team are inspirational however. An event that relies in no way on the internet, for example. He carries the air of a man still very much in his prime of innovation within this space. His obvious resent for the ‘girl on shoulders in the crowd’ imagery of festivals in 2017 is passionate, and I am wandering away convinced that if he can channel this frustration into creating something truly unique in the next 12 months, it has the potential to be truly groundbreaking.

Let’s Eat Grandma have drawn a decent crowd a few hours later on the same stage. Their quirky sound does a good job of igniting interest, but they struggle to engage the audience into their world as much as they have the potential to. Deap Vally tear their way through the evening at the main stage, and are a fine example of how much force can be driven through a well-honed two piece. We’re treated to all the hits of 2013’s Sistrionix and a fair chunk of last year’s Femijism. Quite simply, they smash it.

Jaguar Ma skulk onto the main stage as the sun dips below the hill, and their 4-4 beats under expansive guitar work and rave-inspired lead sounds throw the audience up in a frenzy. The Australians are understated with a huge sound that has everyone hearing them for the first time checking their programme. The set of the weekend belongs to them.


The theme of the weekend ('Sweet dreams are made of these…?') is a sharp poke in the ribs of 2017’s celebrity VIP culture and all its vain futility, and it’s now about to receive its pinnacle showpiece with the fireworks display on the lake. A house, complete with car and luxury goods, are sitting upon the middle of the water as fireworks are shooting from within them, and no one is prepared for what comes next. The entire thing explodes with humungous noise, and thousands of faces are painted orange with the fireball that is now swooping up into the night sky. It is undeniably symbolic. Through the explosion warming our skin we again feel the anger visible in Freddie’s talk earlier in the day. We, society, our relentless obsession with Instagram celebrity gods - and thus the corporate monsters cashing in on this fixation - has really screwed up the essence of what makes something like SGP special in many ways. The furious fire cloud pulls up above us, looking down on the crowd like an angry deity, and in ironic Hollywood style, it feels like a part of SGP’s spirit dissipating into the night to find its new home somewhere else.

Sunday's paint fight is the visual spectacle of the weekend, and as the paint powder settles, David Rodigan bounds onto the main stage with all the youth and energy of a DJ 40 years his junior. Love him or hate him (I actually don’t know how you could hate this man), he plasters grins across the entire festival with his huge reggae and dancehall anthems, mashing them into one another in an unforgiving but perfect chaos. Ray Blk is the perfect follow up and she is making a bold impact with her soulful vocals and piano-driven beats. Toots and the Maytals are not disappointing as SGP’s last ever headliners on the main stage. They’re playing the entirety of their Greatest Hits, and the entire festival loves it.

There have been more than a few tears and emotional send-offs today, and the entire weekend, but the Garden has done itself proud, showing everyone past and present what it did best: throw a big old party. The icon on the back of this year's programme reads “Go hard and go home,” and this is certainly the ethic shared by all here tonight, ready to go harder than ever before and forget about next week. As the party rolls into Monday, no one is left in any doubt that whatever this collective do next, it will be something special. The real question is if we will have all recovered from this weekend in time. RIP Secret Garden Party, here’s to the future.


One Response to “Secret Garden Party 2017 @ Abbots Ripton, Cambridgeshire, 20-23/07/2017”


    1. Secret Garden Party 2017 @ Abbots Ripton, Cambridgeshire, 20-23/07/2017 – Live List - 08/08/2017

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