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A spa retreat for the urban cat /\ Farr Festival

The boutique festival set amongst a patchwork of golden cornfields in the sleepy Hertfordshire meadows seems about as far removed from the cityscape as you can be. However, being only an hour commute north of London, the trip down was notably short lived.

Starting in 2013, Farr has had a series of setbacks in previous years, including apocalyptic electrical storms (which cancelled a greatly anticipated Move D set) and a grounds layout which caused much vexation. In the run up to the festival, organisers were keen to promote their goal of being the “leading electronic music festival in the country”, and reading their programme, noticed their emphasis on improving the shortfalls of yesteryear.

Entering the festival, the first thing to recognise was the professionalism of the security. In fact, during the whole weekend, I found the security to be on top form. Relaxed and jokey for the greater part, but can enforce the law when needed.

Inside the grounds you begin to realise Farr’s angle. This really is a boutique festival, intimate in its demeanor, and forgiving in its size. From the campsite (which is about the length of a football pitch) you can walk to the main stages (housed within a leafy fortress) for no longer than 20 minutes. This highlights Farr’s emphasis on independent, non commercial event management. In a booming festival market, where organisers are capitalising on their brand equity to exploit large returns on investment, the divide between integrity and compromise is seemingly ever-growing.

Another factor in the holistic quality of a festival is the people that make it. Being situated so close to London, the potential for a band of conceited egotism (that can often expand from a city so deep-rooted in British dance culture) was always a concern. But Farr seems to attract quite the opposite. Mostly Londoners, and nonetheless donned in urban uniform, with a distinct sense of de rigueur, the crowd was undoubtedly peaceful. This was a thread that seemed to run throughout the festival, rather paradoxically in conjunction to the weighty techno and coexisting debauchery.

A day longer than last years programme, Farr initiated on the Thursday giving the Sunday for people to recover. For the incautious who made it out on the Thursday, this would prove to be a very taxing decision. Within the woodland that encompasses the festival’s main stages, a notable performance came from London’s Romare who performed an excitable 90 minute set of nostalgic Tech-House and Balearic. To hear the iconic keyboard of Cricco Castelli (Life is Changing) was heartwarming. Also initiating the proceedings was a set from new kid on the block, Shanti Celeste, with her iconic fuse of textured lo-fi groove and innovative track selection. Though a well thought out set, Shanti’s performance was certainly hindered by a quiet sound system that made it very hard to involve yourself in.

Leaving the festival on the first night, a demonic cloud that had loomed over the festival grounds for over an hour finally fractured, and with it striking the campsite (and nearly us) with a pulsating thunderbolt. The lightning (which sounded like a bomb explosion) almost deafened the 200 or so people walking back to their tents. What followed was over four hours of rainfall that would prove unforgiving for a majority of the disposable tents, and that following morning the damage was certainly noticeable. But the people’s spirit was unbroken.

Heading up the second day, Stamp the Wax aficionados Admin and Harri Pepper delivered jubilant selections (with one of Pepper’s records flying off the turntable in a gust of wind – then masterfully saved by a Sun Ra cut).

Nestled in the heart of the woods, The Shack (Farr’s main stage, decorated like a shanty town) was taken over by the much-anticipated Channel One sound system. Bona fide dub-plates reverberated over the top of an ill informed MC who claimed that Darwin was a fool for believing humans evolved from monkeys.

The Friday also saw a cosmic lo-fi B2B set from Josh Ford and Kieren Delany Forever who dropped the 2011 banger Warp (Ilo Edit) by New Musik. Hesseltime favoured the Detroit house chords, whilst Roman Flugel’s mind-bending techno exploration manipulated the crowd with intricacy (though at times failing to really engage his audience).

NTS Radio provided a welcome support network for the final day blues, with Bradley Zero performing a radiant mix of Brazilian influenced percussion and chaotic synth manipulation – closing on a Henry Wu cut. His successor was The Do!!You!!! breakfast show host Charlie Bones, with his archetypal programme of breezy soul, and smoky jazz numbers dropping his go-to favourite Hafi Deo – Tabu ley Rochereau. Moxie’s garage-infused house set was highlighted by the classic dream rhythm Nu Birth – Anytime. Under the radiating sun, the girls vivacious dancing and carefree demeanor seemed to encapsulate the grandeur of Farr festival.

 

Drawing the festival to a close was an example of expert programming with Vancouver’s Pender Street Steppers delivering their mix of textured grooves and dusty cuts. To add a feather in their cap, they spent their whole rider on 500 flashing maracas which they handed out to the crowd. Followed up with disco edits and balearic soulfulness from Hunee (including a favourite from Mary Clarke), the Berlin techno spearhead Prosumer then took over the decks, delivering pulsating 4/4 and rare house selections.

DJ Koze then drew things to a close at the Night Stage, with a collection of more forgiving techno tracks that were less invasive and more groove orientated. In particular was Four Tet’s extensive Asian influenced morning side release that was only left running for a few minutes.

Farr Festival encapsulates the beauty of a boutique festival. Utilising the feral mysticism of a woodland, and showcasing a truly stellar programme, Farr’s efforts to improve on their previous mistakes were surely evident. Though their intentions were to create the best electronic music festival, their inclusion of a dub stage could of been expanded to showcase more live band music (the miniature band stage hidden between two burger vans certainly didn’t suffice). The cinema was also quite a let down, lacking in seating or production (however its inclusion was well received). Inside the woodland, there were sofas and chairs but these were few and far between. I think more effort being spent on developing areas for detachment would certainly place Farr as one of the UK’s go-to festivals.

Words by Peter Malla

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