The ideal boutique festival is a blueprint that UK seems to specialise in, and everyone here is more than spoiled for choice. But still, surfacing a gem from the crown proves difficult when there is so much of it. Farmfest is UK’s South West, 11 years in and gaining confidence at each stride.
Nestled in the picturesque hills of Bruton, Farmfest lies just one hour from Bristol but feels a world away. Its capacity of 5,000 and a strong onus from programmers to keep quality over quantity makes the festival one of the best of its kind. What started as a party for friends has organically grown into a medium-sized operation without any apparent corporate guise, and a reasonable price tag of around £70 for two days of eclectic music.
Despite the growing popularity of Farmfest it has still managed to keep all of its positive features. Its manageable size and layout means that you are never more than 200 meters from the action. Two small fields house festival-goers in what seems like one communal camping trip, and eight-man teepees are kitted out for artists and glampers. Its locality for Somerset folk is a bonus, and its clientele are all pleasant and well-behaved – only in the important ways. A carefully curated and diverse program is also at the heart of Farmfest’s appeal, as well as the late-night party that carries on fervently into the early hours of the morning.
Boasting 5 stages in total, Friday afternoon hosted an array of acoustic, indie-pop Bristol acts over two tents to bring in the festival. ThisisDA brought in the early evening over at the Big Blue, rolling out 90’s-inspired hip-hop in his own fashion. Touching on subjects relatable to the common man, rather than pseudo-highlife dilemmas made him a rather refreshing addition to the genre. Desert Sound Colony played their shirts-off electro rock over on the main stage, bringing to mind the likes of Jagwarma. Their entire output was reverb-drenched, with sound instrumental psych jams matching the shining sun that was setting over the landscape behind. Despite their vocals lacking in areas, the music was impressive and innovative for a three piece.
Back to back performances from Pumarosa and Young Fathers, also on the main stage, did well to bring the party up a notch. The latter was paired with an impressive light display that saw shadowed faces primitively bang out explosive tribal hip hop unforgivingly. Their words, mid-performance, made it about more than just the music, as one of them bellowed: “I am an immigrant. You are an immigrant. We are all immigrants – and well, if you don’t like that, you can fuck off.”
The impressive Afriquoi closed the evening, with tribal African groove carrying on into the early hours. This was in heavy contrast to the acoustic tent that was still up and running at 1am, but a welcome diversion. Bristol-based folk singer and dark horse Jim Evans nursed a small, elated crowd with his soft songs, acting very much like a safe place away from the night’s heavy energy.
Saturday was spent catching other entertainment around the festival area. The promise of free Bloody Mary’s lured us into the Palladium tent, where a Farmfest postcast was being performed and recorded in jovial and comedic fashion – with free Capri Sun to boot. Slack-lining, games and drum circles also filled the festival arena, providing punters and families with a wide variety of non-band entertainment to get stuck into.
Rachel Dadd delivered her whimsical lo-fi folk to a relaxed and seated crowd, but unfortunately her sentiment was lost through feedback from a near-by tent. The positioning of the stages seemed a tad illogical, especially considering they had room to place with. This was soon corrected by slipping away to the teepee track, where a small stone circle hosted a rehearsal by brass outfit Presidents of Parp who were set to perform later. It acted as a festival siesta and was also a brilliant performance.
The unmarked “Soul Train” DJs spun a Fleetwood Mac mixtape into the evening. Goan Dogs threw out their infectious desert rock in The Sett and appeared tight in all senses of the word – like ‘the boys’ from way back and in their element. Their performance proved to be a real highlight, especially as the main act fell a bit short of the climax. Manchester’s ambient jazz trio GoGo Penguin were nothing short of epic, as well as highly talented, but one couldn’t help but wonder why The Hot 8 Brass Band weren’t chosen instead. The energy was reinstated with epic DJ sets by Lone, Lefto and Gils Peterson and saw that our two-day Bruton binge would finish on a high. It certainly managed that. We rolled around the next day, not wanting to leave the little haven we had found.
Words by Mike Robertson