never published as online dance music magazine Take Me To The Club never launched, despite its initial contributors’ efforts (myself included). Here’s the piece nevertheless:
How the Secret Garden Parties
As tickets for next year’s SGP sell at alarming rates well before the festival season is even over, Callum McLean re-explores 2011’s garden by night to explain why.
Once every overcast July, deep in the heart of Cambridgeshire – about five miles north-east of Huntingdon to be precise – lies The (not very) Secret Garden Party. Seemingly infinite installations, performance art and activity tents aside, a large part of the festival’s magic – and its moderately-numbered revellers’ waking hours (or ‘gardeners’ if you want to get into the spirit of things) – seems spent on its sprawling, effervescent nightlife, this year being no exception.
As holds true with the festival, half the fun lies in the wandering. While for some people the pilgrimage to a night out via stumbling across fields and past burger vans (as per your meat-and-potatoes music festival) is enough of a change from the usual piss-ridden alleys and disapproving gazes on public transport, SGP takes it to a whole new level. Leaving behind the Dickensian hubbub of action camps, chair-o-planes and folk tents to traipse through the labyrinthine thoroughfare of bridges and grottos across the lake to the south side of the garden, you pass the sweaty Balearic sardine-tin of the waterside Pagoda on one side and the gnarled rose-garden aesthetic of the Where The Wild Things Are stage on the other (often hosting botherers of charts and yours truly alike, such as Reverend and the Makers). Assuming you aren’t distracted by the frequent obstacles of over-enthusiastic fellow gardeners, the incomprehensibly felt-covered trees or your own inebriation, you’ll arrive over the well-trodden, NOS canister-strewn hill, at the festival’s sonic and atmospheric mechanical heart: the Remix Bubble. The ground-shaking bass dives and explosive spasms of light emanating from underneath the horizon-dominating dome below are reserved for stadium-crumbling monster DJs such as Sub Focus, Nero and Flux Pavilion, each concentrated into a pressurised semi-sphere of pure sound by the stage’s perpetually people-stuffed shell. This is where the noise happens.
That said, while it’s difficult not to be taken up like moths to a flame among the masses swarming towards the bubble, it is well worth meandering along the rest of the strip of stages lining the festival’s south side. Mere paces away lies SGP’s answer to Pacha: the Poundland stage. A set of steel stairs leads up to the closest thing in the festival to a club, encapsulated in a giant inflatable clamshell. Inside, self-consciously dignified deep house throbs underfoot, remaining constant with the aforementioned club, while its infamously chic exclusivity is warped to a somewhat intimidating masque (literally; a good part of its patrons resembling the eerily-disguised ‘splicer’ inhabitants of Bioshock’s Rapture), and a rectangular slit of hyperactive lasers help to attract the particularly substance-fuelled, simply in search of pretty lights. Further along, interiors become no less hypnotising. The JW Horsebox stage (essentially a fall-back for those lacking the will or stature to fight their way into the Remix Bubble) boasts interiors that share less in terms of décor with Fabric than the Death Star, a pentagonal metallic DJ booth in its centre playing host to artists such as Herve, Toddla T and Little Boots. After all, atmospheric venues do still require filling, and the artists on show at Secret Garden Party continue to utilise the exuberance of their surroundings.
A fine example of this was 2011’s performance by High Rankin. Still championing a level of cult devotion unbeknownst to the vast majority of producers, the Brightonian dubstep-dandy’s signature novelty tunes, blithe yet blistering synth-lines and effulgently comic moustachioed megalomania are a potent cocktail under any circumstances. When displaced to SGP’s Badger Woods, however, amid canopy-shaded fairy lights and woodland creatures, with a rapt audience intermittently skanking on climbing frames and hay bales (often too enthusiastically; some unaware of the irony of their screaming a self-critique as per Don’t Carry On Like A Rude Boy When Daddy’s Got A Yacht), the whole experience is warped to blissful Lewis Carroll-style ridiculousness. Frankly who wouldn’t opt to hear the animalistic synth-yawns of mephedrone satire Meow Meow surrounded by a crowd disproportionately guised as furry animals?
Which isn’t to say you have to be in the woods to get lost, nor to bear witness to relentless drops at 140bpm; elsewhere lies the ultimate flytrap: a huge neon arrow leading through a winding, UV-drenched corridor that opens out into one of the sweatiest, most claustrophobic dub ‘clubs’ in the festival – intriguing in itself, but the more so considering in the daytime it lies hidden behind an inconspicuous festival-wear stall. Similarly, one of the most exclusive venues in the site (hosting Joy Orbison and one of the many appearances of The Correspondents) is solely accessible via a surreptitious photo booth, which grants entry to unsuspecting entrants, along with a set of polaroids.
And therein lies the magic of The Secret Garden Party’s nightlife: pulsating pleasures abound to draw in the archetypal gardener (curious, carefree and inventively intoxicated), and few neglect to demand from their patrons an element of adventure. The festival won’t come to those who wait – you have to go down the rabbit hole.