It’s the festival that never grew up. Every summer, Lancashire’s glorious South Ribble countryside receives a visit from Beat-Herder, an elusive Peter Pan three-day rave flaunting dub, rock and electronic music. Beat-Herder’s roots started out in a patch of woodland, hosting raves between a few likeminded individuals, and has since blossomed into a truly organic dance festival. Returning once again this year on 14th July, we joined thousands of devotees flocking to the Dockber Farm.
Probably the best festival you’ve never heard of, this year crowds were entertained by electric folk band Crystal Fighters, hip-hop star Kelis, punk duo Sleaford Mods, Danish producer Trentemøller and longstanding King of Dub Lee “Scratch” Perry, amongst many, many more. Just as naughty and exclusive as its secret raves of yesteryear, Beat-Herder’s charming obscurity stems from its founders’ insistence on keeping things small, but with a big, big heart.
The party started at 4pm on Friday, with standout performances at dusk by folktronica trio Milky Chance on the main stage, soon followed by hip-hop legend Kelis, cooking up exciting new arrangements of big hits ‘Milkshake’ and ‘Trick Me’. Topping off a superb first night on the main stage were eccentric pop outfit Crystal Fighters, generating a beach carnival atmosphere even as the sun went down.
Campers found themselves drawn to a Jon Hopkins’ DJ set in the festival’s iconic birthplace, the Toil Trees, proving to be the perfect environment Hopkins who did not disappoint with a hypnotic set. Just down the ‘street’ from the Toil Trees, we found ourselves in the Beat-Herder Parish Church, where Bad Friday preached to packed pews, generating some of the best vibes of the weekend.
Anticipated festival pet hates are totally absent – £5 pints, toilet queues that rival airport security lines, and the Biblical exodus from one stage to another – sticking a mellow ‘up yours’ to the V-Fests and Glastos of this world, allowing happy campers to get on with having a great weekend. Unanticipated festivals treats are in abundance, including a tattoo parlour, curiosity shops and a dance floor of beat-up classic cars.
The attention to detail around the grounds of Beat-Herder can only be applauded. The stages across the festival site stand as if they were sweated over for weeks, rather than days. Our favourite ‘stage’ of the weekend? The Beat-Herder & District Working Men’s Social Club, kitted out to resemble your quintessential 1970’s local boozer, complete with period light fittings, chintz lampshades, portraits of the Queen Mother, fireplaces and 70s TV. Hosting an array of talent (such as Mysti Valentine’s Fucking Bingo and Squinty McGinty’s Comedy Caberet) on Saturday night it hosted tribute act The Pretend Beatles, so authentic even Ringo had a few slip-ups…
Saturday’s standout performance came from duo Sleaford Mods, taking to the main stage for a hotly anticipated headline slot. Despite a full day of shocking weather, the post-punk duo thrilled fans with a visceral, energetic set, followed by the biggest firework display us at BagThing have ever seen. To keep warm, we head to the fire-spewing Fortress stage, home to hundreds of revellers raving until the early hours, before heading across the Toil Trees to the Trash Manor, hosting local groups Cabbage and Henge.
The fancy dress theme this year was the letter D, and as an avid Doctor Who fan, your humble writer was devastated to be unaware of this before packing… Nevertheless, punters did not disappoint with superb displays including David Bowies, devils, doctors, Daleks, dinosaurs, Duff Men and one group dressed as Noel Edmond’s magnum opus, TV gameshow Deal Or No Deal.
Thankfully the sun was shining for another packed Sunday, progressed with a much more relaxed pace, with a smooth set from Manchester’s own Mr Scruff in the Toil Trees, comedy outfit The Lancashire Hotpots entertaining with their back catalogue of singalongs on the main stage. Dub crooner Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry entertained a sun-soaked crowd on the main stage, showing no signs of slowing down in his golden years.
In an era when every festival across the country is slapped with the tagline: “a festival with a difference”, Beat-Herder can wear the badge with pride. The three-day bonanza’s size has allowed it to retain a charm that is rarely seen on the independent festival circuit these days, and it’s a lot of fun.
Photography by Duke Studios, courtesy of Beat-Herder.