It’s the “orgy of beats and barminess” that we’ve come to love. Each July, Lancashire’s picturesque South Ribble countryside receives a visit from Beat-Herder Festival, a magical three-day rave offering dub, rock and electronic music to a hoard of devotees. Under the shadow of the mythical Pendle Hill, Beat-Herder’s roots started out in a patch of woodland on Dockber Farm, hosting raves between a few friends, which has since blossomed into a truly organic dance festival. Returning once again this year on 13th July, we joined thousands of fanatics flocking to Clitheroe.
Probably the best festival you’ve never heard of, this year crowds were entertained by the likes of electronica stalwarts Orbital, indie favourites Django Django, Belgian electronic legends Soulwax, DJ/producer Erol Alkan, tropical pop diva Hollie Cook, Mancunian outfit PINS, reggae and dancehall champion David Rodigan, dance figurehead Patrick Topping, the energetic afro-funk of Ibibio Sound Machine, DJ legend Pete Tong and many, many more.
Things get underway 4pm on Friday, and we get started in by checking in at The Factory to catch Northern Sports Club, a group of young, talented local musicians offering a very enjoyable genre-bending set of funk, rap and pop. We’re soon drawn to the main stage, where Afrobeat adventurers Ibibio Sound Machine help cook up the carnival atmosphere we expect from Beat-Herder, fronted by the endlessly energetic Eno Williams.
Campers found themselves drawn to the festival’s iconic birthplace, the Toil Trees, one of the most magical parts of the festival and acting as host to the likes of OC & Verde, Pete Tong, Artwork and Mr Scruff. Once again this year, one of our favourite acts came just down the ‘street’ from the Toil Trees in the Beat-Herder Parish Church, where ‘Sister Goulding & The Biblical Bongo Bitches’ preached to packed pews, combining a DJ set with pimped out percussion and preacher theatrics to generate some of the best vibes of the weekend. Friday evening saw Orbital headline the Main Stage, instantly recognisable with their distinctive headgear. Their performance was an audio-visual spectacular, with huge screens projecting their own visuals, both satirising and hypnotising.
The chintz-tactic Beat-Herder & District Working Men’s Social Club was soon open for business on Friday, kitted out to resemble your quintessential 1970’s local boozer, complete with portraits of the Queen Mother alongside Jim Bowen. Hosting an array of talent such as Mysti Valentine’s Fucking Bingo, The Shodigy and a superb DJ set from Midnight Runner Kevin Rowland, the Social Club is the centre of all things barmy. We can only imagine the scenes if England had won the World Cup on Sunday, only for everyone to head to there to catch a performance from Black Lace… We wouldn’t have made it out alive.
We head back to The Factory to catch an electric set from local lasses PINS, with singer and guitarist Faith Vern offering a stage presence somewhere between Debbie Harry and St. Vincent. Back on the main stage – and sadly without original members for various reasons – Euro-Caribbean legends Boney M keep things sunny, not followed long after by trip-hop stalwarts Morcheeba.
Whilst watching PINS earlier in the day, we had remarked how it’s always great to see a band with two drummers on stage. We were in for a treat then, with Saturday’s headline slot occupied by electronic outfit Soulwax, complete with their entire gear-heavy recording set-up on stage, three drummers in tow, as seen in the video for lead single ‘Is It Always Binary‘. With the sun now set, their hotly anticipated headline slot went down a storm as the band offered stunning monochrome stage design and the best live sound (and probably performance) of the weekend. The Belgian band thrilled fans with a visceral, energetic set, followed by a fantastic firework display to really raise the bar. Heading into the night, revellers keep warm in the fire-spewing Fortress stage raving until the early hours, and this year hosting a brilliant set from Erol Alkan.
The fancy dress theme this year was the letter E, and punters did not disappoint with superb displays including eggs, Einsteins, elephants, Emmeline Pankhursts, eagles, Egyptians and even electricity. The sun continued to shine for another packed Sunday, progressing with a much more relaxed pace, helped by a smooth set from Manchester’s own Mr Scruff in the Toil Trees, live comedy in the Factory and UK Reggae giant Dave Rodigan keeping vibes flowing on the main stage. To finish on a high, sonic adventurers Django Django stepped out onto the main stage with new album ‘Marble Skies’ still fresh on the shelves, offering an energetic set with their usual, instantly recognisable guitar-led rhythms and tight vocal harmonies. Concise and focused, yet still fun, the band explore the “uncharted territories” of the currently indie pop landscape.
There’s a noticeable lack of the usual festival pet hates – £5 pints, toilet queues to rival airport security lines, and the Biblical exodus from one stage to another. It’s Beat-Herder’s attention to detail that takes their place; a tattoo parlour, curiosity shops, a dance floor of beat-up classic cars, lighting festooned across woodlands. It’s this attention to detail that we love about the festival, and while the new addition of helicopter rides around the site for £30 seem a little out of place, we’ll allow it.
In an era when most festivals across the country are slapped with the tagline: “a festival with a difference”, Beat-Herder can wear the badge with pride. This three-day party has retained a charm that is rarely seen on the independent festival circuit these days. Just as fun, naughty and exclusive as its secret raves of yesteryear, it’s charming obscurity stems from its founders’ insistence on keeping things small, but with a big, big heart.
Photography by Duke Studios, courtesy of Beat-Herder.