It is with a heavy heart that we must wave goodbye to Secret Garden Party, an institution of British festival season since its debut in 2004. But every dog has its day, and as the festival closes its doors on over a decade of fun and madness, we take a look at its final farewell party.
SGP costs around £200 for a normal ticket, which isn’t far off the £240 that the Eavis’ ask for Glastonbury. Unlike Glastonbury, the line-up for SGP doesn’t come jam-packed with big names and flashy, stadium-filler headliners, so the ticket money can hardly be going on booking big acts to attract punters. Instead, it’s clear as soon as you walk onto the site that the majority of the budget is spent on the aesthetic design and performance value of the festival. For a smaller, boutique festival of just 30,000 capacity, the artistic effort put in by the organisers is astounding. From the beautiful fireworks on Saturday night down to the intricate decoration at Where The Wild Things Are, every base was covered. It’s true what they say: first impressions do count. And SGP didn’t waste theirs.
One of the most striking things about the line-up itself was its gender diversity. All three headline acts featured women in their outfit, which is already a damn sight better than the embarrassment Reading & Leeds suffered earlier this year when The Independent pointed out that its line-ups have been 95% male over the past decade. But these women were not used as tokens, showed off as mere examples of diversity. There was an overwhelming trend among the artists performing at this year’s SGP of outspoken, strong, feminist musicians who weren’t going to be anyone’s token. Peaches was a particular highlight among them, flanked by dancing vaginas for her first few songs, then later in her set clambering into a giant inflatable penis and spraying the crowd with silly spray semen out of its tip. Kate Nash, too, used her voice and platform to call out the current state of political affairs, name-dropping Trump and Theresa May during her song ‘Dickhead’. Bonzai showed the crowd what she was made of, swinging her long red locks around the stage and flashing her boobs and bum with a cheeky smile.
In terms of the headliners themselves, booking the underdogs certainly paid off. Toots & the Maytals was always guaranteed a large crowd, and the reggae legends certainly brought it home on Sunday night, providing a cheerful performance that warmed you from the inside out as the rain persisted. Crystal Fighters gave a good show, with their zany costumes and high energy getting the festival off to a good start on Friday. Metronomy, however, seemed like a leftfield choice of headliner. They are certainly one of the UK’s biggest and most successful bands, but they’re hardly on a level with Toots. On Saturday night, however, they more than proved themselves worthy of that headliner spot. Their infectious alt-pop drew the biggest crowd of the festival. The sound was also astounding for their set; live synths have never sounded so good. The synergy between all members of the band was electric, well-timed and palpable, particularly when frontman Joseph Mount smoothly took over from drummer Anna Prior to allow her to take centre stage for one song. What a kick-off to Saturday night.
Something that distinguishes SGP from any other festival in the UK was its acknowledgement of drug use onsite. While they have the usual methods of sniffer dogs and bag searches at the gates to prevent anything entering the site, they know it’s almost impossible to stop everything from falling through the cracks. And so, to protect people at the festival, they allowed The Loop a tent. The Loop is a charity which provides useful information on the properties of several drugs, as well as safe and confidential drug testing for anyone who wants to know exactly what they are taking. Not only does this minimise the risk of casualty onsite, but it encourages a more open and healthy discussion on drug use and abuse, encouraging the thousands of young people that attend SGP every year to make an educated decision on drugs. SGP was the first festival to offer this service last year, and it’s a relief that they continued to do so.
The nightlife was a magical menagerie of all things weird and wonderful. The Colosillyum played pounding drum and bass all through the day and night, boasting such shining stars as Loefah, Example and Hospitality. Palais de Boob hosted a fantastic set from East London night Aphrodyki, who played strictly pop and RnB bangers all night. Where else would you have heard Jamelia’s ‘Superstar’ while dancing inbetween two DJ booths shaped like boobs? Little Gay Brother deserves a special mention for serving some festival eleganza realness all night, every night. Who knew Ikea bags would make the perfect thong? The resident DJs played the perfect mix of funk, soul and techno while scantily clad drag queens graced us with tireless, all-out performances straight into the small hours. Much like Leeds’ beloved Love Muscle, it’s a place where everyone felt welcomed into the fold and comfortable to express themselves in any way. Also like Love Muscle, it was far too hot and sweaty for any clothes to be worn as the night went on.
And so SGP goes out with a bang, gone but never forgotten. Who knows what the organisers have planned next? Whatever it is, rest assured it certainly won’t be boring.
Images: Zia Larty-Healy