Festival Preview: Secret Garden Party 2016

If you haven’t sorted yourself for a festival already, you should have. What are playing at? You’ve had ages to make up your mind. “But I’m only human”, you say, “sometimes we all forget to register for Glasto and I just can’t face running into my little brother at Bestival with his jaw swinging down to his balls.”

Don’t despair, as although you might not deserve it, there’s a chance for you yet with Secret Garden Party tickets still floating around for those who didn’t have their shit together enough to score an early-bird. What’s more SGP is considerably better than most of the UK’s go-to weekenders.

In the already abounding market of British festivals, the mark of a real good’un is often whether it can survive for more than a few years and continue to improve. Now in its twelfth year, SGP has firmly carved out a place for itself as one of the top parties in the UK for those seeking an experience alternative to that of the mainstream festival circuit.

Having grown from humble beginnings to a 15+ stage and 22,000 people event, SGP now boasts some of the most extravagant set designs, tasty line-ups and whimsical festival experiences. Located in Cambridgeshire on the site of a Georgian farm house, the idyllic venue provides an almost shire-like setting. The landscaped gardens include a river and a lake, floating in the centre of which lies an elaborate stage-cum-art-installation which undergoes a ceremonial burning each year accompanied with a fireworks display to match Bilbo’s 111th birthday.

The impressive geography is matched by the man-made structures adorning site, with ornate stage arrangements laboriously erected in scrupulous detail, in accordance with an annually changing theme, this year the “Gardener’s Guide to the Galaxy” (They’ve written up an actual guide as well if you’re interested). Observance of the theme is encouraged so expect some outlandish fancy dress from fellow gardeners.

Along with the picturesque location and demiurgic embellishment come things to do aplenty; what we have with SGP is a whole festival experience rather than a focus solely on music, which you could even argue takes a back seat a bit. The activities come thick and fast, although exactly what they will be you have to find out for yourselves, however you can guarantee some of the stuff will get weird.

“Naked mud wrestling and talks from the likes of David Icke…”

Alongside the usual like paint fights, art and games, in the past SGP has been the scene of organised naked mud wrestling and talks from the likes of David Icke (look him up). However you really just have to wander around and see what you see, as one of the defining characteristics of SGP is its many small slightly bizarre stages and activities; it’s not really the place for organised fun (however meticulously organised the event itself might be).

As with most festivals you can expect the food to be as delicious as it is interesting. However this isn’t really a problem as you are allowed to bring your own, along with either twelve cans of beer/cider or six cans and one bottle of wine (no glass, no spirits).

“This year sees a similar pedigree return to the garden with Air, Caribou and Maribou State booked to headline.”

Despite the music not defining the festival, SGP still draws a weighty line-up covering a range of tastes and genres, with previous acts including Leftfield, The Gorillaz, Faithless and The XX. This year sees a similar pedigree return to the garden with Air, Caribou and Maribou State booked to headline.

Other notable names include DJ Shadow, Bicep, David Rodigan, Izzy Bizu and The Temper Trap, however to reduce the entire bill to just a few names doesn’t do it justice, so be sure to have a glance at the full line up here:

On top of this, there are usually a few unannounced performances thrown into the mix, in the past coming from the likes of Chase and Status and Jarvis Cocker, although you have to be in the right place at the right time, so wear your lucky pants or something.

With early-bird tickets sold out, you get all this for the price of a standard weekend ticket which comes to £185.99 including the booking fee. On top of that a £10.00 litter bond is added when you enter the festival; however, should you leave the site having filled two bin bags with rubbish you get your tenner back so clean up after yourself.

If you can’t hack the usual trials and tribulations that come with camping at a festival there are plenty of “boutique camping” options available, taking various forms of yurt or hut and even a restaurant for those whom the pot-noodle is beyond.

SGP is consistently talked about as one of the go-to festivals in the UK for the tunes, environment, eccentricity and above all people. The garden is open from the 21st to the 24th of July at Abbots Ripton, Near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire with tickets still available here.

Still undecided? Have a glance at the Q&A we did with founder and Head Gardener of Secret Garden Party Fred Fellowes here.

Tom Ingram


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