Review: Beat-Herder 2014

When I interviewed Beat-Herder co-founder Nick Chambers a few weeks ago he told me: “We’re opening our doors and making a home for people to live in.”

And that’s exactly what Beat-Herder is. The rain soaked log becomes your couch; a tiny plastic cocoon, your duvet; a raucous bunch of good natured strangers, your closest neighbours. For one weekend, Beat-Herder is better than home.

There’s no live music when I roll in from work at 5pm on a Friday, no secret swimming pool in the bathroom, the nearby church doesn’t hold all night raves and I’ve never seen Bez dancing around my kitchen.

From the second you land you never once feel like a guest at somebody else’s party; it’s weird, it’s wonderful and it’s open to all. Plumbers, nail studio owners, former soldiers, chip shop owners, even car salesmen. The welcome mat is laid out for everyone.

Festivals pride themselves on their music. Beat-Herder prides itself on the bizarre. Sunken bars, underground tunnels, mystery rooms, an endless parade of quirky attractions designed to put smiles on faces.

And beautifully crafted stages only add to the magic. The Fortress returned with a vengeance this year, bringing with it savage sets from Chris Liberator, Lisa Lashes and Dave Angel.

Beat-Herder’s newest addition, Pratty’s Ring – a giant 100ft diameter earth circle – was brought to life in spectacular fashion by the likes of Utah Saints and Adam F.

And then there’s The Toil Trees, Beat-Herder’s heart and soul, that magical wooded clearing filled with hypnotic lights, mesmerising music and an atmosphere so captivating, no words used here would even come close to doing it justice.

Music obviously still does play a major part and dance remains this festival’s bread and butter – 2ManyDJs, James Lavelle and Vitalic all delivering the goods. But horizons have been broadened since that first Beat-Herder back in 2006. The Maison D’être hosted The Sunshine Underground and the wonderful Wolf Alice; Jagwar Ma were let loose on the main stage; Boney M had those approaching 50 taking trips down memory lane while teaching the young ‘uns a few tricks (I had to stop myself singing ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’ in Spar yesterday) and the Happy Mondays, Sunday night’s headliners, had the entire festival in 24-hour party mode.

And if that wasn’t eclectic enough. Where else would you find a beat-boxing, flute playing harmonicist followed on stage by one man on an acoustic singing about his beloved bichon frise. Beat-Herder’s Got Talent of course.

The forecasted thunder and lightning did materialise Friday night but was about as threatening as a five volt battery, blue skies and soaring temperatures winning out for the most part. Not that it really would have mattered.

Nick Chambers says Beat-Herder is about “making memories”. And as thousands of bedraggled bodies dragged their weary limbs from the campsite Monday morning, hazy minds and heavy hearts in tow, you’d have struggled to find one who disagreed.

If you made it home without a new haircut, a dodgy tattoo to hide from mum, a face full of glitter, a face full of face paint or a colourful new wig, you did well.

I returned home Monday to a fridge full of food, a nice comfy bed and the luxury of a warm shower. And I’d give it all up in a heartbeat to go back to Beat-Herder this weekend.

John Deehan