Beat-Herder Festival 2024: The beat goes on as organisers promise new-look festival will be more magical than ever

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Beat-Herder Festival co-founder Nick Chambers on a 'magical' return to the Ribbl...

For two decades, Beat-Herder's imaginators and creators have made awe and astonishment their life's mission; transforming an ordinary parcel of land in the Ribble Valley into a realm of magic, mayhem and mystery for one weekend a year.

April's 'important announcement', however, was the type of surprise no herder wanted. A far cry from giddy pre-festival, pre-summer comms, this was a statement littered with talk of "savage economic realities".

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Beat-Herder runs from Thursday, July 18, until Sunday, July 21. Photo: Giles Smith.Beat-Herder runs from Thursday, July 18, until Sunday, July 21. Photo: Giles Smith.
Beat-Herder runs from Thursday, July 18, until Sunday, July 21. Photo: Giles Smith.

A stark reminder that no matter how popular, or loved, an event may be, even the fun and frivolous world of festivals can't escape the harsh reality of rising costs and financial strain.

Thankfully, the beat goes on. A 'bijou Beat-Herder' will throw open its doors to revellers this year. No corners cut, new ones added in fact. A smaller affair, yes, a return to its roots. But with big dreams and bigger surprises (the nice kind) still at its beating heart.

"We had a big decision to make about the future of the festival," said co-founder Nick Chambers. "We'd looked left and right across the independent festival industry in this country, and some long established one, even some in Europe, had been pinging out these announcements where they were saying, 'SOS, this is our last year' or 'We're cancelling' or 'We're cancelling, but coming back stronger next year'. When we read them, we were thinking, 'How are you going to come back stronger next year?' What are you expecting to change?' And it's not for us to comment on other people's decisions, but for us, we thought, there's no way we can't be on. For our festival family , for everyone who's a herder, – there's 4,000 tattoos out there –people are in this for life. There's a dependency and a need in the north of England for the festival to be on. It was a case of adapt or die. We felt if we didn't change to meet costs and demands, it would signal the end of the festival."

50 UK festivals have now announced a postponement, cancellation or complete closure in 2024, according to the Association of Independent Festivals.

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Beat-Herder won Festival of the Year at the inaugural Nordoff and Robbins Northern Music Awards. Photo: Giles Smith.Beat-Herder won Festival of the Year at the inaugural Nordoff and Robbins Northern Music Awards. Photo: Giles Smith.
Beat-Herder won Festival of the Year at the inaugural Nordoff and Robbins Northern Music Awards. Photo: Giles Smith.

With 96 events lost to Covid, 36 in 2023 and 50 to date in 2024, the total number of UK festivals to have disappeared since 2019 is 182.

"There are a few factors that are all happening at once," said Nick. "Maybe a saturation of festivals; there is a term 'give it a restival, because people are up to their eyeballs with festivals. Some [organisers] finish because they don't want the stress. Some don't need the money. Some don't want the worry. There's different problems happening at once. One is cost of living. Two is behavioural patterns from Covid. I think everyone would have expected that after being trapped for over a year-and-a-half, people would have exploded out to go to things. And then what happened was, not a lot of people wanted to go out. There was a hangover of worrying about Covid and diseases. People became happy being inside, watching their boxsets, going to bed, having their comforts – it was hard to change what they had become accustomed to. And that was a big surprise to industries like ours. And then, of course, you have costs going up – all the different bodies, the partners, the subcontractors, productions, the amenities, the toilets, the fencing, transport, fuel costs. Even lifestyles are changing, people don't want to go out for three or four days solid. So, it's hard! It's a tricky one, it's really tricky."

Lack of advance ticket sales is another issue facing bands, DJ, promoters, organisers, venues. Festivals – unless you're Glastonbury – are not immune.

"For any event, not just us, if everyone bought tickets on the day they were launched then planning things would be very easy. It does affect your planning, especially for us, six friends from school. The money that comes from ticket sales is literally used to put deposits down for every element of the festival. So, obviously, the more up front sales you can do, the more deposits you can put down, and the more comfortable you can feel.

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This year's line-up features Leftfield, Orbital, The Wailers, Denis Sulta and many, many more. Photo: Giles SmithThis year's line-up features Leftfield, Orbital, The Wailers, Denis Sulta and many, many more. Photo: Giles Smith
This year's line-up features Leftfield, Orbital, The Wailers, Denis Sulta and many, many more. Photo: Giles Smith

"But it's quite rude, in these days, to think everyone can afford that ticket immediately. It's a very tricky situation. And that is literally why events have been cancelled up and down the country.

"We always maintain, though, the UK definitely does one thing the best and that's music festivals and music culture – it's the strongest thing the country does. And for people to have access to that locally – when we were in our teens we would drive the nine hours to Glastonbury and back because there was nothing in the north – we think it's something to be celebrated."

And few do it better than Beat-Herder. Earlier this year, the festival won Festival of the Year at the inaugural Nordoff and Robbins Northern Music Awards.

"To be in that room with all those hearty creative northerners, it was like yeah, look at this, the north is doing it best," said Nick. "This is where the weekend started; people working in the factories, then escaping at the weekends. We were at Glastonbury in 2001, 02, 03 and 04, and you'd overhear people around the stone circle on the Sunday night saying they didn't want to go home. That's the community we wanted to create here. We make the village, and the people, who become the population, they make the weekend. It's a really special thing, and it's to be cherished. And that's our outset. If we get to create some magical memories over our weekend that people can hold with them for the rest of their lives then we've achieved what we set out to do."

Tickets can be bought from www.beatherder.co.uk. Photo: Giles SmithTickets can be bought from www.beatherder.co.uk. Photo: Giles Smith
Tickets can be bought from www.beatherder.co.uk. Photo: Giles Smith

So, what does a snugger beat-herder look like?

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"We've brought the capacity down [from 15,000 to 2012 – 2014's 10,000]. And by doing so, we're addressing people saying, 'Oh the Ring's a bit busy' or 'The Fortress is hard to get into'. We've brought the footprint of the festival arena in. We've changed some venues around. We've lost a couple of loved venues, but we're hoping it's not forever, just while we go through this change period. But what it's let us do, as well as address some of the requests within the festival arena, outside the festival arena we've also been able to have a rethink and put a new strategy together for where the camping fields are and how we lay out that element of the festival."

Music can sometimes almost play second fiddle to the whimsical stages, atmosphere, and sense of community. But this year's billing is one that deserves special attention.

"It's an incredible line-up. A lot of people have said it's one for the OGs. Or the original Beat-Herders. Leftfield, Oribital, Wailers, Dub Pistols; there's a lot of people returning, but not from the same year. It's from the history of Beat-Herder. I'm really excited to see all those people come back. As well as the artists who have been before, and are part of essence and the substance of beatherder, there are these incredible new artists coming like Sub Focus, Luke Una, D.O.D., who's from Lancaster and is doing six million listens a month on Spotify. It's wall to wall. Stick a pin anywhere in that line-up and you 'll be like 'that's amazing'.

After last year's wet and wild weather, one booking all herders wouldn't mind seeing this time around is the sun.

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"It was monumental, that. The people who were still there on Sunday, we're still saluting them. The sun did come out on the Sunday, it always comes out on Sunday. But that Saturday was hard work. That rain, it was just sideways, wasn't it? It was fierce."

Rain or shine though, you can guarantee come Monday morning there will be a sea of happy faces exiting the site ready to spend the next few days, weeks and months reminiscing about another unforgettable experience.

"For us, it's ingrained. We were building tents and designing speakers when we were in the sixth form at school. We were putting on parties in our late teens. We were off to Glastonbury, we've hitchhiked across Canada together, been to free parties in the Rocky Mountains; it's in our blood – putting events on. But I think the secret in with that is seeing the joy it can give to people. Doing something that you can see people's reactions to – not in a smug way – but if you've built something and you hear people saying 'wow did you see that?' or 'did you go in there?', it makes us really happy. Beat-Herder could be a field of white tents, it could be sterile, just a stage with some lights and some speakers. But we choose to dress the Working Men's Club out in a 70s WMC style with weird and funny slogans, and detailed beer mats saying 'don't look at the bar staff' and 'check your change'. It's the attention to detail, It's building the Fortress instead of just putting a tent up. It's having a rave in the woods, It's giving people an experience beyond what the music is."

Beat-Herder runs from Thursday, July 18, until Sunday, July 21. Tickets can be bought from www.beatherder.co.uk.

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