The Secret Garden Party: 2013

Photo by Nick Caro

Words And Photos > Lyssa Rutherford
Main Photo > Nick Caro

Having never ventured to SGP before I could only imagine what to expect, pieced together with snippets friends had told me about their own experiences. Stories have ranged from being kidnapped by security and thrown into realms too far to mention, to partying with pop stars in the woods. Well, I’m too nice to be kidnapped, surely, so maybe the latter will occur? Here’s hoping!

The travel from Brighton mission seemed a bit of a challenge. We could have opted for the fun bus that takes you from door to door, partied with the goers on the way – that’s always a treat. The problem with that was that it only went on the Thursday and came back on the Monday. Being in the middle of deadline we wanted a Friday to Sunday slice, so that wasn’t an option. The train, seemed far too much work with all of our luggage, cameras and ‘refreshments’ we were taking. So, we left it in the capable hands of, the new greener way to travel to festivals. You make friends with someone who is driving to your destination, sling them a few quid for petrol so they pay less for their journey and you get to travel in ease and for significantly less than any of the previously mentioned options. Everybody wins.

So Friday comes around and indeed, Nathan, our driver for the journey, rocks up in a very cool VW T25 Camper. Music to our ears when he divulges that his fridge is fully stocked with ice cold waters, cokes, beers and ciders and that we were free to help ourselves. Even better when he says he didn’t want any cash for the journey as we was ‘going anyway’. Well you certainly don’t get that on Southern Rail! Receiving a text from a friend already at the Party describing the festival as one word, “Lush!”, got us properly in the mood for our mini break and our new friend Nathan, programmer by day and DJ by night (who we subsequently learn is also playing at the Garden) whacks on some serious tunes in the van.

natheSadly we arrived at SGP at a rather depressing 6pm after a five hour drive (jam on the M25 of course), however the smiley young chap on the ticket desk made us feel very welcome and pointed us in the direction of the press tent, where there would be yet more cold waters and ciders. Is it me or do people really know how to treat a girl these days?

Gawping at the magnitude of the festival and seeing the amount of nipples and bottoms on display we quickly realised naturism might be a little theme here. With SGP being known friends with The Burning Man festival in Nevada, I was aware that freedom and artistic expression would be at optimum level here. Having previewed the art installations and been advised that music was not the main focal point of SGP, I was cool with this. Festivals are not just about music, they’re about letting go and experiencing new wonderful things, and the ethos of this party is that you need to leave your inhibitions at the gate. Luckily for everyone I was not letting go of any of mine just yet – despite the temperature telling me I should do otherwise.

After two hours of arriving we’d done a circuit of the entire site. One thing we noted was that at every point we stopped some nice chap would smile and welcome us in one way or another. You got the feeling that this was a very well behaved place, and that people really cared. We eventually found Nathan at the campervan field, our gear, and then set about the final leg of our trip to the north field to find our gang. After a ten minute breather and a warning that there was a mass robbing in all the fields the night before (and two people got arrested), I went off to snap Friday’s headliners, Django Django, the Scottish indie surf rock outfit, that just totally light up your life. It was dark, it was warm and contrary to the slight concern of a mid-gig tent raid the smell of excitement was too strong to ignore. Django Django are one of my favourite bands to emerge from 2012 and being in the photo pit is always a thrilling moment for me. The band were great, although so crazily lit that it was near impossible to get a good shot. Nevermind. After DD we had a wander to scope out the situation we were in. A little maze led us to a small rave in the woods. Aside from the stewards who were laid back as anything, you really felt like this was a special little space to party… So we did, and suddenly being 3am we decided call it a night and scampered back to camp.

Day one, all things considered, a massive success.
Django Django SGP13

This day was all about the immense back-to-back headlining acts of 2ManyDJs and Faithless. Having melted in the impossible heat for most of the day and deciding that it was far too hot to work, heading out in the cool summer rain seemed very appealing. Being told that the lake stage was going to be set alight as part of the Saturday night main stage show got us very excited and when the moment came when we were amongst it all; lasers and fireworks coming out of a burning ship to a live set from 2ManyDJs, I couldn’t help but think, when else would you ever get this? This was an epic moment and one that we were all very much in awe of.

At the Where The Wild things Are stage we stumbled across Natty, the beautiful reggae singer/songwriter from London. Worried about my camera and catching my death for deadline I had nearly given up in the rain but he brought the summer to the Garden and saved us all. From then on the torrential downpour killing my camera didn’t matter, the overflowing toilets that stunk of piss, shit and god-knows what, didn’t matter, the fact that we were probably all going to wake up robbed and dying of flu, just didn’t matter. All that mattered was being with friends and savouring the beautiful moment, and that, we did. It was at this point precisely that I realised, I loved this place.
Natty SGP13

Totally blissed out and ready for more action we stayed at the WTWTA stage – a piece of artistic brilliance in its own right, designed to look like it had been made completely out of old tree branches, it’s quite extraordinary. Next to come on were the awesome The Bombay Royale, who as a mixture of Bollywood, ska and disco really need to be seen to be believed. Now the heavens were really alive and so were our disco feet. We grooved, we skanked, with nothing but smiles on our faces all the way. TBR put on a suburb show and I urge anybody, anywhere to see them live. Spotify just does not do them justice, and perhaps it’s something about seeing a man dancing disco in a 70s sailor uniform talking at me in a stern but sexy manner that does it for me (and he was, clearly talking to me), but either way, not to be missed. Having decided then and there that we must book them for our next PL party I was mortified to then learn that these guys were from the other side of the planet, Melbourne. Gutted.
The Bombay Royale

Ravenous, our trusty Mac’n’Cheese van had closed in the storm, bless them, so we opted for a some sort of Mexican wrap that hit the spot. And as if the night couldn’t have gotten any better we stumbled across The Artful Badger stage, a hidden rave stage in the woods with with all sorts of neon and base going on. There we noticed that once again, the atmosphere was just really friendly and unthreatening. Just what you need it to be at 4am when you’ve been in the sun-baked wild drinking cider for three days. Well one and a bit for us but you get my drift… Next up at the AB was MC Gaff E. Seeing her and her Beast bouncing their butts in mankinis in the bewildered crowds’ faces was probably the highlight of my whole weekend. I’m only sorry I was too shell-shocked myself to take any photos. The guy introducing them had warned the audience that they were about to be in for something ‘different’. I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed a group of ravers so dumbstruck. Again, to be appreciated in person rather than online but she’s definitely worth following; Gaff E is an artist not afraid to stand out, and amongst all the processed performers we see too often these days it’s so refreshing when people do their own thing. We’d already seen her perform at Brighton Fashion Week this year so we knew how alive her show was. Having her man fake perform oral sex on her, though, was undoubtedly taking it to another level. The Artful Badger stage; a true treat and one that I must return to.

Waking up wet, hungover and seriously dishevelled there was just one thing for it; to get amongst the famous SGP paint fight. This is where thousands of revellers all congregate at the main stage and divide into two parties; SGP virgins and SGP veterans. Then they beat the crap out of each other with balls of beautiful dry coloured paint bombs, inspired by Holi; the Hindu festival of colours. A stunning sight and lovely SGP tradition brought about by a group of people who just decided to do it at the Garden one day.
Paint Fight SGP 13

After chatting at length to Nathe, our V-Dubya van man and SGP veteran, he informed us that SGP have always encouraged people to do their own thing, and that the festival’s main ethos (aside from getting naked and being free) was largely about audience participation. Something also adopted by the Arts branch of the company, Secret Arts, who fund large interactive installations that we saw a lot of this weekend. We also learned that SGP first came about because a group of friends just wanted to have a good party together. And that was evident during the Saturday night speech in between 2ManyDJs and Faithless that lay beside the laser/fireworks/ship explosion. It was dedicated to the festival’s friend, Vito, who passed away recently. Vito was a well loved guy among the UK festival community and despite tens of thousands of people being gathered at the main stage, all there to see the show, I thought it was great that SGP gave pause and thought to their friend. I never knew Vito but after the speech and seeing the beautiful display you felt honoured to have been part of something so personal and important.

After being back home and taking it all in you realise, there’s just something about being left to your own devices, feral, and semi drunk with a group of really nice strangers for a while that’s so utterly important to the make up of human sanity. To know that you can set yourself free, into the wild and be okay, more than okay, and come back home, rested, unscathed and feeling fresh to take on life again, is just great. Not at any point during SGP did we witness or feel disorder or unkindness in any way and this is something I personally feel has helped to make this festival stand out from some of the other popular ones in the UK today, certainly the larger ones anyway. At a 32,000 capacity and set in 220 acres of land, it’s nice to know people will have your back should stuff decide to get real.

I’m sat writing this a few days after the event and I tell you, festivals like this one are special. And they do very strange things to you. We were only gone for a couple of days, we didn’t even commit to the full event but it feels like we were there for weeks. I was hoping that the Garden would ‘get’ me, and it did. I love it when I form a relationship with a new special place, it’s important to have these breaks from normal life. People pay thousands for therapy but all you really need is one good festival a year, to clear your head and let your inner wild run free for a few days. If I had to invest in one festival, one that could promise so much and would deliver more, it would be this one.

‘Til next year SGP!

Full gallery here. All Photos > Lyssa Rutherford, copyright Pretty Litter Magazine:

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