Following a five-year hiatus, Secret Garden Party made its glorious return to Cambridgeshire’s Abbots Ripton last year for its 20th anniversary, and it was bigger, better, and more outrageous than ever. This year, the event returns once again with even further expansions, new additions, and a line-up that promises to blow your socks off.
In the theme of ‘A New Hope’, a “slightly tongue in cheek” poke at sci-fi themes as founder Freddie Fellowes (AKA the Head Gardener) puts it, SGP ‘23 welcomes its Gardeners to get creative and explore the “rebirth” of the Garden Party. Amongst more than 100 acts slated to play at this year’s event, headliners including Underworld, Fat Freddy’s Drop, The Libertines, Róisín Murphy, 2ManyDJs, Grandmaster Flash, and plenty more will take to the stage.
“I would advise anyone to write down all the acts they want to see and schedule their weekend. But having said that, some of the most amazing and memorable and unique moments that happen in the Garden are unscripted and unscheduled. You’ve always got to be prepared to go with the flow,” says Freddie.
Whether you’re a first-timer of a lifelong Gardener, we’ve collated all the tips and tricks you’ll need to have the perfect weekend at Secret Garden Party. In no particular order…
Watch the airshow
There’s no better way to kick off your weekend at Secret Garden Party than by watching the overhead airshow as you set up your tent or, if you’ve picked the more luxurious camping option, settle into your yurt. Stand and watch in awe alongside your fellow Gardeners as planes fly overhead carving love hearts into the sky, or do stomach-dropping spins that’ll make you glad you’re on safe ground.
Try your way into the Pagoda
The Pagoda is a consistent hotspot at Secret Garden Party with limited capacity, but there’s a reason it’s so popular amongst Gardeners each year: the floating stage boasts stunning views of the lake and some of the best dance music acts over the weekend. If you can chance your way into this coveted spot, you’re in for a treat on the other side.
Take part in a dance battle
Secret Garden Party veterans will be pleased to hear about the return of the dance battle this year in the form of Dance Wars, an area dedicated to impromptu fun with a brand-new crew. If you have what it takes to beat the very best, get yourself into the arena and crack out your best robot or headspin. “It’s such a fun way for people to get involved,” says Freddie. “Having that open source entertainment is something that brings out the best in people.”
Get lost in the woods
When the sun goes down, the lights come up over the woodlands. Get stuck into some great music throughout the night at one of the tucked-away stages underneath the trees, or get lost in the chaos and discover tree-top bars, secret hideouts and impressive art installations.
Catch the Head Gardener play a set
Woken up on Saturday with a sore head? No stress. Head down to the main stage and bask in the sun while the Head Gardener plays a soothing few hours to calm your weary head. “I would highly recommend grabbing a bloody mary and listening to me DJ off the main stage,” says Freddie. “It’s a very sensitive soundtrack for an hour or two of just lovely songs played through a very large soundsystem, perfect for a hangover.”
Host your own radio show at Secret FM
Ever wanted to host your own radio show? Well, now you can! 2023 will see the welcome return of Secret FM, Secret Garden Party’s very own radio station hosted entirely by Gardeners. “We’re opening up the airwaves to the amateurs,” Freddie says. “Ofcom regulations have been reasonably abided by so far, we’ve never been fined despite never managing to avoid swearing! If you and your friends really want to hear your own particular style of music, you can get yourselves in there and have your own little party.”
Try your hand at an art class or catch a show
There’s endless fun to be had at one of the many pop-up spots over the weekend, including oil painting classes, life drawing sessions, cabaret shows, comedy gigs, talks, crochet clubs, and more. If you fancy getting your hands dirty, try out one of the many classes you’ll find dotted around the Garden.
Grab a drink at The Prize Cock
Hidden somewhere deep in the woodland, you can find a homely little pub called The Prize Cock serving frosty pints and warm refuge. Here, you can play a game of darts or chat with locals over a good drink. “We’ve moved the pub, it’s being re-hidden on site for people to discover anew,” says Freddie. “We’ve also got a secret bar in partnership with Strummerville – it’s a 24-hour venue with campfire sessions through the night and way beyond breakfast hours.”
Join a yoga or meditation class
In need of some R&R? There’s no end to the number of relaxation stations around the Garden. Book yourself a yoga class or a dunk in the hot tubs at The Lost Horizon, or join in a meditation session or gong bath over the weekend to clear your head.
Watch the Saturday Spectacle
There’s no better spot on Saturday night than at the top of the hill by the main stage to catch the Saturday Spectacle. Without fail each year, you can watch the lake stage set alight under a stunning firework display.
Shake off that hangover with a dip in the lake
When the Sunday Scaries inevitably roll around, your best bet to shake them off is with a dip in the lake. Go it clothed or clothless, you’re sure to feel refreshed either way. The lake is a permanent Sunday hang when the sun is out where you can catch Gardeners dive-bombing into the water from the pier.
Get involved in the paint fight
On Sunday, head down to the festival’s main stage to take part in what is arguably the most fun activity over the course of the weekend: the paint fight. Be prepared to spend the day in a colourful array of powder paint, and laugh at the Gardeners who get the worst of it – this one is a lot of fun.
Catch some music!
It goes without being said, but beyond all of the entertainment you’ll find throughout Secret Garden Party weekend, you can’t miss the stellar line-up. Wander between the smaller hidden spots, bustling tents, and open-air stages, and you’ll discover some incredible acts all weekend. “In my 20 years doing this, I don’t think we’ve ever had such a great line-up than this year,” says Freddie. “Everything we’ve dreamed of has come to pass.”
Gemma Ross is Mixmag’s Assistant Editor, follow her on Twitter
Written by: Tim Hopkins