For 361 days of the year, Mill Hill Farm in Cambridgeshire serves as a location for weddings, outdoor fairs and camping holidays; but for the other four days, it is colour bombed into an explosive, audio visual spectacle as one of the UK’s most beloved festivals takes over its open meadows. Secret Garden Party is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year, in all the ethereal splendour it can assemble — renowned for its welcoming, wonderful and downright weird atmosphere, the boutique event has returned with an eclectic roster of artists ranging in everything from tech-house to folk, across 20 meticulously crafted sites and stages.
Festival goers had the choice between a regular camping experience, or a unique, quieter glamping experience in Tipis or Yurts provided by Glastonbury’s Hearthwork’s service. Though this year’s campsites were slightly emptier than in previous years, the extra space made after-set frollicking through the daffodil filled greenery all the more enjoyable, as sun-kissed, paint splattered campers twirled and danced through Huntington’s meadows in gleeful exuberance.
Kicking off on Thursday (July 20), the intimate, woodland shrouded “Secret FM” stage sets the precedent for the festival’s typically community-oriented outlook by holding bookable “open deck” from 11:AM – 6:PM — allowing budding artists to shell some tunes. Over at the main festival main area, Mixer Truck resident DJ Santero begins mid-afternoon with a slew of crowd pleasers.
The otherworldly, lantern lit woodland area boasts three immersive stages; the inclusive, multi-genre Noirganica stage that begins its celebrations with DJ Lady G’s funked-out, soulful melodies — which are later matched by a platter of equally as groove-riddled sets by May Rose, Gonebrook and Azire.
The fan favourite Lost Woods Stage saw a stellar closing back to back set between club beacon Hodge and two decade long industry heavyweight Peverelist, with rising breakthrough star Danielle warming up the performance with a 90 minute set. A testament to SGP’s commitment to musical diversity, the nearby Where The Wild Things Are stage closed with a forty-five minute set from Bristol based synth laden post-punk meets techno outfit Scalping.
The water borne Pagoda stage ( I honestly never saw a gap in the crowd at this fan favourite ) begun with a shell out performance from rapidly rising underground talent and Reprezent radio resident Cardinal, who christened the CDJ’s with a jungle and hardcore set with enough dancehall and reggae influences to welcome the arriving ravers and steppas from all walks of life. This break-riddled opening was cooled down with some deep house cuts by label owner Erol Alkan and fabric London resident Hutch.
The legendary event series, label and fashion brand He.She.They – who’ve already made their mark on clubland with events in Ibiza, LA and London – begin their Circus Maximus presentation with a bass driven, genre-bending set from Bedfordshire born artist Ryussi. Their stage is one of the nearest ones to the festival campsite, alluring early arrivals with their futuristic soundscapes and energetic performances. A stand out is the b2b set between Berlin based label owner Cinthie and Rinse FM resident Anna Wall.
An hour long poetic, psychedelia influenced performance from the mesmerising, enticing artist that is Lava La Rue follows on Friday. Since their arrival onto the scene with their debut Boiler Room performance in 2021 (at just 19 years old!) the introspective, ever-growing artist regularly bleeds inspiring, intersectional political messages bred from their own personal experiences into their craft. This headline slot feels like a moment of significance for the artist, as their emotionally-tinged lyrics are performed under the beaming sunshine to an audience of like-minded progressives in support of their recent single.
Another memorable performance was delivered by boundary pushing, Canadian feminist electro punk icon Peaches — who’s yonic-themed performance saw dancers strutting with giant vagina masks, free from the restraint of clothing. An invigorated crowd watched in awe as the Great Stage lit up in pink and purple lighting in time to Peaches lyrics, while sexually liberated performances buried their heads between the artists legs.
Heads are bopping in time to the electrifying sounds at Lost Woods, produced by Chloe Robinson’s b2b with DJ ADHD — while back over at Circus Maximus, BBC 6 resident Jamz Supernova uplifts crowds with a global club influenced set. The legendary British drum and bass heavyweight duo, Fabio and Groverider follows, with support from German hardcore techno and drum ‘n’ bass duo MC Rage.
Back at the Great Stage, an impressive roster of headliners grace the dome shaped podium. 2manyDJs provide an electrifying curation of electronica and groove, while Tiffany Calver’s set over at the Mixer Truck incorporates everything from old skool grime to modern hip hop classics by Kendrick Lamar and dubstep gems; when she drops certified banger ‘Night’ by Coki & Benga, heads bop and feet stomp to the infectious bassline. Bristol native Batu also sends heads bopping with a three-hour set taking audiences to techno depths and beyond — with Pangaea following straight after to dish out a generous helping of peak-time deliciousness.
As rain continues to aggressively descend upon festival goe-ers on Saturday, it’s a good thing that Leftfield and Underworld’s dynamic, headline performances are there to remind audiences to just keep dancing. Enthralled crowds copy as the artists danced across stage soundtracked by beautiful electronica, backed by equally as glueing stage production.
Over at the HE.SHE.THEY stage, longstanding industry giants Horse Meat Disco deliver a typically authentic fusion of Italo disco and punk funk, immersing audiences in a performance with a spirit anyone in the crowd could identify with. While ravemaker Samurai Breaks delivers an unforgettable performance of innovative techno and bassline, fused with 170bpm footwork and breaks.
Atlanta’s Nikki Nair proivides his usual head bopping sounds bearing influence from UKG and global club culture, while over at the intimate Chai Wallas stage Mr Fitz has me and a loyal group of dancing devotees moving uncontrollably to predominantly vinyl funky turntablism. Who gives a toss about the rain or the cold, when your ears are subject to such melodic blessings?!
The sunshine reappears on Sunday, just in time for Grandmaster Flash to deliver a curation of much loved old school bangers on the great stage which leaves crowds with their hands perpetually stuck in the air. Newcomer Eaves Wilder is pretty in pink for her shoegazey-neo-punk performance over at the Where The Wild Things Are stage, and DJ Santero continues to pump muh loved bangers from the Mixer Truck.
The HE.SHE.THEY. stage was wrapped up by an incredible back to back performance between I.JORDAN and Sherelle, who invited audience members on stage to boogie along to their concoction of donk, footwork cuts and rave ready techno. Hip hop pioneers De La Soul made a penultimate performance at the Great Stage, shortly followed by the much loved Fat Freddy’s Drop.
For more information on Secret Garden Party, head to secretgardenparty.com
Tiffanie Ibe is Mixmag’s Digital Intern, follow her on Instagram
Written by: Tim Hopkins