In the middle of golden corn fields and mysterious woodland lies Farr Festival.
Upon arrival, it’s hard to believe this boutique festival sits a mere hour out of the hustle and bustle of London.
Now in its eighth year, Farr Festival has begun to assert its place in the UK festival calendar, bringing underground international talent to the tranquil woods of Hertfordshire. This year’s edition has grown slightly, with a total of 6000 revellers in comparison to the 3000 a few years back. However, despite the growth and introduction of the brand new main stage ‘The Factory’, the show has managed to maintain the friendly, community feel whilst still creating that special festival atmosphere.
The six thousand attendees fit comfortably into the arena and the campsite, with (almost) always tons of rooms to dance, and trips to the toilet and the bar can be done in a reasonable amount of time without missing half of your favourite set. Getting into the festival was quick and stress free, and the security were professional and friendly throughout the festival – creating a relaxed, but safe atmosphere integral to a small festival such as this one.
Inside the grounds you are greeted with a funfair area, a plethora of food stalls and the newest addition – The Factory. Walking through the festival site you find yourself transported into the realms of the shrouded woods. It is here that you can truly lose yourself in festooned pine trees and pockets of bass heavy havens. It can however, be challenging finding your bearings in the first day or two. Despite searching the festival grounds top to bottom, I could not locate a festival map or programme leading to a lot of frustrations constantly googling and zooming in on phones with 2% battery.
The Thursday night is a modest affair, with four out of the six stages open and music finishing at midnight. Mister Saturday Night played a strong underground-yet-danceable set in the Hidden Palace, a great warm up for the weekend ahead. The early finish was frustrating however, with everyone flocking to the Campfire Headphase stage to round things off for the night, only to find it shut shortly after the other stages.
Moseying on up to the arena on the Friday afternoon, we found ourselves at the high energy sounds of Chaos in the CBD at the Hidden Palace. Kicking off the afternoon with some cosmic disco, the New Zealand duo got the crowd bubbling away to bangers like David Morales remix of Juliet Roberts – "Caught in the Middle" and Janet Rushmore’s "Try My Love". Moving through disco, deep and soulful house and some more minimal sounds the pair showed off their eclectic style.
Getting our first glimpse inside The Factory we caught Nao for a live performance to contrast the rest of the weekend to come. Impressing with her unique and alluring vocals she was one I did not want to miss. After stopping for some food at a pizza stall - £8 for a whole pizza not bad by festival standards - we made our way to The Shack for Craig Richards.
Unfortunately, I found the sound system in The Shack in particular rather unimpressive, the lack of volume meant you could hear the voices of a few thousand people over the music, not ideal when trying to fully immerse yourself in a set.
Later in the evening Leon Vynehall graced the decks of The Shack with a sparkle of vibrancy and a new wave sound, mixing Crash Course in Science’s "Jump Over Barrels" into "Off Season" by Joy Orbison, he displayed his unique creativity and had the forest floor whimpering under the feet of thousands of party people. Following Vynehall, we walked the short distance back to the Hidden Palace for a spot of Honey Dijon before ending the night with the immense Helena Hauff. Dijon blew the crowd away with a tech remix of the classic "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in a surreal and exemplary moment.
Prepared for an aural assault we headed to the Adventures in Success stage (not the easiest name to say or text when half sober!) to see the Hauff. Tearing the crowd apart, the Hamburg DJ proudly displayed her wide-ranging taste including some bare-bones techno and screeching acid house.
Rising in the early afternoon of the Saturday, we joined the festivities just in time for Omar-S at the Hidden Palace. A Detroit legend, I expected a powerful arsenal of motor city sounds from this stalwart, and I was not disappointed. Intelligently balancing the emotion and energy throughout for an ideal 7pm warm up evening set he played tracks such as Delicious Inc – Eau de Chanté and his own track S.E.X (CGP remix).
Flitting quickly in-between stages I managed to catch a glimpse of Todd Terje in The Factory just in time to hear the uplifting banger of last summer, Midland’s "Final Credits". Despite the disco sounds of Terje, Mr G’s live set was calling out our names and it was back to the Hidden Palace to witness a master at work. Programmed in time for the sunset, Mr G brought both heavy and effortless cuts that had the crowd’s shoulders bobbing and legs moving to his vigorous groove, with live creations of his track "House is a Nation" to finish.
Willow brought her serious tech on-slaught, blowing revellers away in the trees of The Shack. Taking full control of the woods however, was Floating Points, a highlight of the festival. Bringing his sophisticated blend of jazz, disco and electronic delights and throwing in some of his own unreleased music, he played a standout set that kept ravers in a trance for his entire three-hour performance. Again however, the lowering of volume levels proved a real issue, and I found myself constantly fighting my way to the front to be able to submerge myself in the music.
For the final hours, I moved between Mano le Tough and Young Marco, (this is where the stage proximity is great). Young Marco played an enjoyable and uplifting set, despite his, at times, unhinged musical choices, most notably finishing his set with "Last Christmas" and chants of “one more jingle!”. Highlights of his set included Abba – "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’"and "Hung Up" before the mind-boggling Christmas songs in the middle of July. Drawing the festival to a close, the Berlin based Irishman gave us his signature wacky modular synths, balancing trippy tech house with melody-driven club cuts.
For a festival, Farr is great value for money, neither the tickets or the food and drink will break the bank and the close proximity to London makes it easily accessible. Overall, it is a great setting with a wonderful intimate feel that makes it easy to make new friends and bump into old ones. They consistently choose some of electronic music’s most interesting and unique artists, and this is something they should be commended for.
Although the volume levels on the four larger stages (Adventures in Success, The Hidden Palace, The Shack and The Factory) can be a little frustrating and surprising given that these stages were tucked away in the woods. The best sound was at Campfire Headphase and Brilliant Corners, although these unfortunately never had any headliners playing. Despite their inclusion of a new main stage and later license, there are still improvements the festival can make when comparing it to other UK festivals such as Gottwood. The Factory felt quite detached from the other stages and may have been better placed in the woods so it feels more secluded. Having said that, Farr has great potential to be a mainstay of the UK summer calendar and they will surely continue to expand and improve to become a pinnacle of the UK music scene.