Festival Review: The Secret Garden Party

“Moustaches bring you love!” I turn around and am embraced by a trio of muddy girls with voices like blackboard scraping, hay hanging from every nook, and lipstick smudged all over their faces. It is Sunday afternoon at the Secret Garden Party 2010, and despite 2 days and 3 nights of mischief, the spirit of the Garden Party is still being secreted with passion at every juncture. It is impossible not to fall in love: with the legions of beautiful people, with the intimate feel of the festival (despite having doubled in size to over 20,000 people this year), with the perfect range of music, and the endless supply of shenanigans, side-shows, and moments of sheer brilliance.

I turn back and my friends have disappeared somewhere behind the hay-bales, but it really doesn’t matter. The Secret Garden Party is in its 7th year, and despite a continual expansion of the site since 2004, Freddie and his fellow Head Gardeners have managed to maintain a sense of proportion and communion here, so that you are only ever a moment away from another chance encounter or embrace. In fact, the music line-up at Secret Garden Party feels like a sub-plot to the spontaneous creation and moments of mass participation that sprout up like beanstalks over the site. Whilst the much anticipated headline act, Caravan Palace, deliver their hip-shuddering electro-swing with some gusto on the Saturday night, their performance lacks the recklessness found elsewhere. On Sunday afternoon, for example, just as the crowd is beginning to flag, the Bearded Kittens step onto the Great Stage and promptly fire hundreds of bags of fluorescent paint dust into the crowd, starting a mass paint fight. The result was spectacular, washing away any thoughts of the 9-5 in a fluorescent downpour, bringing huge smiles and a rainbow synergy to the crowd at just the right point in the weekend. Equally, every time I enter the Artful Badgers stage, located in a pagan woodland hideaway, I find an ecstatic disregard for convention, with feral beauty contests, ancient badger theatre, and bands like Badger Badger and the Egg improvising and experimenting and whipping the crowd into one communal, whirling flash-mob.

A very special mention must go to the expansion of the family arena this year, where hundreds of kids took part in fancy dress shows, kid raves, and mass, participatory science experiments with huge bottles of coke and gigantic packs of Mentos. Unaffected, unpretentious playfulness and frivolity is what makes the Secret Garden Party so edifying. As I kicked through the unholy sea of empty canisters on my way out of the Garden, the sharp slurping of nitrous oxide balloons filling my mind, I hoped that further expansion of the family area next year might soften the nihilistic, brain-dead pursuits of some of the Gardeners.

Next stop, the toilet queue where I find myself next to a man dressed as a grotesque clown, with a black-and-white stripey cone hat, spewing obscenities and comical grunting noises. After talking to him for a few minutes I soon discover he is Pete, the famous Tourettes-suffering winner of Big Brother 7. I think to myself he seems much more at peace in this environment, where we are all goldfish in the same magical bowl. The Secret Garden Party has resisted the temptation to fall into sponsorship deals, and thus has remained fiercely independent and organic. I just hope the gardeners can continue to keep their festival in the right, unbranded proportions, so that all the children of the Secret Garden can carry on radiating this primal sense of freedom. As one punter was overheard saying: “Humans really can be wonderful creatures can’t they!”

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