In An English Country Garden


Arriving at the Secret Garden Party festival is akin to having the air you breath spiked with LSD. I know people dress up for festivals but you’re in the minority if you dress normally at this one and you can forget fairy wings or silly jester hats, this is the really deal. I saw devils with triple jointed legs, cows, bananas, clowns, Fagin children and an all-black stormtrooper. Facepaint and wellies were almost de rigueur as were corsetry, stockings, false eyelashes and thongs – and that applies to both male and female. I saw one well proportioned lady in her late forties in a green dress, boobs out save for two well positioned leaves on the nipples, later on a band played a high speed acoustic set whilst suspended from branches of a tree and a guy dressed as an aristocrat rapper at high speed over 30’s music mixed with drum n bass. If the Secret Garden Party is anything it’s a freak magnet.

Its location is reputedly the back garden of some lord’s estate and what a garden he has. The main focus is a small lake on which the site centers but around this are all sorts of hills, dales and wooded areas, some connected by bridges over streams, that make it a trip to explore. It took me nearly 40 minutes to even find the tent DK and I were playing in as I was pointed in 3 different directions by various security staff or voluntary workers who didn’t have site maps or even a basic knowledge of how to use the radio they had been provided. It quickly became apparent that few people had any idea of what was going on after a bizarre encounter in the car park with an elderly ‘warden’ who couldn’t even remember the name of our tent 5 seconds after we’d told her let alone summon anyone on her radio to give directions. It didn’t help that the Remix vs Ninja Tune tent we were sharing with Eddy Temple-Morris and guests was only signposted as ‘BAR’ – something we tried in vain to rectify with little success all day.


To further compound matters, DK and I had been booked separately and had our individual technical riders supplied rather than our combined set up (4 decks, rather than 2) so they only had two turntables in the tent – and no video screens…  I’m not sure how we were supposed to do a video set without video screens and it turns out we were on when it was still light so that went out the window pretty sharpish. But this is festivals – you have to be adaptable. Anyone who has ever played one will know this, bands run late, or end early, or get squeezed on to the bill, or don’t even turn up. Equipment doesn’t work, or there’s the wrong equipment, or there’s no equipment at all. Somehow the great staff behind the scenes all make it work but it’s never straightforward, everyone needs something different and no one has probably looked at the technical rider until an hour before you arrive. Here’s a top tip for all DJs playing at festivals or in any kind of situation involving DJs, performers and live bands simultaneously – make friends with the sound engineer as soon as you arrive. He is the one person who can and will make you sound good and he is the most important person to you next to the lighting / VJ person, more important than the promoter, the hospitality or the person who will ultimately pay you. He (and it is nearly always a he) will save your neck if something goes wrong and it invariably will.

For some reason the running times as the Secret Garden were back to back which means they had allowed no down time between sets for any technical changeover. This is a little difficult to do when one artist is using an Allen & Heath mixer with CDJs only to be followed by another using Ableton, an MPC and assorted effects to then be followed by another using 4 decks, 2 mixers and so on. To perfect a seamless changeover you ideally need two tables in this situation, one that is being used and one off to the side to set up the next artist on that can then be wheeled on and plugged in in seconds rather than minutes. The SGP did not have this so we set up on the side of the main table whilst the band before played (was it Evil 9? I’m ashamed that I didn’t know). Trying my best not to disturb them as well as not unplug anything from the tangle of wires that had formed behind the mixer I managed to plug in one deck and a mixer to lead off after their set so as not to lose the considerable crowd they’d acquired. Whilst they packed down and made way for DK to set up I played some bass heavy dubstep before he took over and I could reposition my set up alongside him rather than play in profile to the crowd.

After this we were off, having just over an hour to do our thing so we flung everything we could into the mix and it was rocking. Another thing about playing at festivals – the change-over – be respectful of the artist you are changing over from. They are having their moment, it’s not all about you, give them a nice amount of space when they finish, don’t steam in with your set, let them get some applause (even applaud yourself maybe). Don’t knock their equipment whilst they’re playing as the guy after us did as we were playing some full on drum n bass, sending the needle jumping rudely to the end of the track from full flow. Luckily I was mixing in the next track and it carried the groove on and dropped back in nicely. Lastly always thank the sound man before you leave and the lighting guy if you can find him or her as their work goes largely unacknowledged and they make it all work ultimately.

I wouldn’t say the Secret Garden Party was unorganised but it was a little ramshackle, which, I suppose, is probably part of it’s charm too. It’s definitely a festival that is probably a hell of a trip if you’re inebriated too and, being sober the whole time, it took a while to aclimatise. It’s a shame we couldn’t stop for the King Cannibal silent disco, the lasers on the floating castle in the middle of the lake and Hexstatic without video screens but we had to hit the road. DK had bought his family and it was well past DK junior’s bedtime so we sped off and arrived back at Knott’s Landing just after midnight. In case you didn’t know (well, more for your information), staying at DK’s residence is second only to a night in a 5 star hotel. You get your own bedroom, bathroom, free wi-fi, homemade bread and a choice of fine wines and cheeses for breakfast whilst basking in the glory of their kitchen extension. This 8th Wonder of Marlow is a 180 degree glass wall that opens out onto the exquisitely manicured garden complete with water feature, colour co-ordinated wall and fauna that wouldn’t seem out of place in an episode of Grand Designs. In the words of Kevin McCloud, “IT’S A TRIUMPH!”.

truck-hospitalityWe spent some of the day working on a track for my next record before setting off for the Truck festival near Oxford, so called because the original stage was the back of a truck many years ago. They’ve progressed beyond that now although the backstage catering left a bit to be desired and it was a very different bill to the SGP. This was more indie, rock and folk orientated with a larger age range and a high count of people who brought their own seats to watch the bands on the main stage. Almost as soon as we arrived we bumped into Vez, ex-Ninja press legend from way back and informed her that there had been a request for a centrefold pull-out of her in the Ninja Tune book being published next year much to her amusement.

The Truck fest is a little more organised than than SGP in that they had a video screen and allotted a 10 minute turnaround time for us to set up after the band before us! It turned out the it took ten minutes for the band to pack down before we could even get the table onstage, then a further 5 minutes to set the table up. At 8.25pm we were ready and we rocked it in the Barn, even if I say so myself.


Everyone was very eager and helpful and I think we took them a little by surprise with the drum n bass at the end but we had a great time and were back at chez DK before midnight due to him living about an hour away. Not bad for a weekend; two UK festivals, loads of socialising and a track for my next EP nearly finished – I’m writing this on the way back to London where I’m spending Sunday with the family, then it’s more work on the EP before France for three days at the end of the week.

I arrived home to a nice package from Jim Thirlwell – a new Foetus compilation called ‘Limb’, of old audio experiments from 80-83 coupled with a DVD documentary about his career as well as his music to the cartoon The Venture brothers. This guy is a genius and it seems the world is finally taking notice after nearly 30 years.


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