The first festivals in England began in the 1960s/1970s, fuelled by the success of Woodstock over the Atlantic. Progressively, they have grown, morphing to the latest musical trends. Now, every British summer, we are inundated with aural getaways. There's family festivals, jazz festivals, boutique festivals - EVERY KIND of festival. Probably the most famous of them all, Glastonbury -- originally a Blues & Folk festival -- has reinvented itself to host a mosaic of tastes, accommodating the masses by booking headline acts ranging from Beyonce to the Rolling Stones to Metallica. They don't want to pigeon-hole themselves. The other big kids on the block (Latitude, Bestival, Reading/Leeds, etc) have expanded, too. And by that I mean in volume of consumers. Walking half an hour from campsite to the arena has become the norm, and spending a fiver on a tepid can of Red Stripe is to be expected.
This summer I've been lucky enough to find myself at two strangely similar, up-and-coming, refreshingly small festivals. One nestled in the Yorkshire Dales in Skipton, and one in an old fort in Pula, Croatia.
I missed out on Beacons Festival last year through poor planning and an excruciating hangover, missing the likes of SBTRKT, Theo Parrish and Bonobo. This year I knew I HAD to make it. Beacons Festival, in it's third year, is a celebration of the north of England - the food, the scenery, the ales, the local bands. Laynes Espresso and Dough Boys Pizza are just a couple of stalls that entice the crowds to sample the foodie fruits of Leeds, Manchester and beyond. Dawson's Arthouse and Into the Woods are both cosy spaces housing northern art collectives and showing northern cinema, among other things.There's a real sense of community here.
As a recent arts graduate, it's amazing to see such a flourishing close-knit creative sphere outside of London. It proves we don't need to sell our souls to the back-breaking rent and unpaid-internship lifestyle of the capital. It really feels like The North is becoming a force to be reckoned with. And Beacons is capitalising on this in the most amazing way. Yes, it's a young festival so it's still finding it's feet, but it's already got a resounding identity in it's field (heh pun). I did some promotion for the festival down in Brighton and a surprising amount of people had heard of it already.
What I like most about this festival is the intimacy of it. Even with Hurricane Bertha rattling through the site, the tented stages were near enough together you could run from one to another super quickly, warm on your musical journey. The walk from where we were camped to the arena took all of two minutes so the two areas felt pretty combined. Almost like walking to the bottom of your country garden to find a slathering of lively culture. Over the weekend I saw acts such as Capetown calypso/afropop group John Wizards, Neneh Cherry, Darkside, Jon Hopkins (who I've now seen three times but was the most impressive in the snug tent at Beacons with glow-in-the-dark orbs flying over our heads), Stones Throw's Damm-Funk, and a whole host more. Next year I'd like to see Beacons vary the headliners a bit more -- to me after a certain time the music was all a bit too similar -- and expand a little more (only slightly!) to include a few more places to boogie. Something like a Guilty Pleasures tent found at Latitude would be a great addition to the Skipton site, playing some oldschool 90s hiphop tunes/ sweet disco jams etc etc.
Apart from that, it's amazing as it is. Riding the ferris wheel was a pretty momentous moment -- viewing from a height the microcosm of the the northern arts scene, with its sculptures and food vendors and glittery festival-goers. Already the festival has solidified itself as a beacon for the future of the surrounding area.
Dimensions Festival, too, is small. It houses about a third of the people that influx on Stinjan a week later for it's sister festival, Outlook. One of my friends went to the latter four years ago and said it was like a load of people had turned up in Croatia with their speakers. Now the entire fort and its surroundings are decked out with signs, visuals, bars, and all the other trappings of an established festival. Over the weekend we saw Moodymann, Roy Ayers, and a whole load of others. The small size of the festival meant we always had more than enough room to dance and could go easily to the front, if so desired. Standing front centre for Gilles Peterson on the Thursday night made my entire weekend. It was dream-like.
My friends and I stayed in an apartment about a 15 minute walk from the festival site, which was run by the most lovely woman in all the world, Melita. Melita and her family regularly brought us beers, drove us into Pula when we needed to go, and one night they cooked us traditional Istrian cuisine. She also directed us to a more secluded beach than the one in the arena which was choc-a-bloc consistently with annoyingly beautiful bodies. I would highly recommend anyone going to Dimensions/Outlook to stay with her.
What else to say about Dimensions? Like Beacons it too is carving out it's own unique identity. A more chilled older crowd than Outlook, people come to Dimensions to enjoy the music, not just to flourbomb their noses with illegal substances. Both are amped on a sense of community and overall happy vibes of people truly enjoying themselves. I hope and pray neither will sell out like so many other festivals seem to do.
On the Sunday night of Dimensions, a storm of Biblical proportions throttled Fort Punta Christo. Rain like I've never seen before drenched the site and forced stages to close from flooding. Yet, people kept on dancing. Floating Points played a sick set in the Void for a sea of shirtless people with saucer-like eyes, umbrellas, and hooded heads. We stuck around as long as we could before people started falling over in the mud and finding their phones drowned. For me, the storm almost seemed baptismal as the end of the festival and the start of the rest of my life living in the north. But that could've been the result of the euphoria of extreme intoxication before I started getting completely sodden. Unlike an English festival, Dimensions was unprepared for shitty weather -- there was no cover to be found or cosy sofas to sit on like in Dawson's Arthouse.
But the spirit surged on. That's what's so beautiful about small festivals, I think. People come for a specific tight-knit musical kinship, not just for the Hunter-wellies-and-flowery-headband corporate ideals of the new brand of bland weekenders. Both Beacons and Dimensions have their own distinct charm that I hope won't fade. Either way, I'll keep attending them for many years to come.
Thank you for a beautiful summer
Thank you for a beautiful summer