There are moments in life when the horizon seems so grim – socially, politically – that a good party becomes an expression of normality. It’s a reminder that we’re all still standing: the wheels have not yet fallen off. The fat lady has not yet sung her final song. We long to reclaim the familiar and to make sense of the the absurdities and contradictions that surround us. We need reminding that despite the chaos that prevails, a good knees-up in a field surrounded by glorious people and music that warms the soul is still the best litmus test of the nation’s temperament.
Which brings us to Shindig Festival, now in its sixth year of revelry. Gilcombe Farm is such a beautiful setting, nestled in the valley of the Somerset hills, surrounded by undulating green hills and forest. The festival itself follows the natural flow of the site, from the glitchy, bass-heavy vibrations of the Ghetto Funk Nightclub at one end, to the raffish and anarchic Naughtylicious crowning the Bay of Good Vibes up on the hill.
There is no main tent or tedious hierarchy; each artist is given the space that suits them best and this level-headed approach strengthens the sense of unity in the crowd. And what a crowd! Shindig has gained a reputation over the years for attracting a diverse gathering which gives it a richness and kindness that makes it particularly friendly.
There is no main tent or tedious hierarchy; each artist is given the space that suits them best
Where to start with the music? Boca 45 teased the throng at the Dig Inn with his hip hop beats and a heavy dose of funk and brass; Mr Thing, the self-confessed champion nerd, was sharp on his heels spinning his turntable wizardry. The Herbaliser had our backs on Saturday, bringing their cinematic metronome of jazz, scratching and rap to Dig Inn, landing somewhere between funk and psychedelia.
The promise of Altern8 playing Tutti Frutti in the setting sun was like a flame to moths
The promise of Altern8 playing Tutti Frutti in the setting sun was like a flame to moths, where a satisfying set of old 90s rave classics packed out the tent. It’s a particularly excellent gathering spot to meet like-minded souls and catch the last solar rays, whilst scratching the drum and bass itch between your shoulder blades. Doc Scott brought the culture alive with a punchy mix of rave, jungle and drum and bass.
Outside of turntable territory, a live set from Gypsy Unit stoked the fire at Naughtlicious with their irrepressible Balkan rhythms and toothsome basslines. Their track Bring me Bassline was like throwing a firecracker into the dance floor – a mini riot of feathers, glitter and badass dance moves.
a mini riot of feathers, glitter and badass dance moves
The Dub Pistols are always a guaranteed shot in the arm and they didn’t disappoint; they are the punks of the scene, the arbitrators of disorder. Don Letts and Gardna played out on Saturday; it’s an intriguing pairing, Don Letts being king of his particular castle and the granddaddy of culture clash grooves. Gardna spits his lyrics with an entirely different energy – he is viciously contemporary and the juxtaposition of the two creates a unique atmosphere on stage.
Gardna spits his lyrics with an entirely different energy – he is viciously contemporary and the juxtaposition of the two creates a unique atmosphere on stage
The live music continued with force on Sunday. Henge was totally unexpected brilliance – divisive, weird, expansive. There was a spaceman and a dinosaur. It is festival music in its most fitting incarnation.
Ozomatli featuring Chali 2na brought extraordinary musical dexterity and a huge outpouring of vitality to Dig Inn on Sunday evening. The warmth and spirit of their performance attracted the biggest crowd yet, creating a spiritual narrative that encapsulated their global family.
a sprinkling of devil dust, gutter glitter and all the beats in between
Crazy P was the highlight of my festival – I’d not seen them live before and Danielle Moore’s mastery of the stage blew my tiny mind. Earlier in the day, we’d watched a BBC Introducing panel talking about the challenges of being a woman in the music industry: here was a pro proving that gender should never be an obstacle. There’s a mix of savagery and warmth in their set; a sprinkling of devil dust, gutter glitter and all the beats in between.
The main ethos of Shindig has always been one of inclusivity and the feel of a free party. It has increased in size again this year by another 2000 people, but while last year the infrastructure struggled to bear the weight of the increased numbers, this year Shindig aced it. There were enough loos, bars were busy but staff were friendly and efficient, and it felt that there was space to get lost (and hopefully found).
There was a lot of love there. It’s rare to go to a festival so comfortable with its identity that there is a complete lack of artifice surrounding it. I think that’s now the prevailing ethos of Shindig, this time a bit older and wiser. Be comfortable in your own skin, whoever you are: this show is most definitely still on the road.
early bird tickets for Shindig Festival 2020 are already sold out
It’s no surprise that early bird tickets for Shindig Festival 2020 are already sold out, with the festival selling out way in advance every year. If you want to snap up your tickets for next year’s knees up, we’d do it fast! Tickets are available now here: ticketline.co.uk/shindig#tour
Words by Anna Bywater
Photos by James Hitchcock, Tony Jupp, Nathan Roach, Jason Bryant and Nick Clague