There’s nothing quite like watching two grown men writhing in a viscous mud pit, with not an ounce of dignity as they both attempt to untie a ribbon from their opponents’ penis. Hundreds of strangely dressed people squeal in delight as they watch the action from the hay bale walls of the Colo-silly-um, and after a short squabble, the fight is over. As soon as the winner is crowned victorious, a girl with a headdress made of loofahs scours the audience for the next contenders for the Secret Garden Party’s Saturday afternoon naked mud wrestling. Welcome to the strangest and most brilliant weekend of your life.
Taking place just outside the rural Cambridgeshire village of Huntingdon, the Secret Garden Party is certainly no longer a secret. Now in its tenth year, the festival attracted people of all ages, flocking to the garden with this year’s theme of ‘superstition’ in mind. 2013 saw a brand new swimming lake and Pagoda Stage looking out over one of the festivals biggest installations – a pirate ship being attacked by a gigantic octopus. With inhibitions left at the gate, and participation thoroughly expected, this year’s festival was greater, weirder, more extravagant and more surreal than ever before.
In the large marquee known as The Village Hall there is a spiritual bell ringing contest while right outside, you can choose between naked knitting, or watching six pigs in numbered jerseys dashing up a track as part of the much-anticipated pig race. Elsewhere, there is a phantasmagoric mix of a lemon and spoon race to the soundtrack of blaring dance music from the Temple of Boom dance stage. Later on, festival goers enjoy the delights of Club No. 13; a fluorescent pink garden shed with disco lights and loud music, or head over to the Great Stage to see Bastille introduced to the stage by a man dressed as a white rabbit. Day or night, there is something to do in this all-ages paradise. With music continuing until 6am, by the time you’ve had a chance to stumble back to your tent, it was time to attend a meditation workshop, a Zumba class or do some people watching to observe an elderly gentleman mincing along in a leather miniskirt at 8am.
This year’s festival marked the return of Suicide Sports which is one of the more eccentric events, offering ‘Gardeners’ a chance to hurtle down an astroturf ramp in whatever contraption they want, dressed in whatever they desire, before splashing spectacularly into the newly formed swimming lake. The competition was tough with a whole range of challengers battling it out; from a naked man who dived in and later had to be taken away in an ambulance due to a shoulder injury, to numerous people on bikes, and a man wearing a rubber ring whilst sitting in a shopping trolley. In the end, it was a quartet of monkeys who lifted the trophy after performing all manner of acrobatics down the ramp and backflipping into the water below.
There is no doubt that Secret Garden Party is an unbelievable bohemian playground compared to general day-to-day life, but one downside of the festival is also its biggest asset. The schedule is distributed at the entrance gates but some of the most bizarre, wonderful and spectacular events are secret, as the festival name suggests. In fact, the only way to find out about some of the most highly anticipated events, and high profile special guests is to keep a metaphorical ear to the ground. This was the only way to find out about Gabrielle Aplin’s secret performance in The Living Room on Friday afternoon, or Chase & Status’ surprise set in the Colo-silly-um on Saturday night. Not only these acts, but the prestigious annual highlights of the festival including the paint fight by the Great Stage which saw thousands of people get covered in powder paint was not on the schedule. Saturday night’s Big Burn; a ceremonious firework display and the burning of the pirate ship installation in the centre of the largest lake was another climax which may have been missed. This move by the organisers means that you’re likely to walk into a pop-up venue which will only be there for an hour, or see a surprise guest which will offer something incredible, but also runs the cruel risk of missing what could have been a festival highlight.
Secret Garden Party is, first and foremost, not a music festival, but can be described more accurately as a festival of fun. The Great Stage is aptly named yet many of the other stages and tents are modestly sized, attracting a sparse amount of people throughout the day, but this is a testament to the festival itself. The attention to detail in the innumerable artistic installations which the site is immersed in is incredible and inspiring. There is much more to this exquisite celebration than just music, and if you like extreme fancy dress, nakedness, music, food or colour, this is the festival for you. Secret Garden Party 2013 proved itself to be an innovative and inspiring cultural festival, drenched in creative eccentricity and dazzling excellence.
Tickets to Secret Garden Party 2014 are already on sale, here.