When I first examined the line-up for Zoo Project Festival, I was initially excited and had high hopes for the weekend. It’s a development of a famous night in Ibiza, having been transported to the less-exotic location of Donington Park. The festival was in its second year and looked set to top the previous year’s debut. Engulfed by overcrowded market, this small festival was always going to struggle against forerunners such as Bestival and Reading, who similarly boast impressive and more diverse DJ line-ups. Nonetheless, I was excited about being able to enjoy the music without having to try to constantly come up for air amidst crushing crowds.
With the size of the festival in mind, it took me by surprise upon arrival to be greeted with an entrance security procedure that could rival JFK Airport. However, before we reached the campsite, we were made to endure an unnecessary security feature. Our wristbands contained a microchip with which we were made to tap in like some sort of oyster card. As the festival progressed, the arduousness of the procedure was soon neglected and left to the side, broken and misused.
Despite it being quite small, I thought that the fact that you could walk from one side to the other in about a minute was a plus rather than a setback. The Zoo Project Stage was set up rather well and always had a decent crowd head-bopping and shuffling throughout the day and night. I couldn’t help but compare it to Bestival’s Ambient Forest stage; it was good nonetheless.
Grandmaster Flash in particular on this stage pleased the crowd with his array of cheese, hip-hop and funk which was a nice contrast to some of the ‘darker’ acts. Zoo Project Festival’s fatal flaw, however, was its choice of location. Without exaggerating, it seems ludicrous to me that it resided right in between a racing circuit and the East Midlands Airport. Every morning my sore head was rudely awakened by the ferocious sound of relentless race cars, which continued throughout the day, becoming a background noise which urged me to question my own sanity at times. On top of this, the occasional plane taking off from a few hundred yards away caught you by surprise and gave off the impression that us festival goers were attending a free party in a field, rather than a legitimate event.
Despite these setbacks, I did enjoy myself over the weekend. This happened to be mostly down to my lord and saviour, Bonobo. I was initially annoyed at the fact that he had been set to play at half past four in the afternoon – a spot usually reserved for the lesser-known acts. When I arrived to see him play, I at first felt somewhat embarrassed at the tiny crowd that had gathered. This feeling of disparity soon wore off however, as he played a flawless two-hour set which I was grateful to be able to comfortably enjoy near the front with plenty of room to breathe. The atmosphere was incredible and in fact perfectly suited the chilled daytime vibe. I thought that he was scheduled to play a live set with his band, but the DJ set was incredible and featured tracks that spanned his discography. Another highlight was Boddika. The last night at the Big Top tent featured a wild, exciting show with fire dancers, girls on stilts, acrobats and a giant, mechanical King Kong which impressed the audience and meant that the festival finished with a bang. Although, much like with every festival, the music on the last night ended early and the campsite seemed to offer no sign of any significant after-party.
Overall, Zoo Project Festival had good intentions and at times their attempts paid off. However, the general feeling was – ironically – a chaotic mess, despite the festival’s attempts at thorough organisation. The security procedures – which meant people were searched extensively one by one each and every time they went into the arena – meant that there was a lot of waiting around and from my perspective the festival always looked empty, even at its busiest. There is definitely room for improvement and it has the potential to be a contender among UK festivals, however, a change of location is definitely in order!