Over a year in the making, a lot of hard work and effort was put into making The Somerley Tea Party a reality. The first time festival was organisers’ answer to what they described as an “overly subscribed UK festival market”. Situated in the grounds of Old Somerley House on the western outskirts of The New Forest, the Tea Party promised a refined festival experience, for those wishing to combine the euphoric festival experience, and multiple international big name acts with a more intimate atmosphere than larger festivals will allow.
The Somerley Tea Party, did not disappoint. Placed within a central walled garden, the main stage’s production, The Old Somerley Arena, was, at a glance, actually rather minimal. I found this, however, very effective as it brought out the unique appeal of the setting itself. Situated on the gently banked house end of the walled arena, clad with a few LED boards in a Tetris like formation, the main DJ booth stood atop a small flight of stone steps, flanked by the sound system and a pair of scaffold towers bearing the Somerley Tea Party banner. The main stage was very small compared to many others festivals, even those of a similar size, Big Top for example, yet I don’t feel that this was at all detrimental as it ultimately allowed the focus to remain upon the music rather than mere spectacle.
Splitting the main headline acts, Eats Everything, and Simian Mobile Disco, across day and evening slots was in my opinion a great success. Rather than building continually to a crescendo, the scheduling spread fan’s excitement throughout the course of the festival. Playing an early set from 4 until 5.30, Eats Everything quickly drew in large crowds, and had them moving to his familiar house sound. His mastery on the decks was often seen as he would tweak out long extended effects on loops, building suspense for the release of his next beat or bassline. Next on, Ben Pearce proved similarly popular, the sound of his well-known single, ‘What I Might Do’ drew in larger crowds and the vocal heavy latter half of his set kept them hooked. The relaxed summertime sounds amid his mix were a real treat, and whilst many fans flocked to the stage itself to enjoy the music, the wide grassy expanse of the Old Somerley arena provided plenty of space for others to enjoy from afar.
A small gateway on the left wall of the arena led on into a wider wooded area. Independent attractions and stalls skirted a small pond that lay before the ‘Dog Kennel Woods’, among them a facepaint stall, whose impressive patterns could later be seen adorning the faces of many a festival goer. The woodland feel was slightly marred by the fact that the pond was encircled by metal barriers. Though the precaution is of course inevitable, it’s a shame the team didn’t find a more creative way to tackle the problem. On the other side of the pond lay a teepee hosted by Orange Rooms in which the team served their signature cocktails and music was provided by another roster of DJ’s. Though small, the teepee had a really nice ambient vibe and proved popular throughout the day, a very welcome addition to the festival.
Beyond this initial woodland scene, one could delve into The Dog Kennel Woods, where festival goers danced beneath the towering pine trees. Glowing lights running between the trunks and hand-made wooden decorations made this already atmospheric location something very special indeed. With a selections of different artists throughout the day, and plenty of hay bales for groups to congregate on, The Dog Kennel Woods became a prime chill-out spot. The addition of a custom built wooden bar beneath a canopy really epitomized the lengths that organisers had gone to, to ensure that the Somerley Tea Party didn’t emulate other festivals, but had its own distinct personality.
Upon an early visit to the third stage, The Dome, I was disappointed to find the space utterly empty, worried that it would remain neglected. Luckily, however, my fears were not realized as come evening the inflatable enclosure was buzzing to the heavy dosage of drum and bass on offer from The Prototypes, DJ Hazard and Ram Records luminary Rene LaVice. A welcome change from the openness of the Dog Kennel Woods and The Old Somerley Arena, The Dome was a far more contained space that lent a perfect atmosphere to proceedings, becoming so popular that a ‘one in, one-out’ policy was operated during DJ Hazard’s explosive set. Of course not afraid to mix up the tempo, I was particularly pleased to hear the Birmingham based producer and DJ embed the ever popular Kill The Noise remix of Noisia’s classic ‘Diplodocus‘ into his set.
In my eyes, the Festival’s standout performance was provided by Rinse FM regular Oneman, aka Steve Bishop, who delivered an unbelievably varied cross genre set, pulling off combinations of tracks that you’d never expect in the same mix. A clear aficionado on the decks he would craft intricate transitions to mask the reveals of incredible tempo changes, to smugly muse on the raucous applause of the crowd. By the time he played the Street’s melancholy anthem, ‘Blinded by The Lights‘, Bishop had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Due to delays, Bicep were late to take to the decks, allowing Oneman plenty of extra time, which was of course very welcome. Bishop used the time to bust out an array of sing-alongs, culminating rather aptly with ‘Ill put a spell on You’. A tastemaker through and through, Oneman’s offering will have me scouring soundcloud hunting down many of the tracks for weeks to come.
Later when night fell proper, the Old Somerley Arena suddenly became a far more intimate space than before as the spacious surround receded into the darkness. The full lighting rig was turned on to complement Simian Mobile Disco’s set, filled with big melodic chords. The Dog Kennel Woods were similarly brought to life by the night, and Ten Walls created an eery atmosphere complementing his set with stuttery monochrome projections, occasionally accented with a dash of colour, such as an ominous pale red moon. It was pleasing to hear the freedom allowed to Ten Walls through live performance as the raw sound of his synths empowered tracks such as ‘Walking with Elephants‘ with a new energy.
The Somerley Tea Party definitely conquered the goal it set out to achieve. With an enjoyably varied selection of three different stages all with their own charm accompanied by a unique setting in the Old Somerley grounds the festival did feel far more like a party nestled in the woods rather than a number of stages and attractions constructed on a flat of land, like many larger festivals do. Whilst being it’s greatest success, there is of course more that could be done to incorporate the festival with the landscape and setting, but I do not doubt that the creatively minded organizers will continue to refine and grow their vision in such a way next year.