Beat Herder Festival 2014

Fortress Crowd

18-20 July
Ribble Valley

Many festival adventures have been had in the rolling hills and hazy moors of the northern English countryside over the years. Tribal ceremonies in ancient times on scattered hill-top stone circles, mead-swilling knees up monster lynches in fiery halls, fervent free love ranters rolling around mushroom fields, Stone Roses on Spike Island and a million and one woodland gatherings of bouncy people since the free party scene began 25 years ago. It was one of these regular free parties in the woods and fields around the Yorkshire-Lancashire border that has grown to become the fiercely friendly and unique Beat Herder Festival in the Ribble Valley.

Officially in its 9th year (unofficially a party has been happening on the same site every year for 13) this no nonsense, no holds barred, northern spectacular encouraged large grins, squealing and mass hysteria once again. Diverse and hilarious spectacles included Beat Herder’s Got Talent in a Working Men’s Club (judged by the landowner and his wife), hardcore heroes Chris Liberator, Anne Savage and Lisa Lashes smashing an oriental-style iron fortress to pieces, a surprise Sunday swimming pool and live performances from the Happy Mondays, Boney M and The Orb.


As always at this particular festival, however, the main attractions were the smaller, underground corners. Most of these hidden gems could be found in the trees. Beside the Toil Trees stage, a large portion of the woods had been transformed into a junkyard forest wonderland that reminded me of a combination of the Ewok planet in Star Wars and Bradford.

Streets wound through the trees between a 19th Century Wild West Californian Hotel playing electro swing and dirty house (straight from dimension 444X); a garage forecourt with a gourmet selection of shiny old motors to be trampled on and vandalised (a favourite pastime of Ewok and raver alike); a hidden tunnel between two phone boxes, artfully symbolising the ancient cup and string communications device and smugglers tunnels between Shipley and Bingley; an ironic church; and a tattoo parlour specialising in Beat Herder branding.

Another highlight set back from the normal festival site was the stone circle field, complete with a gigantic number 7, which housed 24 hour chill-out shisha dons Smokey Tentacles. Their handmade bedouin tent springs up at all the best festies these days and at Beat Herder they come complete with their own stage, showcasing brassy, skanking, knees-up festival bands like Chainska Brassika. A nine-piece, bass-heavy ska band from south-east London, they were probably the tightest and most energetic band I’ve seen all year.

Fantastic food and drink was available at the slightly cheaper end of normal festival prices. Manchester-based Tibetan Kitchen won the ultimate victory for best thing I put in my mouth all weekend. Their Super Combo managed to include sticky dumplings – or ‘momos’ – curry, stew, potatoes and deep fried sesame chicken.

The main site itself hasn’t changed much in size over the past few years but managed to cram in a space-bending amount of attractions. Sitting centre-stage as the three points of a warped triangle were the three main arenas.

WMC decor

The Fortess – a huge, square, turreted oriental castle with a central courtyard – is where the harder side of the rave could be heard. Slipmatt and newcomers Elite Force and Koan Sound contributed to the smash, along with the hardcore oldies mentioned above.

The pun-tastic Toil Trees stage in a lovely little wooded area is the heartbeat of the festival and represents Beat Herder’s beginnings as a free party in the very same woods. A slightly younger crowd with a few more glow sticks were treated to a retro house and disco bliss fest. Mythical New York DJ John Morales, RETRO founder Paul Taylor and the deck-hogging Mr Scruff kept them shuffling for hours on end. Kidnap Kid, a Sheffield lad hyped across the planet at the moment, went down very well with his radio-friendly glitchy styles.

The Hazy Ring

The Main Stage itself, although not given the same central position as at other festivals, could rival any stage, with a carefully curated schedule of oldies, local faves and international acts. World-renowned reggae act Macka B played a sunny stomper of a set and French superstar Vitalic electrified a Saturday night crowd up for owt with bright lights and crackly electro. There were some underwhelmers, such as strange psychedelic flannels Herr Styler and Jagwar Ma, but overall this large, open field was a nice place to sit and mong out when your legs felt wobbly.

A hazier arena (at least in my memory) was the mystical Ring, just outside the wooded area, a large bank of earth in a circle shape with a single doorway made of obelisks. Inside was a mass of people with probably the wonkiest faces on site, writhing to face-melting DJs like Drumsound and Bassline Smith.

The mist had descended. As we wondered through this chaotically beautiful place on Friday night, carefully recording interesting behaviour and notable structures, we were suddenly surrounded by a thick, confusing haze that no torch could penetrate. The haze meant we could only trust our ruined ears and grasping hands, and the samples chosen by drum and bass DJs began to control our thinking.

At times we were on a post-apocalyptic forest moon, at others we were in gloriously mucky Bradford. Both mindsets are crucial to understanding Beat Herder Festival for what it is – a transcendental, out-of-this-world adventure in an earthy and down-to-earth wonderland.

Words: Alex Fenton-Thomas.
Images © Chris Fenton-Thomas.



  1. Alex, The words transported me there and added lyricism and vibrancy to the whole event, with you were at Belladrum to be able to do the same.

  2. absoutely mind blowing incredible piece word to the guy who wrote dis he’s massive in bulgaria we love how he gets down ALEX FT NUMBA 1 FAN

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