From its humble beginnings as the locals-only, drum and bass oriented ‘Moors Fest’ in the gritty Yorkshire Dales, Beacons Festival has made one hell of a journey in very little time. Now in its third year running under the title of Beacons, this quirky congregation combines Northern England’s most forward-looking creativity with a selection of some of the, in a word, 'coolest' musical performers from around the globe.
Our deeply engrained expectations were confirmed immediately on arrival Thursday evening. Beacons had again stepped up its game with an even more vast selection of food stalls, artsy tents and craft ales than last year. The arena had grown in density and size, and, for better or for worse, everyone in the festival was of the same alternative, middle-class ilk. Tattoos, Doc Martins, bucket hats and beards rule the roost in this part of town, so make sure you don’t forget to bring them with you if you plan on going next year. Suffice to say, if an atmosphere can be described as hip and boutique, then the Thursday night, pre-festival buzz of Beacons is just that.
Friday came through with capricious weather and a seriously sizeable line up. For two hours, British Sea Power Performing From The Land To The Sea Beyond serenaded the Loud & Quiet tent through the hot afternoon sun with their new ambient soundtrack and film. As the day really kicked in, and the first torrential downpour began, Vice’s Noisey Stage saw Paris XY perform their haunting vocals and computerized beats seamlessly with an accompaniment of rain and thunder. Immediately after, Golden Teacher made the storm their own with an animalistic and quirky jungle jam; exactly the kind of performance that make up the fibres of the non-commercial Beacons aura.
It wasn’t, of course, until later into the evening that the cavalry came rolling through to headline the night. In a perfect juxtaposition, Action Bronson took things up a gear with his highly addictive New York embodiment of American decadence and hood-style, whilst Daughter exuded their chilling vocal folk music for those looking in the direction of a more ambient end to the night. Safe to say that Friday set the bar for the rest of the weekend, with the Noisey and Loud and Quiet stages exhibiting the typical multitude of genres that Beacons can boast.
Saturday went down about as well as a festival can go, with performances from Goodbye Chanel and Menace Beach to soundtrack whiskey tasting and ice cream making in the sunny and ever beautiful Yorkshire Dales. Yet as is the norm with Beacons, the evening came with another reminder that the quaint Northern hills aren’t all about indie-pop and being nice to each other over a cup of tea. Dam Funk proved he can keep his 80’s style hood pass in tact with one of the best performances of the weekend, and Leeds’ very own Huxley spun his stuff to a truly appreciative crowd of party-goers.
Yet as day morphed subtly into night, the festival truly came to a crescendo and revealed all of its colours. Nightmares on Wax bounced off each other with their unique rap-come-reggae vibrations, before Jon Hopkins demonstrated how to be a straight up spin-doctor. Not to mention the ever-alive electronic Resident Advisor posse who created what can only be described as a ‘mad one’. The whole arena took on an entirely different, and indubitably drug fuelled alternate reality from that of the hazy day it left behind, with punters either dancing their legs limp or topless and running wild in some post apocalyptic party-world. Of course, the pride of Beacons has so far been its existence as a non-commercial, relaxed event and there is no doubt that it is that. Yet as this gem of the North grows in diversity, size and reputation, the alternative festival flagship risks seeing a slow but steady leak of the ‘let’s get too fucked up and not actually enjoy any of the music’ crowd in its hull.
With this in mind, it is appropriate to mention that reckless hedonism wasn’t the only theme of the festival. Every single night, smaller tents played host to a number of poetry wizards, live performances of every demographic and some classic film screenings such as Fear and Loathing, meaning no one was left empty handed one the music had drawn to an end.
In an admittedly disappointing manner Sunday was somewhat tarnished by the 24 hours of rain off the back end of Hurricane Bertha, but with a dedicated site of campers and some Northern grit, the show seemed to power on. Performances from Nadine Carina, Tall Ships and Jarbird began to pick up the pieces of a festival that had self-destructed the night before and people began to trickle back into the arena where they had met their maker just hours ago. But the rain came down like a sign from above, and it proved too much for most Beaconites who packed up early and left their entrenched camps to house nothing more than some empty Nitrous Oxide canisters and Carling cans. Yet as the hung-over pilgrims of party made their way out of the world of Beacons for another year, something felt right. It was as if this monster of a weekend had pushed its subjects so hard that they could no longer face one more delicious Ilkley Pale Ale; they weren’t leaving because of the rain, but because their festival hunger had been indulged beyond recompense.
From the Dales to the Pennines and beyond, Beacons Festival has rapidly grown into a behemoth of an alternative festival. It offers a welcome respite from the overwhelming commercialism and blindly drunk crowds of Leeds and Reading, whilst remaining, for the minute, under the radar of the hardcore Glastonbury-goers. Original, relaxed and fun, Beacons manages to be exactly what you want and yet nothing you can predict.
Words: Rowan Cassels-Brown