Farr festival truly is an intimate affair. Holding to its rhetoric of ‘brighter, bolder but not bigger’, the 5,000 capacity event – nestled amongst corn fields half an hour out of London – hosted one of the strongest, most carefully selected array of DJs that the summer months has to offer. Small yet sensational, it boasted an experience that larger festivals could but dream of recreating.
Despite its limited programming, with two closed stages and music ending at 11pm, Thursday evening felt like no warm up. Mahogani Music signee Dan Shake kicked things off at The Badger Hole with throbbing, funked-up house selections that oozed with soulful vocal samples, just as a decidedly smooth set from Berlin-hailing Arnaldo brought on 9pm at Corsica Village with Opolopo’s bass-pumping remix of Gregory Porter’s ‘1960 What?’ Romare, who followed, welcomed in the night (and the subsequent start of an apocalyptic three hour lightning storm) with one of the most enjoyable sets of the weekend. Playfully blending tracks off his charming debut Projections alongside a murky Moodymann cut, fleshed out with feel-good beats and timeless disco, he cocooned the crowd in a real warmth and excitement as the rain poured off the tent roof. It set the tone that the rest of the weekend followed: eclectic and captivating performances wrapped in a fuzzy, intimate glow.
Daytime at Farr was luckily blessed with sunshine. Being the size that it is, it didn’t take long to explore what most of the site had to offer, yet its beautifully decorated woodland arena never lost its charm. The large outdoor cinema was a popular mid-afternoon space, where you could kick back to the tripped-out scenes of Fear and Loathing whilst half falling asleep on the large, plush sofas. Sure the number of activities were rather limited, but simply sitting down in open green spaces, revelling in the post-storm weather, felt satisfying.
Of course, music was in constant bountiful supply. The Shack – clad in corrugated iron as if it dwelled in a shanty town – provided most of the weekend’s daytime dancing; a new addition this year, it quickly became its focal point by cultivating an almost twenty-four hour energy, and it’s hard to now imagine the festival without it. Hosted on the Friday by Manchester’s Rubadub, the likes of Channel One eased in the afternoon hours with their liquid-sunshine blend of dub and reggae, before Rodney P & Skitz cranked it up a notch with weightier hip-hop flavours. Becca D Presents launched a similarly barefaced, bass-heavy collection of DJs on the Saturday, as Cadenza, Benny Page and Toddla T kept a strong crowd pumping to a wide array of bashment, jungle and drum and bass cuts under the shade of the leafy canopy.
Yet, post-sunset was when the festival really came alive. Alluringly lit with a colourful palette of lights, evenings were mostly spent floating between the three woodland stages. Their close proximity to each other made it easy to get a taste of what most of the line-up had to offer, certainly without the worry of winding up totally lost and friendless. After a reasonably detached set from Erol Alkan, the latter half of Mr Ties provided a welcomed switch up where, upon arrival to the Tief-curated stage, the audience were unashamedly reciting ‘Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine’ as the seventies funk hit oozed out of the Funktion-One sound-system. Proceeding to then unleash an arsenal of vibrant techno-meets-disco bangers, his fervent engagement with the crowd – taking loudly to the mic multiple times throughout – felt unique. It was a shame that the closing hours of Tom Trago felt lacklustre in comparison. Meanwhile, Saturday’s selectors delved into sonically cooler and harder territories than of the previous two nights, with Gerd Janson, Ame and DJ Koze holding down the largest crowds at The Shack, and Midland masterfully showcasing melodic, percussive and hard-hitting vibrations in one of the strongest sets of the weekend.
Where Farr truly succeeded was in its wholeness. In avoiding a line-up that privileged a few grandiose headliners, the festival thrived in presenting a constant buzz of cutting-edge DJs in such gorgeous and intimate scenery. It struck the balance of seriously strong music without taking itself too seriously at all, instead pursuing a genuine warmth and spirit that refused to fade. Compact in size it may have been, Farr has established itself as one of the most impressive contenders of the UK festival scene.
Words: Josie Roberts