Each year, Secret Garden Party adopts a new theme for its annual run, kicking off in the idyllic meadows of Cambridgeshire every July. Having been almost completely washed out by heavy rain in 2015, SGP's organisers seem more determined than ever to put on a great show, choosing Space as this year's festival theme.
Traditionally attended by a charming mix of genuine hippies and London hipsters, there's plenty of robot costumes roaming the grounds as DJ Mag rolls up on Friday evening, alongside almost every member of the Starship Enterprise and several Darth Vaders. Music wise, big name acts including Caribou, DJ Shadow and Air are all on the bill, but DJ Mag is more interested in soaking up the sights and sounds of the festival's smaller stages — there's lots of hidden delights to be discovered in the garden.
The Drop Stage — the dedicated dance music arena at Secret Garden Party — plays host to a range of key DJs throughout the fest, including Jonas Rathsman, Waze & Odyssey and PBR Streetgang on Friday evening. Jackmaster's closing set on Saturday night is also a treat, stacked with his usual combination of wonky house and wedding classics. Techno don Richie Hawtin also makes a surprise appearance over the weekend, hosting a takeover in the festival's secret woodland area. It's only accessible by a tiny, rabbithole-esque entry at the back of the site, that opens up into a warren of secluded pathways and tiny clearings the deeper we go. Hawtin's metallic sonics rebound off the trees with the eery intensity of a Hollywood thriller — it's one of the creepiest rave-ups DJ Mag’s seen outside Halloween weekend.
Radio 1’s B. Traits impresses on Saturday night on the festival's famous Pagoda Stage, that floats atop the site's central lake. It's a mix of newer tech-house jams and stadium classics, before the stacks are turned down in time for the festival's hotly-anticipated evening show. Once again, Space is the resounding theme, as fireworks blaze over the inky water to the sounds of David Bowie's ‘Starman’ and the Close Encounter theme. It's so emotional many ravers are reduced to tears, before heading off to catch Caribou on the Main Stage for a dose of romantic electronica before bed.
But it's not just about lasers and bass-bins at Secret Garden Party. In fact, there's loads of wacky fun to be had away from the dancefloor.
Sunday morning plays host to one of the highlights of the weekend: the dog fashion parade, that sees adorable pooches don costumes and strut a catwalk dressed as everything from Ziggy Stardust to Amy Winehouse. The hanging library (situated under a majestic oak tree) soon becomes a favourite chill-out area for the DJ Mag crew, it's strewn with comfy cushions and literary classics — the perfect place to enjoy a morning coffee, a tasty pastry and several paracetamol.
A daytime walk around the festival reveals even more clandestine delights — there's multiple tents set up to host talks surrounding this year's theme, includes chats about the future of space exploration and time travel. There's loads of retailers to explore, too, selling everything from baby clothes to inflatables, plus enough sequin-encrusted clothing to sink a battleship. DJ Mag whiles away the rest of the day on Sunday cruising the shops and popping in and out of random tents, before heading over to the dance-off stage to watch SGP punters attempt to breakdance battle.
DJ Mag rounds off the weekend DJing in a custom-made slipstream for Secret Garden Party's dedicated radio station — a spin of David Joseph's 'You Can't Hide (Your Love From Me)' is the perfect final tune of the weekend. Bravo Secret Garden, we'll be back.
Photos: Andrew Whitton, Max Miechowski, Samantha Milligan