On a weekend trip to the idyllic Yorkshire Dales, you’d be forgiven for expecting little more than a good cupper and a spiffing view. Beacons Festival, which occupies one such dale, is endowed with both, plus quality house and techno to boot.
Excluding the all-encompassing festival phenomenon that is Glastonbury, electronic music and “the arts” (in the broader sense of the word) seldom sit together on the same bill. It’s not often you’ll have to choose between the prospect of a poetry reading or a set by Psychemagik, but Beacons is a festival where such a conundrum is completely feasible, nay common.
It’s fair to say that Beacons is the biggest thing to hit the peaceful village of Skipton, well, ever. For the last three years, DJs have descend upon the town each August, plus well-known names in indie and rock, a smorgasbord of intriguing live art, a boutique ale bar (no, really) plus an eclectic selection of international food vendors.
As DJ Mag approaches the festival grounds one Friday, the mix of arriving punters is unsurprisingly sundry — groups of scrappy cider drinking teens, hemp wearing hippies pushing sixty, and masses of presumably local and hyper organised family groups — it’s a far cry from your typical dance-centric festival crowd.
Security is akin to that of a country fete, as we waste no time legging it to Red Bull’s unexpectedly small yet deceptively loud stage. Everyone’s favourite disco revivalist, Greg Wilson makes us feel welcome, dropping The Reflex’s ballistic rework of Stevie Wonder’s 'I Wish', before launching in to a full fat set of thickly grooving disco and '80s boogie anthems.
As night falls the tech-flecked sounds of Daniel Avery are an obvious draw, with the festival migrating en mass for the Drone Logic producer’s three-hour set. Yes, three hours. Unlike other UK festivals that bolster impressively big line ups, only to mash them in to a jumble of comically small time slots, Beacons — thankfully — isn’t doing their electronic sets by halves.
Avery, naturally, does not disappoint, fusing free flowing psychedelic techno with the warm, familiar whinge of acid, whilst a wall of strobes mercilessly blister our naked eyeballs. Avery gives a nod to cuts from Matt Walsh’s Clouded Vision imprint plus a new remix of his own 'All I Need' by Frankfurt’s Roman Flugel. It’s Flugel himself who is next to mix, closing out Friday in a mesmeric — albeit faintly abrasive — blaze of coarsely slapping, 4/4 glory.
A Saturday sleep-in is not an option; there’s so much more to see at Beacons then just fist pumping and lasers. We take some restorative downtime on day two to listen to an abstract poetry reading, do a spot of stretchy indoor yoga and even play a 30-person-strong game of pass-the-parcel.
In truth, it’s not always a completely comfortable union between dance music and the Dales. The Saturday sunshine serves as a deterrent to ravers, leaving the dark RA tent desolate save a dancing toddler, bizarrely soundtracked by Volte-face’s shimmering techno atmospherics — only at Beacons!
Saturday night’s sees the festival’s electronic line up get serious, as Huxley, Erol Alkan, Dusky, Joy Orbison, Special Request, Jon Hopkins plus Scottish staples, Jackmaster and Cheap Picasso all roll out after dark. Dusky and Huxley stick to what they do best, as the former offer up a tight mix of deep and tech house hits, including Laurent Garnier’s thumper 'Bang (The Underground Doesn’t Stop)', whilst Huxley skirts the rim of his roots in old skool house and UK garage.
Erol continues to do what he does best; a marriage of kick-heavy analogue throwbacks and up-to-the-minute exclusives (thanks largely to his hyper successful Phantasy imprint) that build toward Charles B & Adonis anthemic cut, 'Lack of Love' — a long-time set weapon of the London legend.
Jon Hopkins’ exceptional brand of off-kilter electronica delights us; a climatic set of densely tangled rhythms and ruthless staccato bass lines, as a surprise sea of coloured LED balls are released out into the crowd to fly about above our heads.
Finally, Special Request — aka Paul Woolford — sucks us in with the call of high-power drum machines and slamming industrial techno. Syclops’s 'Where's Jason K' gets a look in before Woolford takes us plunging head on into D&B, jungle and darkstep as a thick sheet of gathering rainclouds rumble ominously overhead.
Sunday sees the advent of what we’ve all been dreading, as the tip of Cyclone Bertha pays a visit to Beacons. We take shelter to the disco-tinged sounds of Psychemagik before heading to a Q&A with underground hero, Andrew Weatherall. Weatherall is his typically charismatic self as he chats with Manchester stalward, Dave Haslam, describing his once obsession with the sound of “140 BPM panel-beaters from Prague” — an apt description of some of his most rough-edged, industrial influences.
As dark closes in, the weather is nothing short of apoplectic as we confine ourselves to the safety of Irishman, Mano Le Tough's masterfully distilled sound. The warm, orchestral hum of Gigha’s 'Lord of The Isles' is the opener, followed by an on-point two hours of Mano Le Tough’s liquidly grooving, Berlin-influenced bop. Sunday draws to a close to the intricate roar of Darkside (Nicholas Jarr and Dave Harrington) and Inversions’s boss, Dixon, both of whom offer up a suitably magnificent conclusion to the festival’s three-day epic.
There’s no doubt the brains behind Beacons have taken a risk — placing live poetry beside indie pop, organised games beside hard electronica — but it’s a formula that, surprisingly, weirdly works. In fact, it’s this kind of pick-and-mix feel of activities, music and cuisine that gives Beacons Festival — at the risk of sounding cliché — heart. It’s country fete meets warehouse rave in the very best way. Bravo Beacons, we’ll be back.
Words: Charlotte Lucy Cjiffers