From podium-dancing in return for a ticket to finding a secret entrance to The Collisillium – here, Max Cocking talks us through his Secret Garden Party experience.

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I had completely resigned myself to the fact that for the first time in three years, I wouldn’t be going to Secret Garden Party, but then, “beep beep” – “Hi Max, I’m not sure if you remember but I’m managing the gay bar at SGP this year and one of our podium dancers has dropped out… fancy it?”

So there I was, alone on Friday afternoon at Kings Cross – under prepared, over excited and completely terrified by the prospect of podium dancing for a festival ticket. After compartmentalising my anguish about the ensuing 24 hour rainstorm and shooting it off in a rocket, I was ready; in the zone, in the game and in the mud.

Secret Garden Party is well known for its left-field bookings and beautiful settings, with a massive emphasis on the experience, rather than just the line up. The festival is just screaming to be explored. Middle class hedonism, not seen so voraciously since the Skins era is well and truly in force here, with the obligatory festival smattering of forest people (where the hell do these people go in the winter?).

The first act I caught were Hinds (FKA Deers), playing the Where the Wild Things Are stage; a twisted, interwoven branch enclave winding around the lake. Never has Spanish, lo-fi garage rock sounded so good. That evening I saw soul funk outfit Jungle lose their festival headlining virginity. The purveyors of 70’s influenced bliss–pop were not put off by the monsoon and gave one of the most rousing, anthemic, groovy sets I have seen in a long time. By the end, the entire crowd were twisted in ecstatic union, bathed in the thick steam billowing off their muddy, writhing bodies.

From there we ricocheted into the deep of the festival. The natural beauty of the site in the day is transformed into a Star Wars meets Game of Thrones-esque war zone at night. We soon found ourselves at The Collisillium, dancing in a Jeremy Bentham style panopticon, only made of hay and soundtracked by drum n bass. Top tip if you are going next time and there’s a queue – find the secret entrance to the left behind an ice cream van (you can thank me later). There were also some new stages to discover this year, such as the Maya Jane Coles curated ‘Little Horrors’, with a stellar line up that included Alex ArnoutB.Traits and Monki.

After Friday’s madness I managed to pull myself together enough to catch XL signing Ibeyi as they played a mesmerising afternoon main stage set. The magnetic twins’ vocals danced over the crowd, sung in the Nigerian language of Yoruba as the Saturday sunshine lifted our rain drenched spirits. Saturday night saw Ry X’s electronic evolution The Acid steal the show, providing the perfect soundscape for a packed crowd of chemically altered bodies. His shimmering electronic pulses controlled the enchanted audience, bringing them into a trance like level of euphoria. It was all you could ever want from a 1am festival billing.

Secret Garden Party truly is a mad, mysterious festival. It’s kind of like that mate you love, who always forces you to have shots but might also ditch you in the middle of the night. Everywhere you go there is something new to find and shocking to see. One moment you are dancing to the best deep house you have ever heard and the next you have stumbled upon a secret rave hidden through a phone box. If you look hard enough you might even see this weary writer, reluctantly podium dancing in a gay bar…

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 Words: Max Cocking


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