Booking time off work, buying five days’ worth of non-perishable food and trying to figure out how to make two bottles of lukewarm budget cider last for the duration are things I don’t exactly relish, but have learned to accept as necessary evils, when it comes to British festival season.
So when I discovered Farr, one of the growing number of Britain’s small-capacity boutique festivals, was offering day tickets, I jumped at the chance to get into the festi spirit for one night only.
Farr’s DJ selection kicked things off on Thursday evening and concluded in the early hours on Sunday. Thursday and Friday’s bill boasted the likes of Booka Shade, DJ Tennis and Detroit Swindle, while my Saturday ticket gave access to just the festival’s explosive final night of action. But nonetheless, the call of an all-nighter in the woods with 6,000 like-minded revelers was too good to resist.
After making it through understandably thorough, but still needlessly nitpicking security (one guard took my nearly-new foundation because it was in a glass bottle — really?!), we set up camp and looked around. Here lay our first small disappointment; after three days of glitter-spangled hedonism, those who had been hitting it hard two nights in a row already were late to rise. Nonetheless, Farr’s jaunty afternoon and evening lineup of DJs played across the site’s four woodland stages, all located close enough to flit between. Bawrut and Sadat Bahar got the crowd moving with funky disco tunes on the Adventures in Success stage, while Omar-S delivered a beautiful collection of hardcore house tracks at the Hidden Palace.
As the night wore on, it became obvious Farr has a major problem with volume. It’s difficult to truly get involved in a set when you feel like it’s not being blasted as loud as it deserves, and there was no finer example of this than Floating Points’ three-hour masterpiece at The Shack. Proceedings got off to a wobbly start, with technical difficulties setting things back a few minutes. When things eventually got going, a good quarter of the festival had gathered to hear Sam Shepherd’s trailblazing brand of experimental disco and techno fusion, but we struggled to get into the groove as the volume was so low. I made a swift exit a few tracks in, when the crowd behind began chanting ‘TURN IT UP’. Luckily on my return, half an hour later, the audience had got into the swing of it, and even the rowdiest revellers had submitted to the call of the disco ball.
This wasn’t the only time my ear drums were crying out to be shattered. Over on the festival’s new Factory Stage, a 2,500 capacity area built from shipping containers, sadly didn’t do justice to Todd Terje’s early evening synth-packed set, nor Submotion Orchestra’s.
It’s understandable that local Hertfordshire residents might not share the same appreciation for 3AM techno sessions as FARR’s clientele, and so would probably appreciate the lowered sound levels. But with the festival now in its eighth year, I couldn’t help wondering why more hadn’t been done to noise-proof the woods and kick the volume up a notch. When we eventually admitted defeat and trudged the half a mile downhill to the campsite, the noise carried more than I’ve ever noticed at any other festival.
While admittedly the overall feedback on social media has been overwhelmingly positive, many others hit Twitter to question why FARR missed the opportunity to blast our ears in oblivion. “Such amazing potential. Really enjoyed it but wouldn’t go again, or recommend it, with such embarrassingly low sound levels,” one wrote. Another user added, “It’s a shame as I heard such good things last year. Why have such great acts but not turn the volume up?”
With its picturesque setting, typically young, attractive market and Instagram-worthy stages, we must admit FARR certainly is pretty to look at. But with so many of us scratching our heads and wondering, ‘where’s the bass at?’ We have to question whether they’ve chosen style over substance.