The Secret Garden Party festival's main selling point is not the music. Most people purchase their tickets before the headliners are even announced, and the festival promotes an ethos of freedom from 'timetables, meeting points and 'must see's', instead suggesting that 'gardeners' (festival-goers) wander freely, stumbling upon such delights as a dog show, a secret woodland rave, or a tiny Gipsy Disco, complete with knife throwers.
While participating is encouraged, sometimes it is time just to observe. On Saturday night thousands gathered for a 20 minute firework display on and around the lake. Every explosion was timed perfectly to music ranging from Yello's 'Oh Yeah' to Rule Britannia, while fire dancers circled the water, the spectacle culminating in the burning of the giant shipwreck lake sculpture. This was the perfect introduction to Faithless' headline set, with Maxi Jazz and Sister Bliss performing old classics such as 'Insomnia' with supreme gusto along with an incredible cover of Icona Pop's recent hit 'I Love It'.
Aside from displays such as these, every gardener will have their own individual experience, more so than other festivals where, when you are not watching a band, there is often little to do but to sit around in the campsite. I myself participated in a theatre production by Crow Theatre, singing and dancing along and reacting with the 'real' actors as we learnt of a conniving fiancé who had faked his own death. At a stall run by Dumblove Encounters I was given my own 'bespoke' alter ego, complete with props, which I was then told to inhabit for 'five minutes, five hours, or the rest of [my] life'. My personal highlight was dancing in the sun to Fleetmac Wood, a DJ collective and party dedicated to re-edits and originals of Fleetwood Mac, on the antique Pagoda stage, which backs onto the lake and is decorated with Chinese lanterns, while wearing glasses from the charity Love Support Unite, which turn every light source into a heart.
The relaxed ethos was absorbed, and by and large, people were perfectly content to spontaneously jump in the lake, join a jewellery making workshop, or agree to a 'scent sensation session' with 'Mr Lavender'. Fortunately, however, the festival recognises that there are times when pig racing won't suffice as a substitute for dancing to your favourite band, and accordingly a detailed programme is included in the ticket price.
Unfortunately, this year's programme contained so many mistakes that it was almost unusable. Thirty of us appeared at the lake for yoga at 8am, to be told that the punts to the lake stage would not be operating for two hours. We planned our Saturday evening around seeing Shitfaced Shakespeare, only to turn up and see a sign reading 'Please ignore the programme', with no mention of drunken theatricals whatsoever. Everyone I spoke to had experienced some disappointments, with no explanation to them at all.
Worst of all was the ridiculous wild goose chase on which we were led as we attempted to watch up-and-coming band Clean Bandit. When we arrived at the venue for their first set we were rudely informed that the performance had been moved to the next day (it hadn't), and their later set was cancelled after headliner Regina Spektor said she didn't want any bands playing near her (the festival has since denied this, despite official announcements on the night blaming her for the mishap). Ultimately, it was a tremendous shame that such a wonderful festival let its own relaxed philosophy get the better of it, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of many revellers.