For the past six years London band the Laurel Collective have been throwing a party, with all of their mates, and then some, somewhere in the woodlands of Kent. The location remains a secret and the 500 or so people furnished with the exact details to where it is –past a nameless town, down a track and out into a beautiful field –will tell you, it’s one very much worth keeping that way.
You’re more likely to see the scattered tents and cars before you see the paltry hand written sign that marks the spot with ‘In the Woods Festival’, while the relaxed vibe and sense of fun begins at crossing into the wooden gate where ‘no looting’ is posted among other more sensible prohibition signs. All the secrecy doesn’t mean everyone isn’t welcome, it just means you have to get in there early, join the mailing list and be really committed to what it is about music and art that got you into it in the first place.
As you set up your tent in the soft-grass of the wide field next to a beautiful building hundreds of years old (we won’t say how old, for fear of giving the place away), music already floats out from the Quarry Stage and past the fairy lights leading out from the track into the shrubbery. There’s no hurry for anything –the lines for food and drink are short and queues for the toilet don’t mean missing any bands you planned to see. Although the organisers have already done the planning for you, showcasing an eclectic range of bands from London’s incredibly diverse music scene. It spans everything from classical, folk, rock, folk and more often than not a mix of all of it…
Bands play half hour sets between two stages, while you can casually walk between them, watch some independent film, or simply have a cup of tea if you fancy. There are hog roasts, local ales and lagers to sample plus a myriad of bands you might never have the opportunity to see, let alone hear about, without the ‘in the know’ curatorship of the Laurel Collective crew. They know what they’re doing too. Last year a relatively unknown Anna Calvi graced the stage. This year she is one of the biggest acts to come out of London, with the global fashion world fawning over her and the industry slating her as a shoe-in for the Mercury Prize Award had artistic behemoth PJ Harvey not this year released her creative opus, Let England Shake.
This year performers like Elan Tamara and her minimal experiments –inspired and distinguished by the likes of Steve Reich and Indonesian gamelan –goes on to play later with rising British MC DELS. Raisa Khan, keyboardist to festival headliner Micachu & The Shapes splits her talents between the two bands too. White-boy hip hop duo Man Like Me and their entourage are just as welcome as prog-y noise band Three Trapped Tigers, while another Mercury Prize nominee, Dave Okumu of The Invisible, sees the night out with a DJ set and the magnificent midnight bonfire to follow.
The shroud of mystery and exclusivity surrounding the ‘In the Woods Festival’ stays true to the tradition of British folklore and an undercurrent of Pagan ritual (for those inclined to think along mystical lines), as well as eclectic musical beliefs of the Laurel Collective and friends. For anyone on the outside, it might seem like there’s a big ‘pretension factor’ for what’s going on but in the current climate of boutique clothes, beer, bands, everything, ‘In the Woods’ is just the start of what is bound to become a much bigger movement.
As the pulling power of over-compensating super-festivals with terrifying big name line-ups and the masses to match dwindles, it makes sense that music lovers should shy away from the crowds and seek the idyllic solace of the community music was meant to perpetuate. Join the party.
(all photos by InTheWoods festival)