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This feature is the second piece of our Grassroots is Greener series – which looks at the health and sustainability of the small, independent, dance music festival scene, and talks to the punters and organisers that make it possible.

At the beginning of summer, in a small patch of forest near Cambridge, you may stumble across people “of all ages partying together with respect” in a party that has remained “fiercely independent in a world of commercialised and homogenised festivals”, like “something that belongs to a different era”. This is The Wild Wood Disco, according to founder Vicky. 

With 1,000 weekend campers and 600 more coming for Saturday, Wild Wood Disco, in my opinion, is the perfect size. There were just enough people to have several stages with different vibes, and therefore enough ticket sales to get some known and exciting names on the line up, while still remaining intimate.

The best thing about the weekend was how it looked. The lighting and decor were incredible, with some very cool art installations scattered throughout the site. Location was a big part of this, as the festival site meandered through a patch of forest just large and dense enough to feel at one with nature, while remaining easy to stumble through.

Facilities wise, Wild Wood’s provisions were pretty spot on. Toilets were plentiful and clean, free drinking water was always available, and the food was tasty, vegan, and not a mad amount of money. There were also plenty of comfy old sofas and chairs dotted around the magical forest fairyland to lounge on.

Music wise, it was a mixed bag. Let’s start with the good: Mafalda, Secret Sundaze, Bradley Zero and Optimo were class. In fact, Optimo might have played my new favourite ever set: playing Stuck in The Middle With You by Stealers Wheel and ending on a Slayer tune, sped up and full blast, were moments of genius. Blast beats on a big rig is truly a full mental, physical, and spiritual experience.

A special shout out also to the ‘secret’ Mash101 stage on Saturday night, and Tony who runs and curates the stage, played a set, and did all the visuals. This was by far the best looking and sounding stage there, and the sets were consistently incredible up until midnight when a DnB DJ jumped on and ruined the magic (in my humble opinion) – taking me straight back to first year at uni, gun fingers and all.

At this point, I promptly left. This wasn’t the only questionable selection that weekend, however. Whichever DJ played a song that had an electro beat with the Beatles’ Come Together vocals over the top, without a shred of irony and without bursting out laughing, surely deserves some form of cruel and unusual punishment…

These moments of musical misjudgement were the exception to the rule however—as tunes were relatively varied, often quite interesting, and nearly always wildly ecstatic. The sound systems were, unfortunately, a weak point. The main stage was too loud for the size of the crowd at points, and on Friday night, the sound on some of the stages kept clipping. This seemed to get sorted by Saturday evening, but I can’t help thinking that spending slightly less time making cardboard mushrooms to hang on trees and more time sound checking or getting better systems in, would have solved the issues.

The next issue Wild Wood had, which is an entirely understandable one considering the economic stress and razor thin margins of running a festival, was the number of day tickets that came in. 600 extra people, who weren’t fully part of the festival experience, seemed to somewhat disrupt the overall vibe of the place.

This is a pretty universal festival issue in my opinion—the more day ticket attendees, the more people who aren’t committed to the entire thing. When the festival is very small, this difference, in both crowd quality and the business of the site (such as queues, etc), on one day versus another, really stands out. As a result, queues for a drink on the Saturday were pretty mental. 

You can’t realistically blame anyone for this, as some punters can only economically or logistically commit to a day, and promoters need all the help they can get to turn a profit. It may just be that promoting day tickets is an inevitable survival strategy of an independent, small festival. 

On this topic, Vicky said that: “There are now so many small electronic festivals, in fact I’d guess a good 60% more than when I started in 2017. I think the market is oversaturated. With the cost of living crisis, people that used to go to three or four festivals a summer can now only go to one or two. However, saying that, I think there are more people going to them – and for good reason.

“As you said, people are definitely buying tickets late and closer to the event. This means two things, firstly you need to pray for a decent weather forecast, and secondly you need to believe you have something special and hold your nerve – it’s terrifying. I used to be all consumed with creativity and organisational worries – and now the fear of losing money has become all consuming.”

On a separate and more serious note, I heard nine people went to the emergency/welfare tent after taking ecstasy pills that were too strong, or taking too much at once. No one was harmed, but it serves as a reminder to be extra careful; only source trusted products, try to get them tested if possible, and always take them by halves or even quarters.

So, to summarise, it was a great weekend. I wish the music went on later than 2am. I wish some sets weren’t tainted with sound system teething problems. And I really, really wish I never heard that Beatles remix. However, all in all, it was still a class start to a summer full of small festival magic. Looking back at pictures recently made me realise what an amazing time we had, and just how good the whole thing looked. 

Luckily, and to my knowledge, it went well for Vicky too. “The comments and feedback have been so good from this year that all the stress and worries I’ve had seem worthwhile. When I walked around the site, I kept thinking what beautiful people there were dancing and having fun together; they were all shining”.

by Dominic Alston

Editor: Alex H Honey

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