Review: ‘What a damn good knees up!’ Shindig Festival 2018

It’s been five years since Shindig dipped its toes into the festival business, emerging from the Ghetto Funk chrysalis to now host 7500 revellers on Gilcombe Farm. The festival has established its spiritual home on a phenomenally beautiful site in the valley of the Somerset hills, surrounded by trees and non plussed cows. 

There is no main stage and no hierarchy; each tent flies solo with a strong individual identity. The emphasis is on breakbeats, drum and bass and the more down ’n’ dirty side of house and disco/funk, with enough space to house the more weird and wonderful live bands who make up the fabric of the festival scene. 

Shindig wears its heart on its sleeve and it attracts a joyful crowd of like minded souls who share that free party attitude

The ethos is immediately apparent: Shindig Festival wears its heart on its sleeve and it attracts a joyful crowd of like minded souls who share that free party attitude. It’s some achievement that it does feel like a free party in a field – it’s evidently a festival that has grown through word of mouth, friend to friend, rather than a marketing grab. 

There’s a more diverse crowd this year with several younger faces and that has injected some welcome trappings of finery: a riot of neon feathers, glitter, rainbow umbrellas and multicolour sequins….peacocks in full regalia. And the beautiful weather! Can we talk about the weather? We are, after all, in England and the weather is the axis on which the success of a festival spins. 

Shindig Festival lucked out enormously (with the notable exception of dramatic storms on the Saturday night) and it makes the world of difference being able to lie on a sunny grassy bank drinking a soothing pint, rather than skulking around in wellies wondering where you can sit without being swallowed up by the quagmire. It’s just not the same partying in Gortex.

And the music? The DJs ruled on Friday night – Mr Scruff and then Norman Jay eased us in at the Dig Inn, helping the throng to shake the city dust off their feet. No surprises here, but exactly what the doctors of old skool funk and disco-fuelled house ordered: sonic selectors cheerfully spanning the most diverse of music genres like true pros. 

Other standout DJ sets over the weekend were Plump DJs; there’s always a moment to break out the most simian of dance moves to their glitchy spell weaving. Stanton Warriors never put a foot wrong. JFB and his itchy fingers kept Ghetto Funk packed and champing at the bit. And WBBL….whomping depth and a squelch that’s exactly what you needed to hear, five minutes before you realised. 

Special mention – maybe even a gold star – to the Tutti Frutti tent that hosted some of the most vital, hip shaking drum n bass realised by a multitude of fizzy young talent – DJ Leroy & Cozzie Watt and Deekline & Ed Solo being just a handful. That tent looked ready to take off into the stratosphere, no matter what time of day it was. 

The live sets though had an energy and dynamism that was unbeatable

The live sets though had an energy and dynamism that was unbeatable. I was blown away by Gardna and a neon-braided Eva Lazarus at the Dig Inn – Gardna spitting out lyrics like little mouthfuls of wasps whilst Eva Lazarus filled the stage with the kind of decisive energy that should be bottled for future use, just in case we run out. 

Oh my God! It’s the Church brought their unique twisted zealotry to Sunday’s crowd, the hangover massive. A baptism of fire, absinthe and gospel covers of funk and soul literally brought the crowd to their knees as the The Right Reverend Michael Alabama Jackson saved our communal souls with a powerful message of love, peace and dirty sex, ending on a triumphant version of Fat Boy Slim’s Praise You. Utterly memorable.

At the opposite end of the day, My Bad Sister fuelled the fire over at Naughtilicious, a vision of peroxide and identical twin attitude. Bling has never sounded so good, a staccato flurry of fuck-you delivery and South London posturing that was totally beguiling. 

Too Many T’s sounded fresh and vital, bringing an endearing puppy dog bounce to Ghetto Funk with their dextrous vocals: in contrast Jungle Brothers were the elder statesman hound dawgs. Even after thirty years together, the live buzz is still there and there’s a synergy between them that translates into total self assurance on stage. Soul II Soul were, of course, the other old timers of the festival: the warmth and lustre that surrounded their masterful performance brought in the biggest crowd of the festival on Sunday evening..there was a lot of love in that tent and rightly so. 

for those with daisies in their hair and ringing ears, there was an escape route from relentless beats

And for those with daisies in their hair and ringing ears, there was an escape route from relentless beats; Storyland offered an acoustic antidote amongst a gentle waft of wild garlic from the surrounding forest and The Planet Earth family talked us through their fascinating experiences at The Word. The banks of buttercups surrounding Seth’s Rocket bar proved the gentlest of places for some downtime and the perfect vantage point to watch the incredible scrap metal animatronic dragon belching fire. 

The choice of beer and cider was infinitely better than last year: at £4.50 a pint, it puts the majority of other festivals to shame – everyone is aware that a festival makes a lot of money via the bars but at Shindig Festival you didn’t feel as if you’d been fleeced. The food stall choices were diverse enough to keep most appetites happy, although we could have done with some more vegetarian options. Twisted Indian Street Eats provided the best dancing fuel with their Mumbai butties – a shameless creation of melted cheese and spicy potato stuffed into a paratha. And all for a fiver. 

The gripes: all based around a 5000 person festival upping its game by half again

The gripes: all based around a 5000 person festival upping its game by half again. The infrastructure hadn’t quite caught up with the extra volume of people and nowhere was that more apparent than at the bars. Whilst the bar staff were lovely, they were overwhelmed by numbers. Some nights, the bars were five deep and you had to be really thirsty to stand for half an hour waiting for a round of drinks. They were woefully understaffed and the backline didn’t have that level of slick efficiency needed to keep it all running smoothly. There was a low frequency grumble about it all weekend and a constant relay back to vans and tents to stock up on beers. 

Another problem was the lack of drinking water taps in the festival – great that they were using biodegradable water bottles that we were encouraged to refill, but it was hard to see where from. The campsites were provided for adequately but it was a challenge to find water taps in the festival; maybe they just needed better signage. 

But what a damn good knees up! (…) a small, good looking festival site and a throng of big hearted, friendly ravers

But what a damn good knees up! I love Shindig Festival. I most love its utter lack of pretension – what you see is what you get: excellent music to dance your socks off to, a small, good looking festival site and a throng of big hearted, friendly ravers. Shindig most definitely has soul. 

Words and photos by Anna Bywater

Early bird tickets and 12 month payment plan tickets for Shindig Festival 2019 are now available if you don’t want to miss out on next year’s knees up.

shindigfestival.co.uk