Hearts on Fire: The Final Secret Garden Party

It’s a moody evening in late July. An ominous grey storm cloud looks fit to burst above the already waterlogged landscape of Abbots Ripton. Tents – both those belonging to campers and ones housing DJs, bands and bars – are laden with the intermittent downpour of the past three days. But, among some 30,000 revellers stretched across every corner of the Secret Garden Party – damp with rain, covered in paint and cast with mud – there isn’t a single downcast spirit in sight, despite the glistening, beglittered eyes everywhere.

Because, as the Secret Garden Party swung open its gates for one final, triumphant get-together, a kindling of intimacy and energy, kinship and community caught blaze in the hearts of its revellers. It was beautiful and bittersweet; a heartfelt, hedonistic reverie brimming with pain and gratitude, like embracing a close friend about to set off for a long time.

It was an ending – and we all came together to make sure it would be remembered forever, weather be-damned.

Since its inception in 2004, SGP (as it’s fondly known by its devotees) has grown from a one stage, 1,000 person festival to a 15 stage, 30,000-person extravaganza. Thinking back, its genesis came at a time that seems alien now: before smartphones, before social media and before anyone had ever paired the words ‘boutique’ and ‘camping’ together. Along the way, it hasn’t lost a jot of the frontier spirit and independent ethos that set it sharp against the grain of mainstream UK festivals.

From its burn-the-house-down traditions, to its eclectic-yet-understated lineup, every element has been carefully considered to create a chaotic, exuberant festival overflowing with energy and joie de vivre. Except, in the organiser’s eyes, this isn’t a festival at all; it’s a party. With that firmly in mind, we chose to forgo pulling out the highlighters and painfully scheduling our days. In fact, we didn’t look at a programme once the whole weekend, choosing instead to follow our eyes and ears and let the flow of the crowd and word on the grapevine carry us from stage to stage.

 

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As party plans go it was second to none; as review strategies go, it left something to be desired. Our memories are fuzzy at best. We can’t tell you everything we watched. We can’t tell you how incredible Metronomy were. We think Crystal Fighters were pretty great, but we can’t be sure. We were AWOL for Toots & the Maytals, and our editor lost three hours of party time when he passed out in a portaloo.

But, just like the sun breaking through, there are moments no amount of alcohol could cloud. At the Lost Woods, Maribou State lit up the crowd with an extended mix of Jungle’s time that could have carried on forever, and Sam Goku dropped a Greg Wilson remix of Grandbrother’s ‘Ezra Was Right’ – a groove so powerful the trees started shaking their leaves. The Palais De Boob provided a perfect setting for ecstatic singalongs to ‘Like a Prayer’ and ‘Unwritten’, and Craig Richards made 5am at The Drop feel like the start of the night when he revived tired legs with thick, boisterous cuts of techno like Helena Hauff’s ‘C45p’ and Luca Lozano’s ‘End of Line’. We’ll remember there’s no better cure for a hangover than diving into a lake, no better comic relief than drag race at The Lido and no better feeling than 30,000 people cheering in unison as fireworks light up the night sky. And yes, we’ll remember falling flat on our faces down The Drop, and waking up in a tent better described as a puddle of mud.

On Saturday night, everyone gathered together by the main stage to watch the mansion go up in flames. After being set alight, it burned away to reveal a heart on fire hiding within: just like this heart – which burned defiantly for the rest of the weekend – the final edition of the Secret Garden Party will shine brightly in the hearts and memories of everyone who attended, for a very long time.

There’s no festival quite like the Secret Garden Party. We won’t forget you any time soon.

 

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