Gisburn, Lancashire, is in the middle of nowhere, and in a forest in the middle of the middle of nowhere, Beat Herder was born. In the beginning it was Toil Trees, staged by free party collective Toil Soundsystem, and it was tiny. There were no adverts on site, no curfews for fucking off from the forest dancefloor, no press portacabins and no real profit.
So the story goes, the landowner was all set to cut down the forest after the first Toil party, but enjoyed it so much that he couldn’t bring himself to do it, and so it began.
The same group of mates are still running it five years on, and the rules are all the same, but it’s grown from a few hippies drinking cider and tea under some fairy lights and a single soundsystem, via a sort of village fete phase attended by a few more curious souls, to a 5,000-person sell-out, without losing any integrity.
I took a tiny video camera along and managed to (badly) capture a lot of silly stuff, including the first fellow Beat Herder I met who was from Zambia (I was expecting to meet people from Manchester at a stretch), a guy who had never danced before and chose to start on the main stage in front of 3,000 people, and an interview with The Whip in the quietest place on site (no really, it was).
The reason I love it so much is because it’s a completely back to basics festival. It’s built upon the simple principles of having fun, having a dance, and escaping the corporate machine for one weekend. Pretty much everything is handmade, from the huge trash sculptures to the carrot cake, and there’s a no-bullshit, just-for-fun ethos about the whole thing. Knowing that nobody is there just for your money is a strange but lovely feeling.
Fancy dress on the Saturday is encouraged, not in an ‘I’m mad me’ sort of way, but to add something to the bizarre landscape of the festival by doing your bit. The site is small, but there are enough details added to keep you exploring for three days – the Grandad Room, the huge metal mushrooms you can stick your head into and have a chat when it’s noisy, the Working Man’s Club tent complete with nasty carpets and darts, the bar underground, the two telephones on site that can call each other, the giant furniture – there’s really no need for all this stuff, but why not?
The bands are chosen, not because they’ve got some timely release and will probably draw a few more people, but because they can keep the dancing going. Everything on the bill here is about feeling good and dancing, and the main stage in 2009 sees sets from The Young Punx, Filthy Dukes and The Whip, as well as Dub Pistols, Reverend & The Makers and a whole host of reggae, country and anything else that fits in with the ‘ave it’ music policy.
This year, disappointingly, the Lancashire Hotpots (a Beat Herder tradition) weren’t able to make it, but that’s my only complaint.
Apparently it’s not going to get any bigger, because the promoters rightly judged that it would spoil it, so I’d advise getting tickets as early as you can for 2010.