Tes­sa Gordziejko attend­ed the first Anthro­pos fes­ti­val and has writ­ten a review of the occasion.

It’s always excit­ing to find a new fes­ti­val, but to be at the very first edi­tion of a brand new fes­ti­val is dou­bly intrigu­ing. Such was Anthro­pos electronic/ psy­che­del­ic music and arts fes­ti­val, an ini­tia­tive of Cam­bridge-based Sven and Lars Mattes, hap­pen­ing on the Hert­ford­shire-Cam­bridgeshire border.

I had booked a tick­et ear­ly, wowed by the line-up which read like a who’s‑who of the Psy Music scene. I’m a rel­a­tive­ly late adopter of the genre and wouldn’t claim exper­tise, but I had nev­er seen so many of my favourite acts packed into one UK event – along with lec­tures, learn­ing ses­sions, work­shops, med­i­ta­tion and activ­i­ties to grow the spir­it and soothe the body.

Arriv­ing on the Fri­day after a week of heavy rain, I imme­di­ate­ly got my van stuck in the mud.Within sec­onds a cou­ple of car park vol­un­teers popped up and pushed me out, dis­pens­ing hugs and bon­homie through­out. We made it to Oak stage in the woods just in time to see Kwah’s set which was excel­lent and got every­one on their feet and into the fes­ti­val vibe, despite the mud bath in front of the stage (the hilly, well-drained site and fair weath­er over three days meant that by Sat­ur­day all the mud patch­es had dried leav­ing pli­able sur­faces for dancing).

Oak Stage © Clare Gilbert

The audi­ence for fes­ti­vals in this genre is ‘alter­na­tive’. Hip­py, cre­ative, many com­mit­ted veg­ans and envi­ron­men­tal­ists, adept at out­door life. The fes­ti­val is child friend­ly and there are cre­ative activ­i­ties for kids, but it’s not over­run with chil­dren. I didn’t see any bug­gies or wag­ons – kids were car­ried or walked – and those with old­er kids allowed them free­dom of the site with com­plete con­fi­dence in their well­be­ing. Age-wise, the fes­ti­val is large­ly young – 20 to 40 I’d say, but with a smat­ter­ing of old­er peo­ple who are total­ly at home (I include myself in that category).

The layout

There were two main stages, both set in beau­ti­ful wood­land. They were designed and pro­grammed broad­ly as a ‘dance’ stage (Oak) ani­mat­ed with pro­jec­tion and live per­form­ers, which upped its charis­ma and ener­gy as dark­ness fell; and a ‘chill­out’ stage (Ash) com­plete with café serv­ing tea, cakes and crepes, with mats to sit on and inflat­able reclin­ers. The music dis­tinc­tions were not as clear cut as that, with mid-tem­po sets fea­tur­ing on both: Friday’s Oak head­lin­ers Desert Dwellers are more famil­iar to me as a sound­track for yoga ses­sions than a dance-floor event, although their set built to a rich dance­able bass and per­cus­sion-dri­ven con­fec­tion with a hyp­not­ic qual­i­ty that met the mood of the moon­lit for­est. Hed­flux was the ear­ly Sun­day morn­ing (1.30am) set on Oak, although his oeu­vre has moved over the years from high end psy­trance and psy-breaks down the tem­po scale to an alchem­i­cal brew of ambi­ent and sin­u­ous grooves – whilst includ­ing famil­iar crowd pleasers such as Wan­der­lust.

The Alter­ra Project includ­ing (left) DJ Kwah  ©Ben Quextal

There was also a third small stage – Yew – set out of the woods, close to the food stalls. Pro­grammed with a mix­ture of acoustic singers, bands and cabaret, it was a great place to hang out for a low­er vol­ume expe­ri­ence whilst eat­ing one’s noodles/ veg­an break­fast wrap/ Cajun chips.

The two main stages were pro­grammed around the clock over three days, with short breaks in the music in the morn­ing and at teatime. The whole week­end was such a feast of musi­cal good­ness that it was tricky to find time to eat, sleep and sam­ple the many oth­er things on offer. Lec­tures on a pot­pour­ri of sub­jects includ­ing embod­i­ment, psy­che­delics, med­i­ta­tion, evo­lu­tion and genet­ics, hor­ti­cul­ture and the cli­mate cri­sis hap­pened at var­i­ous points on Ash stage, whilst in the Heal­ing Field there was mas­sage, yoga, tai chi, zen lucid dream­ing and a sauna.

There were cir­cus and fire work­shops, an art tent con­tained exhi­bi­tions by about a dozen visu­al artists of the psy­che­del­ic aes­thet­ic, whilst the site fea­tured instal­la­tions, seat­ing and light sculp­tures by many more, includ­ing the ‘Metafor­est’ with its sculp­tures of found materials

Pho­tog­ra­phy by © Sauriêl Cre­ative | Sam­my Leigh Scholl

Cer­e­monies played a large part in the rhythm of the festival’s three cen­tral days with an Open­ing Cer­e­mo­ny on Fri­day and a Clos­ing Cer­e­mo­ny ear­ly Mon­day morn­ing (both of which I missed) and a Peak Cer­e­mo­ny just before mid­night on Sat­ur­day, when both stages closed and the entire fes­ti­val audi­ence was led to the fire pit where a rit­u­al took place – dif­fi­cult to hear as it was by design a non-ampli­fied per­for­mance, but the theme was about cel­e­brat­ing the ener­gy of con­gre­ga­tion and har­mo­ny with nature. It was fol­lowed by a spec­tac­u­lar fire per­for­mance by Ger­man com­pa­ny Spon­ta­neous Combustion.

The Peak Cer­e­mo­ny was a great way to punc­tu­ate Sat­ur­day night, which had already deliv­ered unbe­liev­able rich­es on Oak stage with sets from Glob­u­lar, Ott and Sym­bol­i­co which con­tin­ued post-cer­e­mo­ny with Hed­flux and prob­a­bly the high­light of my Sat­ur­day night/ Sun­day morn­ing, an assured, full-bod­ied and com­plex set from Bad Tan­go, per­form­ing from his recent album Ilk, includ­ing the irre­sistible Sub­ject to Change and the haunt­ing The Sky’s Not Big Enough (reprieved the fol­low­ing after­noon by Wolf Tech in his huge­ly enjoy­able set on Ash stage).

Ash stage was the per­fect place to chill after the vital­i­ties of Sat­ur­day night, and on Sun­day I was glad to enjoy the diverse fre­quen­cies of sev­er­al female DJ’s : Bass­lay­er, Selec­ta Alice and Snow­drop gave us a melod­ic menu of dub, trance, reg­gae and world music blends.

Fes­ti­val own­ers, the Mattes broth­ers got pret­ty much every­thing right for a first fes­ti­val. Much of this stemmed from the inten­tion and val­ues with which the event was con­ceived – an embrac­ing of human­i­ty with­in the wider world, a con­cern for the com­mu­ni­ty, nature and the pow­er of music. It was small enough to feel like a large par­ty, and whilst many psy­che­del­ic fes­ti­vals have this vibe, Anthro­pos land­ed it spot on. A fes­ti­val where the atmos­phere is con­ducive to strik­ing up a con­ver­sa­tion with the per­son sit­ting next to you because they are not a stranger, just a friend you haven’t yet made. First and fore­most the musi­cal pro­gramme was awe­some, and the work­ings of the fes­ti­val as a whole thought through and deliv­ered with care. Infra­struc­ture was fine – enough toi­lets includ­ing a bank of com­post loos between the Heal­ing Field and Oak stage, which I only had to queue for once. It was super eco-mind­ed, with vir­tu­al­ly no rub­bish and its strict ban on glass with­in the fes­ti­val site meant that the many peo­ple danc­ing bare­foot among the trees did so with­out risk of lac­er­a­tion. To off­set its car­bon foot­print, Anthro­pos plant a tree for every tick­et bought, cre­at­ing an ‘Anthro­pos For­est’ on a near­by site.

Pho­tog­ra­phy by © Sauriêl Cre­ative | Sam­my Leigh Scholl

Looking forward…

Things to improve on for next time? As the fes­ti­val grows they will need more food out­lets, there were quite long queues for the two very nice vegan/locally sourced stalls. The camper van site was a bit of a trek from the main fes­ti­val site, and although no fur­ther than one would walk at larg­er fes­ti­vals, felt a lit­tle cut off – the upside being that it was also qui­et, once one final­ly fell into bed. The stage times were slight­ly chaot­ic part­ly down to a late start Fri­day after chal­leng­ing weath­er con­di­tions right up to the start of the pro­gramme, but still sub­ject to changes by Sun­day which meant that some peo­ple missed artists they’d been plan­ning to see. In my case it worked to my advan­tage. Kick­ing myself for hav­ing over­slept and missed The Alter­ra Project on Ash stage Sat­ur­day morn­ing as I thought, I dis­cov­ered to my joy they’d been moved to a lat­er slot. This was indeed rea­son enough for for­giv­ing the last-minute pro­gramme changes, as the trio of producer-DJ’s deliv­ered anoth­er of my fes­ti­val high­lights in a com­pelling live mix of mul­ti-lay­ered, lus­cious grooves and auda­cious ambi­ence, prov­ing good things do indeed come in threes. Most peo­ple I spoke to agreed with me that they should have had the enhanced sound sys­tem (and larg­er DJ area!) of Oak stage.

Anthro­pos has cer­tain­ly earned itself a place at the top of the UK fes­ti­val cal­en­dar for the psy­che­del­ic music audi­ence, and also deserves to build wider appeal in years to come for fes­ti­val goers more gen­er­al­ly. It’s a big-heart­ed fes­ti­val whose spir­it of gen­eros­i­ty, empa­thy and col­lab­o­ra­tion makes it a relax­ing, anx­i­ety-free envi­ron­ment where one can gen­uine­ly leave exter­nal pres­sures behind and lose one­self in music, nature, atmos­phere and discovery.

ANTHROPOS FESTIVAL 13 – 17 June 2019, Bal­dock, Hertfordshire

Tes­sa Gordziejko is a pro­duc­er, poet, per­former and blog­ger based in York­shire www.tessagordz.co.uk

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