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).
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).
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.
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
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.
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