The Verse’s Will Craigie reviews El Dorado Festival, which took place on the 30th June to 2nd July, in Herefordshire.
Back in the day when summer would roll around, music lovers had very little choice when it came to their festivals. Let’s go back to the 90s; you either went to Glastonbury or Reading/Leeds and both choices were much cheaper than today. V Festival would emerge as a major player when the millennium dawned, but it is sufficient to say festivals were a niche industry. Now, fast-forward to 2017 and every weekend throughout summer is dominated by festivals. El Dorado is one of the newest ones, with its inaugural year being 2016, thus carrying the risk of being seen as another pointless addition to an already bloated market.
Luckily, El Dorado is the exact opposite and, over the course of the weekend, justified its own existence. Being such a new festival, it is an undeniably small affair – by no means a bad thing. It feels as though you have your own private festival; you fear it becoming popular in case the whole vibe is ruined (like that island in The Beach, without the brutal murders), a feeling that Secret Garden Party has sadly, but admirably, gone with. Located in the beautiful hills of Herefordshire (and I say that as someone who normally avoids the countryside) it feels like a counter-cultural retreat. It is peaceful, which is a weird way to describe a festival – yet when you are hung over and have taken *ahem* full advantage of the facilities on offer, the picturesque surroundings are very much appreciated.
One of the reasons El Dorado shows so much promise is due to the fact it offers many unique activities which, on paper, sound bizarre. Whilst Wildlife Festival, which I attended at the beginning of June, was pretty by-the-numbers, El Dorado had reggae yoga (which is exactly like it sounds and way more fun than it should be), and Disney Karaoke – if you find another festival where you can watch men painted completely in gold and murdering A Whole New World then let me know. Other highlights across the weekend included Speed Dancing (I preferred to sit that one out), a Mass Dance challenge (which is really confusing when it first happens if you haven’t previously looked at the programme), a Slip ‘n’ Slide, and a massive fireworks display as the grand finale. Perhaps weird ideas which shouldn’t have really worked, but they did, and they worked a charm.
Of course, there was music too. While the Treasure Island stage (a barge in the middle of a lake and, I might add, one of my favourite parts of the festival) played non-stop disco for much of the three days which was joyous, there was much diversity to be hosted on the other stages. The Garden boasted action, with dance legends Groove Armada opening the festival with a bang on Friday night. Zak Abel supplied the soul (and encouraged the audience to hug and love each other – we gladly obliged) on Saturday and SG Lewis brought his own chill vibes.
One of the best things about a festival of El Dorado’s size was seeing new artists bursting with potential and new ideas. Sadly, by Sunday everyone seemed too exhausted to appreciate acts such as The Soul Rays, which were made up of two Northern girls and one funky band. Their original songs were reminiscent of other northern soul revival act St Paul & The Broken Bones; these guys did their idols proud. Ralph Taylor was also fantastic; it is easy to imagine his music being played on Radio X between Arctic Monkeys and Cigarettes After Sex. One of the best acts of the weekend, though, had to be the godfathers go hip-hop, Sugar Hill Gang, who played the obvious hits (Rapper Delight, one of the most quotable hip-hop songs while Apache can make absolutely anyone get up and dance), but proved they aren’t just a nostalgic heritage act either.
Considering it is only their second year, El Dorado impressed, and will surely continue to garner support in the years to come. Shy FX closed out the festival in the Cirque Du Soul stage and ensured we didn’t go home without a rave-y fight. A surreal atmosphere, this festival was a beautiful celebration of uniqueness and originality – which we need now more than ever. Watch out for this one!