Long, long ago in a field in Hampshire there lived a magical couple and their marvellous offspring. This mystical couple decreed that once each year, sometime in the haze of the seventh month, the rains would cease and a blazing fireball would appear in skies of cobalt. They invited the townspeople from all surrounding nations to flock to their fields, gather under canvas tepees and sup sweet honey wine and fermented juice of apple. The blissful couple provided the finest jesters, travelling musicians, divine dining, and an abundance of all kinds of entertainment and merrymaking. And so it was that Blissfields was created, or something along those lines.
Seventeen years have passed and Blissfields continues to raise the bar and give all sorts of unexpected delights year after year. 2017 promised to be bigger, better and more Blissfields than ever. My second visit (after last year's House Party themed shenanigans) to this glorious setting, where the sun truly shines for at least ten hours a day, looked like it was going to exceed expectations.
With a theme of The Bizarre, I was anticipating all kinds of weird and wonderful, and the team didn't disappoint in the slightest. Blissfields (and the dedicated gang that put all the prep in for months beforehand), know that true design is all about the tiniest details that entice your eye and pull you closer. A 'hug tree' with its trunk smothered in bright cushions and squishy plush toys; dotted underneath its branches, the outstretched arms of strangers soon to be friends. A relocated beach area with specially imported grains of pink sand to sink dancing toes into, alongside a boat, a shark and DJ lifeguard tower. And the Hidden Hedge deep within Area 51, with a mile-high cockpit dj booth, the fabled Dome, and all of the creepiness mixed in with the bizarre.
It was inside Area 51 that I stumbled upon ‘Doris Dodo’s Olbitchuary Office’ a ramshackle room in the woods, with three definitely dead-looking characters wanting to read me my own obituary. After a short interview and a chance for them to scrutinise my life so far, they pronounced me immortal and were therefore unable to complete the task of writing my obituary. That was a relief given that I had used up at least seven of my nine lives the night before with a little light anaerobic exercise during Subgiant’s set.
Subgiant are a group I’ve always heard good about but never got round to seeing live, but after their sixty minutes of energetic electro dance/dub/bass I can only hope our paths cross again. With a beast of a beat-keeper in Tushar Joshi, a man so calm and mild mannered outside of band life, it’s hard to believe the fury he unleashed upon that kit. This was an unadulterated ground-shaking performance and for me this was the moment that Blissfields 2017 indisputably ignited.
Prior to that ‘push the button’ moment, over at the main stage, The Cinematic Orchestra had captivated the crowd with their hypnotic and jazz-fuelled musical perambulations. They had a cavernous sound, a sound of intensity and musicianship that cloaked the air, and enfolded all around. The profound whole body reverberation felt astounding, although for me personally it was not a sound for a Friday night main stage headliner. But this was The Bizarre, and with that in mind I bowed to the theme and let myself wander in and out of soundscapes and sights and allowed my senses to adapt.
On my arrival at the fields of Bliss on Thursday afternoon, I had quite rigidly pre-planned my agenda of must-sees, one being the festival premier of DJ Yoda’s Stranger Things set, with searing visuals and dialogue from the television series spliced and mixed with the very best and highly nostalgic tunes of the eighties. However after The Cinematic Orchestra messed with my internal scheduling and forced me to accept the unexpected on the Friday night, and after the ghostly reckonings of my obituary reading, I decided to abandon the to-do list and experience ‘The Bizarre’ with more of an open mind.
So on Saturday at Blissfields, I took a journey through main stage opener Beans on Toast, with his whimsical folksy take on modern life, followed by a ska-a-thon to raise the undead with One Step Too Late, and then the sheer raw power of Brighton indie rock quartet Black Honey. I’ve seen Black Honey at a few festivals over the last couple of years, and with each appearance they seem to grow in significance. Izzy Baxter is a frontwoman of meaning with sultry unruliness and the air of one who knows her own destiny. This is a group that easily commands the space of the main stage, and can only continue to thrive.
Meanwhile, over in another section of the field, past the fairground rides and the sock wrestling (truly bizarre!), a hot air balloon was tethered, with the offer of a free trial rise and fall for any festival goer wanting to catch a bird’s eye view of events. From this vantage point it was evident that much thought had gone into broadening out the site and re-designing the layout to allow a feeling of space and freedom to flow from one area to the next with ease.
And while the sun continued to shine, I carried on my newfound nonconformity to flow into ‘Juicy Steve’s Acid Lounge’, and upon discovering it wasn’t a juice bar, I gave myself permission to stay and experience a new kind of body painting using the age-old marbling technique that I fondly remember from my school-days. Droplets of bright coloured ink went into a deep filled water tray, my arms were dunked in and the marbled effect stained my hands and arms in beautiful swirls.
Returning to the music I found Dub Pistols in maximum pistolero mode, whipping the hot afternoon crowd up into a frenzy. For a group that have just completed their 20th Anniversary Tour, and with some of the members slowly creeping towards retirement age, this crew could definitely teach some lessons on wild escapades and damn hard non-stop ‘life-on-the-road’ work to some of the younger musicians of today. Their energy on the main stage in the heat of the afternoon was boundless and again my spirits were lifted higher.
As Saturday afternoon rolled around into evening, The Bizarre started to take on a whole new element of mass audience participation. Costumes that appeared to have taken months to design came out to play - all based around peculiar levels of weirdness. Lady Leshurr ramped things up, not caring that she was delivering her grime soaked set to a gaggle of identically dressed Oompah-Loompahs, herds of crazed be-wilder-beasts and masses of original and eccentrically dressed revellers.
For me, it was time to get back to my schedule and the band I’d been looking forward most to seeing – Metronomy headlining the main stage. (On a personal note Metronomy’s fourth album pretty much sound-tracked the cracks in the beginning of the break-up of my marriage and as such I was eager to hear some of those tracks in the flesh.) Metronomy stormed their headline slot, and I was moved to tears of bliss during some of their stunningly choreographed and synchronised set.
Finally it was time to head to the Hedge for a finale to end all festival finales in the Dome. Mok, a young crew from the Brighton area, and firm Hedge favourites, returned for a triumphant set of new wave rap and mammoth beats. And it was about to get a lot sweatier and totally warped with the drum and bass witchcraft of Inside Info. At this point the Dome was heaving with a throng of late night party people, and I didn’t think there was anything more that could be squeezed out of this celebration of strangeness. But Coalescence Collective, the genius team behind the wonders of the Hidden Hedge, crushed every last drop from the juiciest of drum and bass fruits with a late night set from The Upbeats. I was ready. They said go. It went off.
And that was it from the phenomenon of Blissfields for another year. For me, and I’m sure many others, festivals are a place for escapism, for leaving the mundane by the wayside, embracing our differences and switching off the schedule! Blissfields The Bizarre, you helped me do this in all kinds of ways. As one of the crew neatly summed up in his closing speech “We’re all from different places, but at Blissfields we’re the same” I truly understood that the bizarre is there to be celebrated.
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Words: Mary Long
Photography: Tony Jupp