The ultimate in bank holiday escapism
Shambala Festival 2012

Shambala is the ultimate in bank holiday escapism. Through the bizarrely endearing “Tunnel of Love” lay a whole new dimension of the carnival-esque, the weird and wonderful and the just plain odd.

The site is a circus of curiosities, from the queer-looking craft stalls to the life-size animal installations; one almost expected to stumble across a stray wild cat, (unfortunately Whiskers had cancelled due to a double-booking in Essex...)

Giant jellyfish lit up the woods, enticing campers into hidden tents and cosy campfire discourse. There were characters lurking in all kinds of nooks and crevices, blurring the lines between the Shambala and the Shambalees; contorting both festival and guests into a Rubik’s cube mish-mash of colour, music and audience participation.

Saturday’s parade gave birth to a monstrous conga-style serpent, snaking its way through the site in all its androgynous anatomical glory: Day of the Dead drummers, feathered fathers, be-jazzeled beauties, beaded babies, de-clothed bodies and a rogue off-shoot (whom one could only assume to be rebel back-benchers) of the Tory party!

On the main Shambala stage, Roots Manuva serenaded hip hop fans with a mixture of old favourites and snippets from his latest album, whilst sporting an out-of-this-world head piece which looked like the bastard offspring of a discarded Star Wars-inspired costume prop and a stray festival-frisky chicken (free-range, one assumes!)

But, Shambala is about hidden gems and there were plenty of jewels to be unearthed. Heymoonshaker crooned crowds on the river bank post-parade with a gravelly, acoustic soundtrack. Perfect for the sweating, peeling, glitter encrusted ears, taking a well-earned rest. Their performance in the Wandering Word tent, later that evening was another, much darker affair. Tom Waits tones and beat-box beats filled the tent with a bluesy, husky sound that was both upbeat and sobering, dance-inducing and thought provoking. We were lucky enough to catch up with Dave and Andy after their performance and they too were under full Shambala Spell: “It has been incredible to be part of something as unique as Shambala, the energy and the atmosphere runs right through the audience and the acts, it is like one big camp sing-a-long but with thousands of weirdly dressed people.”

The Chai Wallah tent was a clear music hot spot, one of our favourite offerings being Moltov Jukebox. Lead vocalist Natalia sung to a combination of violins, trumpets and accordion to create an eerie yet delicate blend of ska, gypsy and dubstep influences, which have, rather un-elegantly, been dubbed “Gyp-step”.

Macabre Mancunians Honey Feet were the essential musical keepsake of the weekend. Chirpy strings and enchanting trumpets were contrasted against dark, cannibalistic lyrics: haunting recipes for devouring loved ones and hypnotic invitations to patter over gravestones transformed a canvas room packed to the tent pegs full of un-showered, swaying bodies into a sea of adoring Tim Burton-esque puppets.

Music, art, spoken word, crafts and even hidden telephones (in the toilets of all places!), which were operated seemingly 24hrs a day by bilingual operators, all plotted together to create a truly magical festival-show.

Festivalling at Shambala is like becoming a three-day cast member in a company of all dancing, smiling, tent-dwelling raconteurs. Every glitter graffitied canvas, fabulously feathered headdress and fire-spinning hip bone tells its very own story.

Words by Kate O’Sullivan

Follow Clash: