Reviewed: Noisily Festival
On 25th May 2012 something truly beautiful was born. An idea and vision between 4 friends that became a fully immersive and hedonistic unreality for 3,500 people – Noisily Festival of Music and Arts. Set deep in the valley of Coney Woods in Leicestershire is an idyllic, spiritual haven. A place where you can connect with your spirit animal, find your tribe and recharge the soul. A place where dreams come to life and anything can happen. A place unlike any other I’ve ever been to. In one of the directors, Charles Audley’s own words:
‘Noisily was borne out of the desire to create the perfect party. A party that all of us would want to go to’
Excited is an understatement. This would be my first proper festival of the season. It’d been a while since my last festy camping excursion in the wilderness and I was raring to go, stomping shoes ready to murder some floors. I met my soul sistaaa Abigail Higgs aka Skylark at Kings Cross, London around midday. We’d arranged a GoCarShare the night before which is definitely the best way to travel to a festival. Always make friends on your journey right. Ended up spending the next 4 days with the driver and his mates. Tom Still you were a friggin’ tiger man. We set off from the smog at 1pm and arrived on-site in the gorgeous countryside 4 hours later. By the time we’d got in, pitched up and cooked up a burdog storm it was 7pm. The entrance to the magical woods wouldn’t be open till midday the next day but everyone was kicking back in the Mind, Body & Soul area which preceded it. We had a solid 5 hours of mingling. People were congregating around blazing wood fires and getting toasty. Some just admiring the serenity of where they were. Others shooting the breeze about what they wanted to do and who they wanted to see that weekend.
Sounds were being provided by Audley, Colebrook and Ipcress from the main Mind, Body & Soul Stretch Tent. A beacon of light for those in need of some enlightenment and relaxation. This and the University of Life is where all the workshops, talks and activities would take place and where I had one of my most zen moments which we’ll come on to shortly. The massage hut is dressed up for the night and pumping out an interesting mixture of disco and dub, a melting pot somewhere between Donna Summer – I Feel Love and Maceo & The Macks – Cross The Tracks. Samosas and brownies are tantalisingly displayed on a table. A baby disco ball glistens with the smell of incense thick in the air. If the humans in here are the ingredients then the wizard who is cooking us is concocting a wiggidy-wack potion. Lo-behold Gandalf’s hippy doppelgänger seems to be perfectly content DJn in a lotus position in the corner. Magical. The music continues until midnight which was just fine to be honest. We’d need all the rest we could get to make the most of the enchanting 3 day program the Noisily team had in store for us. A gentle greasing to what would be a sizzling hot frying pan of a weekend.
The blazing sun and sounds of birds chirpsing away in the woods wakes us up nice and early. I get to the powerful and piping hot showers at around 8am, before the queues start forming. I put on Secondcity – Kwelanga on my phone, connected to my waterproof Ultimate Ears speakers, and have a tribal soaking. Fresh as a daisy I buy myself a mouth watering mango lassi and rock up to the first talk of the day at 9am in the Stretch Tent ‘Getting High With The Most High: Drugs In The Bible’ by Danny Nemu, which is both fascinating and captivating. The man has a way with words and dishes out doses of sacraments with messianic abandon.
I re-join the A-team, brunch out and get mentally prepared for wave 1. The entrance to the woods opens up at midday and I walk in with a group of bongo players. First thing I see is a sign to The Kambo Lodge. Kambo is a South American frog that has a poison on its back. The poison shakes the immune system to become stronger and when applied to punctured skin makes people purge. This process heals many diseases, is known to cleanse the soul of bad karma and aligns people to their heart centre. It’s rare to see a kambo retreat, let alone at a festival, and I’m left amazed in the first few seconds.
A glitter fairy rakes me in and I go for purple and silver across both eyes to match the purple wig I’m wearing. Walking deeper there are several stalls selling diverse vintage garms. A banquet table can be seen which is where the 3 course gourmet dining feast I had booked that morning would be taking place. More on that exquisite experience later. Wonderlandia is adjacent, hosting 3 jacuzzi tubs made from red cedar wood which are fired up to 39 degrees. I didn’t manage to experience it over the weekend but it looked incredible. The accompanying glass of prosecco sounded right up my street.
It takes 10 minutes to dance through the woods and down into the valley where the 5 stages are located: Noisily, Liquid, Tree House, Pablo Discobar and Leisure Centre. As you reach the final step and ground zero a glance to your right brings Liquid into view about 200m away. It reminds me of an airstrip and the stage itself looks like a portal to another dimension.
I’m drawn in by DJ Joanna who is warming up the revellers to some progressive trance. Intent on getting my bearings I find a path to the left which takes me to a chill out space. Here there are hammocks, beanbags and what looks like giant red spider webs suspending people 8ft in the air. Further along the path 4 giant white drapes are blowing in the wind adorned with parietal art. A bunch of aliens that have escaped Dexter’s Laboratory are on the loose looking right at home amongst the finely attired monsters parading around me. The path leads us to Tree House which sits at the highest point of the site. A raised area to the right gives an eagle-eye view of the whole woodland and is one of the best places to take in the beauty and breathe in the vibe. Mara LeFay is on the decks in the middle of what can only be described as a giant Indian headdress.
I walk over a small bridge and under a giant inflatable star to the heart of Noisily. The dense canopy of leaves blowing in the wind is replaced by clear blue skies. There’s a smorgasbord of food on offer here to fill whatever desire you may have; wood fired pizzas, Mexican, Indian, burgers and cakes galore. I thought Quackamole had the most unique offering of duck and guacamole combinations. Yummm. Following a brief salivatory intermission on a toadstool, I stumble across Smoking Gun Vintage. I find myself torn between a knee-length, dark green feathered pirate coat that had black tassels along the edges and a dark green/brown crushed velvet shirt, embroidered with sparkly turquoise patterning. The shop owner thought the shirt wholly encapsulated the essence of Noisily and at £25 it was a no-brainer, done deal. On it went covering my Hi-Fructose tee. I walk along the main path with all the food trucks feeling like a satisfied monkey and a small unassuming sign comes into view on the left. Leisure Centre – Witness The Fitness. Unassuming from the outset but insane on the inset. No bigger than the size of my garden but beats fast and heavy enough to cause havoc. Smoke perforates the air densely whilst Whut? deliver their hip hop showcase. After breaking my neck I make my way further along the path. An artist is painting close ups of 5 native Indians on a white canvas. Inspiring to see being done live. A standout from the hundreds of aesthetically pleasing pieces I’d been engulfed by already and there was so much more to come.
Directly next to this art in motion, at the lowest point of the site, is where the spiritual grounds lie. Bang in the centre of the valley with a view through the trees to the outside world, which to all intents and purposes could be a million miles away, is the Noisily stage. It’s hard to put into words the magic of this space. Like something out of a fairy tale. Vibes here go far beyond the Richter scale. Musically you were treated to ethereal, deep and delectable house, techno and psychedelic techno in the environment it was born for. A place where you could truly lose yourself. A place where you could find yourself. A place where you could be yourself. Every time I entered I didn’t want to leave. Surrounding the stage are these huge house of card type structures that remind me of the symbol in The Legend of Zelda. Wooden triangles of varying sizes with intricate patterns carved into them hang upside down in the sky. If trees cried this is what I imagined they would look like. Everywhere you look blue, red and purple lights dim in and out of view from the triangular structures in a brain melting rhythm. The DJ booth is flanked by pyro equipment that pumps out fire and heatwaves at regular intervals. I am here for the Pumpui DJs, who have been with the O.Z.O.R.A festival crew since the beginning, back when it was called Solipse in 1999. I dance and sweat for what feels like an eternity. I shut my eyes to focus. Electricity is everywhere and you can feel it from the edge of your toes to the tips of your fingers, at times raising the hairs on the back of your neck. The tribe are elevating all around me. A girl wakes me from my lucid state and asks if I want to blow some bubbles. At that moment nothing in my mind was more beautiful than the crowd dancing in the rainbow tinted mirrors I was creating. All I’m capable of is staring up in childish wonderment. A bit of blowing and shaking to the When We Dip DJs later I start to make my way back to camp. I’d booked myself in for 1.25 hours of Hatha Yoga with Ione Rae at the Stretch Tent which was starting at 4pm. En route I bump into 4 mimes who end up following me to Tree House. Fabulous and endearing performance artists just the way I like em. As I bounce through Tree House Duffer is playing Chase & Status – Take Me Away. I’m so happy I found you too!!!
I’d been wanting to test out my yoga legs for a while and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. You definitely want to remain supple at this festival as you’re going to be walking, running, jumping, dancing, raving and shaking a hella lot. Make sure you book yourself in for at least one of these sessions (or if you’re slug inclined there are the Massaura Bliss ladies who will pound you into submission). As a rower the idea of stretching for 1.25 hours sounds like a walk in the park. However, the movements, freezes, breathing and co-ordination required has a subtle intensity to it which is balanced out by the tranquil soundtrack and voice of Ione Rae. Doesn’t hurt that she’s an absolute honey when I do decide to open my eyes. By the end of the session I feel like I’ve floated away, light as a feather yet completely centred and at ease. I snack on some freshly made daal saag with pitta bread in the Mind, Body & Soul area and enjoy watching the sun begin to set with a side of people watching; a potent festival combo. The perfect start to my first night in the woods where Noisily blossoms to fruition.
A whole new world awaits at ground zero. Wave 2 begins with me gunning it back to the Noisily stage. Like anything good a taste just isn’t enough. Aidan Doherty founder of one of London’s best parties Warm Up is heating the crowd up real good. The night is renowned for bringing Berlin vibes to the heart of the city and he goes forth with gusto whilst the last few rays of sunshine sneak their way through the canopy above.
Night in full swing I decide to go for a little wonder to see how the woods have been transformed. At the Leisure Centre Kallima, resident of the infamous IllumiNaughty party, is laying down some DnB at a bpm rate which could easily lead to heart palpitations. In the heart of Noisily a tree is dripping in rainbow coloured optic fibres, transforming it into a pulsating willow whose hair dances in the wind. Flashing diodes give the appearance that the tree has blood pumping around it. Vampires all around are drawn to it like flies, caressing the split ends in their hands and drinking it up into their visual cortex. A representation of the whole festival.
I find a small unassuming marquee with some psychedelic artwork from another world, curated by Emma Watkinson. I feel like my brain is tricking me or under some kind of spell as the still paintings move in a GIF like manner changing colour and form. The more you stare, the more you notice all the little details swimming around. Is it just me or is everyone seeing what I’m seeing. I begin to question my reality before marching onwards into the dream continuum.
As I walk towards the Tree House I peek a lit dragon worming its way through the canopy. In a similar vein people are attempting to slackline along a 15m rope. I am thoroughly engaged by the look of concentrated focus on peoples faces who will not be beaten. Dr Seuss’ Cat In The Hat is staff spinning with ease. A couple of cheeky looking smurfs are running around as if wheat was all around them. Absolutely ripped guys who looked like they’ve just arrived from a desert island are twirling ribbon and glowing objects around themselves like their lives depended on it. The closer I get to Tree House the more a shiny silver object comes into view. It seems to be shooting off light in a 360 degree manner giving it the appearance of a multicoloured sun. The canopy and trees above as well as the animals below are sprawled in colours from across the spectrum as a result. At Tree House I realise that it is a gigantic disco ball, the biggest I’ve ever seen. This view is a wonder to behold and you feel like you’re stepping into a rainbow dome. Truly breath taking and one of the most aesthetically pleasing delights at Noisily. K.L.O aka Kursa aka Lone Drum aka Osmetic is bringing the noise which is wonky, bassylicious hip hop and neurofunk. I wobble my way to the front where machines are puffing away plumes of smoke. The animals around me seem to be doing the same. I close my eyes, enter the smog and the first thing that comes to mind is that I’m on the edge of a cliff and ready to fall into the abyss. K.L.O pushes me off the edge and I’m free falling in my mind.
At 11pm I head back to the Noisily stage for one of my favourite artists on the bill, Michael Mayer. Having been a follower of the elite German techno powerhouse’s Kompakt Records for a number of years, I couldn’t wait to see what the founder had in store for us. At this pivotal moment I meet some key humanoids. The universe was clearly aligning because I end up spending the rest of the festival raving it out with one of them and hopelessly falling for the other. Having been a mascot unicorn at an events company in London, I’m always on the look out for other unicorns in the wilderness. Enter Michael. In his unicorn onesie which houses a seemingly endless supply of water and fully portable mini-rig system, subwoofer and all. I knew I would be friends with this vibe machine from the get go and have since met up with him in London. I also meet the luscious hawk Raven Macke and her raverati. Together we mash it out all the way to close at 4am. We listen to the blissful sounds provided by Michael Mayer, James Monro and Nanoplex. We dance our hearts out, consciousness on the astral plane, souls in the netherworld. The Noisily stage is spiritual but past midnight it enters heavenly territory and nothing can fuck with it. And the lights. THE LIGHTS. I’ve never had my brain experience πr² but it certainly happened in vivid, mind-boggling rip tides. At one point I genuinely thought the stage had transformed before my eyes, sneaky machinations on the organisers part, to blow my brain to smithereens. Unreal. Hats off to the AV wizards. I’ve already booked a ticket just so I can be there again next year.
Me and Michael head back to the Mind, Body & Soul area to chill out with everyone. We shoot the breeze with people from all over the world for several hours. Campfires provide primordial comfort as the sun rises on the horizon. Guitars are being played nearby. Birds are chirpsing in the woods, beckoning us to return. A chill out peak is reached when Jimi Hendrix – Little Wing comes on. I melt and bathe in the zen ready for a new day.
Sleepin’ is cheatin’ and there would be no rest happening in Joe world. No time would be wasted in this wondrous place. I get to sleep every day. Noisily comes around once a year. The day begins at around 8am. Me and Michael are still going strong and have started a soul train that’s moving through the campsite (obvs). This makes so much sense to us at the time. His mini-rig system is in full flux, playing heavy disco licks, and I’m making the wings on his unicorn onesie fly. People are leaving their tents in the obvious realisation they wouldn’t be able to sleep either as the sun is raging and decide that the soul train is as good a wake up call as any. The 20 strong train only pulls into the station when we get a telling off from one of the festival staff.
‘Some people need to sleep you know’
I burst into wild hysterics whilst my scatty brain tries to to grasp common sense and the undying need to get down simultaneously. With a serious case of soul fever I decide to clean all the filth off my brain in the showers. Today’s outfit would revolve around colour having seen so much of it the night before. I opt for a rainbow coloured wig, flower necklace, tripped out red and white UMM (underground music movement) tee and dark blue/green leopard skin print shorts. A glitter fairy in the Mind, Body & Soul does my eyes up amazingly and it looks like I’m crying rainbows on both cheeks. I decide against brunch as I had a 3 course gourmet dining feast booked in at 4pm. You know what they say. Absence makes the heart (and stomach) grow fonder.
Wave 3 begins with me grabbing a refreshing pineapple, mango smoothie at a little café at ground zero around midday. Mid-point of the festival is crucial. Go too hard and you’ll waste away on the last day. Nourish yourself with vitamins, stay hydrated and you’re golden. I take it easy by the Noisily festival sign which is flanked by a green and red Mario mushroom and sip away like an overly content child who’s been let loose on pick’n’mix. A giant chandelier that has been sewed together intricately is being put into place in front of me. I’m instantly reminded of the one in Beauty and the Beast. The white canvas that had been started yesterday is now complete and a masterpiece to behold as I walk to the Noisily stage.
Audio Anonymous and Tripswitch are taking the crowd through to 3:30. The first thing I see on entry is a pair of robots on stilts dressed in red and white latex who’ve come to shoot us with laser guns from the future. Majestic. At times I’m meditating by the speakers. At others I’m in the Noisily stage chill out area chatting to people about their Noisily adventures. One couple I speak to say they went to a talk by renowned astrophysicist Ben Burningham about life on other planets. He had set up his telescope the night before and had shown them craters on the moon and the rings of Saturn. Another person instructs me to hunt out the rave dust bin. This is definitely a conversation I never imagined myself having but there we go. I wasn’t afforded the luxury of glimpsing this crazy shimmy bin ting but I wish I had. Even my colleague at work who I randomly bumped into at Noisily and who was on the bill at Pablo Discobar gave mad props when I had a catch up with him over lunch the following week. This highlighted to me the best thing about Noisily. Everyone has their own journey here and you are in full control of creating it. It’s like they’ve laid out the chess board for us to play with and each experience you have allows you to take one of their pieces back to reality. The game has infinite possibilities but each one is totally unique which is what makes Noisily stand out not only in my mind, but also more broadly from other festivals on the circuit. If you are the master of your fate then Noisily is the spinner of destiny.
I twerk up an appetite over the next 4 hours with my funkay chickaaaan Skylark and head back to the Mind, Body & Soul area. Capoeiristas are performing the Brazilian martial art form to the sounds of berimbaus, pandeiros, atabaques, agogô, ganzá, singing and clapping. I love breakdancing myself so I watch the acrobatic dance ritual in silent admiration. I change out of my sweaty rags and put on a tropical flower tee and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac jacket. When you wish upon a star and somewhere over the rainbow emblazon the jack and feels right at home here at Noisily. Me and Skylark sit at the banqueting table alongside 20 other woodland creatures. We have no idea what to expect as neither of us have even looked at the menu but who doesn’t like a surprise and boy what a special one this would be. Having had my auditory and visual centres set alight already it was now time to blaze up my gustatory centre to the voracious culinary skills of Trewhitts from Bristol. Waiters come round at 4:30pm to serve us delightfully refreshing elderflower juice with just a hint of mint to round off the flavaaa. The starters consist of sautéed oyster mushrooms sprawled across freshly made pesto on warm sourdough bread. The mushrooms are thick, meaty and cooked to perfection. The sourdough bread practically melts on the tongue leaving behind the pesto to finish my mouth off. I get through about 2.5 of these before calming myself down. We have a choice of 2 different dishes for main course; cashew nut or beetroot pie. These are both accompanied by buttery potatoes and chunky broccoli smothered in smoking red onion gravy. Lucky for me there are a few extra portions going round so I don’t have to make a choice. I indulgently spoil myself and have both as the default option. When in Rome. Whilst tucking in Michael the unicorn dances down the path. Today he’s put the onesie to rest and opts for a native Indian get up headdress n everythaaang. We chat and arrange to meet back at Noisily stage after I finish the feast. He leaves behind some Captain Morgan’n’coke heavy on the rum and light on the mixer just the way I like it. I wash down the grub and enjoy the firey burn in my throat. Dessert consists of hot apple and apricot crumble soaked in a sweet and almost airy custard infused with passion fruit. I drizzle the leftover raspberry coulis from the almost sexual chocolate tart Skylark couldn’t eat over the top. I alternate between the crumble and tart and don’t want it to end. My brain shakes wildly with each nibble. After licking the plate to death I’m floating my senses fleeking out like a mother fucker.
The afterglow is real. I start floating back to ground zero as if on a magic carpet at around 6:30pm ready for wave 4. Nothing can kill my vibe right now and I’m wild for the night which perpetually crescendos. I start off at Pablo Discobar. The Strutt Bros are murdering the tent with their 80’s vice city funk baby. Just like everything at Noisily it is intimate in here; grooves are slick, people sweaty and the floor is burning up up up.
After a brief interlude in boogie wonderland, I head down the slope to the Noisily stage to catch up with Michael and Raven. What I don’t realise is that I’m also about to witness one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen; System 7 aka Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy. This insanely talented couple who are in their mid 60’s were one of the first techno groups to play live back in 1990. Hillage helped birth the first official dance music stage at Glastonbury Festival in 1995. Hillage plays an electronic guitar to lucid effect which is complimented by a grand repertoire of samples which Giraudy takes into overdrive with her arsenal of synthesisers. The journey takes those lucky enough to be in attendance through divine ambient, experimental and psychedelic magic for 1.5 hours, although it feels like an eternity. I’ve never heard or experienced anything like it and I’m left feeling total joyful bliss by the end. I share a kiss with Raven at this moment and life literally couldn’t be any better.
We dance the night away at the Noisily stage under a starry sky. Sounds provided by Josko, Dirty Doering, Cosmic Boys and Neurodriver melt the crowd into oblivion. Our combined energy is raised and we’re all connected in brightly shining darkness. That night I see my spirit animal which happens to be a wolf, white with turquoise green illuminescent eyes. I bend around sound and channel spirits. I play Raven’s spine like a piano. I feel very fortunate to have been able to experience these things for the first time. Thank you Noisily and all those that helped make the magic happen for us all. Trigger finger salute.
At 4am reality kicks. Brightly shining white lights turn on all around ground zero. Is this heaven? The crowd are herded back gently to the Mind, Body & Soul area. En route I stumble across the mesmerising illumaphonium which is a dynamic and interactive multisensory music-making installation. Fun endless, this machine is. I’ve been raving for 46 hours, my legs are weak and I can’t really feel my feet. Back at camp, the sky is a deep hue of pink. This is the last thing I remember before passing out.
I wake up 3 hours later and open my eyes slowly. It’s 9am. I gauge my bearings. I am indeed in my own tent, a miracle by all means. I attempt to make sense of what happened the night before. It feels like I’ve woken up from a dream. One of the best I’ve ever had. Despite my body aching in previously unknown crevices and the sudden urge to drink a waterfall, I feel alright. Considering I was on fire the night before I’m surprised I haven’t been burnt alive and woken up in a pile of ashes, ready to be re-born. It is like a sauna in my tent and I jump out with gusto, reach to the sky and let the wind blow sweat off my body in all directions. The rest is taken care of in the piping hot showers. I put on my black and white queen of hearts tee. Pretty much how I was feeling that morning. I chat with Tom, Skylark and co. and we share out stories of the night before whilst cooking some hot dogs on the portable gas stove. At around midday I’m still fragile but ready for wave 5. It’s the last day and I’m going to make the most of it. How often do you get to dance in the woods for hours on end with some of the most beautiful people from all around the world? I may be hazy but this is a no brainer decision. Good thing really as there’s not much going on upstairs at that moment.
On my way to ground zero a giant T-Rex is rushing past. After the experiences I’ve had the last few days this seems pretty tame now but is hilarious all the same. I head back to the little café I’d gone to the morning before and order a strawberry and banana smoothie. I bump into some guys I’d raved with at the Noisily stage the night before sipping on freshly ground black coffee. We get to know each other over a game of chess, a sure-fire way to jump start my brain. At around 2pm I head down to the Noisily stage for the final dance. One of the Noisily directors Charles Audley is warming up the crowd for the day. Despite all the stress that accompanies running a festival he has a big fat smile on his face. I can only imagine the satisfaction of playing at a festival of your own creation. He’s glowing and the rays are golden.
I go for a Mexican lupper and chill underneath the chandelier. A group of 3 performance artists are putting on a show for a small crowd of us mooching out on the slope whilst the sounds of Tom Real are surfing on the winds from the Noisily stage. The show includes juggling, slacklining, hula hoop synchronisation, gymnastics and hilarious slap stick comedy skits which instigates deep stomach chuckles from within. As happy as a clam at high water I make the gut-wrenching decision to head back to camp and begin the slow process of heading back to London. En route I watch OmniVibes playing the sitar whilst his hawk perches casually next to him. Literally, the most zen guy you can imagine, the vibes are contagious and I’m infected by the jam. A girl in the Mind, Body & Soul area offers me a devilish brownie on the house. She’s got a basket full of them. Love never tasted so good. A simple act which turns out to be a representation of the whole festival. I would have loved to have stayed to the very end but I stupidly hadn’t taken Monday off work. Rookie error. Not one I will be making next year that’s for sure. Friends tell me in glorious details how sick Beardyman, LTJ Bukem and Congo Natty murk the close at Tree House whilst I’m on the drive home. My feet are twitching.
And there you have it. One journeyman’s voyage into Noisily, one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to. I’m so glad I found you. I’ve tattooed cherished memories to my hippocampus. I’ve made friends for life. I’ve fallen hopelessly in love again. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die. Until next year! ;-p