Review: Somerley Tea Party Festival 2015

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Launching last year, The Somerley Tea Party, a one day festival situated on the borders of the New Forrest, strives to offer revelers a chance to enjoy underground music in an idyllic setting with like-minded people. Following a confident début outing last year, and the announcement of an enviable line-up, this year’s festival had all the ingredients for something truly special.

Travelling from Southampton, I had bought a return ticket from official festival partners, The Big Green Coach Company. The pick up point near Mayflower halls and Southampton Central train station was well signed posted, staffed with festival reps, and more conveniently placed than last year’s pick-up point near the Mo’Warehouse. However, in comparison the service from the Big Green Coach Company left a lot to be desired as the 12 o’clock bus didn’t arrive until 12.40 and the 12.30 shortly after that.

Once on the road, the journey was quick enough and we soon found ourselves pulling up the drive of the Somerley estate. Driving by the stately mansion we were dropped in the grounds far closer to the festival site than we were the previous year. A short walk and we joined the modest queue at the site entrance.

Entering the festival, the creative team’s efforts were immediately noticeable as, once again, the woodland was peppered with hand-made decorations and other quirky features. Inflatables clad in colourful clothes and topped with animal masks were strung up upon the scaffolds that marked arena entrances. The figures looked as if they were taken straight from the pages of Alice in Wonderland. Unsurprisingly some of them went walk-abouts and could later be seen among the crowd, but really, who can blame them.

With the sun shining the spacious Walled Garden provided the perfect location to bask in the sun and lap up the tunes playing from the festival’s mainstage. The booth was very different to last year’s Tetris like fort of LED panels, organizers had this year opted for something a little different calling upon the Secret Garden Party’s distinctive Warp Drive to act as their centrepiece. Embedded in a structure covered by black drapes, DJs played from a hexagonal void lined with mirrors that looked almost as if it had been dropped in the field from an alien spacecraft.

In the early afternoon there were some audio problems, and the Walled Garden was silent for a short duration, putting Redlight in an awkward position upon arrival. Our worries were short lived as Redlight remedied the situation, grabbing everyone’s attention with ‘Gold Teeth’ to remind everyone that the party was very much still on. As the main bassline kicked in it marked the beginning of a foot stomping set that smacked of the low-end frequencies that have characterised Redlight’s more recent offerings.

The perimeter of the walled garden was lined with all the necessary facilities for a festival, food, drink and toilets. Though there was only a limited selection of food on offer from only a couple of stalls, the quality was far superior to the average festival burger van, with grilled chicken, gourmet burgers and more. The bar saw heavy footfall, and was well staffed to regulate queues, however due to stock shortages at various points in the day, patrons were referred around the site to alternative bars to try their luck. The Somerley Tea Party needs to be commended for their continued use of porta-urinal-cubicles, these ingenious contraptions vastly speed up queuing times at the toilets, by diverting some of their flow (pardon the pun) elsewhere.

During the middle of the day there was a slight mix up with timings that meant that Dusky played early and Jonas Rathsman was given an extended slot to bridge the gap until Cyril Hahn’s arrival. This was by no means a problem as Rathsman put in a killer set that just kept on delivering. Every time you thought the DJ had outdone himself he would mix in another tune carrying the crowd on an incredible sonic journey before he then smoothly eased back out, into a more laid back close to his set. The lighter sound clearly priming the crowd in anticipatition for Hahn’s set. Cyril Hahn was well recieved, as the crowd sang back the lyrics to his opener ‘Say My Name’, there was a noticeable drop in sound quality following the changeover, whether it be due to Hahn’s use of his own laptop and kit, or simply in contrast to Rathsman’s superior performance.

Another returning area, the Dog Kennel Woods proved themselves to once again be a popular feature of The Somerley Tea Party. Providing a hideaway among the trees the booth was once again an elevated cabin looking something akin to a simple tree house or bird hide. The bar was a little smaller than last year, and fewer hay bales were used to enclose the crowd, but this is simply an observation as opposed to a complaint as neither change detract from the experience in any way. At the back of the woods were a number of wooden lookout platforms that provided another interesting space to step back and enjoy the music from afar.

The area between the Dog Kennel Woods and the Walled Garden where there had been a large pond last year, the ground had now been filled and dodgems now took pride of place. Behind was the bizarre little stage known as The Rabbit Hole, however the area seemed to be somehow strangely lacking something. Organizers detailed afterwards how the Rawdio stage which had been meant to share this area had been pulled at the last minute.

Once again the Dome proved itself to be a vital addition to the festival making sure that bass lovers were adequately catered to. I had enjoyed being able to head over in the late afternoon to mix up the tempo with some DnB. It was disappointing to hear that the Dome had to be closed, after the inflatable structure was slashed by some moronic individuals. Unfortunately this meant that the stage’s headliners Carlyx & TeeBee were unable to perform, although it’s important to remember that organisers acted decisively with everyone’s safety in mind. As a result the Dome is unlikely to return in the future, which in my opinion is a real shame, however I can understand why organisers would prefer to invest in an idiot-proof alternative.

Dense & Pika delivered a more atmospheric mix in the Dog Kennel Woods than the aggressive set they played at Common People. I was happy to hear the duo play a more intimate set taking cues from the location and crowd, when far less talented DJs simply roll out near identical sets show after show. Following on Boddika played an ideal set for nightfall. After dark the Dog Kennel Woods really came into their element as synchronised LED strips fastened to the trees illuminating the lively crowd.

During the same slot I equally could have joined a massive crowd over in the Walled Garden enjoying a set from Heidi, and I remain very jealous of those who did, as judging by footage the set appeared to be a real highlight. This raises an important point about this year’s Somerley Party in general, inevitably with so many great artists on the lineup many punters faced similar ultimatums. Of course, don’t mistake that for criticism, as these kind of clashes are the hallmark of a great lineup.

Returning to the Walled Garden later on festival goers had a surprise in store as Oliver Jones better known as Skream joined Jackmaster for a surprise back to back set. With LEDs emitting various patterns and colours, the mirrors in the Warp Drive cast shapes across one another to create a kaleidoscopic effect. Passing midnight, drizzle began to set in but this did nothing to prevent a huge turnout for Seth Troxler to bring the night to a close. The Chicago born DJ was an ideal headline act, his years of experience were more than apparent as his effortlessly mixed a stand-out set that kept everyone dancing until the very end.

As reluctant as everyone was to head home, leaving the site was, unfortunately, an absolute nightmare. The coaches once again arrived well overdue. With the late onset rain intensifying and cold winds picking up, those waiting for their transport to arrive were left exposed in the freezing downpour. Obviously there is a responsibility on festival goers’ part to have the right clothing for weather changes, however I would argue that atleast some form of shelter should have been available for as adverse conditions as these. Thankfully organisers have already taken responsibility and addressed the issues on facebook. Their replies instil confidence that they are taking all feedback seriously and have the festival goers best interests at heart.

Sadly what was a brilliant festival was marred by a number of unfortunate happenings arising from various circumstances. Organisers should be commended for keeping everything, under control and ensuring that these misfortunes didn’t have more damaging impact, however, for future festivals greater preparation should be taken to accommodate for these eventualities.

7.0 Great

The Somerley Tea Party's second outing was commendable thanks to a great setting and fantastic line-up, however, it was held back from excellence by a number of unforeseen setbacks.

  • Pre Event Communication 7
  • At Event Communication 6
  • Travel to the Festival 4
  • Arrival at the Festival 7
  • "Festival Experience" 8
  • Toilets 8
  • Security & Crowd Control 7
  • All-weather Planning 4
  • Creative Content 9
  • DJ/Artist Line-up 10
  • Disabled Access 7
  • Food 8
  • Bars & Drinks 7
  • Cleanliness 8
  • Size/Scale 9
  • After-hours Entertainment 6
  • Value For Money 7
  • Technical Specification 7
  • Sound Quality 6
  • Lighting/Effects/Pyro 7
  • Extra Attractions/Activities 7
  • Local Scene Connection 6
  • Green/Recycling 7
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