Review: The Somerley Tea Party Festival 2014

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2014 marks the début of a new one day dance music festival for the South Coast, The Somerley Tea Party. Set on a beautiful site in the grounds of the Old Somerley estate, within and around what was an old walled garden, the festival is overlooked by a large mansion house still inhabited by the family that has owned the land for generations.

For those arriving by car there were plenty of stewards on hand to direct traffic on to the site and towards the large parking field, a mere 100m from the festival entrance. It was a pleasant drive through the estate, think Longleat but without the lions! Away from the parking field and entrance and towards the main areas we were greeted bubbly and friendly staff who were dishing out wristbands at a rickety old caravan-cum-box-office, alone in a grassy area between the walled garden and its mansion house backdrop.

There was an impressive lack of queues as we arrived, and only ever a short wait to move between stages. There was plenty of space within the main areas meaning you never felt like you were going to get lost or engulfed in a mass of revellers as you moved around the site. But if you did want to get in the thick of it there was a consistent crowd a few tens of rows deep getting their groove on at the front by the main stage. This stage, otherwise known as the Old Somerley Arena was clearly set up with DJs in mind, featuring a permanent booth front and centre. The booth was framed with a large LED panel, providing swirling patterns and trippy visuals while the tunes were spun. The display was was actually a detriment to the experience in our eyes; given that the music policy was a lot more highbrow and interesting than your average EDM spectacular, it felt a bit out of place. Plus, it was just a bit too bright compared to anything else that was going on. Despite the sound system being a little on the small side, the music that was playing really shone through to show what STP was all about – the bouncy techno stylings of Bicep and Simian Mobile Disco were surely main stage highlights. Of the other artists performing there, the likes of Eats Everything and Ben Pearce took care of people looking for something with a little more mass appeal, dropping familiar bangers and smooth housey sounds respectively.

Outside the walls of the garden, flanking the main stage was The Dome. This inflatable tent was the domain of drum and bass and other up-tempo genres, and a really pleasant surprise even to those who weren’t normally into that sort of thing! With speaker stacks encircling the crowd like a monster surround sound-system and what with the enclosed tent itself, it was easy to get lost in the excitement of DJ Hazard’s set regardless of whatever time of day it was. There was an amiable lack of the kind of over-distorted D&B that can often put people off, superseded by punchy hooks and subtle drops, keeping the crowd engaged and buzzing.

We felt it was time to grab some mid-party sustenance and so popped back through the Alice in Wonderland doorway and into the walled garden, where we were awaited by a plethora of food stalls to suit every taste. Over the course of the day we managed to sample a variety of delights ranging from organic bison burgers with an array of condiments to tantalise any taste buds, to a rather painstakingly prepared yet delicious pizza. Nearby there were plenty of beanbags and pallet stacks to rest the weary party feet, yet as the music carried well across the walled garden, they were moving around again in no time.

But not before a trip to the bar! Being notoriously bad at getting served I am no good measure of how long it took to get a drink, but it did feel like a particularly long wait. This appeared to be mainly due to the decanting of fruity ciders into plastic cups; a worthy precaution as who can trust a fruit cider drinker with glass! For those without a sweet tooth, there was Piston Head beer: Cold, organic and it glows in the dark. Spot on.

Revived and ready to go, a short walk through the walls on the opposite side led us to the Orange Rooms cocktail bar playing some upbeat party tunes. The tent was small and perhaps more what you would expect to see on safari. Indeed, it was surrounded by animals (of the party variety). Hearing the DJs red-line the sound system quickly got a bit much, and so fearing for our ear drums we beat a retreat to the woods.

Here, nested in a small copse of larch with hanging lights and neon paint, there was a sense of seclusion from the rest of the festival. As the sun began to set there was a strong transformation of the area: From chilling in a wooded glade straight to raving in the woods. This transformation was facilitated through an exceptional set by Tessela, who commenced in the light with an audio spectacle of crisp sounds suited for the casual appreciative bop, but as the dark drew in the woods and his set transformed. The tempo was upped and with every track the crowd grew larger and the grins got nearer to the ears. This mood was perpetuated by Paul Woolford going head to head with his alter ego Special Request and the party in the woods continued to rumble.

As the night drew to a close there was an apparent urgency to get the crowds off site, with the staff making mid-DJ-set announcements. Sad not to be able to camp in such a picturesque setting, we made our way back through the estate grounds and across the River Avon towards the waiting coaches where we embarked and set off seamlessly. Not too long after, we were dropped off near Oceana back in Southampton. Seeing girls carrying their high heels and navigating the pools of sick was a stark contrast to the idyllic experience we had at The Somerley Tea Party.

Overall we thoroughly enjoyed this first edition of the The Somerley Tea Party and would recommend it to anyone looking for a great day out. It had a well curated and diverse lineup, an exceptional atmosphere, and was perfectly timed to kick the summer off, especially if you happen to have just finished exams. It was a promising start for the organisers, holding huge potential for the future … rumour has it that it that the festival will be returning next year, possibly as a two day event!

Words: Dunstan Langrish and Sam Mead.

Photos: Luke Radcliff.

7.5 Great New Festival
  • Pre Event Communication 8
  • At Event Communication 7.5
  • Post Event Communication 7.5
  • General Communication 7.5
  • Travel to the Festival 9
  • Arrival at the Festival 8.5
  • "Festival Experience" 8.5
  • Toilets 7.5
  • Security 7.5
  • Police Presence 7.5
  • Mobile Phone Reception 7.5
  • All-weather Planning 5
  • Creative Content 7
  • DJ/Artist Line-up 8.5
  • Disabled Access 8.5
  • Food 7.5
  • Bars & Drinks 6.5
  • Cleanliness 9
  • Size/Scale 8.5
  • After-hours Entertainment 6
  • Value For Money 8
  • Technical Specification 7
  • Sound Quality 8
  • Lighting/Effects/Pyro 6
  • Extra Attractions/Activities 6
  • Local Scene Connection 7.5
  • Green/Recycling 7
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About Author

Dunstan is an Acoustical Engineering graduate from the University of Southampton. Whilst he's not helping get Wind Farms through planning applications, managing a band or snowboarding, he takes care of Press matters for SOTONIGHT.

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