The best of British summertime – Small festivals

FESTIVALS are a fantastic way to spend a summer weekend, but for students, tickets are also the perfect loan busting purchase. They’re a great way to meet up with school friends that have spread out around the country to go to different universities, and great value.

Using the average large UK festival as an example, you could usually pay around £50 for an arena show for each of the headliners, which would nearly cover the cost of your weekend ticket alone. That’s not taking into account the rest of the tailor made line-up, the new musical discoveries you’ll make and the atmosphere that comes with going to a music festival. For Aberystwyth students in particular, going to a weekend festival is a great way to catch up on a year’s worth of tours that didn’t quite make it to the sleepy Welsh town.

Here we’ll be giving you our pick of small music festivals, which are not only cheaper than the bigger festivals, but often have more of a tight knit community feel, and offer a much friendlier atmosphere than their bigger siblings. Without the huge music acts, they require something more to pull in the punters- whether it’s a unique character, food, or art exhibitions. It’s definitely worth considering these little gems.

So sit back, grab a warm local cider and have a peruse of our top tips for small festivals you should check out.

ArcTanGent (By Alex Pike)

2013 was the first year for ArcTanGent, but the Bristol based music festival kicked off with a roaring success and it’s back for a second year. From the organisers of 2000trees (which is also a fantastic small festival that celebrates underground British music), this new festival brings the best in underground experimental music from around the world. To give you a taste of what you’ll be getting, this year’s line-up includes And So I Watch You From Afar, Three Trapped Tigers, Ttng (formerly known as This Town Needs Guns) and the Japanese post-rock giants Mono who will be headlining one of the days.

As easy as it would be to rant on about how brilliant the music is at ArcTanGent, the weekend brings so much more than that. A key highlight is the food and drink. With a range of stalls offering freshly made pizza, cake, falafel and more, as well as bars that offer local ales and ciders you’ll be spoilt for choice (there’s even ample options for veggies/vegans).

Though, if there’s one thing that can be agreed upon, but is easy to take for granted it’s how well run the weekend is. The festival won the Best Toilets of the year, as well as being shortlisted for Best Small Festival and Best New Festival at the UK Festival Awards- and for good reason.

Seeing several hundred people literally running from one stage to another at the end of each set for the whole weekend just demonstrated how enthusiastic the community is and how fantastic the line-up was in 2013. (Although, there have been staging changes made for 2014 to ensure this doesn’t happen again.) I guarantee the same excitement will be there this year and ArcTanGent will once again be the perfect example of how to run a small festival.

Photo - Nick Robinson

Photo – Nick Robinson

Beacons Festival (by Nick Robinson)

This year Beacons will be entering its 4th year as a festival – normally the critical hurdle between ‘making it’ or slipping onto the festival scrapheap. But for Beacons, nestled in the shadows of the idyllic town of Skipton, the festival appears to be going from strength to strength and still keeping its ‘small’ status at the same time.

For well under half the price you pay for Reading/Leads or Glasto, you are welcomed, like family, into the Beacons community. From installation art, vintage clothes stalls and cabaret shows to cocktail bars and cwtchy film showings you are given much more than just a muddy field, dilapidated tent and second-rate indie band.

But the food…my word. Patty’s Smith’s Burgers make a welcomed return, whilst the infamous Ghandi’s flip flop can right any sore head and stomach. You can expect to find food and drink from all corners of the globe – at a reasonable price too! As for the music, this year Darkside, Daughter, Daphni and Jon Hopkins add to a line-up as eclectic as you can imagine.

And all this, for simply £99.50. If you’re stuck on where to head to this summer, make Beacons your primary destination.

304909_10152086327025051_378972142_nEnd of the Road (by Tom Davies)

End of the Road is a small alternative and folk festival (sorry to those who thought I was referring to the Boyz II Men hit) held in late summer annually at the Larmer Tree Gardens in North Dorset. It began back in 2006 as a result of two friends dreaming about their ‘perfect’ festival. Longer than average set slots for musicians, a wide range of actually decent food and beers from all over, and an intimate and friendly atmosphere. That was the mission statement of sorts for creators Simon Taffe and Sofia Hagberg, and what a fabulous job they’ve done.

It’s clear that the line-up is chosen with musical merit in mind, rather than what will attract the largest hives of eager and over-hyped crowds. There’s a good deal of stage-time (in fact an entire stage) dedicated to potentially up-and-coming artists. However, if you’re into the kind of music that’s on offer at End of the Road, then there are bound to be enough well-known acts to evoke your inner fan-boy/girl anyway. Past years have seen Fleet Foxes, Wilco, Joanna Newsom, Laura Marling and even punk icon Patti Smith take to the stage.

The detail and planning that goes in to the festival is impressive. Four distinct stages are really nicely placed and designed. When I attended back in 2012, it was quite common to see some of your favourite artists just strolling around listening to other acts and having a beer. Many of them stayed the weekend for the whole festival! Music aside, End of the Road also offers a cinema, a comedy tent, and a woodland library that will charm your pants off. And of course you can’t beat an unbeatable cup of hot spicy cider from the Somerset Cider Bus… Not to be missed!

Swn Festival (by Andrew Noel)

Possibly the latest festival on this list, Swn festival takes place during October/November in Cardiff. Co-curated by Radio One’s Huw Stephens, the festival showcases a variety of bands from over the world, including a range from Wales. There is also no set area for the festival, with the music taking place across several bars and clubs, such as Dempseys, The Moon Club and Clwb Ifor Bach.

Among the line up expect some familiar faces; last year featured Math Rockers Everything Everything, vocalist Ghostpoet, Derbyshire duo Drenge and NME favourite Wolf Alice. Alongside these big names (and maybe even more importantly) there are some handpicked, class Welsh acts. Take Gwenno for instance; the electronic musician who sings in both English and Welsh, whose majestic synths and funky bass lines leave the audience in a trance. Post-Punk band Heavy Petting Zoo features as well, a personal favourite of Huw Stephens, whose cut-throat performance is something to behold.

The festival not only has a great selection of bands, it also is an opportunity for the Welsh to exhibit themselves, and show the vast range of music from across the country. Swn is not your typical festival; the inner city setting and bar venues give it a different feel to your regular muddy field festival, and its music choice is perfectly chosen. Truely, Swn is one of a kind.

1654984_10203664026741787_1494793783_nBoomtown Fair (by Sam Meadows)

In the words of Monty Python: ‘And now for something completely different!’ Boomtown Fair is just that. Completely different.

Unlike other summer festivals, the stages and the camping are intertwined to create the eponymous Boomtown. Each district has a different theme and this encompasses the musical style, the bars and the entertainment.

Walking around Boomtown you will be accosted by dancing troupes aplenty and there is always something to look at or something to watch. The customers are a madcap collection and are nothing if not colourfully dressed and are friendly and approachable.

As with all festivals, it is the music that takes centre stage. My personal favourite district is Oldtown which hosts the gypsy ska and folk music at the festival. Other great areas consist of Trenchtown, the reggae area, El Barrio Loco, the DJ section and Chinatown, the area for rock music.

Arcadia is the favourite stage of many people. Here you can dance to trance music until the early hours of the morning, and with the music ending at 6am this is no exaggeration.

With the campsites adjacent to the stages, Boomtown Fair is not one for sleeping. But if you’re in the true Boomtown spirit then you won’t want to do much sleeping.

Boomtown Fair has something for everyone and comes thoroughly recommended. It takes place just outside Winchester in August.