Set in a ‘mystery location an hour outside London’, you’d be forgiven for expecting that In The Woods festival, like most British festivals, would take place in a field somewhere in the countryside, surrounded mostly by more fields. The name, you’d imagine, is probably justified largely by the site requiring a fair drive through some tree-enclosed country roads, upon which if you meet another car, you’re going to have to stare the other driver out pretty hard so that it’s them, not you, that has to reverse awkwardly back from whence they came for a mile or five. And the festival does boast this last attribute. This doesn’t however, really sum up how much In The Woods, when you make it there, is actually, well, in a wood. OK, so there’s a bit of a green in which you can pitch your tent without hacking down any trees or getting a bit Bear Grylls on it, but the majority of the festival itself: the two stages, the art strange installations and the homemade burger bar, etc., are all probably more in a wood than a fair few of the London folk here, and there are many, seem to be able to deal with.
The gorgeous attention to detail around the charmingly tiny, magical site leaves a fair few ‘I don’t really leave the city. Ever.’ kind of people wandering around, eyes pointed tree-wards, gazing around them in a sort of countrified daze for at least the first few hours. Rather entertaining, really. But it can’t be denied that it is a beautiful site. Canopies of greenery cover the Laurel Lounge, or second stage, and its audience entirely, and as the sun goes down, the forest lights up with a thousand fairy lights and hanging lanterns guiding us through the narrow tree-lined paths. Bright beams, hidden somewhere in the undergrowth, make the thick ceilings of leaves reflect an eerily beautiful green glow over everything, oh, and there’s some music too.
Clout! start off the proceedings on the main, or Quarry stage (named so presummadly because it was once a quarry. Now it’s a big hole it the ground, surrounded by rising walls with a perfect view of the bottom – the ideal place for a stage then). The band’s slightly discordant, woozy textures of weird noises and guitars instantly turn the sunny woodland setting from fairytale-forest to Where The Wild Things Are-esque unearthliness, and soon we’re checking the trees over our shoulders and under the logs we’re sitting on for things that might lurk there. Whether this is your taste or not, the band certainly have an effect on the atmosphere.
Next to take to the stage are Three Trapped Tigers, introduced by the ever enthusiastic John Kennedy from XFM, who’s compering both stages. The band drive into their math-rocky set and instantly we’re transfixed. It seems impossible to tear the eyes away from Adam Betts, the trio’s drummer, whose frantic, tight rhythms thundering through the trees hypnotize the audience, while the screeching off-beats of guitar and synth make for a wonderful half hour of pure powerful noise, cutting through the tranquil setting. This certainly isn’t what you’d expect to be hearing in a place like this, but nevertheless there’s really only one way to describe this set: awesome.
Heading over to the Laurel Lounge, Peter and Kerry, the collaboration between London based artists Peter Lyons and Kerry Leatham, take to the small stage. Leatham draws the eyes with vibrancy emanating from her being throughout the set, while the sweet pop plays out through the crowd, both spirited and melancholy, it’s lovely, and the band leave us wanting more as they leave the stage smiling sheepishly.
Next up we have, erm, ∆, or ‘Alt J’ as they’re introduced as verbally. Why? Because, we learned after a bit of research, if you press the keys ‘alt’ and ‘j’ on any mac (try it if you like), ∆ is the symbol which appears. Think it’s pretentious and impractical? Don’t worry, you’re not just getting old and grumpy, that’s because it is. This isn’t to say though, that you should be put off listening to the band: their set is actually very good. But it probably says a lot that this writer, and no doubt others, has just spent all the words which can be afforded to them moaning about their name, rather than talking about their music. If that was their intention, then well done them, but it will probably to do them more harm than good.
Onwards and upwards, Pete And The Pirates fill the deep bowl of the Quarry stage with their indie-pop offerings, as the early 20s Londoners who filled with campsite as we all set up our tents with stories of the Dalston parties they attended the night before, recline lazily on logs, homemade burgers in hand.
Man Like Me are the first to really get everybody up and dancing. The sun’s long since gone down, much alcohol’s been consumed and, whatever you might normally think of their slighting irritating mix of pop-ska-hiphop-whatever, their choreographed 90s-esque dancing, and stunningly awful brightly patterned shirts have the crowd with their hands in the air for ‘London Town’ and ‘Oh My Gosh’, however inane the songs might be.
A completely different scene follows over in the Laurel Lounge, as Lucy Rose’s mellifluous tones hush the audience into silence. The passionate lady strums her way through ‘Middle of the Bed’ as people sway side to side with the floaty sound.
Post War Years snap us back to the world as it is with their electro-driven indie pumping into the trees, before we’re back in the Laurel Lounge for Canada’s Anais Mitchell, who we happen to have had the pleasure of a brief chat with, just before her set. She’s smiley and charming, clearly enthused to be playing a festival with such a lovely, friendly atmosphere. As she begins the set, her folksy voice weaves around the intimate setting, and it’s hard not to fall a little bit in love with her. Inviting her friend Wallis Bird to the stage with her part way through the set, it becomes even more enchanting, as Bird’s Irish tones harmonize perfectly with Mitchell, and it instantly becomes something of a highlight of the festival.
Back to the Quarry, and it’s time for the festival curators themselves, The Laurel Collective, to take the stage. The band grin out into the crowd, clearly pleased with what they’ve put together here, and they should be. The music tonight has been the perfect fluctuating mix of loud beat driven indie and electronic and fragile folk loveliness, and as they themselves play, it all comes together, everyone dancing through their set. Micachu and The Shapes, are also danced through, their up-beat experimental pop weirdness washing wonderfully around the now hazy lines of the trees and swaying people.
The bands over, many filter out into the silent disco tent to be battered into dancing by some fairly bizarre choices of various bad pop songs from the ‘90s, before everyone congregates for the huge midnight bonfire, around which festivalers hunch, stare at the stars or talk rubbish until the sun comes up, and In The Woods festival is done. Now, for the hangover.