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Only in its second year of running, this little festival set in the heart of the Yorkshire countryside has done exceptionally well to secure some high calibre acts. Headliners this year included Django Django, Bonobo and Local Natives and without a doubt Beacons Festival definitely promised the crucial ingredients of a successful festival at student-friendly prices.
The festival has grown in size considerably from its first attempt last year and with this expansion also comes scope for an increase in the variety of entertainment it provides. Beacons describes itself as ‘a fresh art and boutique music festival’ and it is clear that they certainly intended to live up to their self-proclaimed strapline. From the moment we arrived we were greeted by a large ‘Welcome’ sign in an artsy font and the visual art and installations that they scattered around the site were difficult to miss. Unfortunately this ‘scattering’, despite its good intentions, seemed to lack a sense of cohesion and sufficient thought. Some of the work seemed almost unfinished, and while some pieces such as Dan Fox’s sonic sculpture ‘Howling Wire’ were impressive, not once during the whole weekend did I notice the pop up projection art that the festival website boasted about so abundantly. The festival did have a designated arts area – the ‘Into the Woods’ tent was a personal favourite with morning yoga sessions, whisky tasting throughout the day, films, talks and late-night music sets. The other tents around this area seemed a bit superfluous, however. In one venue, an old film was shown while unrelated 80s music played over the top, a blindfolded woman in the corner was ‘painting auras’ with cheap poster paints on A4 paper and a man with boxing gloves was pummelling crumbled chalk into a rickety blackboard for no apparent reason… modern art, I presume. All activities were completely unobserved by the dozen or so people in the tent who seemed to only be there for the comfy sofas.
I got the impression that this was the main issue with the festival as a whole. It seems to have a confused identity in that it tried its best to encompass all the best qualities of other successful long-running festivals before it had the time to think through how to effectively manage them. They clearly planned Beacons 2013 with high ambitions, taking on board feedback from last year and doing their very best to appeal to a wide variety of audiences. Not only does the festival have a distinctly family-friendly element to it, with a huge family camping area and beautifully crafted areas for children, but it’s fair to say that the majority of the line-up was aimed at a raucous and inebriated student audience who like a good dance. The Red Bull Music Academy Stage (essentially a DJ deck in a small van) seemed to play a constant stream of heavy dance music at varying tempos. I’m not saying it didn’t deserve a place at this festival, but the van was so near the main tent that in the middle of the day when more mellow acts took to the main stage the insufferable bass thumps were distinctly audible and only appreciated by the half a dozen drunks dancing around outside it.
Furthermore, it seemed as if Beacons was over-ambitious with the quality of sound they hoped to produce. A fair proportion of the noise we heard in the music tents over the weekend seemed to be the “one-two” and ear-piercing screeches of sound-checks and while I’m aware this could be down to our own hopelessly bad timing, it’s safe to say that the changes between sets could have been far slicker and more successful. On more than one occasion sound problems persisted throughout performances, which, given the amount of time they spent attempting to fix these problems, simply shouldn’t have happened. That being said they did manage to stick to the line-up schedule most of the time and Local Natives managed to put on an amazing and captivating performance without any noticeable sound issues whatsoever.
Beacons Festival is a very young festival still finding its feet and despite some issues it has still done remarkably well to achieve what it has. Beacons 2014 is most certainly set to see higher heights and will no doubt continue to grow and learn from past mistakes to become bigger and better. Their inclusion of both local home grown talent and large nationally known stars was definitely worthy of respect, and I think what their ultimate success will come down to is finding a niche and running with it rather than trying to appeal to everyone. At the end of the day, the sight of people young and old dancing around to music they love and having a great time is a sure sign of a good festival and in this case Beacons Festival certainly delivered.