Die-hard festival fans pretend rain doesn’t ruin their fun – they pretend that they enjoy sliding around in mud – but when the cameras stop filming, we all know they retreat to huddle in embryonic balls in their tents like the rest of us miserable British campers. On Saturday, for a few hours, the incessant molecules briefly ruined Secret Garden Party.
But at 10pm the crowd were brought to life with a ground-breaking spectacle that wasn’t only world-leading but the sort of collaborative vision that could only be pulled off by the best creative minds in the country. And, yes, it beat any performance I’ve seen at Glastonbury.
The Saturday night spectacle signalled the future of live entertainment; how in the years to come we can use technology with physical performance to create fresh spectacles
The BBC dedicates hundreds of hours of viewing time to Glastonbury, but where were they to film the world’s first drone and firework show done on a mass scale? It wasn’t just a technical feat, it was a highly emotional message about humankind and our future that had festival attendees unsure of what exactly they were witnessing.
Hundreds of drones danced around in the air, morphing into the shape of a flower bud, which opened brightly in orange and red hues, signifying new life. This sort of drone show has barely ever been seen, and looked as if it took months to design. The festival called it “the UK’s first ever fireworks and drone spectacle,” which wasn’t overstating it. Freddie Fellows, Secret Garden Party founder, called the collaboration “exhilarating and life affirming” and said the show was “collaboration at its purest. Doing this is everything we have ever wanted Secret Garden Party to be able to do and hope to continue to do.”
The risk for failure, surely, was high. But then a speech by the late philosopher Alan Watts about how we are not individuals but one collective consciousness took the show forward, giving the visuals context, before the show was brought into the physical space with a mechanical moth or butterfly creature stretching out its great wings, with tens of dancers dressed in floral costumes pirouetting around the base in front of a shimmering lake.
Then a meticulously built effigy on an island was burned, and the equivalent of every Bonfire Night fireworks show in London went off at once to The Prodigy’s Firestarter. It was signalling the future of live entertainment; how in the years to come we can use technology along with physical performance to create fresh spectacles that hit harder than any of the singular elements, like fireworks, alone. Secret Garden Party has a history of staging immense and unparalleled spectacles.
Birthed in 2004 with the idea that the attendees, rather than the bands on stage, were really at the centre of the party, and that fancy dress and audience interaction was what we all crave, it went on to inspire events like Bestival and Standon Calling by bringing way more creativity than just the music on the main stages. Secret events take place hidden deep in the woods or behind discreet doorways. Once an entire field of sunflowers laid behind a pretend portaloo door and groups of live musicians serenaded visitors who swept through the flowers.
They used to drive biplanes over the site on Saturday night and drop little floaty LEDs over the audience that floated slowly down over the festival site. When I first saw that, I struggled to find words, and last weekend, I felt that all over again for a festival that – despite the challenges of Covid and closing for five years due to financial issues – still manages to bring creativity on an international scale.
Well done, Secret Garden Party, I can’t wait to see what you bring next year.
Secret Garden Party returns from 25-28 July 2024; buy tickets on their website at secretgardenparty.com. The drone display was titled Cosmic Wisdom and was produced by Celestial, who produced shows such as Eurovision and London NYE 2023