Noisily, at least in the circles I run in, has a very good reputation.
From bars in Manchester to fields in Hertfordshire I have been told time and time again that Noisily is without doubt ‘the best’ festival in the British Isles. When TheFestivals offered me the opportunity to go investigate, I jumped on it faster than the beat at a Tekno night. This was a festival I’d heard spoken about as a Boomtown killer. I couldn’t miss this.
Noisily is an electronic music festival on the Noseley estate in the heart of Leicestershire, surrounded by beautiful golden wheat fields and protected by tall green trees. Around five thousand people yearly come to the event, although it feels like it is both larger and smaller than that.
Despite the large and beautiful site, Noisily offers attendees the feel and culture of a small festival. One Noisily veteran said that he considered everyone on-site “Noisily family, rather than customers”. Another group, who were doing theatrical acrobatics, told me to “bring any colourful people I found rolling on the floor to them, because they’re either our friends or will be soon”. This attitude of universal friendliness, acceptance and consideration was extremely widespread, with almost anyone perfectly willing to chat to and hug a passer-by.
These colourful ‘Mango Bandits’ were only the first of what was to come, a glorious parade of circus performers and characters were all over the festival including a prehistoric tribe and at least two other aliens.
Throughout the festival, I was bowled over by the quantity and quality of theatrical elements in its production. Fire performers lashed out with burning blades, staffs, and in one case whips on the cabaret stage as a late-night highlight to its day-long dedication to the circus, while the rear half of any psydub or trance crowd at Noisily is awash with LED poi and sticks being spun.
However, the peak of Noisily’s dedication to theatrics is certainly the opening ceremony. The festival opens on Friday morning with a vast parade, seemingly led by the most heavily costumed hippies, marching around the campsite beating drums and awakening the potential party-goers, letting everyone know for certain that Something Was Happening.
This parade, after completing the circuit of the campsite, led the crowd into the until-now cut-off arena, and we all got our first look at the festival proper. Now, I said earlier that Noisily feels like both a small and large festival, with the small festival vibes coming from the close community. The feeling of Noisily being a large-scale festival comes from the design and features of the site itself.
Putting the arena of a festival almost entirely inside a woodland feels like a stroke of genius that should be adopted industry-wide. Not only does it allow very loud music to be played very late, it reduces the formation of impassable mud, but also gives the festival grounds, in general, a labyrinthian feel. Everything felt separated; the festival had the sense of being a very large, full place, where it could have felt a bit empty had it not been for the enormous effort dedicated to filling every square inch of the forests with beautiful visual art.
This psychedelic environment adds an awful lot to the general healing, calming feel of the festival. While walking through the grounds alone on Sunday morning I got so caught up in just looking at what was done to the woods that I didn’t see any of my friends for hours, and really didn’t mind.
This beautiful woodland environment was also home to some of the best stage design I have ever had the joy of setting my eyes on. The Liquid Stage, at the end of a long, dead straight line of Totems stands imposing, and the walk feels like a pilgrimage towards the pounding psytrance; the Nook and the Treehouse both make fantastic use of the wooded environment in their aesthetics, and even the leisure centre, with its hidden, slightly confined feeling environment was perfect for the more gritty, urban music that was played there.
As for the music…
I must admit first that I was going into the festival having heard of perhaps two of the DJ’s playing over the entire weekend. On top of this, I am about as far from an expert as is possible regarding psytrance, house, techno and anything else that was being played. Having given this disclaimer – I thoroughly enjoyed almost everything I was dancing to but can’t realistically give any highlights.
However, everyone I spoke to in the psychedelic woods agreed that the music, at least at one of the stages, was top notch. Friendly arguments about which stage this was rung out across the campsites. One thing distinct about all of the stages at Noisily is the complete absence of any bands. Noisily is a self-described electronic music festival and is clearly strict about this as the performances are exclusively from DJs. This was another topic of campsite debate, with some loving this dedication while others missed the opportunity to relax in front of a band. No one, however, complained about the absence of big headline acts, ala Glastonbury or Reading.
Were my high expectations met?
In a word, yes. The festival is incredibly well organised, with almost anything you could need available on site, and for relatively reasonable prices. The compost toilets were far better than any portaloo, and the talks and activities account for a wide variety of interests and philosophical positions. The site is sensibly planned, and weather-resistant, and with only a single challenging hillside to climb, I can say it is the easiest going underfoot I have ever experienced at a festival of this scale.
Noisily is not the Boomtown killer I heard it described as. While Noisily has the highest production values of any festival I have ever attended, it lacks the sheer sense of scale, the utter magnitude of theatre that makes Boomtown special.
Noisily is special in its own way. A sense of freedom and healing pervade the place. You’ll encounter more interesting souls with something to say and fewer bucket-hatted, ketamine-addled fools. Your environment, while not titanic still feels large, and is incredibly beautiful. The music, even if it is not conventionally ‘your thing’ will draw you in, and the lovely souls in the woods with you will get you dancing. The raw honest skill of the circus performance will leave you gasping, impressed and surprised to see such a show at a ‘music’ festival.
Nosily isn’t a Boomtown killer, no, but it might just be the best festival in the UK.
Images by Ben Wilkinson.