by Yann KM
"Imagine all the illegal raves from the 90s put all their lights in one spot. That's Noisily"
Among other things, 2022 has seen the return of music festivals for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Despite many eyes being on Glastonbury and Primavera, the summer has also hosted some incredible festivals quite literally off the beaten track.
This month, we headed deep into the Leicestershire woods for the first Noisily Festival since 2019. This festival of art, performance, and electronic music combines the best of British rave culture with creativity, an anarchic spirit, and a years-long cult following.
The last camping festival I went to was Boomtown 2017. That’s not to say I haven’t been to any festivals in the last few years, despite the pandemic. I’ve been to a handful of day festivals (Love Saves the Day, Maiden Voyage, Field Day, All Points East) but I find these to be over too quickly and never live up to the excitement they generate within me.
On the other hand, I've been to a couple of weekender festivals with accommodation (Bang Face, Unsound) and they were fantastic, providing the intensity and wow factor of a camping festival but with actual beds and plumbing.
So, as I am nearly 30 now, I was nervous at first about attending Noisily, to the festival about roughing it in a tent again. In my early 20s, it was no problem as I was much fitter and could carry the mammoth amount of stuff required for such a festival. Now I struggle walking for even 30 mins with a bag full of clothes, blow up bed, tent, pillows and, of course, several bottles of Jack Daniels.
However, when I arrived on Friday afternoon I was very pleasantly surprised that I could see the campsite from the carpark. Instant relief that I would not be trudging through mud, jumping over guide ropes like they were lasers from that scene in the Resident Evil movie, just to try and find a small lumpy patch to call home for the next 3 days.
I walked about for 20mins before me and my friend found a suitable spot to set up camp. So top marks for the camping side. The toilets were clean, there were regular water points throughout. The festival was in the thick of the lush Coney Woods so although it was the hottest day of the year (32 degrees) thanks to the setup this was not a problem.
Filthy pizza beats and surprise stages
After setting up the tents and greeting some of the fellow punters, we threw ourselves into the festival.
Straight away, I was immediately impressed by the small stalls and tents scattered throughout the woods. It had most of what you’d expect from a good festival: multiple food stalls with lots of choice (exotic veggie options, burger vans with organic meat, a proper wood oven pizza, even a chai tent), bars with different alcohols, art installations and much more.
However, each spot had its own identity and atmosphere which made it feel just as important as the festival's main acts. The pizza place had a small rave room which played some of the filthiest tunes I heard all festival, sucking in unsuspecting passers-by with some lively jungle as the staff skanked their way through baking a thousand Margheritas. It was an exceptional spot for people watching.
Another such point was the Lizard Lounge, a chai tent featuring some great DJs. This was just one of many more surprise stages, and pop up acts, such as a group of DJs who brought in a soundsystem hidden inside a wheelie bin.
These attracted a surprising amount of people considering the big names who were playing at the same time.
As time went on at the festival I learnt where all these surprise stages were, and felt empowered to pick and chose where I wanted to go depending on my mood. This immense sense of freedom sets Noisily aside from other festivals, which offer little more than a few big tents jam packed with festival goers (I’m looking at you Bestival 2017). This added to a huge sense of immersion.
Immersive art, performance, and pendulums
Dotted around the festival was loads of different art installations, some were interactive, some were just pretty to look at. There were a number of pieces which started off blank, and each day artists came and added more to. It was fun to check in and see how they had changed each day, just another level of immersion you just don’t get at other festivals.
I remember losing more time than I care to admit at a thing I can only describe as a spinning sand pit with a pendulum hanging over it. As you spun the pit and pushed the pendulum, it made patterns in the sand. I could have gone to the festival without any of the main stages and still had a blast.
My biggest surprise of the festival was the small cabaret stage which had different performances throughout the day. The circus acts forever caught me out, especially the red haired comedian who gave me the biggest humiliation I have ever had in my life in front of hundreds of people. It was hilarious, crazy, and so so fun.
Some of the highlights included a clothes changing act which was mindblowingly quick, a guy with a tape measure doing things I still don’t quite understand to this day, and an incredible balancing act that would blow anything you’ve seen on Britain’s Got Talent out of the water. I spent much longer than expected at this stage and was truly impressed by the thought and creativity that went into these 'extracurricular' activities.
'Disneyland for adults'
However, the main bulk of my time was spent at the main stages.
Imagine all the illegal raves from the 90s put all their lights in one spot. That's the Noisily Stage. Lasers, projectors, giant disco balls, flashing dodecahedrons, all working together impeccably with the DJ to blow your mind... It was like Disneyland for adults.
Meanwhile, the Leisure Centre stage which hosted the more experimental (read: hardcore) tunes looked like a gigantic TV screen embedded in the hilltop. Even on this small stage, those working live on the light shows really left their mark, bringing amazing performances to life that simply would not have been the same if they were preprogrammed.
Genre-bending acts and the finest 160bpm rave music
I can’t talk about a festival without a mention to the sound. I am a bit of a sound snob, and can be easily put off if the sound is too quiet, or is pushed too far and distorted. I am happy to report this was NEVER an issue at Noisily, even though the sound team had their work cut out for them what with the woodland being so hilly.
There were certain spots which were not as loud as others, but with a bit of moving around, facilitated by spacious dance floors and lots of thought put into capacity, the sound was excellent throughout.
Although there was some bleed through when moving from stage to stage, once you were in front of a sound system you could not hear any other stages. The loud thump of the bass bins never failed to slap a big smile on my face, drop after drop.
Lastly, I have to talk about the acts. Again, this is where the festival’s organisation really shined through. Usually I have to make hard choices about who I want to see when I go to a festival. Here the acts where planned out seamlessly. My first night ended with Deekline’s crazy genre bending set through garage, breakbeat and drum and bass. Earlier that night I had seen Eats Everything mash multiple techno tracks with psytrance.
I also spent a bit of time at the psytrance stage soaking in the ostentatious LED screens and bass, followed by a short work to the leisure centre for the finest in 160bpm rave music, courtesy of Dave Shades and Riffs. The next day I found smaller disco stages, where everyone was enjoying a slower pace in the sun.
The final act I caught was Trojan Soundsystem at the treetops, with ample space for people to dance, or just sit and soak up some heavy dub and reggae as I was. It was the perfect way to unwind on my last day and proved there was literally something for everyone.
But what is a festival without its crowd? Well the crowd were nothing short of amazing. I was relieved to find there were all ages present, from 20 to 60 and up. I even witnessed the oldest DJ I’ve ever seen perform at the lizard stage and she absolutely nailed it.
Throw in some fun extra activities, such as yoga in the morning, sound baths, massages and the opportunity to walk on a slackfline 100ft in the air and you’ve definitely got a well rounded festival.
I really did not want to leave on Sunday but all good things must come to the end. This was a monster festival and I can confidently recommend it to everyone, because it really was that good. Unfortunately this was their last year in Coney Woods (Leicester) but I still can’t wait for the next one. See you soon Noisily!
Noisily Festival is held annually in Leicestershire. Find out more
Yann KM is a London-based DJ