Review by Mariella Bevan from URY!
It would be hard to find a festival more aptly named than Wilderness. In its ninth year, people are starting to catch on to this hidden wonder — tucked away in Cornbury Park in Oxfordshire, festival goers are treated to a weekend of endless activities, high quality food, and of course, excellent music. Leading down into the arena you are greeted by a lake lined with fairy lights and sunbathers where people can go wild swimming and even partake in yoga or rowing. Past the ice cream truck and up the hill, you are faced with the usual set up of tents and stages, although on closer inspection there is much more to explore than meets the eye.
One of the first things you notice is the outfits — not only is there glitter, sequins and sparkles but also horns, wings and feathers floating around. Basically, anything goes. The typical attendee adorning these eccentric outfits carry an air of champagne socialism, with previous festival goers including David Cameron and Made in Chelsea’s Proudlock partying in high end booze tents such as the Sipsmith “Gin Palace” or even a Veuve Clicquot champagne garden. Still, the diversity of activities going on means there is something for everybody to enjoy; with axe throwing, horse riding, outdoor life drawing, and nipple adoring being just some of the ones to choose from.
Taking time out from the nature runs or the boozy cricket, you might stumble upon the many banquets and feasts occurring in various tents around the arena. It isn’t very often can you sit down for a three course meal at a festival, seemingly worlds apart from the mud and debauchery many of us have come to expect from similar events. However, if you don’t manage to nab a seat at one of the long tables, there is no need to worry. No matter what food you choose from, whether it be mac and cheese or sticky rice, you’re bound to find something that will satisfy your taste buds.
If you want to enjoy the performances Wilderness has to offer whilst enjoying your food, there is no better place to head to than The Forum. In this tent, a low stage is surrounded by beanbags, sofas and benches; ideally set up to listen to the thought provoking talks being presented throughout each day. Unsurprisingly, climate change and sustainability were big themes woven into many of the performances, such as Extinction Rebellion’s guide to travel or a discussion on the impact of fashion from Fashion Roundtable. In a similar vein to The Forum and a new addition this year is the Audible Live tent, where a highlight included the controversial but fascinating Rose McGowan who spoke about her autobiographical book Brave, where she delves into teen homelessness and the #MeToo movement among many other topics.
With so much going on, it might almost be hard to find time for the music — that is, if it wasn’t for the excellent calibre displayed on every stage. Kicking off the main stage on Saturday was Low Island, Oxford natives who commanded the stage impressively well. The band have drawn several comparisons to LCD Soundsystem and Caribou, sending the light afternoon crowd to paradise with their synth heavy electro rock and smooth vocals. This was followed by SOAK; her sound seeming small on the stage in comparison but she still managed to hold the attention of the crowd with her unique, rich voice.
All the way on the other side of the arena is the Jump Yard, which is harder to stumble upon than the main stage but might just keep you intrigued for longer. The stage features a wide ranging mix of genres and sounds, such as Badcore Horns who brought a mixture drum and brass whilst Dutty Moonshine Big Band caused an absolute ruckus to the crowd’s delight.
Closing the second night, swathes of people gathered to see Swedish pop icon Robyn take to the stage. Inspiring a generation of experimental and idiosyncratic pop artists such as Charlie XCX, Lorde, and Carly Rae Jepsen, the singer pumps out one synth banger after another, dancing between tunes from her 2018 LP Honey and classics like ‘With Every Heartbeat’. The magic is only broken when Robyn stops to take in the crowd singing the words to ‘Dancing On My Own’ back to her. A touching moment to witness.
On Sunday, The Level provided us with acts such as Benin City, a London based trio combining spoken word poetry with electronica and brass making for an energising result. Later on Maddison McFerrin builds each song from the ground up, showcasing her loop pedal prowess to create a cacophony of delicious harmonies. Meanwhile, over at The Forum punters take a break from planning to save the world in order to listen to Essex-born singer Gabriela Eva perform for Sofar Sounds. Putting on secret gigs around the world to bring the focus back to music, Sofar’s philosophy fits perfectly into Wilderness, as does their chosen
performer. Eva effortlessly blends neo-soul and jazz funk, captivating the audience reclining on the sofas that surround the stage.
Back on the main stage, rising star Tom Grennan draws plenty of people to listen to his gritty vocals and catchy pop tunes. Stubbornly refusing to take off his leather jacket despite the weather, making the crowd laugh as well as dance as he commands the stage with his charisma and soul. Later on in the night to close the festival are one of the most widely recognised dance acts of the decade, Groove Armada. Despite some technical difficulties, the group manage to keep everyone entertained, especially with hypnotic and invigorating moves from all three guest singers.
Even post-headliner, there is plenty to do and see, whether you want a more relaxing experience at The Atrium watching Letters Live or pumping techno from The Valley until the early hours. Winding down earlier on the final day, the closing of The Valley marks the time where festival goers retire their wings and horns and return to normal life once more. The ninth season of Wilderness may have exceeded expectations, but with Wilderness’ 10th birthday coming up next year, the future of this festival is set to be wilder than ever.
Make sure you check out Mariella’s podcast from the festival over on our Audioboom page, or click her to go straight to it!