Spandex, Sparkles and Skinny Dipping at Wilderness Festival 2021

Monday 23rd August 2021 | Nichola

We headed to the magic of Wilderness to let loose and indulge after 18 months of restrictions. Wilderness festival is the place to be and is one of the smaller and more intimate festivals in the UK.  An undeniably idyllic location with over 5,000 acres nestled in Cornbury Park Estate, Oxfordshire. The festival is centred around a stunning natural lake, perfect for swimming and midnight skinny dipping. 

Although it was mandatory to show proof of a negative covid test to enter, there were no face masks insight, social distancing had no place here. You could feel the love from all festival-goers that this was the time to connect, to liberate yourself into the experience that is Wilderness. Glitter, sparkles, sequins and spandex all combined to make extraordinary sights at every turn, where the new normal is neon paint and outrageously fabulous outfits and costumes. I have never seen so many dashingly beautiful people in one space, am not sure if it is because we have been locked away for a year with limited contact with other beings or this is just a place where hot people congregate. The outfits were bright and sexy, the energy was flowing, people were ready to let loose. 

With its versatile lineup and array of activities, Wilderness took my breath away ... AGAIN! They stepped up their game and put on an unforgettable weekend, besting the previous years by miles. The music never disappoints, with incredible performances from the Friday night headliner, Loyle Carner. He delivered a lyrically dextrous and emotional set, using his soulful flow referencing his love for his family and the difficulties growing up in Croydon, London.

Saturday main stage action was provided by none other than Bicep who got the energy going with a mesmerizing set. The Northern Irish dance duo drew a large crowd. Ravers funnelling out of beer tents and into huddled masses is sights that were totally unimaginable six months ago. As the sun (which eventually showed up) began to set, big room bangers such as 'Glue' and 'Apricots' saw people perched on shoulders with arms raised to the sky just as a rainbow formed, mirroring the bunting atop of the stage in a celebrated natural spectacle. Jamie XX blew my mind, continues to make amazing music and really connects with the crowd on a deeper level.

We also caught "The Turbans" who are bringing music from all over the world and are a powerhouse of talent, bringing their vibrant and unique sound to audiences. The house of sublime put out some fabulous performances over the weekend which is a smallish tent with a big personality that centres queer DJs by night and attracts a decent, diverse crowd. We discovered that The Valley is where everyone heads for some late-night dancing and for those refusing to go to sleep. The lighting over the hills is mesmerizing, makes you want to put your hands in the air and flow with the music. Around 4 am when the valley had ended, people head to the fire pit by the Folk tent, for late-night jamming sessions, smoking, playing the drums and singing along.

The day after reggae legend David Rodigan and the outlook orchestra was on fire, blasting out the perfect Sunday afternoon chill outset, getting everyone’s hips moving. The four-piece British band Rudimental, known for their big-room drum’n’bass and clever collaborations closed the festival alongside a full band and gospel choir singing one of their biggest hits “Feel The Love”. Going out with a bang ‘literally’, the fireworks display working harmoniously with the music, the energy was out of this world. Everywhere you turn and look people were smiling from cheek to cheek with their hands in the air serenading each other. 

Hip Hop Karaoke was the perfect place for a good laugh and sing along. Brave people from the audience performed on stage and got down and dirty with old skool hip hop tunes. Singing their hearts out (not always in the best pitch) and the crowd went wild. Wilderness definitely lives up to its posh festival status by being the only festival to have its own Orchestra, champagne tent and 5-course meals. However, this year we saw more a much younger and diverse crowd than the previous years. It was great having so many different types of wonderful people in one place, however this year the only negative was the state of the facilities after appreciating the nice clean loos of 2019. 

Part of the fun is to just wander around and discover new music, one of the highlights were when several bands got together and decided to have a jamming session. Which quickly became one of the most memorable events of our musical discovery. It was held in a location called the Secret place, a small hidden tent that is easily missed by the wandering eye. There was so much vigour in the crowd dancing to the Tribal Techno and ethnic beat all being played out live on percussion instruments with thumping base from various drums. Playing together so beautifully, smiling and laughing with each other and the crowd, it was a powerful connection we all felt. Some artists from the Turbans were there and a fantastic violinist, whose name I, unfortunately, did not manage to get. He played the crowd like it was a game, teasing melody and pitch, with every stroke of his bow, he was tuning my ovaries! Your body moved in so many different directions, as the beat constantly changed. It was out of this world and will go down in some of the best moments in my life. 

However, Wilderness is so much more than just music and has an abundance of adventures for those who are up for exploring. The festival prides itself on not only its music lineup but its experiences and alternative entertainment like the arts and crafts in the Green Crafts Village where you can make anything from natural perfumes and lotions to wooden swords or sculptures. 

For those interested in wellbeing, you can choose from yoga classes to mindfulness tents with mental health talks. Togetherness had some great courses to be a part of that take you out of your comfort zone and let loose. The festival is also very family-friendly and houses a fantastic children’s area with many different performances and workshops going on throughout the weekend. Lots of circus toys to play with and a chance for you to gain some skills. It was a wholesome experience seeing kids and parents alike enjoying being together caught in the moment of live music again.

Wilderness is taking sustainability seriously and made their dining experience 4-course meals, meatless. It’s a step in the right direction, however not quite there, as it could have been 100% plant base. Nevertheless, there was amazing vegan street food on offer, from dirty vegan cheeseburgers at ‘Vegan Vice’ to wholefood Buddha bowls at ‘Whole Heaven’. The food did not disappoint, full of flavours that nourish your body and mind and array on offer. Sustainability did not stop there, as there were lots of different eco-conscious shops that focus on recycling and limiting waste. EtoEto which means reuse in Welsh is a stall run by Sylvia. She handmakes bum bags, wallets and many other fantastic items all from recycled material such as bike inner tubes, umbrellas, tents and jeans. Morgan who works alongside her makes stunning handmade jewellery from reclaimed metals. 

I brought my friend Hitesh with me, a 40-year-old festival virgin! It was surprising to find many more festival virgins due to people not travelling abroad and willing to experience the adventures going on in the UK. The consensus was the same “My mind is blown”, “Why didn’t I know about this earlier”. The festival gave the opportunity to let loose after a year and a half of restrictions. In this musical fantasy land bubble thoughts about the pandemic were all forgotten, people got a chance to rediscover the child within again. It's a festival that you never want to end and one you can’t wait to get back to. 2021 was completely sold out, it’ll be exciting to see what they do next year. Here’s to the race for 2022 tickets.