Ben Jolley caught some of the biggest names in house, techno, garage and UK bass in Derbyshire for 12 hours of hedonism in the heart of the woods.
Born as a response to "the stagnation of the dance music festival and clubbing circuit in the UK", Forbidden Forest has gone on to host some of the best parties in the East Midlands. Created by a group of party enthusiasts who felt frustrated by restrictions placed on classic warehouse and tent spaces, the young Derbyshire promoters found the vast, blank canvas that is Donington Park and made it their home...
It's just gone 11am on Bank Holiday Sunday and the glitter is already out as crowds of festival-goers - clutching cans of Strongbow and sunglasses - snake around Nottingham's Broadmarsh Centre bus stop, eager to get to the forest rave. The driver is even cheered as we pull away, 20 minutes behind schedule – though it's nothing compared to the delayed opening on site, leaving the festival gates closed until 1pm, an hour later than scheduled.
After stepping off the bus it's like a sandstorm. As we join the massive, blustery, dusty queue, something that immediately strikes us is the variation of festival fashion. For guys it’s baseball caps, occasional woollen ponchos and shorts; while girls seem to opt for colourful, shiny jackets, fishnet tights and lots of glitter – one even sports bunny ears, paired with Adidas sport trousers and black Doc Martins.
Once inside, we head deep into the strange but comfortable straw-floored forest - which covers the grounds of all three stages. Each decorated with a keen eye to detail and boasting impressively clear sound-systems and vibrant strobe lighting, it's immediately clear that the organisers have spent a lot of time making sure the festival looks and sounds great. The stages fill up quickly, too, thanks to the cleverly early bus transfers, ensuring the festival is busy from 1pm until midnight.
The main ‘Novum’ stage, set under neon pink and blue canopies, offers the fastest-rising names in house, techno and tech-house. Veering from Abode residents Jimmy Switch & Tobias' groovy selections – including early afternoon highlight Cozzy D's 'Meat Feast’ – GW Harrison and Joe Quinn who smash it later on, dropping Solardo's jagged, pumping edit of Will Clarke & BOT's 'Techno (No Techno)' - which, after being aired at least three times throughout the festival, ends up being our tune of the day.
Comparatively, Detlef's back to back with Latmun seems to fall a little flat; though that might be because we are quite near the back at this point. The pace is instantly picked up, though, thanks to a faultless B2B between wAFF and arguably the biggest production pair right now, Solardo. Opting for punchy, high-quality – and often quite trippy - tech-house from the off, neon green and red strobes light up the stage and crowd under the trees throughout.
The second stage, ‘Kooky’, is a different beast entirely. Offering the best in fast-paced bass-heavy bangers from the world of grime, drum & bass and garage, the energy remains high all day long. Embracing the festival spirit, a glitter-faced DJ Barely Legal delivers grime, bass, trap, d'n'b and virtually everything in-between.
Mixing Cashmere Cat into Stormzy and D Double E into TNGHT's 'Higher Ground', she rewinds tracks for a second spin at regular intervals. Half way through, an older guy in pyjama trousers, blue bath robe and Cookie Monster fluffy hat makes his way into the growing crowd - drawing a lot of attention, unsurprisingly.
Champion, up next, lives up to his name; mixing a bass-heavy interpretation of the Arctic Monkeys into Kano's 'Three Wheel Ups’: it shouldn’t work on paper but the crowd here loves it. One of the day's photo moments then comes at the end of Shy FX's career-spanning set, when the confetti cannon is set off, covering the crowd in a sea of coloured paper.
Later on, TQD - consisting of Royal T, Flava D, and DJ Q, who are widely considered the new kings of UKG - take over for two hours of dirty basslines and garage flavours. Aside from dropping the majority of their collaborative album, packing the space for their whole set, it’s 'Soul Shake' - Flava D's wall-shaking collaboration with the next act up, My Nu Leng - that hits hardest.
The Bristol bass duo follow up with a masterclass in inventive and original UK sounds; combining bass with treble-heavy dubstep and trap. As we overhear from an ecstatic guy nearby, "this is outrageous" - we couldn't agree more.
Forbidden Forest's hidden gem, however, is 'The Bunker'. The smallest of the three stages, and located deeper in the forest, the log-covered cabin fits in with the surroundings and hosts the more up-and-coming DJs like Cameron Jack, whose building, emotive techno selections including Christian Nielsen's 'Treading Water' stand out.
It's left up to formidable headliner Eats Everything to close this spring’s festival - and what a closing set it is. During the feel-good funk of Chic classic 'Everybody Dance', purple strobes bathe the massive crowd - which now stretches back behind the bar.
The jazzy vocal of St Germain's 'Rose Rouge' soon becomes a subtle house anthem before Eats transitions into laser-heavy acid house, then a percussive edit of Soul II Soul's iconic 'Back to Life' before one of our favourite tracks - Route 94's unreleased vocal-led groover 'House & Pressure' which rolls into Eats’ own crashing edit of Green Velvet's 'Flash'. To put it simply, he doesn’t put a foot wrong across the whole 90 minutes.
As we head out of the forest and onto the shuttle bus back to Nottingham - in anticipation of a train home in just seven hours - one of our friends can’t quite get his head around the fact we’ve been partying in the forest for the last 12 hours. “Time just stops still in this place,” he says, perfectly summing up our experience at Forbidden Forest. “It's like it's got it own time-zone,” he gushes. We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
Forbidden Forest returns to Donington Park on September 9th.