Above Below is a grassroots festival in just its second year of existence. Held over 2–5 June in Chiltern Hills, the intimate electronic festival housed approximately 800 people in a beautiful, secluded valley. The festival was created and organised by a creative group of friends from Tring, Hertfordshire (not far from the site itself) and the sense of community was palpable. You couldn’t walk past a person without being greeted with a smile or a friendly hello, and the 30 volunteers that worked on the bars, fire pit and the check-in point worked wonderfully and cohesively as a team. There was always somebody there offering a helping hand.
The site felt like an idyllic getaway, tucked away from the outside world and built by the organisers themselves. It’s clear that they wanted to work in cohesion with the natural environment, and the whole site felt extremely organic. Between the two stages, there were designated chill spots; there was an intimate area across the bridge, with a dome tent for people to relax in, as well as a large wooden swing hung amongst the trees. There was another relaxation area opposite the main bar that had comfy large sofas under a canopy, with Persian-style rugs on the floor below. These personal touches made the site feel comforting and tranquil, perfect if you needed a break between the partying.
The main stage, The Beacon, featured mainly electronic sounds. From minimal beats to intense pumping techno, this was the heavier stage of the two, always filled with people ready to dance the night away. This stage saw London-based DJ Faery close the festival, with her intense techno thumps seamlessly followed by hardcore drum and bass sounds – definitely a set to remember. On Friday guests were treated to the sounds of Tubby Isiah, the Bristol-based father and son duo, bringing dub and reggae to the stage in the afternoon sun.
This year saw the addition of a second stage, the Stone Circle, to great praise from attendees. This added an element of variety to the festival that expanded the appeal. This stage featured a beautiful upbeat set from DJ Subaru, the non-binary Leeds-based DJ playing exclusively vinyl. Spanning New Wave, Italo Disco, and gospel, it was the perfect atmosphere for a Saturday afternoon boogie that left your heart feeling full. The DJ duo Spa Day were another weekend highlight, bringing an abundance of energy to the second stage that the crowd fed off. They even dropped a thumping remix of Madonna’s Hung Up, lapped up by the masses. Such an intimate festival truly allows underground artists to shine, showcasing their talents to like-minded music lovers.
In addition to music, there were daily workshops that spanned environmental awareness lectures to wellbeing activities, including an insightful and inspiring talk from Rakesh “Rootsman Rak” called ‘Roots n Permaculture’. He discussed the importance of permaculture as a framework, offering advice on how we can live more self-sufficiently. There were also daily ambient stretch classes in the morning, a great restorative activity after a night of heavy dancing, guaranteed to make you feel renewed and ready for the day ahead.
The festival can be praised in particular for its environmental awareness; each attendant was given a small portable ashtray to preserve the ground, and there were giant cigarette-shaped bins located around the festival to empty once full. There were also specific vape recycling bins to minimise plastic littering. Around the site were multiple water refill stations, and attendees were encouraged to bring reusable bottles. The only water that could be purchased came in metal cans and the single-use plastic on-site was kept to a minimum. Like most festivals nowadays there was a reusable cup scheme; you paid £2 for an Above Below branded pint cup, which guests kept hold of for the weekend.
The bins were separated into food waste, recyclable waste, and general waste, and attendees made sensible use of these. The site remained extremely well-looked after thanks to the vigilant waste team, and both the organisers and ticket holders had wonderful mutual respect for the nature around them.
Another great sustainable practice was the group travel incentive. Those who drove to the festival with two or fewer people per car had to pay a £5 per day fee, encouraging car shares at very successful rates. All the proceeds made from this were donated to the conservation of UK peatland as opposed to profit. Small, yet effective incentives like these are crucial for festivals to implement, and it’s incredible to see a grassroots festival take sustainability so seriously.
The on-site food vendors were all vegetarian and vegan, with Caribbean and Chinese options, a vegan burger stall, and of course a coffee truck that did smoothies and breakfast paninis. Though the food was a tad on the pricey side – between £7-£10 – they’re standard rates for London and festival food vendors, and the portions were hearty, pretty healthy, and tasty.
The bar prices were pleasantly affordable, with cans and beer on tap available. The local Tring Ale was a steal at only £3.50 a pint, the lagers and IPAs were £5.50, and cider cans were just £4. These prices are very reasonable compared to larger festivals, which often charge eye-watering rates for lukewarm drinks half the size. The second bar had a variety of cocktails too, including Bloody Marys, English Garden, and Tequila Sunrises, all for £8.50 – all incredibly popular in the daytime sun.
The festival paired with Girls Against, an organisation standing up against sexual assault in the UK music scene. There were crew members with red LED armbands that attendees could go to if they felt unsafe, and the ‘Ask Angela’ safeword was implemented. While this campaign is a great step in the right direction, it’s important to have safety measures specifically tailored toward LGBTQ+ members, to ensure all discrimination is being fought against.
As to be expected from a festival still in its infancy, there were a few small points to be improved upon. The majority of the lineup consisted of white male DJs, and though there were women on the lineup, it would be great to see the festival expand on this next year, booking more DJs of colour and LGBTQ+ artists. In addition, an extra food van or two would be great, simply to keep the queues to a minimum and to avoid things running out by the last day. No festival is without its faults, and these propositions are merely suggestions for the festival’s future, which looks incredibly bright.
Overall, Above Below festival is a beautiful community-run festival, with a lot of heart behind its conception. It’s a greatly successful passion project from a close-knit group of friends, who truly put their heart and soul into Above Below’s creation. Its success suggests that it is only the beginning for this festival, and it’s going to be exciting to watch it grow and develop over the next few years. If you love nature, electronic music, and a sense of community, this is the festival for you.