Above Below Review: The Hand Crafted Festival On The Rise
As celebrations swept the nation to commemorate the Queen’s 70th year on the throne, it was only just the second year of Above Below - but that didn't stop it truly capturing the imagination of the 600 strong party goers that poured into the festival.
Situated deep within the luscious landscapes of the Chiltern Hills, Above Below is a 3 day festival that encapsulates the creative, musical and environmental dreams of a tight-knit friendship group. Through well thought out wellbeing workshops and an eclectic mix of both electronic sounds and immersive visuals, the festival offers a truly magical experience to those lucky enough to be present.
A handcrafted festival
Arriving early on the first morning, I was able to witness just a glimpse of the behind scenes operation. Meticulous planning, but, more importantly, a cohesive squad of volunteers, friends and family helping to see out any remaining errands before the first ticket holders arrived. I saw this as a perfect opportunity (or maybe awkward timing) to chat to organizer Brandon about the few days ahead.
Brandon Ashburner, a festival organizer by night, initially detailed to me how the lead up to the festival went down. “We really wanted to improve on the organisation and planning this time round” he says. “Working well as a team this year with everyone taking responsibility for their roles has made the operations run so smooth”. When asked to touch upon why some small festivals have been struggling this summer, Brandon alluded to the cost of living crisis and commitment issues post covid that almost led to Above Below calling it a day on their summer dreams. In his words, “We knew what we were getting ourselves into, but we were able to come up with solutions and keep moving forward. We are also fortunate to be such a big crew with so many ideas and be able to constantly push each other”.
Finally, I asked Brandon what the future holds for Above Below. “We want to stay fresh, true to ourselves and true to our visions and beliefs. I don’t know exactly what the future will look like but I do know it’s going to be exciting. We won’t be stopping anytime soon!”
Perfecting the build
As tents began to pop up and speakers cranked up for some final sound checks, I found myself checking out the newest addition to Above Below: the Stone Circle stage. Remarkably, both stages and all bars were handcrafted using up-cycled materials. Although a second stage would provide some tricky set clashes with the previously established stage, The Beacon, it was an inspirational move that added to the dynamism of the festival. Allowing the fleet footed ravers to venture between different sounds and moods across the 3 days really helped maintain a constant positive aura.
Boy Corduroy set the scene at Stone Circle with a vibrant set, featuring many disco and house classics. It didn’t take long for attendees to coin the stage “The Club” due to its intimate nature and intense party vibes. This feeling culminated with a storming, high energy set from Meadowlark to see out Thursday night with a selection of tunes that had hands raised high in the air start to finish.
The following morning was ushered in with rays of sunshine and an array of ambient sounds, which coincided wonderfully with a catalogue of wellbeing workshops and educational sessions. Be it through words of wisdom from Rakesh Rootsman Rak or joining in the Cacao ceremony, there were ample ways to realign body and mind. Many others simply chose to replenish their energy stores through the selection of all Vegan vendors at hand, to the backdrop of some 40/50/60s grooves courtesy of Bernard.
Finding inner balance with Rakesh Rootsman Rak
It was Nick and Nath who really brought the energy into the day with a selection of tracks, varying from deep house to bassy speed garage which had dancers bouncing on their feet. The Gottwood residents resembled a pair of Duracell bunnies behind the decks, and the energy in the crowd was only a reflection upon their performance. An audacious use of a Led Zeppelin sample had me wailing like Robert Plant for the remainder of the weekend.
The temperature may have begun to plummet late into Friday night / Saturday morning, however there was no let-up in intensity, as Wednesday played a scintillating set at The Beacon to a horde of dancers quickly stomping themselves into a swamp. Warm, hypnotic and progressive trance sounds that at times were enough to warm the cockles of residents in nearby Tring, let alone those brave enough to withstand the barrage of deep bass echoing from the custom built, Focus sound system for the duration of her 2 and a half hour set.
The Beacon in all its glory
The following day quickly found its feet thanks to a sumptuous live performance at The Beacon from Noc:turne. The melodic set was sealed with a foot stomping and soon to be released track titled “Party”. When chatting to the man himself after, he revealed the track was specially curated for the festival, with the ambitions of re-creating what he described as a classic British sound. Italian outfit Orion soon graced the final sunset of the festival with a concoction of blissful beats and captivating bass lines, setting the scene perfectly for fellow counterparts, Primal Code. Not only did they follow suit, but they further mesmerized those entwined within the journey of deep techno.
Orion in control of the sounds
Back to Stone Circle and it was Spa Day who were set to send the canopy to outer space and the hundreds of revellers looking on, to find another race. The rule breaking energy and tasteful mixing between high-tempo genres really sparked a party that was indicative of the buoyant atmosphere of the previous 3 days. A plethora of sounds across the 2 stages, involving selectors such as Farazdeck, WDDS, Tasha and Faery would go on to help Above Below see out its curtain call for the year 2022.
The night in full flow
To summarize Above Below ’22, fellow attendee Arjun used the following 3 words: Enthralling, Immersive and Neighbourly. These are words and feelings that I would only reiterate 100 times over. Hours upon hours of attention grabbing music sets, lustrous visuals, stentorian sound systems and core values that make everyone feel welcome, respected and ultimately provide a safe space to have fun, making the festival a credit to those involved.
Above Below is a festival that I am already reserving a space for in next year’s calendar and one that is quickly working its way towards becoming one of the most special small, electronic music festivals in the UK.
Photos taken by Jack Maltby and Jake Heath