‘A sold-out capacity of 5,000 like-minded souls surely can’t all be wrong. Bring on next year.’ Evening Standard
Written by Anna Alexandria
Fireworks and costumes and noise, oh my! Nozstock 2019 went off with a bang, a crash, a wallop and a good old-fashioned knees-up. Another record-breaking year on the farm, another crowd full of good vibes and friendly faces who felt like a welcoming hug descending on Rowden Paddocks. One for the history books, for sure. Come talk a walk with us down (the yellow-brick) memory lane and relive some of the best bits of Nozstock’s 21st year…
For 2019’s festival we decided to take a trip to the Emerald City, bringing to life everyone’s favourite surreal film franchise featuring a ramshackle farmhouse transformed into a weird and wacky world of song, adventure and slightly bonkers inhabitants… sound familiar? That’s right: all 5,000 of you loyal fun-lovers came to Rowden Paddocks to pay a visit to the Wonderful Wizard of Noz. Never one to shy away from a challenge, our tireless decor team rolled up their sleeves, channeled their inner Dorothies and set to work transforming the rolling fields of the Hidden Valley into a glorious technicolour dreamscape. Weary travellers were greeted by yellow brick flags weaving a path through the campsite. A giant rainbow framed the entrance into the main arena, where bluebirds fly, troubles melt like lemon drops and, for thrill-seekers itching for the best weekend of 2019, dreams really, really did come true. The skyline of the Emerald City loomed large over the the Orchard Stage, alongside the face of the Wizard himself. The Garden Stage became Dorothy’s Kansas farm post-tornado, all blown-off windows, tumbling doors and chimneys at jaunty angles, complete with the Wicked Witch of the East’s stripey tights and infamous ruby slippers squashed underneath the farmhouse… whoops! Elsewhere across the farm, the Tin Man opened up his very own bar, that pesky tornado whirled wild above Lake Shepherd, and spray-painted graffiti reminded revellers that they weren’t in Kansas anymore.
Our 21st birthday party was a record-breaker in lots of ways, especially in the keenness of you festival beans to get onsite and get partying. More of you than ever before decided to grace us a day early with your presence, and by Thursday night the farm was already brimming with tents, laughter and anticipation for the weekend ahead. For 2020 we might just consider making it a week-long extravaganza… or better yet, why don’t you just come live on the farm with us year round? What’s more, for the second year in a row, a ticket to Nozstock was the hottest ticket in town – perhaps even in the whole of the West Midlands! That’s right, we sold out again – and even quicker than in 2018. Not even the heavens opening on Friday morning could hold back the hordes of welly-wearing party-people ready to make the farm their own. Dozens of Dorothies, Cowardly Lions and Tin Men came out in full force to navigate the mud and take in the sights of the Land of (N)Oz. And to say thank you for coming all that way in all that rain, we made sure to put on quite the show…
Quite fitting for the Emerald City, this year’s line-up was jewel-studded and sparkling. Much like The Wizard of Oz franchise, there was something for everyone: young or old; fans of catchy melodies, technicolour costumes or dark urban legends; big hitters or obscure talent.
Friday evening’s proceedings on the Orchard Stage kicked off with a heavy dose of nostalgia – in the form of ska pioneers The Skatalites, who, after more than five decades, still move and shake with the best of ‘em – as well as blistering political punk from veteran rage-makers The Sleaford Mods. On Saturday night, we eased our way into the evening with the bizarre and brilliant Elvana, who united old time rock ‘n’ roll fans and ‘90s grunge kids with their peculiar mash-up of Elvis and Nirvana’s biggest hits. Following swiftly on their heels, expert selector and reggae aficionado David Rodigan brought us a very special set indeed, throwing himself into the music and giving it his all on the dancefloor. Before the crowd even had a chance to catch their breath, Rudimental took to the stage with a set chock-full of unforgettable house classics mixed with their thundering brand of drum ‘n’ bass: not your average countryside hootenanny, that’s for sure.
On Sunday night Bristolian Balkan badlads The Carny Villains made a storming debut to the farm, sweeping away any cobwebs that may have accumulated after three days in a tent just in time for the legendary Soul II Soul to sing us back to reality… and what d’you know, we were blessed with a day full of sun for our troubles. Over on the Garden Stage we were joined by Nozstock veterans Natty Speaks, CW Jones and Pengshui, ushering in the weekend before a mega Friday night of hip-hop wordsmithery and more bass than you know what to do with from the likes of the Ghetto Funk Allstars, Featurecast and A.Skillz. A particular Garden highlight was Gardna and Eva Lazarus’s early evening Saturday set, whose infectious hip-hop collaborations had the crowds on their feet and dancing ready for another late night extravaganza. In time-honoured tradition, Sunday night’s Garden headliners went hard enough to bring down the (metaphorical) house, with Noz regulars Chris Tofu, Natty Speaks, Ed Solo and Octo Pi paving the way for legendary sets from rave scene godfather DJ Randall and drum ‘n’ bass wizard Turno.
Nozzers who wandered off the beaten path were rewarded hidden delights, eccentric performances and some brand-spanking-new additions to the farm. The Altered State – Nozstock’s go-to zone for all things crafty, quirky and mind-bending; home to the Department of Cultural Affairs – went from strength to strength in its second year. Citizens entering the State discovered, at the top of the hill, the Slippery Slope: Nozstock’s first fully solar-powered stage (but definitely not its last!). The Slippery Slope was home to creation and discussion all weekend – as well as a bike-powered boozy smoothie bar. The Altered State also welcomed representatives from Extinction Rebellion, who were on hand throughout the weekend with workshops and wisdom, encouraging Nozzers to create their own Green Pledges. Meanwhile, Eva Lazarus became the latest star to make her mark on Celebritree Avenue, in the annual celebrity tree-planting ceremony. The Department of Cultural Affairs was back, bigger and better than ever, with a grander frontage befitting the talks, classes and lofty ideas it housed throughout the weekend. By day, visitors to the Department learnt how to dance Northern Soul-style, participated in discussions about mental health, and got to grips with the basics of poetry and British Sign Language. By night, the finest comedians in the land were invited to teach us a thing or two about funny-bones and how best to tickle them: Reginald D Hunter made a triumphant return to the farm, joined by Canadian funnyman Phil Nichol, London’s finest Dane Baptiste and, of course, the irrepressible Phil Kay improv-singing his way into our hearts. Nozstock is the kind of festival you turn up at expecting a drink and a laugh with your mates, and come away as a hardened eco-warrior with newly-learnt wood-carving skills and some impressive new dance moves. That’s just how we do things here on the farm.
Up in the Dingle, everyone’s favourite unsigned, up-and-coming stage, The Bandstand, had a shiny makeover. Our beloved but battered sofas were finally allowed to retire, replaced with custom-designed and hand-built benches and awnings inspired by tropical beach shacks. The Bandstand upped the ante to match the decor, opening with yoga classes and dance workshops and ending the night with chilled acoustic sessions featuring cosy campfires for sleepy revellers to unwind to. Finally, 2019 saw some brand-new collaborations with promoters, performers, stage managers and general magic-makers who shook things up, turned them upside down and made their own mark on our little patch of land. The film fanatic team from Mockingbird Cinema debuted in the Wrong Directions Cinema Tent, bringing with them a hand-picked programme of cult classics, documentaries, psychedelic shorts and original animation, as well as immersive workshops throughout the day. Over at the revamped Bullpen, movers, shakers and party-makers from crews like UKHH, Durkle Disco and Gorilla Tactics initiated hostile takeovers of the decks and the dancefloor – audiences were powerless to resist!
Just like Dorothy eventually had to find a way back to her farm, all good things must come to an end. At Nozstock we reckon we’ve perfected the art of easing the transition from Oz back to Kansas – with a huge parade, some big bonfires and loads of fireworks, now a Sunday night tradition. Although we’ve put our ruby slippers back in the box for now, we’ll always have the write-ups and reminiscences from 2019’s reviewers to look back on and to remind us that, after all, there’s no place like Noz… roll on 2020!