‘Running for 25 years, Nozstock is a festival with practically everything worked out just perfect. Nestled amid a beautiful, well-managed site, with a diverse and exciting lineup and a wonderfully friendly crowd, I feel like you can ask for little more from an event.’ – TheFestivals.uk
Our 25th birthday, filled with legendary acts, a legendary crowd – and legendary downpours of rain … Nozstock 2023 isn’t one we’ll be forgetting in a hurry.
For a while we’d been longing to tackle an underwater theme – we just weren’t quite sure how it would be possible to turn our lush, grassy Farm into the bottom of the ocean. As always, our mighty decor team put even our wildest imaginations to shame, with many attendees and even crew dubbing it their favourite year for decor yet.
From the rippling waves washing over the gate that welcomed you into the arena, to the giant crab overlord keeping a watchful gaze over the Orchard Stage, to the gaping jaw of the sea monster about to swallow the Garden Stage whole, to the fish bones the Bandstand was safely nestling in and the whale come to pay his respects at the Elephant’s Grave: just about every species of underwater flora and fauna was represented. Of course, that’s before we even get onto the costumes our creative crowd put together for the occasion: from deep-sea divers to full scuba suits to the odd mermaid or two, you dared go where no human has ever gone before – 20,000 acres under the sea.
After giving us blissful sunshine on Friday, Mother Nature decided she wanted to get in on the theme-based fun – in the form of an almost solid day of rain on the Saturday of the festival. Although it felt like we might all need to make a swift escape in the Cabinet of Lost Secrets – which was transformed into a submarine for the occasion – we girded our loins. The construction team distributed a heretofore unseen quantity of woodchip around the site; we all scrambled for our raincoats; and instead of running for the cover of their tents, thousands of Nozzers grooved, skanked and partied through the rain and mud. One thing’s for sure – we weren’t going to let a little bit of water get in the way of a good time.
And what a good time it was! From Thursday afternoon through to the wee hours of Sunday night, the finest musicians, DJs, and performers dazzled our senses all across the Farm. Kicking things off with a bang on Thursday, the crafty UV wizards from Hummadruz treated us to a fire labyrinth deep in the Altered State. A crowd gathered to witness an elemental battle between fire and water, complete with fire dancers and pounding bass – and the bravest of them even walked through the winding labyrinth and emerged unscathed.
It wasn’t just Nozstock that was celebrating a milestone birthday. Hip-hop – one of our favourite genres on the Farm – turned 50 years old in 2023. Who better to celebrate with than Grandmaster Flash, a Nozstock institution, innovator and legend in his own right, who guided us through 5 decades of hip-hop history on Friday night on the Orchard Stage. Kiwi genre-benders – and some might say the quintessential festival band – Fat Freddy’s Drop have been on our wish list for years, so it was truly a dream to see them minister to the crowds on Saturday night, hanging on their every note no matter how heavy the rainfall got. On Sunday night, the Orchard Stage played host to one of reggae’s most iconic acts, The Wailers – and despite the mud on our boots and the weariness in our bones, their set jam-packed with legendary tunes and infectious energy had us feeling very irie indeed. Over the weekend, extra-special MCs also paid tribute to Syph, a much-loved and much-missed member of the Nozstock family who some of you may know for his iconic pink boilersuit and Orchard Stage announcements.
As always at Nozstock, if you headed off in search of fun and mischief around the rest of the Farm, you were sure to find some. Our revamped Craft Area in the Altered State was certainly feeling the love. What a treat it was to see dozens of families and revelers learning new skills, from circus tricks, the art of graffitiing, woodwork, and even bike-pedal-powered smoothie making – or just stretching out, watching aerial performers and enjoying the sun on the slope (while it lasted…). Speaking of slopes, our brand new Slippery Slope stage was in full swing all weekend; from beatboxing workshops to paint fights and party games – as well as a northern soul takeover from the Night Owl into the small hours each night – you could have spent the whole festival there (and no doubt some did). As they do every year, our team in the Cabinet of Lost Secrets absolutely smashed it out of the park. Nozzers who dared uncover the Cabinet’s secrets enjoyed, among other things, a very special surprise set from Year of the Dog, as well as sets from the finest funk and soul DJs while sipping on a fortifying beverage from possibly the only Buckfast bar this side of the Pennines.
If you made your way down to the bottom of the Altered State, the Department of Cultural Affairs beckoned you in to take part in any number of mysterious goings-on. The finest comedians and performance artists showcased their talents, including a one-man session on primary school nostalgia and which hymns were the biggest bangers (gotta be Shine Jesus Shine, let’s be realistic) from James B Partridge, and Lachlan Werner’s hour-long show combining clowning, burlesque, puppetry ventriloquism and … occult rituals?! – who needs the flippin’ Fringe? We’ve got it all here in Hereford, baby.
As darkness fell, things got a little freakier in the Department, thanks to a brand-new takeover from Grounded Circus who brought a heavy dose of burlesque, boylesque, drag, aerial skills and mind-boggling circus tricks in their Late-Night Cabaret. On Saturday, we even had a queen presiding over our Cultural Affairs: that’s right, star of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, the legendary Copper Topp graced us with her royal presence as the MC for Grounded Circus’s Queer as F*ck Cabaret. What happens in the Cabaret, stays in the Cabaret – let’s just say it involved Backstreet Boys, some of the bendiest bodies in the biz, and plenty of cake.
Way over on the other side of the Farm, our electronic stages kept the party going way into the small hours. Girls ruled over the Bullpen in 2023. Those lucky enough to be in our disused milking parlour on Saturday night witnessed a takeover full of feline fun from Bristol’s own Kitten Club, who brought us six mega hours of everything from dancehall, garage, bassline, dub, house and techno. 2022’s DJ Noz winner DJ Stez blew us all away with her performance the first time round, so we simply had to invite her back for a second year with a set chock full of stompin’ d ‘n’ b and ragga. Meanwhile in the Cubicles, Nozstock favourites Hospitality Records returned with an expertly curated showcase of their finest talent, proving once again why they’ve come to be known as some of the best party-makers in the biz. And those who made it down to the Elephant’s Grave on Sunday evening were richly rewarded with a Stupendously Super Silly Sunday Disco from Data Transmission. Power duo Ron Mexico and Hobbs were once again steering the ship through an ocean of disco, 90s house and classic anthems to keep tired feet moving until the sun set.
But the real magic of Nozstock 2023 lay in those spontaneous moments that programmers couldn’t have dreamt up; if you polled every one of the thousands of attendees, they would have a different stand-out memory. For some it would be DJ Marky on the Garden Stage on Sunday night, pulling Pete Noz onstage for an impromptu thank you after the half-past midnight curfew, promising an enraptured crowd that he’d be back for more in 2024. For others it might have been watching Beans on Toast orchestrate a mid-set proposal between two crowd members (she said yes!). Yet more might mention catching an improvised, loop-pedal version of God Gave Rock and Roll To You as they wandered past The Bandstand in the pouring rain. Honourable mention goes to the many amazing food vendors who came to line our bellies for all that dancing. From tucking into a special The Wailers x Beefy Boys mushroom burger as the sun set, to fuelling up at The Muffin Man of a morning, we ate like kings of our own underwater world.
Taking stock of Noz 2023, we can truly say that we made some amazing memories, some new pals, and most of all, we made Syph proud. As always, it wouldn’t have been possible without the best crew in the biz, the legendary acts who travelled all the way to our little corner of the world, and the lovely Nozstockers who were willing to take the plunge 20,000 acres under the sea with us…