LeeFest 2016 review

We went down to LeeFest 2016: The Neverland on the 28-31 Jul – read on to see what we thought in our LeeFest 2016 Review.

During the summer of 2006, Lee Denny’s parents left him alone in the house with one rule: do not have a party. 16 and defiant, Lee sought a loophole in his parent’s ruling – and thus LeeFest was born.

What started as a tiny gathering in a back garden soon snowballed, and ten years later, the festival is far from slowing down. Having earnt a strong reputation for innovative debauched rebellion, LeeFest has grown rapidly over the last decade, gaining widespread acclaim in recent years thanks to winning ‘Best Grassroots Festival’ at the UK Festival Awards and ‘Best Festival’ at the Association of Independent Music Awards. Maybe you’ve seen the festival featured in Android’s 2015 advert. With its fierce sense of independence and support for new music much akin to our own here at BN1, we decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about.

Set deep in the Kent countryside (somewhere between Edenbridge and Tonbridge), LeeFest promised a world of rebellion, and it certainly delivered – every inch of The Neverland written in flamboyant fairytale madness. Themed everything Peter Pan, from its three transcendent zones to the sublime main stages, the family friendly atmosphere of the festival was palpable – the level of daytime debauchery being perfect for the U16 crowd. By sundown, however, LeeFest told a whole different story…

The main arena, The Neverwoods, had pretty much everything you would expect from an indie festival: two stages (Bangarang and Tootles Circus), a plethora of catering options and plenty of activities. “A place of tranquility, nourishment and well-being”, said the leaflet given to festivalgoers. Honestly, we’re not sure how much it delivered on the “tranquility” vibes – joint hangovers still being suffered terribly across the board – but the homemade lemonade and jerk fries soon did us right. Aside from the music (we’ll come onto that later), common favourites in The Neverwoods were the activities held throughout the day. Watching people run full pelt at one another with giant inflatable balls engulfing their upper halves, then bouncing almost twice as far apart as when they’d started, made for easy entertainment.

LeeFest 2016 Review
Images Andrew Benge

Next door at Mermaid’s Lagoon may have been a little more low-key on the music front, but the makers behind LeeFest more than made up for it with the details, presenting a peek into the sleek high-life of Club Tropicana glam. If you’ve never seen a hot tub at a festival, head to LeeFest next year; Mermaid’s Lagoon was all about pushing the limits of reality in the most flamboyant and lively ways possible, and we don’t doubt the Wonderland crew (with their 10 years experience throwing extraordinary parties for charity) will be letting up any time soon. Sadly, we missed the glitter wrestling, but imagine it was probably the most wonderfully camp thing you could imagine.

If Mermaid’s Lagoon was the Neverwood’s chic older sister, then Skull Ridge was definitely the black horse of the family. Dark and dystopian, Skull Ridge offered a living embodiment of shadowy fantasies – Hook’s Rock, with its cellar bar and ramshackle pit, being where only the blackest of souls comes out to play. Keeping akin to the festival’s childlike inclinations, the old-skool Nintendo fans amongst us may have squealed in appreciation upon discovery of the Pieces of 8-bit tent, which offered an arcade of retro computer games to choose from. However, it was empty, and we couldn’t help but wonder whether the £10 pass to enter had put people off. Although it could just as easily have been something else, because nobody really goes to a music festival to play Donkey Kong 64… Do they?

As for the music, really, it was a cracking lineup. However, this only seemed to bring its own predicament: while on the one hand, LeeFest is a fantastic indie festival that we want to see take huge strides and grow each year, on the other, we found the festival the perfect size to flit between sets and meander the pesky clashes of the day. Because while we know we can’t have it all, part of us will always want to, and couldn’t help but begrudge those schedules for just not making any sense (aside from the 3.30pm start times, which we’re sure we’re not alone in praising for allowing hangovers to subside). The brilliant Clean Cut Kid clashed with soloist Will Joseph Cook (well, will he?); award-winning North London rapper Little Simz clashed with Oscar, and grunge trio Dinosaur Pile-Up clashed with Spring King. It was worse on the Saturday, with Queen Kwong and The Big Moon clashing completely – and playing opposite ends of the festival site – but somehow we managed to keep it together until the secret headliner, Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes, closed the weekend.

LeeFest 2016 Review
Images Andrew Benge

Despite a massively jam-packed weekend of seeing various members of costumed crew chasing, running and fighting their way around the festival (sometimes entertaining, sometimes annoying – hello, I’m trying to see the stage here), we’re disappointed to admit we still hadn’t met Lee. Where was our eponymous hero? Even Clean Cut Kid hadn’t met Lee. Perhaps they’d made him up. We guess we’ll just have to go again next year to find out (and maybe you should too).


BN1 attended LeeFest 2016: The Neverland from Fri 29 – Sat 30 Jul. LeeFest 2017 is scheduled for Thu 27 – Sat 29 Jul 2017. Keep an eye on LeeFest’s website here for more details.

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