What purpose is there, if any, for an "immersive festival experience" in a forest?
Photo by Andy George
Before I knew Lost Village, Lost Village knew me. First it found me on my Instagram feed, revealing itself as a sponsored square of impossibly well lit dancers in a mystery woodland setting. Then a friend at work mentioned it. Then my housemate said that she'd bought a ticket. A festival food list I was scrolling through on the bus noted their vegan waffles. I heard something about Nina Kraviz playing. Wherever I went, Lost Village was there—an unknowable apparition of a music festival. Possibly in a forest; definitely less than two hour's train ride from London.
When I eventually give into my curiosity and google it, the Lost Village website states that it's an "immersive festival experience." A video autoplays on the home page, splicing Blair Witch-style footage of trees with DJ performances and fire dancers. I skim the "Story" page, which informs me that "once a year, curious minds come together, venturing into this long forgotten forest on a journey for answers." I'm distracted by a sidebar that takes me to the Lake of Tranquility (basically Glasto's Healing Fields), and another that lists the "mouthwatering" food vendors and "creative workshops" on offer over the weekend. One button redirects to Bathing Under the Sky, an area of the festival that for £35 plus booking fee, affords you the pleasure of sitting in a wood-fired hot tub while drinking Prosecco. It takes me ten minutes to find any information on the lineup but it doesn't matter, I've already decided that I'm going.
Of course I am. Everything about Lost Village—the yoga, Nina, the bougie street food, the wood-fired hot tubs for chrissake—is designed to appeal to me, a mid-twenties millennial willing to drop £100+ on pingers and any kind of activity I can post on social media with a praise hands emoji. Along with Secret Garden Party and Wilderness, Lost Village joins a recent crop of British festivals that incorporate food, wellness, and the arts into what would have traditionally been a music-focused event. It's not just about who's playing, it's the overall vibe, y'know?
At least that's the impression I get from Lost Village founders Jay Jameson and Andy George, who I speak to over the phone a few weeks before descending into their forgotten forest.
"It became clear that there was a formula lots of people were applying to festivals," Jameson said. "Everything was looking very cute and colorful, very village fête. Our feeling was that it's kind of pointless to do something that other people are doing really well, so decided to go much darker in the way the festival looked and felt. We wanted to go heavily down the surreal experience rather than the fluffy, DayGlo, happy-go-lucky kind of thing."
He added: "We take the surreal feeling that you'd have at any festival and we try to crank it up. You could be sober and it could be one in the afternoon and we're still giving people experiences that feel otherworldly and totally surreal."
When I arrive at Lost Village on the August bank holiday weekend it's 3 PM, and while I'm not entirely sober, thanks to a lukewarm bottle of rosé passed around in the wristband queue, I can see what Jameson is getting at. They've really gone to town on the forgotten forest thing. The site covers a lake as well as a wooded area, and stages have names like "The Junkyard," "Burial Ground," and "Abandoned Chapel"; each accessorised with the appropriate broken-down car, totem figure, or crucifix. Actors in face paint and archaic dress occasionally make an appearance, hired by the festival to play the village's "native inhabitants."
Needless to say, it all looks fucking great on Instagram. As I snap a pic of the lake glimmering in the late afternoon sun, I remember Jameson telling me that this was "not in a calculated way where the whole thing was designed for being on Instagram, but it was always in the back of our minds."
If Lost Village's aesthetic is designed for the 'gram, its lineup is made to live in shaky videos of bass drops, uploaded to Stories for your techno fuckboi ex to see. Big hitters like Dixon, Gerd Janson, and Ben UFO all deliver beefy sets, while smaller experimental acts including Smerz and Let's Eat Grandma seem right at home in the intimate woodland setting. Moderat headline the Sunday but "Running" gets sampled throughout the weekend, making it feel even better when it finally comes on closing night. The song of the festival, however, is undoubtedly Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much." I hear it remixed almost as many times as I see a Patagonia t-shirt or geometric shape tattoo.
But it's away from the music that Lost Village really goes hard on immersing its attendees. The "Institute of Curious Minds" tent hosts a series of panel discussions, ranging from the wellness orientated ("Meditation: Integration & What Is It?" "Raw Self Realisation") to the basic ("How to Be a Boss at Being Single") and then just one morning when a guy named Daryl does three talks in a row about vibes and "conflicts of compassion." Elsewhere, there are hourly yoga sessions and dream catcher workshops, and on the last night, anyone with the Lost Village app on their phone gets a notification telling them that something is about to happen on the lake. It's a surprise firework display.
I'm not sure how to feel about all this. Such heavy curation of extracurricular activities chips away at the spontaneous, hedonistic soul of what a music festival should be. We've seen it before at weird Wes Anderson-ified festivals like Camp Wildfire; they aim to recreate the genuinely trippy shit you'd find in the weirder, arty corners of Glasto but ultimately come off as sanitised, social media-baiting events for rich people.
When I asked the founders about the place of dreamcatchers and wellness at a music festival, George innocently brushed it off a way to incorporate a range of interests into the weekend: "It's easy to say there's a trend of festivals going this way, but what we're trying to do is bring an element of what we're passionate about in life and replicate it at the festival."
At some point in the early hours of Monday morning, my friend and I start talking about Wholesome Memes. I'm not sure if it's just the weird avenues that conversations veer into after three days of no sleep and dodgy 3G but in 2017, nothing feels more soothing to the zeitgeist than a picture of Spongebob spliced with a friendly reminder to support your friends and stay hydrated, or a happy Pokemon character announcing that "you are a complete & interesting person on ur own".
And the more I think about it in my sleep deprived state, the more I come to think Lost Village might be the Wholesome Memes of festivals. No self-aware marketing campaign, no elitist lineup. Just a magical forgotten forest filled with woodland characters and disco remixes. And in this world of uncertainty and impending nuclear war and people who like to shit on "Blackbird," maybe that's okay.
You can find Phoebe on Twitter.