Unless you’re from the new breed of permanently hydrated festival-goer that brings chia seeds to snack on at their 9am terrarium-making workshop, chances are you’ll feel a bit fragile at some point. Hardened festivallers will know the feeling: the kind of fragile where even putting on wellies to queue for breakfast can reduce you to tears. Perhaps mindful of such inevitability, festivals are turning to ambient music this summer to try to help soothe weary souls and make a sudden squall of hail seem like a friendly exfoliation from the man upstairs.
Ambient is, as its rather vague name suggests, a broad, mutable musical style, but is generally based on electronics that waft, often beatlessly, around beanbag-cuddling listeners, and was pioneered by artists like Brian Eno, Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin (when he’s not trying to soundtrack a rage blackout). It’s an ideal way to segue from 4am into the oblivion of sleep.
In the 90s, the genre rose to popularity as a mainstay of Ibiza’s beach bars and superclub chillout areas. Come 2017, however, with deep house and techno dominating music festivals, alongside the rising wellness trend, a new generation are looking for after-after-party jams that pulsate and stimulate.
Ambient classics like Midori Takada’s Through the Looking Glass are being reissued, hip labels such as Music from Memory and Lobster Sleep Sequence are now entirely devoted to the style, and there are numerous feted electronic producers like Vermont and Suzanne Kraft gaining traction with their amniotic tracks. Theirs is music that might initially sound like a playlist you’d play a nap-resistant toddler, but the more you listen, the more it unfolds. The quiet – and, whisper it, even mindful – moments it affords are what can bring your festival experience those eternally sought-after, non-specific “vibes”.
Farr festival is a woodland dance event that’s been running since 2010 and is popular with dedicated ravers. This year it’s debuting its Campfire Headphase stage – named after an album by the aforementioned Boards of Canada – featuring live ambient sets and DJs, all of it hopefully insulated from the barrage of 4/4 beats going on elsewhere. Unlike your average dance festival, where ambient areas are used to corral drooling wastrels, this stage is very much part of the party. The best of the new ambient producers, Huerco S, will be playing his brilliantly scratchy lo-fi productions. Or, if ambient abroad appeals, he’s playing at Meakusma festival in Eupen, Belgium, and at France’s Les Siestes Electroniques festival in Toulouse and Paris – which is also zen for being free.
Huerco S is ambient for the flat white generation; at Latitude however, there’s the Solas stage, full of the unfashionable end of the spectrum where chimes are winded and dreams are caught. The word “eclectronica” is used. And somewhere in the middle there is Bestival’s ambient forest, where DJs…