I love music festivals, but had never heard of Nozstock (20-22 July 2018) until a friend mentioned it in passing to me earlier this year. Nestled deep in the Herefordshire countryside, it is located on a pretty farm near the market town of Bromyard. Nozstock is run by the father and daughter team of Pete and Ella Nosworthy. What started as a humble BBQ with a single stage in 1998 has turned into a full-blown festival extravaganza with 11 stages and a varied programme of music, comedy, cinema, traditional crafts and even burlesque. Impressed with this year’s stellar music line-up (including Chase & Status and Goldfrapp), I decided to check it out for myself.
Who goes to Nozstock?
Nozstock is a relatively small festival, accommodating around 5,000 people. The crowd is a real mix of young ravers and families, who manage to live and dance together in perfect harmony. What really struck me about Nozstock was the lovely atmosphere – people were friendly and respectful, with near-constant smiles plastered on their faces.
This comes as no surprise to Ella Nosworthy, who told The Travel Magazine: “I don’t know whether it’s because Nozstock is small, homemade or has a rustic feel, but it is different to most festivals I have attended. It is something special, like being invited by the family to a big party.” If you love fancy dress, then Nozstock is also the festival for you. Amongst the glitter-clad youth we spotted a man dressed as the TARDIS, a young woman posing as Gandalf and another chap dressed head to toe as Jim Carrey’s “The Mask”.
Nozstock is very much a camping festival, and the main campsite is located right next to the festival entrance. There is also a family camping area and “Van Haven” for live-in camping vehicles. You can cook your own food and drink your own booze in the campsites, and there’s a camping shop, welfare area and 24-hour food shop on-site.
What’s the music like at Nozstock?
We arrived late on Friday evening just in time to watch the deliciously suave ska revival band, The Selecter, whose stylish lyrics tackled everything from sexism and racism to the pressures of success. Other main stage highlights included a bonkers, foot stomping performance by the electronic veterans, the Dub Pistols, and a joyously fun hour of dancing like an ecstatic pirate to Mr Tea and the Minions. I was also pleasantly surprised by the smooth and silky voice of Jalen N’Gonda, whose music is inspired by his father’s collection of jazz, soul and hip-hop classics.
As testament to the “Nozstalgic” theme celebrating all things 80s and 90s, the main stage was built to look like a 1980s cinema, with plenty of fluorescent lighting and the headliners listed on the top of the stage like film titles. The first headliner, drum and bass prodigies Chase & Status, attracted one of the biggest crowds of the festival. The atmosphere was electric and the crowd launched into a flurry of manic dancing as soon as the first beats pumped through the speakers.
The second headliner, DJ and hip-hop artist Grandmaster Flash, was a real crowd pleaser, although I personally found his chat a little repetitive. I preferred the ethereal and surprisingly pugnacious performance by electronic duo Goldfrapp, whose lead singer Alison Goldfrapp is the queen of old-school cool.
Elsewhere, the “Garden Stage”, which was designed to look like an old fashioned games console, hosted a vast array of acts from reggae to hip-hop to jungle – a type of hardcore electronic music favoured by ravers. The Garden Stage is cleverly placed just around the corner from the main stage, so festivalgoers can easily flit between the two, and impressive acoustic design prevents any music overlap.
Though relatively small in size, Nozstock is packed with different stages, so it’s well worth getting away from the main area and experiencing music further afield. This includes the “Cabinet of Lost Secrets” stage, which can only be accessed by climbing through a tiny door and following a labyrinthine mirror maze.
The most recent addition is the interestingly named “Elephant’s Grave”, aptly decorated with elephant heads and (confusingly) a mini rollercoaster. This area was a firm favourite of the younger crowd, who spent many hours happily swaying to the rhythm of the electronic beats.
Another thing that really impressed me about Nozstock was the attention to detail. The “Nozstalgic” theme was beautifully represented by statues and paintings of fan favourites such as Super Mario, the Simpsons, Scooby Doo and Thomas the Tank Engine.
Experience has also clearly taught the Nosworthys that festivalgoers like to chill out and recover from hours of dancing, so they helpfully placed large numbers of comfy sofas in front of the stages. It was quite delightful curling up on a sofa in the sunshine, listening to the music and taking in the atmosphere.
What else is going on?
Besides the music, there’s plenty to keep the masses entertained at Nozstock. The “Department of Cultural Affairs” hosted a range of theatre, comedy, poetry and circus acts throughout the festival. My personal highlights were The Fetch, a selection of individual puppet performances by people with learning disabilities, and a fabulous late-night burlesque show with stunning performances interspersed with (family unfriendly) comedy.
For those needing a bit of rest and relaxation, the “Wrong Directions Cinema” offered a blissful escape from the heat, with lots of sofas, free popcorn and plenty of trippy art-house films. There were also various craft stalls at “The Altered State” offering art classes and wood carving for the tiniest of fees. We had fun making our own wooden mushrooms for just £2.50 a pop.
Unlike most music festivals I have attended, Nozstock makes a big effort to be child-friendly. There’s a separate family camping zone and the “Little Wonderland’s Kids Area” hosts daily activities and crafts workshops for free. They even provide bottle warming services for the tiny tots. The festival ended in style with a firework display accompanied by fire dancers and the ritual burning of the “Bowser Tower”.
Food and drink
Festivalgoers can bring their own booze to the campsites at Nozstock, but not into the festival itself. Pints of beer and cider cost as little as £3.80 and wine, cocktails and spirits are also available for a relative bargain. In an attempt to reduce plastic waste, you pay £1 for your plastic pint glass and re-use this throughout the festival (exchanging it for a clean one if you so desire).
The food at Nozstock was by far the best I have ever experienced at a festival – even our £8.00 “Bunga Bunga” burger with blue cheese from Super Tidy Burgers was worth every penny. I also loved the gloriously cheesy chips with garlic salt and chives from Pimp my Fries.
Nozstock has managed to pull off the near impossible: hosting a festival with a stellar music line-up that is both intimate and hugely atmospheric. The food is delicious, the drinks are cheap and the atmosphere is overwhelmingly positive.