Equinox marked the final major party I had planned for 2023 as the festival season concluded.
Though I had heard positive reviews, I had never experienced it firsthand, so my expectations were high yet uncertain.
Located close to Grimsby during the final days of September, Equinox Festival provides a last opportunity for punks, hippies, and ravers in the UK to come together and enjoy an expansive outdoor experience before the arrival of winter.
Located in the north Lincolnshire Wolds, this venue is nestled within an ancient chalk quarry resembling a hollowed-out hill. From here, one can enjoy breathtaking vistas towards the north and east, overlooking the scenic countryside. Observant visitors may even spot ships sailing along the nearby Humber Estuary, and on clear days, glimpse wind turbines dotting the sea.
The site was beautifully decorated with charming painted fences, and vibrant festoon lighting connected everything. Art adorned every corner, featuring an intricate willow structure welcoming attendees at the main entrance, along with portraits of renowned artists and musicians lining the path into the festival. Upon entering, more visually appealing elements emerged, such as towering mushrooms and a striking blue moon that commanded the landscape. A captivating tumbledown structure served as the visual centerpiece for the entire arena.
The diverse food vendors filled the air with delightful aromas of cooked meat and spices, providing an extensive selection of street foods at remarkably affordable prices. A decent hotdog priced at £5 in 2023 is truly impressive. In addition to the food stalls, craftsmen and traders showcased their talents and merchandise, featuring wood crafting, jewelry, musical instruments, and even a circus shop.
In spite of the thriving business, Equinox Festival 2023 remained remarkably free from corporate capitalism. The vendors consisted solely of small independent enterprises, offering reasonably priced products in line with festival standards. There were no intrusive advertisements or blaring pop music assaulting your senses, preserving a sense of freedom within the atmosphere. Unlike many events, Equinox didn’t feel like it was exploiting people or solely focused on maximizing profits; instead, active participation was required to contribute to the overall experience.
The crowd displayed various styles like dreadlocks, undercuts, tattoos, and piercings, spanning across different age groups. It included local youngsters seeking a night of fun and long-time punks who embraced the punk culture from its inception. Attire generally leaned towards a natural aesthetic, with dark or vibrant colors prevailing and anarchistic choices embraced whenever possible. Bucket hats were rarely seen.
Equinox’s profound anti-capitalist ethos permeated the music as well. The lineup consisted predominantly of festival favorites and emerging talents who resided firmly within the alternative realm. The live performances primarily showcased a diverse range of punk artists, encompassing various subgenres within the rebellious genre. Besides the punk scene, the dub and reggae community made a notable presence, alongside a considerable representation of folk and hip-hop artists on Equinox’s stages.
Multiple spacious tents catered specifically to ravers. Among them, the Lunar Stage solely showcased the art of Drum and Bass. Packed with enthusiastic dancers throughout the night, this stage became a sanctuary for those seeking untamed and lively experiences. Alternatively, for those desiring a more serene and hypnotic ambiance, the Sunrise stage offered psytrance rhythms that encouraged people to gracefully move and whirl through the night.
The act I remember most clearly is One Eyed God. Struck by tragedy shortly after their Friday gig when founding member Buz passed away suddenly, the band’s final performance as a complete unit was an unforgettable tour de force. Tight as fuck, offering happy, bouncy energy, and a simple, powerful sound, One Eyed God’s show was an example of what ska punk can be when its core elements are perfect. As word spread on-site about the death, many musicians dedicated a tune and a few words to their departed comrade, with the festival acting as something of an impromptu wake for the fallen punk rock hero.
Other heavy acts which shined on the first day included One Eyed God’s ska-punk peers Filthy Militia, whose horn and sax combined to create a really full rich sound, and Buff, a grindingly powerful hardcore “space punk” band, whose message of “eat the rich” meshed perfectly with their roaring screamed vocals. Offering a counterpoint to the heavy, loud Buff, Fidget and the Twitchers added a keytar and flute to the typical ska punk assembly and played a slightly brighter, more absurdist flavour of ska.
From a psychedelia point of view, the Friday at Equinox had us sorted too. On the main stage, Gong started off fairly calming, with a gentle and jazzy prog rock sound. This developed throughout the set, with the performance’s intensity growing and growing until it was almost overwhelming. While they are definitely trippy hippy BS, I liked it a lot, and it is clearly amazing for spinning flow toys.
Offering a very different approach to psychedelia, Friday was also graced with the presence of Spacehopper. Long known for mixing trance, dub, and live guitars, this trio created a rolling ocean of luscious delicious space rock on the Sunrise Stage. A perfect fit for this trippy little venue, the Equinox crowd loved their show, with many dancing like mad throughout the band’s entire set. Unfortunately for psychedelic guitar music lovers, Spacehopper clashed with psychedelic festival legends Ozric Tentacles. Given the crossover of fans, this can’t have been anything but a mistake from the organisers and probably should have been caught and put right before the event went ahead.
One last Friday act worth mentioning was Cara Means Friend. Playing reggae infused folk on an acoustic guitar, her performance was unlike anything I’ve seen before, and has potentially opened up a whole new genre for me. Of particular note was her final emotional cover of The Whole of the Moon, in honor of her late father, which was wonderful.
Saturday offered even more than Friday, with a jam-packed schedule of top-grade artists— The first act which caught my eye was Panda and the Moniums, a balkan-esqe festival folk band with hip-hop elements, bizarre lyrics, and a didgeridoo. Reminiscent of Mobius Loop, the band had a grateful energy, and the leading lady sported a powerful and interesting voice, both when rapping and singing.
Following Panda I caught another Ska-punk band, this one called Skiprat, whose metal-style solos were an interesting change from the genre’s typical approach. After their performance, I journeyed to the Big Dub Tent, to see Doozer McDooze. Essentially, playing pop punk on a single acoustic guitar, he sings a nice mix of deeply personal and yet universal songs, many of which are genuinely very funny in a pretty self-aware way. He also tried to convince a member of the crowd to buy us all shots, which was brilliant, albiet less successful than I would have liked.
After Doozer I stumbled into Legs On Wheels. This band was as strange as their name and played a funky kind of prog rock which seemed to be messing with polyrhythms and strange new melodies. Another prog-rock band which caught my attention were the Space Falcons. Kinda bluesy, with driving, chugging guitars and drums, this band was never stagnant and had a bright, sparkling stage presence, matching their upbeat fiddle line. Their music features mostly spoken word, or vocalisation-based voice sounds taking it even further away from a traditional sound but by damn, it works.
Equinox Festival’s 2023 Saturday headliner was Neville Staple, of The Specials fame and his fantastic band. As close as you can get to a Specials gig in the modern day, Staple and his gang have great energy on stage and are as tight as a vice. It is wonderful he is keeping the legacy of two-tone going. Mega hits, including “Message to You Rudy”, “Monkey Man”, “Ghost Town”, and “The End” were singalong spectaculars for almost everyone in the audience. If you like ska, you owe it to yourself to see the Neville Staple Band live.
The final act I caught on Saturday was Boom Boom Racoon. Now, this trio were really exciting because they’re the first third-wave folk punk band I’ve heard of who hail from the UK. Clearly taking inspiration from Dayz N Daze, these guys are silly and self-effacing, but still deeply political. If you’re inclined towards anarchism, don’t take yourself too seriously, and not a copper, you’ll probably love it.
Beyond the music, the festival had a bunch of other exciting things going on. The Foolhardy Circus had put up their big top and were offering shows and classes, while a central area played host to a fantastic fire performance every night. This incredible show featured the performance troupe Piratechnics, among many other skilled performers.
I witnessed three different groups exploring the festival: a bunch of eccentric grandmothers, stiltwalkers, and robots. Although Equinox isn’t known for its intense acting, their modest effort in this aspect truly matters. Such groups have a significant influence on attendees’ festival experiences, often becoming cherished memories that stand out even years later.
Sunday turned out to be an exploratory journey for me, with just one known event on the schedule. Upon waking up, it was evident that Autumn had arrived, and the season was nearing its conclusion. The sky was gloomy, filled with clouds, giving an apocalyptic vibe. Donning my coat, I wished for the rain to hold off as I ventured forward, striving to maintain a positive mindset.
Starting off in the early afternoon I caught Featherteeth. Progressive and ethereal, this band looked like punks, but really didn’t sound like it, instead fitting the soundscape stage’s name perfectly. Following Featherteeth, I saw the Majestic who played sweet roots reggae. With a rich mellow warm tone like the crackle of a vinyl record on a sunny day, the lead singer, an older Jamaican dude named Baba Ras, ordered us to dance to get warm, battling the dark and cold of the sky with his band’s wonderful bright energy.
After that wonderful infusion of reggae into my life, I caught an act named Mental Block. Now Mental Block is psychedelic dub, but is not psydub. The difference is substantial, as the dub part is emphasised, while the psy part resembles psychedelic rock, more than the psytrance and ambient music psydub is based on. I very much enjoyed this band and they were very good, but occasionally I found the most obvious ragga elements to their sound to not add much to their feel.
Still at the Soundscape stage, I next encountered Brewers’ Daughter. Initially singing a song focusing on our country’s malaise, as spoken through the metaphor of our decaying waterways, her deep dark voice enchanted, as a crowd gathered to sit staring on dumb-struck. Using her fiddle, guitar, and extremely distinctive voice, Brewers’ Daughter is one of the most exciting and interesting folk acts I’ve ever seen, able to enchant and haunt in equal measure.
After seeing Brewers Daughter, I followed the crowd to the main Crispy Disco Stage. It seemed people were going to see something called RDF. Now, I didn’t know RDF, the Radical Dance Faction, before this show and somehow I feel like I should have. Performing on and off since 1987, The RDF plays what sounds like dub and ska, stripped of many of its ragga elements. These are replaced with a thick layer of crusty, traveler, and free party culture and the resulting sound goes pretty damn hard, with the dark spoken word lyrics pairing really well with the ever-so-slightly haunting dub instrumentation.
The next band I saw, Kangaroo Moon, offered something completely different. Essentially a bunch of old hippies playing danceable folk really fast, the band fuses traditional Celtic elements with Australian psychedelia. Think Jerry Garcia got lost in Cork for a decade, before being dumped in the outback for another.
The final act, and stalwarts of the UK ska punk scene, Inner Terrestrials offered a pure blast of British resistance culture. Embodying the crusty movement, and its disdain for the norms mainstream society tries to force on it, the band strongly resonated with the Equinox audience. Much heavier than most ska punk, the Inner Terrestrials go very hard— their classic punk rock cover of the traveler’s song “Movin On” went down a particular storm.
Now, this leads onto the feel of the festival as a whole— At Equinox, the survival of the spirit of free festival crusty culture is undeniable. Probably close to half the people in attendance identify as travellers, or traveller-adjacent in some way. While some might find this intimidating, for many, the experience is invigorating. It feels like a brief hiatus from the grip of capitalism, where the anarchists reign and the mundane confines of the “system” dissolve. Attendees describe it as stepping out of “the matrix” or sensing a “thinner veil”, and while I’m not so spiritually inclined, I certainly sensed a unique psychogeography, which bigger, more corporate events cannot hope to mimic.
Equinox may not appeal to everyone. If you enjoy traditional music or don’t resonate with punk, folk, prog, ska, psytrance, or DnB, this might not be the right event for you. However, for those who lean towards anticapitalism and appreciate music that reflects such perspectives, Equinox offers a unique haven away from the omnipresent globalist corporate culture.