LOST Festival 2016: The Magic Isn’t Lost | Review

Having attended and thoroughly enjoyed last year’s event, our expectations for LOST 2016 likely differed from those of many other festivalgoers, for whom the entire experience was an entirely novel one. On our way to the collection point, from which the blacked-out coaches would take us to a secret woodland location, we couldn’t help but wonder how magical it would all be second time round.

If there’s one thing you take away from this review, let it be that these doubts were unfounded.

Clambering into our overalls after disembarking at the LOST site, memories and excitement came flooding back in equal measure. The disco soundtrack floating out from the woods helped us retain composure as we desperately struggled to piece together the faulty tent we had brought with us, but once that was done, our 24 hour experience could begin. For the next day we had not a worry in the world (until we had to take the damn thing down again).

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LOST wasn’t about rushing between stages to make sure you don’t miss certain acts, it was about immersing yourself in the woods and enjoying what you find. Escapism is central to the experience, with everything unbranded and no phones allowed. The lack of clear lineup information felt almost like an escape from time itself. This was also somewhat reflected in the crowd, mostly in their twenties, with real problems to escape from, not just GCSE results. In fact, the crowd – referred to by the festival as participants – truly made the event through their complete engagement, throwing paint around and getting involved with the art installations. The Paint Bar ran not on cash or drinks tokens but on individual negotiations between participants and organisers, whether that was performing a party trick or sharing a secret. The notion of creativity as currency was yet another layer of artistic escapism.

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Indeed, founder Jodie Powell’s inspiration for the festival came from the art perspective, having presented an interactive art piece as her degree show project at Edinburgh College of Art in which participants were invited to throw shot glasses of paint at a blank-canvas bedroom. Breaking down the barriers of a stuffy gallery environment is the ultimate aim of LOST, and on the arts side, this was achieved to an unprecedented extent. Gallery-style vitrines containing woodland objects; a graffitied maze with torn walls leading to a portrait photography studio; an electronic space tunnel whose lighting was controlled by participants; all in the LOST woods. For us, Kivu was particularly memorable. Established by a group of artists who created childlike paintings to fool a property inspector that they were a family living with a child named Kivu, their outdoor studio teased the artist out of everyone, cementing this with the tagline We are all Kivu.

LOST is set apart from most UK festivals by the fact that art is at the forefront, but with Bestival founder Rob Da Bank on the line-up, music did not take a back seat. After spending some time chilling out at the Discofunk stage during one of the longer bouts of sunshine, we headed over to the main stage for a totally different experience. A grime and garage set in broad daylight at four in the afternoon in the middle of the woods? Why not. Just like last year, LOST was acutely aware of the fact that it didn’t need to explain itself, pushing participants’ questions towards interaction with others and with art, away from set times and song IDs.

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Rob Da Bank’s set traversed everything from Fatman Scoop’s Be Faithful and Melé’s Ambiance to Womack and Womack’s Teardrops and Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al. An eclectic selector for an eclectic festival. Not far from the main stage was the Wendy House – a rave-shed with a grand capacity of five – and the Greenstone stage, curated by the organisers of Greenstone Festival. Under a small canopy and with hay bales as seats, this alternative stage hosted bands and acoustic performers, a perfect break from the dance music that dominated the rest of the festival. As the night set in, BARE’s main stage set kept the crowd moving, and the DJs that followed demonstrated an incredibly fine-tuned selection of rare grooves.

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A highlight of the LOST experience was being able to freely roam between the stages and art pieces throughout the day and night on the small site. Everything was in reach. It felt entirely appropriate that the space tunnel was situated by the Discofunk stage, and after another boogie we rested our legs beneath its canopy of colourful electric stars. A visit to the aptly named Zen Den followed. Beneath its billowing white ribbons, the conversations between participants – once total strangers – affirmed the friendliness of the festival and it’s attendees. For us, the festival ended by another art piece, a set of decks and projectors nestled deeper into the woods, soundtracked by James Brown and Rakim.

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It is also worth highlighting the vital role of the LOST volunteers in making the festival as welcoming as it was. It does take a certain charm to convince people onto a blacked out bus, destination unknown. “Friendly and like-minded” may sound like a cliché more appropriate for an online dating website than a festival, but having found out that two participants who met at LOST 2015 are now engaged, who are we to argue?

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In all, our return to LOST did not disappoint. Art clearly took the forefront this time round and made for an incredibly immersive experience, to which we eagerly await returning next year.

Words by Andrei Sandu. Photos by Khris Cowley for Here & Now. View Here & Now’s full set of almost four hundred photos from the festival here.