It’s the day of Flesh, the UK’s first queer camping festival, and I’m up at 8AM. After riding a taxi, train, bus and trekking through the grass while carrying a hiking backpack that protrudes well over my head, we finally arrive at Springfield Farm, our home for the next two days. We’re surrounded by nettles and pollen and, hayfever aside, everyone seems happy to be in nature away from the city.
“How does it feel to be at an all-queer techno festival?” I ask a group near us, after setting up our tents. “Free. Fun. It’s nice that there’s one in the UK finally, because the only other one I’ve been to is Whole Festival in Berlin,” says Jacob, 24. “It feels like a good step for queerness in the UK, I guess.”
One dose of mushrooms later and I’m running down to one of the freshly-erected stages for a dance. The mood around 3PM is ecstatic. People are dancing beside the speakers in their best fits: barefoot, in heels, fashion queers with big sunglasses on and hippies in hemp clothes.
“It’s nice seeing all the different queers in one place,” Jenny, 29, tells me. Twenty-three-year-old Loyin adds: “The crowd is absolutely giving.” Rohail, 30, travelled by themselves from Berlin. They tell me that Flesh is “probably the most beautiful festival for queer people around”.
Later on that night, however, there’s a vibe shift. I’m at LSDXOXO’s set, dancing and feeling mesmerised by the sexy dancers on stage. Out of nowhere, the security team walk up to the stage and demand the performers get off. “Where are the festival organisers?” I wonder, and look around at other people who are equally confused. Over the weekend, this isn’t the first time I hear of the security team being overly aggressive.
On Sunday morning, Harriet, 26, tells me in outrage, “They randomly raided like two tents yesterday. There’s security everywhere!”
Leila, 26, agrees: “They could have just made it so much more pleasant. It just feels a bit, I don’t know…”
“This festival could have been amazing because queer people need this,” says a 33-year-old punter, Anna. “Queer people need space away from heteronormative bullshit that we have to put with every single day. We need a space where we can be our free connected selves. I just don’t feel that is the ethos of what this place wants to build.”
Overall, opinions are divided. Despite getting no sleep, Cal, 26, tells me, “I really like how much of the community wanted to show up and support everybody. I think it’s such a feat for a startup festival. I just love the energy that got brought here. The energy’s pretty good still and the smoke machines are getting me in the mood!”
Wax Wings, an artist playing the festival, is also having a great time. “There’s been so much work that’s been put into this,” he says. “As queer people we kind of need spaces and visibility, you know? It’s just an incredible platform for everyone to showcase themselves.”
I catch up with Jenny again on Sunday and ask her how she’s feeling. “A bit sore from the dancing. Also, the coffee queue was an hour and the shower was cold. Here was the tipping point between me feeling not scammed and feeling scammed: My final drink of the night was a £6 Foster’s and it was warm to the touch. It was like a hot drink!”
Jenny tells me that representatives from ASOS have shown up and are taking photos of peoples’ outfits. “We went to so many charity shops to get all our special items. My yellow dress is one of a kind!”
“I just think the description of the festival is not what we turned up to,” says Oli, 26. “There are no activities. The sex tent is closed because of the council. The music was turned down early in the night.”
Ultimately, Flesh was a beautiful idea. The crowd that showed up were pumped to be there, and it was a treat to be in the middle of nature, surrounded by so many LGBTQ+ people. Plus, the line-up was amazing: Juliana Huxtable, Chippy Nonstop, Hannah Holland and others all in one place?!
But there were clearly teething problems, from the overhanded security team to the lack of independently-ran food stalls. At the end of the weekend, I’m left with the feeling that the organisers know how to put on a great night, but not necessarily a smooth festival. Still, there’s a first time for everything.
“I came because I wanted to be with queers in a beautiful space. And I’m with beautiful queers!” says Hana, 30. “I’m just not in a great space.”