10 of the best 2012 festivals

Fill the Glasto-shaped hole in your summer with this killer set-list of alternative festival gems…

The poor old music festival appears to have been speared by an Olympic javelin this summer, with Glastonbury, Oxegen and Sonisphere all cancelling to make way for lycra-based antics.

But the reality (and keep this to yourselves) is that it's a golden year for al fresco carnivals. As the festival part-timers retire their fairy wings and cowboy hats, the rest of us get to enjoy a series of innovative, fresh-faced fests. Like this lovely lot…

Best for: Culture vultures


from £147 (weekend pass)

Where: Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire, UK

When: 10-12 August 2012

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Buried in the Cotswalds far away from burger vans and bumper cars is this little haven of theatre, banquets and melodic indie. Like a mini version of Latitude, Wilderness gives food, workshops and talks equal billing to the music (headed this time by Wilco and Spiritualized).

Wild runs and lake swimming are encouraged, but it's got some more relaxing treats up its Victorian sleeves too – stargazing lessons from the Royal Observatory, a masked ball hosted by The Old Vic and a Lakeside Spa with oak hot tubs. The only thing missing is counselling to help you re-adjust to real life.


Vintage festival from £63 (day ticket)

Where: Boughton House, Northamptonshire, UK

When: 13-15 July 2012

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Matching this festival's lofty aim of 'celebrating British culture from the 1920s to 1980s' is its setting in the grounds of a Tudor manor house. DJ sets, catwalk shows and vintage shopping are the order of the day – Metallica fans should probably head elsewhere.


Best for: Discovering new music

The Great Escape

from £32.50 (day pass) 

Where: Brighton, UK

When: 10-12 May 2012

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Some festivals involve watching the Foo Fighters through a pair of binoculars. But sitting at the other end of the spectrum is this Brighton gem, which sprinkles the UK's finest new musical talent across its collection of thirty intimate venues.

Like a European SXSW, live sets are are joined by a convention featuring talks on the future of music, and there's an excellent app for organising your packed schedule. There are other geek-friendly features too – the festival's Twitter feed is on hand to help you discover the locations of pop-up acoustic sets, and if you need to whet your appetite (or just swot up for music quizzes) look no further than its freshly-cooked Spotify playlist.


Tramlines £free

Where: Sheffield, UK

When: 20-22 July 2012


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Co-launched by Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders in 2009, Tramlines is a free, ticketless festival that spans 70 venues across Sheffield. It serves up a mixed grill of musical styles, which you can wash down with the festival's official ale.

Best for: Massive riffs


from £86 (day pass)

Where: Donington Park, Leicestershire, UK

When: 8-10 June 2012

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The demise of Sonisphere leaves Download standing alone as this summer's great shredding God of rock festivals. And it's celebrating its tenth birthday in style, with headline slots from The Prodigy, Black Sabbath, Soundgarden and, the pinnacle for metal connoisseurs, Metallica playing the entire Black album.

Entertainment is more Mexican wrestling than French literature and don't expect to find too much in the way of 'glamping', though the 'RIP camping' site serves up everything from teepees to pop-up hotel rooms.


Bloodstock from £115 (weekend pass)

Where: Walton-on-Trent, Derbyshire, UK

When: 9-12 August 2012

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Embracing the theatrical, makeup-encrusted face of metal, Bloodstock features late-night karaoke, Alice Cooper and a mysterious headliner that won't be announced until 6pm on 6th of June. Terrifying.


Best for: Day trippers

Field Day

£50 (day pass)

Where: Victoria Park, London

When: 2 June 2012

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Some argue that a festival without camping isn't really a festival at all, but these semantic pedants will put themselves in danger of missing this fine day out in London's Victoria Park.

Like Lovebox's vinyl-collecting, indie brother, Field Day boasts an eclectic line-up that goes from the Cuban-Malian groove of Afrocubism to the electro pop of Metronomy, via Franz Ferdinand and Beirut. And the seven stages and tents have all received boosted capacities and sound systems for this year's event. Quite an achievement when you consider it started five years ago in an Old Street pub's car park.


I'll Be Your Mirror (Mogwai) from £45 (day pass)

Where: Alexandra Palace, London, UK

When: 25-27 May

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If you suspect that the sun gods will lose out to the rain lords this summer, head to this indoor ATP event. Slayer and event curators Mogwai headline the first two days, but the big draw is The Afghan Whigs' first UK performance in eleven years on the final day.


Best for: Guaranteed sun*

Primavera Sound

€201 (weekend pass)

Where: Parc del Forum, Barcelona, Spain

When: 28 May - 3 June 2012

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While not as 'el scorchio' as Palm Springs' Coachella festival, Primavera's location on the banks of the Mediterranean blesses it with an average of nine hours of daily sunshine and balmy average temperatures of 21 degrees.

To shield you from the midday sun, the music starts at 6pm and continues till 6am – and there's no camping, so make sure you book one of the Forum's nearby hotels (or, if you're in a larger group, apartments) for an easy stumble home. It's certainly not a bucolic paradise or cultural feast, but Primavera Sound's incredible line-up is the closest thing you'll get to a 2012 Glastonbury.


Optimus Alive from £45 (day ticket)

Where: Lisbon, Portugal

When: 13-15 July

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The line-up rarely veers from mainstream indie, but this Lisbon festival is both a sun magnet and just a short drive from the surfing mecca of Ericeira.

*Sun guarantee may be withdrawn without notice


Best for: Rustic charm

No Direction Home

£105 (weekend pass)

Where: Welbeck Abbey, Sherwood Forest, UK

When: 8-10 June 2012

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Dorset's End of the Road is one of our favourite summer shindigs, so we're keenly ironing our lumberjack shirts in preparation for its new sister event in Sherwood Forest.

No Direction Home has the same understated, rural ingredients – a lakeside main stage, workshops from the School of Artisan Food for swotting up on everything from bakery to charcuterie, and epic melancholia from the likes of Richard Hawley and The Low Anthem. With charming trimmings like a bookshop and vintage cinema, it's shaping up to be one of the festival season's highlights.


Purbeck Folk festival £80 (weekend pass)

Where: Wilkswood Farm, Swanage, UK

When: 24-26 August 2012

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Drive a Cortina back to the 70s and up a mud track to this quaint sheep farm festival. Purbeck's stages are housed in three big barns, and the organisers are promising a phenomenal choice of 52 real ales and 12 ciders.


Best for: Home comforts

Firefly festival (US)

from $200 (weekend pass)

Where: Dover, Delaware, USA

When: July 20-22

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Trust an American festival to take the concept of 'glamping' to crazy new heights. Shell out for a Super VIP pass at Firefly (from $1195) and you'll get an air-conditioned lounge, a golf cart concierge to ferry you between stages, catered meals and a free hot air balloon ride, from which you can watch The Black Keys, Jack White and The Flaming Lips high above from ludicrously tall people. Of course, there's also the option of a private safari tent, though there's curiously no option of an on-stage Sedan chair.


Nova £150 (weekend pass)

Where: Bignor Park, Pulborough, UK

When: 5-8 July 2012

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With only a few tickets remaining for Secret Garden Party, festival-goers looking for an upmarket shindig with hot tubs, camp-fires and a British pub should audition this promising newcomer. Cabaret, theatre and comedy will be joined by Tuneyards, Ghostpoet and Fionn Regan.


Best for: Electronica

Global Gathering

£115 (weekend pass)

Where Long Marston Airfield, Stratford Upon Avon, UK

When 27-28 July 2012

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One of Europe's biggest dance fests, Global Gathering has drawn up a characteristically bulging line-up for 2012, boasting everything from headliners Chase & Status to underground fare like Visionquest.

Generally thought to have a friendlier atmosphere than its rival Creamfields, it's also known for the ambition of its 'inter-galactic visuals' and for keeping the decibel levels high into the early hours thanks to its phenomenal sound system. Other attractions don't venture much beyond crane bungee jumps, but if it's jittery electronica and frenetic strobes you're after, take your neon t-shirt to Stratford Upon Haven.


Glade £145 (weekend ticket)

Where: King's Lynn, Norfolk, UK

When: 14-17 June

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An independent, alternative dance festival that started out as a stage at Glastonbury, Glade takes in everything from dubstep to 'Psy-trance' – and its stages will this year go on till 8am. Best pack that Pro Plus, then.


Best for: A real global gathering


£25 (day pass)

Where: Charlton Park, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, UK

When: 27-29 July

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It might not have 6am dance tents or VIP golf carts, but Womad is the only festival that provides the distinct pleasure of seeing Ethiopian jazz followed by Japanese ska.

Peter Gabriel's shindy is celebrating its 30th birthday this year with performances from Indian starlet Raghu Dixit, Buena Vista Social Club and Robert Plant's new band Sensational Space Shifters. With extras like early-bird yoga and the 'world of wellbeing' (translation: tea and cakes), it's still one of the festival circuit's real charmers – and there's even luxury Airstream accommodation with TVs and iPod docks available from £1800.


Sziget £165 (weekend pass)

Where: Obudai Island, Budapest, Hungary

When: 6-13 August 2012

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Like a Europe-centric Womad with a generous sprinkling of indie heavyweights, Sziget takes over an island in the Danube for a whopping seven days. Food and drink is astonishingly cheap, and so far the line-up includes The Stone Roses, Friendly Fires and The Horrors – with many more to follow.


Best for: A winter getaway

Iceland Airwaves

£75 (weekend pass)

Where: Reykjavik, Iceland

When: 31 October – 4 November 2012

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The end of summer needn't mean an end to excessive musical merriment. Brighten your winter months with a trip to Europe's most northerly capital, and the only festival that can be legitimately called 'volcanic'.

Airwaves first started at Reykjavik airport 1999, but now spreads across a diverse range of venues from cafes to Reykjavik Art Museum to the city's biggest club, NASA. Expensive alcohol means the locals tend to don't go out till 9pm, but the music goes on till the early hours – and there's always the world's best hangover cure just 30 miles south-west of the city; the 40C, geothermal Blue Lagoon spa, complete with nourishing silica mud.


Pitchfork Music Festival: Paris

Where: Grande Halle de la Villette, Paris, france

When: TBC


This year's event hasn't been officially confirmed, but whisperings suggest muso bible Pitchfork will be hosting a follow-up to last year's debut European festival between 1-3 November. We give the rumour a score of 6.7.