Last weekend Far Out Magazine headed to Somerset to indulge in the biggest festival on the planet. Glastonbury is an event that can sometimes split opinion when it is considered in its current guise. More diehard attendees maintain that it is still the most enchanting and enthralling annual get together of like-minded people that happens anywhere on this green earth, whereas others argue it has become a watered-down version of its original self, succombing to capitalism and pricing out much of the demographic that formed its core audience in the 1970s.
Even within the warts and all culture of the 21st century though, organisers Michael and Emily Eavis still cause the occasional stir. Before this year’s festival kicked off, there was a scuttling of controversy surrounding the booking of metal stalwarts Metallica as Saturday’s Pyramid headliners, echoing the completely unwarranted disquiet from likes of Noel Gallagher six years ago when Jay-Z became the first hip-hop artist to take on the same slot.
But whether the biggest headlines were borne out of James Hetfield’s penchant for hunting, the absence of stadium-rockers like Fleetwood Mac and Prince, or the anticipation of Dolly Parton’s ‘legends’ slot, Glastonbury has a depth that other festivals simply can’t match. This is where Far Out comes in. It is utterly impossible to see every single thing that is going on at Worthy Farm during a measly four-day visit, but we gave it our best shot. Here’s how it went.
We arrive on site to realise that there must already be automated out of office emails flying around all over the country as the majority of revellers have made the trip to Somerset at the earliest opportunity. Popular campsites like Pennard Hill – found at the top end of the site in between the Park Stage and the Stone Circle – don’t appear to have even the slightest of pitching space left. This leaves late-comers scrambling as they look to locate the last few remaining pieces of green. Some are forced to position themselves on the boggy flat or next to the campsite walk-ways – both of which are risky business once the inevitability of rain arrives.
However, those that have been at Worthy Farm since early on Wednesday, or even clogging up the car parks from Tuesday night, have got the party into full swing. Where other events might open a couple of bars and hastily throw together a lineup of easily-accommodated DJs in the run-up to the weekend, Glastonbury does things very differently.
For those who want to start the hedonism immediately, the Silver Hayes dance area already has full lineups of artists performing on stages such as The Blues, Wow! and the Pussy Parlure. As evening arrives a definite highlight is the electronic soul of East India Youth. Having produced one of the best albums of last year in the shape of his debut TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER, the set feels like another defining moment for William Doyle as he thrills a crowd that surely dwarfs those he is normally used to.
Another great feature of Glastonbury is that the unexpected is always just around the corner. With a site so vast (around 900 acres) and a lineup that always includes some intriguing TBAs and ominous gaps – rumours begin to fly around. During early evening time the conversation turns to the Williams Green stage where two secret performances are set to take place. We give the first the swerve after hearing it is the nauseating tripe of The 1975, but the second proves much more fruitful as Friday night’s Park headliners Metronomy have decided it’s time for a dress rehearsal.
The cat has been well and truly let out of the bag, with the small tent packed to the rafters. Security staff have to line the perimeter to prevent a crush, but the atmosphere is euphoric as the band rattle through trademarks including ‘Heartbreaker’, ‘The Bay’ and ‘I’m Aquarius’.
As the start of the weekend dawns, so do the site’s main stages and unfortunately the first of the festival’s larger acts must greet their audiences under a backdrop of torrential rain. We took the decision to ease ourselves into the day’s action, soothing our achy heads with a trip to the West Holts stage to catch a familiar face in an unfamiliar capacity. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood has long been known for his passion for classical music and this morning he has been joined by the London Sinfonietta to treat festival-goers to two Steve Reich pieces. The result is a woozy yet enchanting show that sets things up perfectly for the musical feast that will follow throughout the day.
Next, it’s over to the John Peel Stage where one of 2014’s biggest sensations have pulled a huge crowd that must surely top 10,000. London duo Jungle produce a brand of new-age pop that draws on soul, funk and electronica. Intriguing production and downright infectious melodies have seen them straddle the mainstream and get the nod from the underground in equal measure – expect to see them far higher up the bill when 2015 comes around.
The Pyramid Stage is occasionally lambasted for playing host to the odd novelty, but Friday’s bill once again demonstrates how eclectic it is. After the anthemic rock ‘n’ roll of The War On Drugs gets proceedings off to a flyer, a sun-kissed audience are then mesmerized by the flamenco guitar of Rodrigo y Gabriela.
The stunning weather sticks around throughout the afternoon and is the perfect accompaniment for a trip through the solar system courtesy of the Sun Ra Arkestra. This year marks a century since the birth of the king of space-jazz and his band’s set on West Holts feels like an all-out celebration. Sporadic solos and counteracting rhythms are enchanting in the blazing heat and there’s a feeling that there won’t be another show quite like this over the whole weekend.
As quickly as that comes to an end though, the heavens well and truly open, drenching an excitable – if somewhat depleted – audience that are at the Park stage for an early evening show from Parquet Courts. Known for their unbridled energy, they are undeterred, rattling through tracks from debut Light Up Gold and new LP Sunbathing Animal with irreverence, humour and aggression.
After sampling the delights of reformed Californian hip-hoppers Jurassic 5 on the West Holts, it is then over to the Pyramid where we have decided to spend our Friday night checking out bill-toppers Arcade Fire. There were a few leading up to the festival who claimed the Canadians to be something of an underwhelming booking, but they well and truly blow these nay-sayers out of the water.
Win Butler and co arrive on stage amid a huge firework display, saying little and immediately launching into ‘Reflektor’, which causes a ruckus among a crowd that is admittedly the smallest of the Pyramid’s three headliners. This is a live show that has transformed since the band last played on the Other Stage stage seven years ago. The frenzied stage presence and fluidity of band members swapping instruments at will has remained, but with more recent material has come thumping beats, electronic breakdowns and an intensity to Butler’s audience interaction that simply wasn’t there before. This is a band that have taken their opportunity and cemented themselves as one of the must-see stadium bands of our generation.
Once the Pyramid shuts, there is still world of entertainment out there. A live set from Manchester-based Werkha, backed up by Harleighblu on vocals is sublime, while over in Shangri-La the party is just getting started, with a host of hidden late night venues that boast the strangest of sounds and the most eye-watering of debauchery until the sun has long come up.
After trekking halfway across the site on what feels like some kind hangover-ridden, dry-mouthed mission through the Sahara, it’s time to blow off the cobwebs of the night before with a set from one of Far Out’s favourite new bands, The Wytches. The Brighton-based three-piece are yet to unveil their debut album, but play to a crowd that must be their largest to date at the William’s Green stage.
They blast through singles like ‘Wide At Midnight’ and ‘Gravedweller’ with vigour, intent, and a vibe that proves Glastonbury is a more than fitting place to embrace the heavier side of the rock ‘n’ roll spectrum. After a brief but high-octane performance, bassist Daniel Rumsey can’t help but mark the occasion by getting himself a personal snapshot of the swelling audience.
Glastonbury is all about mixing it up though and the West Holts is showcasing a different show entirely in the shape of the two-hour extravaganza that is the Daptone Super Soul Revue. This includes performances from perhaps the label’s most iconic voice, Sharon Jones, and the ‘screaming eagle of soul’, Charles Bradley, who is expertly backed up by the Extraordinaries. All involved show their appreciation to the audience for sticking it out through yet another shower that has now turned some areas of the site into an all-out mudbath. There is also a touching moment as Bradley silences the crowd for one minute in remembrance of 2013 performer Bobby Womack, with news of his death having gradually spread around the site throughout the day.
But if there is ever a remedy for leaving these troubles behind, it has to be that of unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll – not least courtesy of three acts that must be considered bona fide legends. Robert Plant and Jack White squeal their way though greatest hits sets on the Pyramid, before it’s time for a hot and sweaty dash over to the Other Stage for Pixies. ‘Where Is My Mind?’ is one of the biggest singalongs of the weekend. It offers an anthem that couldn’t be more apt for those that have been pushing their bodies to the limit for four days and also provides the big name alternative that those who don’t fancy Metallica are after.
The nearby Glade stage is one of the jewels in the crown of Glastonbury. Away from the congealing bass and overwhelming onslaught of dance music at Silver Haze, it sits alone and has even grown to spawn its own spin-off festival in past years. In 2014, the stage’s set of the weekend award has to go to electronic master, Jon Hopkins. His combination of driving synth, explosive rhythms and textured compositions light up the live stage and we even go as far as sacrificing the first few numbers of Mogwai’s headline show up at the Park.
We eventually arrive to see the Glasgow post-rockers and have our ears blown off by a sound that grabs hold of the listener and grips them with an intensity like no other. Slightly more glitchy tracks from their latest LP Rave Tapes are assimilated perfectly with classics from their 20-year career – proving that while Metallica are silencing their critics on the main stage, the party is going just as hard at the other end of Worthy Farm.
As the early hours come, there is an opportunity to explore more of the late night depths the festival boasts. Block 9 is a place that only comes to life long after the big names are over and done with. Like a kind of festival within a festival, it can entertain, unsettle and thrill in equal measure. There’s the subversive disco of the transvestite-themed NYC Downlow and the pumping house that can be heard all night long at the London Underground. Although the queues around here and Shangri-La can become unbearable in the early hours, it’s a must-see.
The rain has all but disappeared, setting the scene for a rapturous finale. There are a few faces looking a little weary and after slightly over-indulging at Block 9 the night before, it is again time for a mellow start to the day. A trip around the Healing Fields offers up everything from arts and crafts, hidden woodland retreats and massage parlours, to bike-powered acoustic stages and stone masonry workshops. It turns out to be just the kind of solace we need.
After a few technical problems, the audience at the Park stage are taken on a journey through a psychedelic paradise thanks to oddball songwriter and virtuoso guitarist Connan Mockasin. He ambles his way through impromptu solos, endearing falsetto interludes and a flawless rendition of his trademark ‘I’m the Man, that Will Find You’. He even manages to maintain his audience right to the end, despite the mass exodus of over 100,000 to the Pyramid for Dolly Parton.
If the Dolly booking can be considered a nailed-on crowd pleaser, then the addition of notorious disruptors The Brian Jonestown Massacre on the John Peel is surely a slightly more risky decision. But having grown a little older and (perhaps?) wiser, Anton Newcombe and co let the music do the talking. The frontman even refrains from reacting when a cry of “Anton, you cunt!” can be heard from the front of the audience after the opening track. Having reinstalled the help of original members Matt Hollywood and Joel Gion, recent material has been a real return to form and the set is a perfect blend of old and new – albeit to a more modest crowd than expected.
Again indulging in the eclectic, one last visit to the West Holts plays host to an encapsulating performance from Bonobo. Simon Green, accompanied by a full live band, meanders through soul, jazz, electronica and hip-hop in a way that few others can achieve. It’s hard to see how he wasn’t chosen as Sunday’s headliner above chart-bothering tech-house duo Disclosure.
One of the biggest disappointments comes when Far Out’s alternative Sunday headliner fails to materialise. After a pilgrimage to the mysticism of the Rabbit Hole, we discover Fat White Family won’t be making their fifth and final appearance of the festival due to frontman Lias Saoudi’s sore throat. Instead, we catch a portion of James Blake’s closing set on the Park Stage, which is performed in front of a surprisingly sparse crowd considering the barnstorming year he had in 2013.
To close what has been the most amazing party of our lives, there can be no better place than the unbridled hedonism of Arcadia. Characterised by a 40-foot mechanical spider with a DJ booth inside it’s body, this is not for the faint-hearted. Attendees are entertained and terrified in equal measure as it blasts out fire and swings trapezists from its flailing legs. Sets include scorching funk ‘n’ soul from Craig Charles, a secret cameo from Fatboy Slim and a closing night blow-out thanks to some back-to-back madness from Hospitality Records.
There are those who might go off the BBC’s coverage on the telly or the tabloid fodder about bookings who don’t suit ‘the Glastonbury vibe’, but this festival is like no other. In a market that has been oversaturated and full of events blowing their budget on arena acts, as opposed to cultivating a meaningful identity for themselves, it remains the case that Glastonbury is – and will always be – top of the pile.