Green Man Festival 2016: The View from Far Out

Now in its 14th year, it has probably taken way too long for Far Out Magazine to touch down in the Welsh mountains for a visit to Green Man, but in 2016 came the edition when we just had to pop our cherry.

It’s become known as an event that showcases the best of the best for those who want to catch alternative talent in its element.

Discerning bookers and a wonderful attention to detail means that Green Man has grown to be a mecca for those who want a stellar lineup coming at them around every corner, while also basking in a relaxed, enthused and family-friendly vibe.

This atmosphere manifests itself as soon as we pass through the gates on Thursday evening, with warm-hearted security staff and orderly, quick-moving queues offering a refreshing alternative to the cattle-herding, anal cavity-invading culture that occasionally infects other events we visit. Of course this aggression is often dependent on licensing conditions, but kudos to Green Man for treating people who have all-in spent about half a month’s wage on their visit with a bit of dignity.

Security logistics aside, organisers have also laid on a great appetiser menu of music to mark the festival’s opening night. This all takes place at the top end of the site at the coincidentally-named Far Out area.

The field consists of the huge Far Out tent (which we will get on to in a minute), the most beat-heavy bit of the festival Chai Wallahs, and the blend of music and film that is the Cinedrome.

In terms of headliners, a set from Lake District warblers Wild Beasts is touted as the centrepiece of the night, but surely it’s more than just a matter of  personal taste – rather an exercise in rational thinking – that the mighty King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are the ones who raise the curtain in style.

Armed with two drummers and an onslaught of psych-rock euphoria, the circle pits take a matter of minutes to form during what is more of a smorgasboard of virtuosity than any organised collection of songs. It’s a perfectly raucous opener that demonstrates the versatility and vibrancy of Green Man.

Friday

We rise on the first day proper to experience some of the Brecon Beacons’ trademark erratic weather. Ominous clouds turn into short and sharp showers, before exiting in favour of humid temperatures and a smattering of sunshine all in the blink of an eye. It’s enough to exhaust punters from the get-go. Wellies it is.

However, while such conditions have the potential to take the glimmer of a few festival sets here and there, in other instances they can offer the perfect backdrop.

Such is the case when kiwi oddball and falsetto master Connan Mockasin arrives on the Mountain Stage to welcome us into his world of talking dolphins and slightly creepy crowd participation.

Not just a rainbow, but a double fucking rainbow decorates the sky above the main arena as Mockasin glides through anthems like ‘I’m the Man, That Will Find You’ and ‘Forever Dolphin Love’. Sublime.

The rest of the evening at the main arena veers slightly more towards the straight and narrow, but Texan blues-rockers White Denim and the ever-wobbly James Blake blend recent releases with modern classics excellently.

As the early hours arrive, we opt for a trip to the Walled Garden to see what the interestingly titled Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon has to offer. Having fleetingly heard Church’s brave voyage into avant-garde chamber pop a year or so back, we arrive fuelled by intrigue and ignorance in equal measure. What follows is a disorientating collage of chart-topping covers including The Cardigans’ ‘Lovefool’ and an R Kelly medley. Why are we here? We’re not sure but the pure strangeness of the whole thing gives us some kind of satisfaction.

Keen on continuing to belt out the pop anthems, we then hot-foot it over to the Bowie disco taking place at the Cinedrome, but the queue to get anywhere near the one-in, one-out tent almost snakes around the entire field. We give it a miss.

Saturday

That bit of extra kip on Friday night means we are up and about nice and early on Saturday, taking us over to the Far Out tent for an energising set from former Track of the Day recipients FEWS.

This Swedish four-piece put an engrossing brand of punk-rock through a motorik mangle, catapulting us into the day’s entertainment and dispelling all our worries about a morning that has been categorised by heavy rainfall and leaky tents. Be sure to catch FEWS on their own UK tour in October and get your arse in gear early doors if you’re off to see Pixies in the Autumn, as these guys will open proceedings.

After that we head for a peruse of the arts & crafts stalls and real ale & scrumpy bars that pave the way to the Walled Garden. The highlight may well be the carpentry tutorial led by an otherworldly-looking bloke who specialises in sawing wooden slabs into exclusively mushroom-shaped trinkets. Souvenir sorted and favourite member of the Green Man team identified.

Accompanied by the driest pint of perry known to man, we then bask in the wonderful sounds of BC Camplight’s disjointed east coast power pop. Whether fighting deportation from the UK, making love to senators, or doing whatever the hell it is he does the rest of the time, Brian Christinzio’s muse makes for an encapsulating set that culminates in a barnstorming cover of Harry Nilsson’s ‘Jump into the Fire’. It’s the perfect antidote to a modern world defecated on by sanitised computer pop.

As evening draws near the big guns come out once again. The curious craft of Cate le Bon is a treat on home turf, with the singer-songwriter demonstrating she can handle a swelling crowd and brooding storms. She switches from soaring vocalist to canny guitarist with the most consummate ease.

Green Man’s ability to provide both the weird and wonderful then reaches its height with a typically anthemic run-out for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Resembling a kind of Brian Jonestown Massacre if they’d grown up in the swamps of the deep south, they make a sprawling cacophony that has the nouse to spring a catchy chorus on you at any moment.

Enhancing the analogy further, they also prove more than capable of surviving the loss of pivotal members. Frontman Alex Ebert is no longer joined by former co-vocalist Jade Castrinos, which makes the iconic spoken word duet in no doubt their biggest hit ‘Home’ something of a challenge. But rather than draft in a ten-a-penny replacement, Ebert hands responsibility over to the front row of the crowd. The whole exchange ends in a marriage proposal which we’re still not sure was pre-planned or not. Regardless, it’s a yes.

Although Laura Marling’s headline set is tempting, we opt for the hedonist option over at our namesake tent with a mouth-watering double-header. The current streamlined incarnation of Battles are just as enchanting as ever, taking the crowd on a tour of instrumental peaks and troughs that dip their toe into everything from post-rock to techno. Unstoppable.

However, when the cry comes for a sonic juggernaut that can follow such a visceral set, who better to step-up than those loveable shit-smearing windmillers Fat White Family?

Continuing the night’s theme of departed band members, Fat Whites perform without their infamous guitarist Saul Adamczewski. Whether this will be permanent remains top be seen, but Lias Saoudi and co put on a typically rabble-rousing show that brings Thursday’s circle pits back in abundance. After all that there is nothing left to do but hit the deck.

Sunday

As we rise and settle at the Mountain Stage to ease ourselves into the final day with the blissed-out guitar pop of Gengahr, it soon transpires that Mr Saoudi may well have just powered straight through.

We ditch the relaxation of the open air and the much-improved Sunday sky in favour of another shot in the arm courtesy of The Moonlandingz at the Far Out tent. This time, Lias’ searing squeal is set to a very different backdrop in his semi-fictional guise as Johnny Rocket.

Again, Adamczewski is absent on guitar, but the eerie synths of the Eccentric Research Council and a refreshingly urgent vocal from Slow Club’s Rebecca Taylor more than compensate. Surrealism and punk-rock are not always the fondest of bed fellows, but The Moonlandingz are forcing it in the most enthralling way possible.

After such a bone-rattling ride comes opportunity for a bit of solace at Green Man’s Back of Beyond area. Babbling streams and engrossing forestry are accompanied by a luminous art installation from Nathaniel Rackowe that hangs from a tree and sways in the breeze.

It’s the finer details like this, tucked away in the corner of the site, that really make a festival. When it comes down to cultivating an intimate atmosphere while still maintaining those all important mass-singalongs, Green Man covers both sides of the coin.

The latter comes back to fruition in spectacular style on the final evening. First of all, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Ruban Nielson scales the rigging during what feels like the busiest set of the weekend at the Far Out tent, before Warpaint demonstrate that their disco-infused new direction has been perfectly assimilated into the live set.

Final headliners Belle & Sebastian and Grandaddy draw adoring crowds of an impressive size, but neither really set our world alight. And speaking of flammable spectacles, the traditional ‘burning of the Green Man’ that sees a whicker figure reduced to a pile of cinders feels a bit lifeless when surrounded by Instagram-addicted narcissists waving phone screens around. But tiny, very rare gripes aside, our first time at the festival has been a joy.

So, with a 15th anniversary bonanza planned for next year, Far Out can confirm that Green Man continues to go from strength-to-strength, cementing its reputation as one of the most inclusive and action-packed exhibitions of alternative talent in the UK festival calendar.

Patrick Davies

The burning of the Green Man.
The burning of the Green Man.

 

 

 

 

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