!(feature_l)http://relayer.s3.amazonaws.com/articles/spreads/51e3297ad7c7b1000200022f.gif!After a year break, the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts returned with aging rockers The Rolling Stones headlining alongside relative newcomers the Arctic Monkeys and Mumford and Sons making a surprise appearance at the top of the Pyramid Stage bill. Notching up its 31st edition, the festival saw 135,000 descend on Worthy Farm in Pilton, Somerset, and proved to be one of the finest yet.
There was a time even 10 years ago when Wednesdays at Glastonbury were a casual affair. Lucky ticket holders would arrive throughout the day and fields would fill up slowly with very little activity outside of the campsites and the Stone Circle in the Sacred Space where the sound of bongos would fill the air. It wouldn’t be until Thursday that you would start to feel the site was getting full, but now the vast majority seem to not only arrive on Wednesday, they are also keen to get to a prime camping spot before midday. By 1pm space was at a premium in some of the best spots, and by the evening Glastonbury was coming alive early.
The hills of the south side of the festival were the place to be as the sun began to set – it was hard to move in the King’s Field and Sacred Space, with the latter hosting an after-sunset fire show, fireworks and the lighting of a wooden phoenix bonfire. The Green Fields had a vibrant feel as bands warmed up the venues while the West Holts Field was typically full of cider drinkers prolonging the first day anticipation. Following such a hot and lively day with one forecast for rain meant there were some worried rumblings to be heard, but retiring to the tent was more out exhaustion from setting up and a good stint wandering rather than needing an early night.
The sun continued to beat down on the festival on Thursday morning, however as the wind picked up it was clear the promised rain would be with us soon. Final arrivals to our campsite later, the rain did indeed begin to spit and then fall. Lucky for us the first destination – William’s Green – was a tented venue featuring Musical Bingo at 4pm. Unlucky for us was the rain had drawn people inside and a late start meant the tent was still showing the 2006 film Glastonbury when we arrived. Eventually we battled through the standing masses at the entrance to find there was plenty of room inside, and proudly took our place at the front to see footage of Blur and David Bowie on the Pyramid Stage before the bingo commenced.
The Musical Bingo, imported from London, was an interactive session as a DJ spun records while those able to stop themselves from dancing to the tunes crossed the songs off their bingo sheet. Hosts whipped up excitement and encouraged loony behaviour as we first matched tunes with a weather theme, then tried to get lines and full house to disco classics that inspired dance moves such as “Flashdance… What a Feeling” and “Staying Alive”. Prizes were awarded and the William’s Green Glastonbury launch party was in full swing with speculation mounting about who the surprise acts would be that evening.
The only robots in sight were a masked Zoe Ball and friend joining her husband on stage at the end of his set
Two of the strongest suggestions were two of Friday’s acts: Park Stage guests Django Django and the Other Stage’s Mercury Prize winner Alt-J – and it turned out they were accurate. Django Django’s lively rock and Alt-J’s much-loved indie was welcome tonics for a rain-lashed day, helped by our emerging from a long session in the tented arena being met with the end of the rain. Though the legendary Glastonbury mud had made an appearance, there was still some exploration to be had to round off the day. In the South East Corner Shangri-la was brimming with people looking for adventure. It was hard to take in the attractions based on a heaven and hell theme, so we elected to try the Silver Hayes dance area on the other side of the site.
There fans of the beat were cramming in to the Wow! stage for Eats Everything followed by special guest Fatboy Slim and the Engine Earz Experiment were rocking the La Pussy Parlure Nouveau with their live neo-dubstep. The highlight of the night was found over at The Blues, an open-air stage with a shanty town look, where Visionquest , the collaboration between DJs Seth Troxler, Lee Curtis, Shaun Reeves and Ryan Crosson, were approaching the end of their eight hour set with pumping house music. The quartet jostled for position behind the decks all smiles as the ravers kept dancing until 3am. There was a rumour Daft Punk had appeared following Fatboy Slim’s set, however those turned out to be unfounded – even though the internet had been ablaze that they would guest at some point at the festival, the only robots in sight were a masked Zoe Ball and friend joining her husband on stage at the end of his set.
The first official day of Glastonbury saw the return of the sun. Beady Eye were the secret act who opened on the Other Stage, but for me the music started with a trip to the now-opened Pyramid Stage where Haim , the LA rock band formed of the three Haim sisters and drummer Dash Hutton. Este, Danielle and Alana in particular seemed genuinely excited to be given the chance to play on the main stage, and even though they have yet to release an album, there were cheers for singles “Don’t Save Me” and “Falling”. They paused for a picture to capture the moment, and would later return to play at the Park as well as guesting with other acts over the course of the weekend.
!(feature_l)http://relayer.s3.amazonaws.com/articles/spreads/51e7e0192f0ce7000200000b.jpg!Silver Hayes was the next destination, to the new Sonic stage. Designed as an inside/outside area, revelers could either get inside an L-shape tent to focus on acts, view the stage from out in the sun where speakers were ideally positioned or even watch on one of the big screens if the crowd was too dense. We opted for a mixture of the last two to absorb the dense soundscapes of Mount Kimbie followed by the more lively abstract dance of Gold Panda. Both complimented the hot sunshine beaming down across the site, the latter finishing on a breakcore tip to crown a blissful set. The lively GypStep of Molotov Jukebox at Avalon was a feast of catchy riffs as accordion, violin, trumpet and drums merged together with singer/actress Natalia Tena (Harry Potter, Game of Thrones) taking centre stage. Instrumental post-rockers 65daysofstatic in the midst of a 10th anniversary tour made for an interesting soundtrack to an evening’s bite to eat at William’s Green, stepping into the tent for the final tunes brought with it a wall of uplifting noise they become to adept at creating.
We ventured to the Arcadia area next to catch the launch show featuring a fire-breathing spider-like structure and aerial artists to a soundtrack of bass-heavy music.
Ahead of the headline set of the day, I went exploring to get a feel for the Glastonbury atmosphere this year. A busy Sonic tent was fist pumping to an electro/dubstep mash-up of Dog Blood aka Boys Noize and Skrillex. The duo were getting up close and personal working the mixer and decks like teenagers high-fiving their every mix so I decamped to the Glade Lounge where neo-rave of Bang Face was getting underway thanks to the break ore of Amen-Tal. This was a little early to be getting involved as the crowd was sparse, so I took in the lively house of Yousef at the neighbouring Spirit of 71 stage where there was an appreciative 4/4 beat audience before towards the John Peel stage to meet people ahead of the Crystal Castles closing set. En route I caught Foals from the railway line impressing and Disclosure somehow putting smiles on the faces of adoring onlookers while I struggled to get into their dance pop.
!(feature_r)http://relayer.s3.amazonaws.com/articles/spreads/51e5ba77b13a810002000191.jpg!I hoped that Crystal Castles might top the lot from Friday, however a 15-minute delay to the start of their performance led to an curtailed set that started strongly with ‘Plague’ and ‘Baptism’, and would be heavily loaded towards their third album iii along with a classic ‘Crimewave’. Just as they seemed to be hitting their stride with Alice Glass jumping into the crowd and rolling around the stage, there was a pause as Ethan Kath wandered to the side, then returned as they performed “Alice Practice” before the curfew hit and the gig ended abruptly. Crystal Castles tend to offer an awkward disposition, this capping of their Glastonbury show was the epitome of that public appearance and possibly the polar opposite of the Arctic Monkeys on the Pyramid Stage.
!(feature_l)http://relayer.s3.amazonaws.com/articles/spreads/51e7dee02f0ce70002000007.jpg!From understated to elaborate: we ventured to the Arcadia area next to catch the launch show featuring a fire-breathing spider-like structure and aerial artists to a soundtrack of bass-heavy music. It was a spectacular the Arcadia have become renowned for followed by Andy C taking up the reins behind the decks with some Ram Records classics. The densely-packed area made it hard to get into the sound sweet-spot so we made the move to the Wow! Tent for Carl Craig but for all his efforts to engage the techno-loving mass, the speakers simply weren’t up to the task with a hissing from one side and a severe lack of volume. There was no limo sound in the Glade Lounge where Saint Acid was bringing the Bang Face party to a climax with all manner of hardcore tunes accompanied by inflatables and a madcap ‘Hard Crew’. Our night would end at the Temple on the Common in the south east corner where an amphitheatre style venue was treated to Rattus Rattus ‘ blend of modern house and electro overlaying 1990s garage vocal tunes to frenetic effect. The sun was rising as his set finished, marking a time to call it a great end to the first full day and night of Glasto action.
With the festival fully dried out and not a cloud in the sky, Saturday became a chilled affair until The Rolling Stones’ headline set. The late night on Friday meant a slow start to the second proper day of the festival, not making it to an act until 3pm at The Other Stage where Azealia Banks was marching around the stage confidently spouting rhymes over beefy beats. While she drew a sizable crowd, only those at the front seemed engaged with her tunes, and her long-time turntablist collaborator DJ Cosmo had a few nifty tricks of his own. The sunbaked afternoon was lapped up during the course of a stint watching Balkan band Gypsy Hill at the Spirit of ‘71 stage ahead of a fascinating ambient session from The Orb at West Holts where they were joined by Kakatsitsi , traditional drummers, dancers and singers from the Ga tribe of Southern Ghana, who’s rhythmic percussion brought a welcome human accompaniment to The Orb’s electronics. As the layers of the set built, the mind was dancing while the body stayed relaxed, though we missed the rendition of “Little Fluffy Clouds” in favour of the disappointment of the weekend: Rodriguez at The Park stage.
!(feature_r)http://relayer.s3.amazonaws.com/articles/spreads/51e5b98eb13a810002000190.jpg!Given all the growing interest in Rodriguez following the film documentary Searching for Sugarman, the anticipation in the crowd was one of subdued awe before he stepped out on stage. One South African I spoke to before the performance was visibly amazed that he would have the chance to see his idol. Alas, Rodriguez appeared to a rapturous reception, yet when he sang, he had the sound of a man who has been overworked. Weeks before he had pulled out of a gig owing to exhaustion, and his voice indicated he had yet to fully recover. Some dubious jokes and a wistful rendition of “I Wonder” later, the excitement among the onlookers had died down and the set seemed to be passing Rodriguez by. High hopes were dashed, and we left wondering if Rodriguez would get the rest he so clearly needs to do his songs justice again.
Jagger was typically jaunty in his dancing but the band looked up for the occasion even if they did, at times, border on a well-oiled act going through their lofty motions.
!(feature_l)http://relayer.s3.amazonaws.com/articles/spreads/51e466e0198e6400020000ea.jpg!For the Saturday headliner, we couldn’t ignore the spectacle and major talking point of The Rolling Stones , particularly to see the rock legends perform and witness what the phoenix and fire cannons fixed to the top of the Pyramid Stage would do. There was a vast mass of people thinking along similar lines, making for one of the biggest crowds at the Pyramid Stage in its history. They made an instant impact by kicking off with anthems “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)” and “Paint it Black” which won the neutrals over, and were loving every minute on stage. Jagger was typically jaunty in his dancing but the band looked up for the occasion even if they did, at times, border on a well-oiled act going through their lofty motions. The phoenix and fire came alive for “Sympathy for the Devil” to roars of approval while an encore of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” with a the Voice Chamber Choir and the London Youth Choir followed by “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” with their guest guitarist throughout the set Mick Taylor crowned an epic show.
Trying to find a band to follow The Rolling Stones was deemed a tough task so we made the pilgrimage to the south east corner early to get the most from the late night area. There we found Shut Up and Dance laying down the drum and bass in The Cave at The Common, an area you entered and exited behind a waterfall, caught electro band the Autokratz dishing out a DJ set at Bez’s Acid House Party then got a blast of Bang Face regulars The Squire of Gothos at the Salon Carousel in the Unfairground with their squelchy beats blending everything from hardcore, house, breakcore and gabber to hilarious effect. The latter’s set the polar opposite to the Rolling Stones, and just what was needed. World Unknown ‘s underground techno and house at the outside Genosys stage in the industrial-themed Block 9 allowed us to catch a breather among the most impressive looking space of the whole festival. The Genosys looked like a futuristic block of flats where DJs played from a room at the bottom and similar close attention to detail had been applied to the exteriors of the two indoor areas. London Underground’s outer shell was a dilapidated set of flats with a London Underground train smashed into it while the NYC Downlow had a yellow New York taxi sticking out the top of the derelict-looking building. Inside were dancefloors and bars in tents, but from the outside you would be more excited by just getting in among them. Sadly the queues were far too long and static to have any chance of doing that at 5am so we decided to call it a night at sunrise.
Another late night meant another late start for Sunday as we headed straight to Avalon for Bruce Forsyth in a ‘we have to see him’ frame of mind. JJ Grey and Mofro meant there was a unexpectedly lively vibe to Avalon before the BBC presenter took to the stage, and he managed to pull in a crowd which led to not just the tent being full, but several rows of people lining the outside just to get a glimpse of the 85-year-old. He entered to his band playing the Strictly Come Dancing theme tune and wild cheers, then went on to joke, sing, play the piano and even tap dance sitting down to show there’s a lot of life in him as a traditional music hall style performer. He made fun of the Stones, got away with some close-to-the-mark laughs about the Welsh, Scottish, Irish, French and Japanese, though not without a few sideways glances from the audience. He’d surely be welcomed back to Worthy Farm.
Desert rock band Terakaft were keeping those at the Spirit of 71 stage entertained as we regrouped prior to Of Monsters and Men at the Other Stage for the set of the day. The glorious sunshine bathing the site was fitting as their Icelandic indie folk brought out the feel-good factor, all capped by a mass singalong to ‘Little Talks’ which eager fans were waiting for and will surely have given those new to the band one of their tunes for the summer. Next we headed back to the Spirit of 71 stage as Kaya Project acted as the intermediary between the music of Terakaft and the psytrance of James Monro. We interrupted the psy to get a final band in: old favourite The Smashing Pumpkins. Though they kicked off with a series of newer tunes such as ‘Quasar’ and ‘Panoption’ along with the leftfield choice of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, they broke into the vaults for ‘Tonight, Tonight’, ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’ and ‘Zero’ much to our delight.
Forsyth entered to his band playing the Strictly Come Dancing theme tune and wild cheers, then went on to joke, sing, play the piano and even tap dance sitting down to show there’s a lot of life in him as a traditional music hall style performer.
!(feature_l)http://relayer.s3.amazonaws.com/articles/spreads/51e7dfb12f0ce70002000009.jpg!Satisfied, we walked back towards the Spirit of 71 stage just as the Arcadia sideshow of the Fire Tornado was starting: two men in fire-resistant suits and armed with flamethrowers created a flaming twister with the help of high-powered fans. Not quite the spectacle it sound, the tornado was slightly underwhelming viewed from a few rows back, far more impressive is the now long-running Lords of Lightning which sees two specially-suited people climb electrically-charged raised platforms to throw lightning at each other like gladiators. It’s an incredible sight and one that is even more amazing live than it sounds.
For the final hours of Glasto we decided to return to the Spirit of 71 stage for the psy-styles of System 7 and Eat Static who produced a spiritual dance experience, then we squeezed into the Beat Hotel where Eats Everything was going head-to-head with Seth Troxler for a Detroit Roller Disco set. They did a fine job of keeping the sad fact Glasto was ending from our minds, then we made our way to Block 9 to try to get into one of the tented venues. The reggae of the King Shiloh Soundsystem wasn’t quite what we wanted or expected from the dystopian exterior but I was happy to find Ed Cox closing the Salon Carousel at 4am with his accordion-fueled clowncore of breakcore, gabber, hardcore and reggae merged into one dancing mass. A fine end to a vintage Glastonbury, the trek back to the car at 2pm the next day was a happy one. Great show, the Eavis family. Hopefully see you next year.
Images by Tom Inkelaar, Liz SK and Ben Kitchen.