Monday, 30 June 2014

How I Survived Glastonbury 2014

Anyone who knows me will know the following:

I hate mud
I hate rain
I hate camping
I hate tents (tent sex? No thanks)
I hate public toilets
I hate crowds of people

By all accounts Glastonbury should be hell on earth. But we suffer and endure these hardships for the sakes of the music. As Madonna once wisely noted, “music makes the people come together”.

So I camped it up, sleeping in my luxury sweaty two-man tent alone, in the same rain-drenched, mud/sh*t splattered clothes, showering in wet wipes, and enduring a bit lot of rain and the sticky, sucky, boggy fields of mud, all for the music. I’m pretty sure I have gangrene, but it was worth it.

The absence of Prince was sorely missed amongst the headliners. For many they are the main event, but for me I steered clear of all three. Arcade Fire aren’t a big enough band despite some decent tunes, Metallica only vaguely appeal to the ten year old metal head in me, and don’t even get me started on Kasabian’s psychedelic lad-rock.

They were symptomatic of an overall line-up that relied heavily on nostalgia, whether for classic acts now past their prime or 00s indie bands that weren’t that great in the first place. This was epitomized by Friday morning on the Other Stage: a secret opening from the Kaiser Chiefs that got the crowd cheering  along to I Predict A Riot like drunken students at 11am, followed by Blondie with Debbie Harry spending as much time moodily pouting as she did straining to sing.

Thankfully there was enough music from newer and more interesting bands and for that, it was all about the John Peel Stage. Chvrches set the tent ablaze with lasers and neon synths, whilst Lykke Li brought some Swedish drama with a moody, beautifully emotive performance. Continuing the Scandinavian theme, Little Dragon offered a tight set of rave beats and euphoric synths that was simply awesome. Clean Bandit drew a huge crowd, despite being predominantly popular for one song – their brilliant performance of Rather Be was only matched by their cover of Robin S’s Show Me Love. Likewise, MGMT are still resting on the success of two massive songs – Electric Feel and Kids – amongst a set of psychedelic filler. Later on the Sunday, Chance The Rapper provided some much needed hip hop with a soulful flavour and finally, London Grammar closed the festival in phenomenal fashion, their stunning trip-hop meets Daughter-esque sound creating an intense, blissful experience.

As usual there were plenty of secret gigs, with The 1975 getting the festival off to a great start (despite frontman Matthew Healy having a can thrown in his face) that they repeated on the Pyramid Stage, followed by Metronomy playing some new songs amongst old favourites like The Look and The Bay.

Elsewhere, the Other Stage had plenty of thrills. Haim offered yet another blistering set accompanied by some Californian sunshine and not even poor sound quality could deter Este’s crazy bass face. Ellie Goulding added a rockier edge to her electro pop, with a set that was second-album heavy and notable for her breathy vocals, an acoustic performance of Guns And Horses, euphoric renditions of Lights and Anything Can Happen, and some pervy camerawork that frequently rested on her barely covered chest. It was her ex-boyfriend Skrillex who really tore up the stage though, his huge womping basslines and beats emanating from an alien spaceship/insect-like construction shooting lasers over the crowd. And over on the Sonic Stage, Charli XCX assembled a sizable crowd with I Love It and Fancy that she wrote with Icona Pop and Iggy Azalea respectively, though her own pop-punk songs proved she had more than enough energy by herself.

Then there was the Pyramid Stage that wasn’t just an arena for the headliners. Lily Allen ironically began her set with LDN, its chorus of “sun is in the sky” laughable after Rudimental were rained off due to storms – it was hard out there for an audience member. The following day Kelis and her deeply powerful vocals brought some tropical sunshine with a laidback set that reworked her older hits to match her new soulful material. She was followed by Lana Del Rey whose Summertime Sadness couldn’t have been more fitting, her vocal sighs lilting over cinematic guitars. And whilst Dolly Parton was a difficult act to follow, Ed Sheeran proved he’s a consummate performer and had the crowd singing and dancing along to his new songs nestled amongst his usual live set performed completely acoustically.

It’s at night that the festival truly comes alive though – if your sore wrinkled feet can stand it. Block 9 was an apocalyptically run-down block of buildings that housed multiple clubs, including NYC Downlow that recreated a New York drag club - but entry relied on having a moustache. The Arcadia mechanical spider visited the festival again, with DJ sets including Nero and Disclosure, shooting flames whilst surrounded by an automaton dragon, a dancer shooting electricity from a staff, a giant hand throwing old cars and more. And this year Shangri-La had a corporate-themed hell with office departments of various surprises, whilst heaven was a psychedelic, drug-fuelled sexual haven. As a whole the southeast corner of the site was one huge adult hedonistic playground that’s worth the entry fee alone.

That’s not all. The tipi field had an opening ceremony with totem pole, magic cauldron and pagan rituals; the craft field offered the opportunity for woodwork, ironwork, glasswork and so much more; the healing field was filled with massage tents and various therapy classes; and the theatre and circus areas were crammed with weird and wonderful delights both in and outside of the tents.

To an extent Glastonbury is a somewhat stressful experience. It’s not a music festival but a performing arts festival; there’s so much going on that it’s impossible to see and do everything. FOMO is as dreaded as the rain and mud, but swapping stories with fellow campers never fails to surprise and amuse – from a man with clay covering his head that he molded blindly into a chicken, to a woman playing three flutes from her nostrils, spying on the nudists in the tipi field from the mound, watching drag queens spread baby oil over a half naked woman through a window in hell, a man juggling ping pong balls with his mouth, a raving family at Arcadia whose mother was properly going for it and dancing on the podium to soul and 90s tracks until 6am in an American style diner.

However, the weekend belonged to Dolly Parton. Essentially a mid-afternoon headliner, she undoubtedly drew the biggest crowd of the weekend. Her country, honky-tonk songs and trademark squeaky vocals had everyone hoe-downing on the hill and could even be heard referenced in the sets of other acts – Nine To Five was the anthem of the festival. She was even joined by Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora for her gospel performance that entered us all into the church of Dolly. It was her anecdotes, banter and self-deprecating humour that really charmed, creating a family atmosphere that was warm and bubbly, like a great group hug – and that’s what the festival’s all about. In her own words, “I know that was corny, but that was fun”.

And so, despite some lows (mainly from the weather and the camping - someone PLEASE get me a tipi next time), the incredible music, the surreal experiences, some tasty food, a whole load of wet wipes and an invaluable pair of wellies got me through.

And that’s how I survived Glastonbury 2014.