Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Glastonbury 2015

It all began with the Foo Fighters.

Or rather it didn't. When the band dropped out of headlining after Dave Grohl broke his leg, they left a gaping hole. Azealia Banks later followed suit, indicative of a disappointingly lightweight line-up. Has Glastonbury finally lost its edge?

It's arguably too big, making it impossible to please its varied hordes of festival goers. Yet in many ways the Eavis' are behind the times as they remain staunchly wedded to rock music. When hyped secret gigs are taken by niche bands like Drenge and Wolf Alice, or rockers way beyond their prime like The Charlatans or The Libertines, you know the barrel is being well and truly scraped. This is more a comment on the state of the music industry as a whole: there simply aren't any decent rock acts worthy of the Glastonbury headliner slot.

Whatever you may think of Kanye West, then, it was a step in the right direction towards greater and much needed diversity beyond straight white male rock. That said, it was hardly an enjoyable set. After the grand and dramatic opening of Stronger under a low ceiling of lights, the energy soon dipped as West's ego took over: the music was self-indulgent, the stop-start nature felt more like a dress rehearsal and the stage was empty with a lack of special guests, as his angry and misogynistic music swept like a wave over the crowd. That said, this is Kanye West - what else can you expect? Love or hate him, his performance was one of the most talked about moments of the festival, his name certainly living up to the billing. Sure, his rendition of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody was criminal, but when he spat at the audience "I'm the biggest rockstar on the planet" he wasn't far wrong.

If Saturday was the night where hip-hop took over Glastonbury, it was started by Pharrell Williams in a mixed set that was at times uncomfortable. He's undoubtedly got a string of incredible hits, but he's clearly more producer than performer. Worse, his obsession with "beautiful English girls" reached a sickening peak as a line of teenage girls were invited on stage for the N.E.R.D classic Lapdance. Yet when penultimate number Happy was similarly accompanied by a line of children representing his newfound family-friendly status, it was a bizarre juxtaposition. The final, revolutionary chants of new single Freedom were wholly unnecessary.

It was the Chemical Brothers who truly proved a dance act should have headlined this year (after they headlined the Pyramid Stage back in 2000). Whilst rock zombies The Who were performing on the Pyramid Stage, the real party was on the Other Stage as the DJs' acid beats and trippy visuals whipped the crowd into a frenzy of flares, fireworks and raving, ending the festival on a huge high that no current rock act could compete with.

Of the bands who performed, a sweaty secret gig from Bastille provided an early highlight; Everything Everything played tracks almost entirely from their new album yet still managed to please the crowd; and Alt-J provided an awesome blissed out wave in the Sunday sun. On the flip side, Catfish and the Bottlemen brought the rain on Friday, whilst Motorhead grunted and riffed on Ace of Spades for an hour.

On the pop end of the spectrum, it was Years and Years who triumphed. King remains the song of the year and their performance set the John Peel tent ablaze. That said, they had stiff competition from Glasgow's Prides, whose powerhouse performance delivered bright, bold electro-pop melodies - Chvrches meets The 1975.

Elsewhere there were still plenty of highs. On Friday, Lonelady brought scratchy punk-disco to Williams Green, Jungle brought sunshine to The Other stage, Chet Faker provided glitchy beats in the John Peel tent and Mary J Blige was really over the drama on the Pyramid Stage. Later, Mark Ronson's set dipped in the middle with the focus on his new material, but the mood changed once he was joined by Boy George for a sing-along of Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, followed by Valerie with Amy Winehouse's original vocals.

Saturday saw regular festival crowd-pleaser Frank Turner bursting with charisma, despite the hungover morning audience, and French-Cuban twins Ibeyi haunted the Park Stage with beautiful chants and harmonies. That same stage on Sunday was the platform for multi-instrumentalist Jack Garret who impressively layered spectral garage beats, impassioned soulful vocals and rock guitar; he was followed by Rae Morris whose delicate vocals and gentle delivery lacked a little edge. In the evening, the sumptuous vocals of Lianne La Havas melted over the John Peel audience, but the lack of screens at the West Holts stage hampered FKA Twigs, who was unable to translate her mesmerisingly visual performance to a festival stage.

Then there was Lionel Richie, visibly overcome by the audience reaction. Navigating the crowd, however, was quite literally hell - like Dolly Parton last year, it's always the fun, cheesy acts that draw the biggest audience.

And how did Florence + The Machine fair stepping into the shoes of Dave Grohl? Fantastically. Despite skipping around the stage like an excitable puppy, Welch stepped up her game for the headline slot and capably proved her critics wrong. It was at times a little flouncy with the emphatic interpretive dancing but the hits were there amidst an ecstatic performance. As the first female headliner since Beyoncé in 2011, she showed that women can be strong headliners too - more of this please. Whipping her top off at the end was one of this year's iconic, feminist moments.

And it's the individual moments that will be remembered most above the bland rock that predominated: Mark Ronson's Uptown Funk; Years and Years singing King; the audience chanting for Pharrell's Happy; Kanye West hovering over the audience in a crane; and the Chemical Brothers dropping Block Rockin' Beats in a whir of strobe lighting. These are the memories that will endure from 2015's festival through the inevitable rain and mud - isolated highs in a weak line-up that failed to really satisfy.