Reviewing Glastonbury festival is a tough one as the festival means so many different things to different people. To some it’s about sitting in front of the main stage all day taking in music from the biggest acts around, whilst others may not leave their tents until darkness has begun to creep in and the wonders of the South East Corner are at their most spectacular. Some people spend their days trying to find the ‘next big thing’ at smaller stages around the festival but for others it’s less about the music and more about everything else that’s on offer; from meditation to stand-up comedy, from political debate to circus acts and everything in between.
For the majority of those in attendance though, the festival represents the rare opportunity to spend a weekend doing a weird and wonderful combination of these things. For the sake of this review, however, the focus will remain mostly on the music on offer.
My musical experience of Glastonbury started on the Thursday night with a fantastic set by Joe Goddard at the Beat Hotel which was (maybe a little too) packed . After this we rushed off to the breath taking London Underground stage; a movie set quality tower block replica with a tube car crashed into it. There we caught an absolute fire set from Youngsta with Toast on hosting duties, highlights included Truth vs Stylust Beats – Chicks & Drugs and the unstoppable new Joker track, ‘Head Top’.
The sheer scale of the site became clear as we embarked on the trek from Block 9 to the newly branded Silver Hayes dance village which took close to 40 minutes. There we caught incredible sets from T. Williams and Eats Everything and a decidedly average special guest appearance from Fat Boy Slim, playing what has come to be known as EDM.
Friday was destined to be an endurance test, as a plan of who we wanted to see came together that had us constantly immersed in music from 12:30 until 0600. The day ended up having its ups and downs with Mount Kimbie putting in a slightly lacklustre performance. Though it was still enjoyable it was not as good as I had anticipated. With recent collaborator King Krule elsewhere on the line-up that day I had hoped for a guest appearance, particularly as they are releasing one of their collaborations as their next single but this was not the case. However, Gold Panda who was on straight after really blew me away with his pounding techno beats and dreamy soundscapes. A set that will definitely have won him many new fans.
After catching half of The Arctic Monkeys set, we headed over to the West Holts stage for a boogie with Chic and Nile Rodgers which was an absolute pleasure. After not being able to attend Love Saves Sunday in Bristol due to exams then hearing how good they were from those who did attend, I knew they were a must see. From our arrival, the whole crowd were getting down and singing along to classics like ‘Le Freak’, ‘Good Times’ and their cover of David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’. Despite being slightly too far back, due to the oversized crowd, for the sound to properly travel to us, it was loud enough to dance to and once everyone was belting out the lyrics it didn’t matter.
Unfortunately, looking after a girl who had “let the festival experience get a bit too much for her” for a couple of hours scuppered our late night plans but this meant we ended up going to see Carl Craig which turned out to be a very good choice. His Detroit style and vast musical knowledge were as evident as ever as he read the crowd perfectly and kept the tent packed throughout.
Fortunately, for our fragile heads the Saturday started with more gentle vibes from Laura Mvula and Ben Howard. Both of whom completely justified their current status as rising stars. The highlight for the rest of the day was by far Primal Scream with their psychedelic brand of alternative rock. Classics such as ‘Movin’ On Up’ and ‘Loaded’ provided a perfect soundtrack for a dance in the warm evening sun.
After finding ourselves at the back of the field with around 100,000 people between us and the stage for The Rolling Stones we decided to leave half way through to catch some of Chase & Status’ set. I later realised my error when I found out I had missed Eastern Jam and Hypest Hype, my favourites from their impressive back catalogue. However, we did still catch the majority of their impressive performance which included some great guest appearances and very high quality visuals. Delilah’s short stint on stage was great as she sang immaculately to their collaboration, ‘Time’, and also lent her beautiful voice to sing along to the chopped up vocals on C&S’s remix of ‘Heartbeat’.
As soon as C&S left the stage it was a mad rush to get to the Gully where the legendary David Rodigan’s Ram Jam was in session. The sight of a 62 year old, white male jumping around stage to reggae and dancehall is often a clear sign of a mid-life crisis but not for this Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
Many years of dedication to music from Jamaica and the music that Jamaica has influenced has left him with an other-worldly collection of exclusive dubplates (usually with mentions of the man himself by the artist) and supreme ability as a selector. He worked the crowd into a frenzy as he travelled through reggae, dancehall and even more recent genres such as trap and dubstep. All of this plus the man’s crazy stage presence led to a really memorable set.
After a small break to catch our breath it was time to have that breath taken away again as we headed to the Arcadia stage. This 30ft spider armed with lasers and fire acts as a monumental dj booth when not playing host to various performance artists. There we caught a second and much better set by Fat Boy Slim and part of the surprise dj set by Chase & Status (there was a rumour this was going to be Daft Punk which was why we were there). However, despite the amazing spectacle of the stage, the sound system was clearly chosen in anticipation of a much smaller crowd which ultimately left many towards the back of the crowd dissapointed.
This fantastic day of music was rounded off at the intimate Stonebridge Bar for Toddla T and Raf’s (The 2 Bears) Girls Music Showcase which featured sets from the founders themselves plus Mele, Martello, Stylo G and special guests Rudimental. Toddla T’s set was by far the stand out as he selected from across multiple hot genres and subgenres on the current bass music landscape to create a happy, party atmosphere with grins on the face of all in attendance.
As Sunday dawned, I was keen to make the most of my last day at what was by far the best festival I have been to and Skream and friends provided an ideal opportunity. What the festival had entitled ‘boat parties’ kick started each day outside the nautical themed Wow stage, with the DJ booth in a boat at the entrance to the tent. The line up to the Skreamizm boat party presented perfect vibes to start the day dancing in the sunshine; Route 94, Artwork, Eats Everything and Skream B2B Disclosure.
After taking in some of the non-musical wonders of Glastonbury (namely a fantastic performance from national treasure Bruce Forsythe and some circus and cabaret acts) we got back to the Pyramid for Vampire Weekend’s quirky pop before rushing off for James Blake. Having been a huge fan of James Blake for years and for one reason or another missing all opportunities to catch him live as well as his outstanding new album, he was an absolute must see for me. His live set breathes new life into his already superb recorded work with extended versions and reworks of his best tracks. The stand out tracks were ‘CMYK’ with everyone singing along to the sample and the acid tinged rework of ‘Voyeur’.
In a slightly weird turn of scheduling, Odd Future co-founder Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt were next to grace the John Peel stage but this worked well for me. I’ve always found their alternative and heavy take on West Coast hip hop to be particularly interesting as witty and intelligent lyrics are quickly followed by announcements of how many bitches, diamonds and Jacuzzis they have over circle pit inciting beats. It was particularly interesting to see the elements of the crowd who had stuck around after James Blake without knowing what they were getting themselves in for or those who were waiting for Phoenix afterwards quickly turn and flee as they took to the stage.
After being forced to watch some bland folk revivalists headline the Pyramid, we headed over to catch the second half of The xx. We arrived as the soothing melodies of Jamie xx’s ‘Far Nearer’ were coming to a close and Jamie was re-joined by his band mates. Their sound was ideal for the occasion in some ways but completely wrong for anyone who wanted a jubilant and high energy ending to their festival. However, everyone that was there must have been aware of that and the crowd joyfully sang and hummed along. As always they took a no frills approach and their set was all about the music for a crowd that had chosen their music over that of many others.
With the prospect of driving home the next day and already weary legs the plan of the long trek to the Stonebridge Bar for the 1-800-Dinosaur showcase became less appealing. We instead decided on the much closer Hessle Audio showcase with label founders Pangaea, Ben UFO and Pearson Sound. Their forward thinking take on current techno and bass music was as impressive as always with Pangaea putting in the best set of the three which saw most of the crowd constantly fist pumping to the heavy techno he was providing.
As I said at the start of the review it really is difficult to get across just how great this festival is, it must be experienced to be believed. With almost any musical taste catered for and so much more besides, it’s clear why this is the biggest festival in the UK and one of the best in the world. Roll on 2014!
Written by Andy Brennan