If you look up the word hedonism in a dictionary, it will probably say something like…
“a school of thought that argues that pleasure is the primary or most important intrinsic good. In very simple terms, a hedonist strives to maximize net pleasure”
The dictionary writers can replace this with a simple photograph of a man in a road cycling cap, swinging his t-shirt round his head, in a glowstick necklace, up to the ankle in what we were all hoping was mud. This scene happened. It was 4 am on the last night of Glastonbury Festival 2015. It took place inside a mock Aztec temple where several hundred revellers worshiped at the alter of DANCE. The man in the cap is my friend, and I left him arms aloft, eyes closed, and a broad smile across his lips. These were the closing moments of my festival, eking out the last drop of pure enjoyment before I decamped and departed at 7am Monday morning. In short this was the best festival I’ve ever been to!
The fun started almost as soon as I arrived on Wednesday morning. I met up with uni friends (The Manchester Group) and spent the day mooching around the site, festival strength cider in hand, catching up with old friends and enjoying the wonderful weather and the picturesque Somerset countryside. After a day in the sunshine, and feeling somewhat woozy, it’s bed before 1am.
So far so sedate.
Thursday evening rolls around after spending the day hanging out with my friends from Kent, more cider and a Goan fish curry was consumed. Dick and I break away from Kent group and wander over towards a venue called the Blues. The Blues is somewhere between a shanty town and a favela. Corrugated steel and timber make up the enclosure for the dance floor and the platform from where tonight DJs spin their pounding Techno. We met up with the Manchester Group to hear Ellen Allien get the dancefloor heaving as the gloaming descends over the site. We stayed in the Blues until around midnight, throwing shapes with abandon!
Then begins the wandering!
We seemed to walk the length and breadth of the vast encampment, taking in the darkly surreal enclave of what is known descriptively as the ‘South East Corner‘. The SE Corner is made up of a number of Crystal Maze-esque zones.
Glasto Latino, with it’s Latin tinged Rum Shack.
The Common, a mock Aztec area, with the Temple it’s central beacon emitting its lights and lasers into the clear black sky, and the Cave, a nightclub hidden behind the curtain of a waterfall.
Block 9 is a post apocalyptic city block housing NYC Downlow, a nightclub staffed by drag queens playing NYC Disco (our group’s favourite). London Underground, another indoor club dedicated to underground UK dance Music, with a London tube train crashed precariously into the façade! Then there is Genysis, an outdoor arena bathed in a queasy green light, and the DJ booth a balcony of a derelict tower block.
Beyond the ‘Walking-Dead-on-acid’ vibes of Block 9, we stumbled and staggered into the heart of darkness. Shangri-la is the epicentre of the late night weirdness at Glastonbury. Shangri-la is split into two zones, Shangri-Hell, and Shangri-Heaven. Heaven is a white faceted arena where the crystal like walls take on the characteristics of whatever projections are being cast over them. Here the image of Michael Eavis is worshipped as a deity. The DJ booth above the arena crackles and shines with lasers and spotlights. Throngs of revellers kick up the dust from Michael’s pasture dance floor
As a counterbalance to sunny atmosphere of Heaven, there is the revolution themed Hell area. Like something out of Mad Max, the red painted caverns and alleys are bestrewn with a brand of semi-serious revolutionary graffiti, by such artistic luminaries as Shepard Fairey, and Stanley Donwood. The main Hell stage is surrounded by tall walls from which ‘protesters’ hang off waiving placards, with demands such as ‘more oxygen for all’. Emanating off the main Hell stage are small rooms and booths populated by artists, musicians, freaks and weirdos, writhing into the early hours.
We pass unscathed through Heaven and Hell, and into the nightmare of the Mutoid Waste Companies Unfairground. Like an episode of Scooby Doo, wandering through the Unfairground leaves you thinking that there is something seriously wrong with this vision, which sits somewhere between a steampunk Victorian fairground, and neon 60s Americana.
It’s now very late, or very early, depending on our now slightly twisted perspective, and we hit the old railway line and escape this particular region of peculiarity. There are only a few of the group who made it through the SE Corner, and we head up to the Stone Circle in the King’s Meadow. Supposedly the centre of spiritual Glastonbury, in reality the Stone Circle is full of filthy young men and young women huddled around dying camp fires in desperate need of some sleep. Somewhere an inevitably hairy man beats a conga drum, and the sun begins to rise on the horizon, turning the mist in the valley into a shifting orange sea.
Despite my lack of sleep, I emerge bleary eyed from my tent, grasping my itinerary lanyard at about 11.30 on Friday morning. I make myself a cuppa on my Trangia camp stove, and head out on my own into the first day of proper music.
The first band I watch is on the Park Stage, which perches on a hillside on the southern edge of the site. The Park is possibly the fourth or fifth biggest stage at the festival, and is by far my favourite venue. The atmosphere is relaxed, the crowds jovial and the performers are eclectic. This band are called King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. They are a bunch of Australian men in their 20s playing psychedelic garage rock with big nods to the Grateful Dead, and 13th Floor Elevators. I found my place in front of the sound mixing tower and bobbed my head along with their set quite happily.
There is a bit of a theme to the bands I chose to watch at this year’s festival, and that is bands who I have heard being played on BBC 6Music. In that vein I stomped down the hill from the park, to the Other Stage to see Everything Everything. The Other Stage is the second largest stage on the site, and was crowned by some sort of animal antlers this year.
I wasn’t overly impressed by Everything Everything’s brand of jangly indie pop, but the relatively large early afternoon crowed enjoyed bobbing along to their hit single ‘Regret’.
I then saw another indie rock band called Hooton Tennis Club in a tiny tent called William’s Green. I had left the Other Stage before the end of EE’s set, and I did the same for HTC… I wasn’t hugely enamoured by their soft indie rock, and the best part of the whole enterprise was that it was in a tent, so I missed the first big rain shower of the weekend.
So the ground was now a light slurry of mud, and I trudged back across the site past almost inevitably Billy Bragg performing on his Leftfield stage, through the fairy lights of the Glade, and through the Pennard Hill camping ground back up to the Park.
And so started the best run of bands I saw at the whole festival. I met up with the Kent Group and watched Wolf Alice, fronted by their engaging singer Ellie Rowsell, Wolf Alice are an alternative guitar band from London doing the Quiet/Loud/Quiet/Loud template of 90s grunge in a very enjoyable way! I’d never heard them before, but came away from the performance a new fan.
Next on at the Park was Benjamin Booker, a deep down and dirty blues guitarist from New Orleans, complete with cigarette hanging loosely from his lips, and can of Red Stripe at his feet, his black guitar snarled and growled its way through his set, and even had the crowd singing along to his cover of ‘Li’l Liza Jane’
Booker told us who was coming on stage after him… ‘…only Sharon Fucking Van Etten, don’t go anywhere’ I didn’t. Sharon Van Etten, the New York singer and her band were really incredible, and although I’d only heard two of her songs on the radio, the whole set was enthralling and full of clear heartbreak and melancholy. Her song ‘Every Time the Sun Comes Up’, gives me shivers every time I hear it now.
And so to the first headline act of the festival, and my first time venturing to the West Holts (Formerly Jazz World) stage. I switched groups again, leaving the Kent Guys, and meeting up with the Manchester Group at the front, right hand side of the stage for Hot Chip. Everyone was in high spirits, after seeing Caribou finish their set with a weekend defining rendition of ‘Sun’, which paved the way perfectly for the indie geek electro of Hot Chip. They’re an enigma of a band at the best of times. A contradictory mix of big electronic four-to-the-floor beats of ‘Over and Over’ and poignant tender moments of real emotion ‘One Life Stand’ and this set was no different. The new tracks from their 2015 album ‘Why Make Sense’ baluster their already impressive setlist, especially their set opener, ‘Huarache Lights’. This was bookended by one of the absolute highlights of the festival. They covered The Boss’ song Dancing in the Dark (seemed appropriate as we were) and melted this into my favourite song of all time, ‘All My Friends’ by LCD Soundsystem, (who’s guitarist Al Doyle also plays in Hot Chip). As one of my friends put it, “you must’ve had a massive geekgasm!” They were right… I did!
Despite protesting that I could go on no further, and that my legs were gone, four hours later, we were still dancing in the dark.
Saturday morning dawns over Worthy Farm, and I un-peel my aching body from its sleeping bag, and to my surprise both the ground and my Doc Martens are dry. The sky is overcast, which is perfect because it means I wasn’t woken up by the blistering sun as I was the preceding morning.
The first act I’m interested about seeing is the Australian singer and guitar player, Courtney Barnett. I meet Dick and the Kent Gang in the Avalon Cafe. It’s now very warm, and I find them sucking down huge organic milkshakes.
I persuade Dick to abandon his group and come watch Courtney Barnett with me. She is playing on the famous Pyramid Stage. It is my first excursion to this side of the site all week. The area in front of the pyramid is now a crust of mud and abandoned paper plates.
Above the stage on the front of the pyramid, there is a clock with three stationary hands, and the words, ‘Time for Peace’ The words seem almost laughable in light of the Tunisia beach shooting that had occurred the day before. But I guess while there are still people who hold onto the unifying ethos of love and peace, the world is a slightly better place. It may be naive to think it, but while there are musicians, and activists shouting into the abyss from their festival soap boxes the embers of those early 70s hippy fires are kept glowing.
Anyway, Courtney Barnett. Young, angry, and telling it like it is. It’s clear from her words and performance the woman has issues, and she is not shy about talking about her depression/anxiety through a series of kitchen sink (bedsit) tales of struggle. She has mud splattered up her skinny black jeans and looks like she has slept almost as little as me, but she puts on a visceral performance, and I come away enthused!
I Leave Dick to re-join his posse, and once again I head off solo in search of my new favourite band. The next candidate is an incredible multi instrumentalist called Sinkane, over on the West Holts stage. London born, raised in Sudan and now lives in New York, Sinkane is signed to James Murphy’s DFA record label, and has all the cool that comes with this pedigree! Mixing Afrobeat, prog and electronica, Sinkane and his band slowly draws a decent crowd who are prised away from the Brothers Cider bar, and sucked into his whirlwind of guitars and drums.
I catch about half of the set by ex- Supergrass front man, Gaz Coombes, who draws a large audience basking in the sunshine up in the park. His fans enjoy a lively set, but I’m here for who is on next.
Poet, Play-write, rapper, Mercury Music prize nominated, and Ted Hughes Prize winner, 29 year old Londoner Kate Tempest strides on stage in a red baseball cap, and looks genuinely in awe of the rapturous reception she receives. She rumbles and raps her way through her narrative tales of a masseuse called Becky and her tumultuous relationship with a drug dealer called Pete. The songs are telling everyday tales of inner city life for the young. Drugs. Sex. Boredom. She drops in pieces of her spoken word poetry in between her songs. Frequently dealing with personal perception,
“One man’s flash of lightning ripping through the air is another’s passing glare, it’s hardly there”
…and making me shed a little tear during her final performance of her poem “Hold Your Own”
At one point during the performance she is so taken aback by the crowd’s response to her, she heads off into the wings, only to re-appear with a bottle of bubbly with which she toasts us, and pours down the welcoming neck of her perspiring drummer. This is in the best performances I’ve seen at the festival… maybe ever!
Following Kate Tempest was going to be tricky… But I rejoined the Manchester Group before the Norwegian DJ Todd Terje. During his performance of his hit ‘Inspector Norse’ Kevin, AKA the man in the cycling cap, proclaims that this is the most perfect song ever written. This was noted by me as the most ridiculous statement in a weekend full of ridiculous statements!
I then head back up to the park to see Spiritualized play a rather turgid set at the Park, lots of lights and feedback, but the whole thing left me a little flat.
I then met up with Dick, who with 1% phone battery remaining on his phone, managed to arrange a meeting point in order to hit the SE Corner again. At 1am we saw Dick’s local Maidstone boys done good, The Slaves play the Hell Stage. Slaves are a two piece low-fi punk/rock band who write raucous songs about bigfoot and manta-rays. The Hell Stage erupted as a man dressed as the titular Manta-ray stage dives into their midst.
As we were walking back to the railway line, our tents and bed, Dick got distracted by some phat Dn’B eminating from a circus tent in the unfair ground. we entered the steaming hot venue and who should be playing but one of Dick’s favourite DJs of his youth. DJ Dilinja, playing old school Jungle! We stayed until the end of his set, then once more into the night, and the 40 min trudge back to the tent. Entirely Elated.
Here we go again! Sunday, the last day… time to go hard, then go home!
I headed down to West Holts and on another 6Music tip, I watched Ibibio Sound Machine, a UK/Nigerian band playing music to get those tired knees flexing again.
I then take a walk through the massed ranks of festival zombies over to the Pyramid for only the second time. I took up a position a good way back in crowd to see the real legend of the festival. Not for me, the soul stylings of Lionel Richie, Put the New York punk poet herself Patti Smith. She comes on spitting, and raging, and shows the crowd that there is still space to believe in principles in rock music. She mellows out a great deal three quarters of the way through the set, as she dedicates a song to the Dalai Lama, and then proceeds to ask us to welcome him onto the stage. I have absolutely no idea how one is supposed to feel when asked to sing happy birthday to the head of one of the world’s major religions, but I can tell you now, it was very surreal. As the Dalai Lama shuffles off stage right, I don’t feel that his words held any more significance than the standard, let’s all be nice to each other vibes you get all over the festival.
I meander off for my first visit to the John Peel tent.
I watch Canadian shoe gaze/dream pop band Alvvays jangle their way through an enjoyable set, including their single ‘Archie Marry Me’. Their singer and guitarist Molly had the crowd in the palm of her hand throughout the performance.
Staying in the John Peel tent I watch Django Django, until mid set they blow up the generator. I recognise a couple of their singles, and enjoy the gig.
I head back over to the Pyramid as the generator kicks back in and Django Django celebrate with a long deep blast of bass synth. I make my way to the middle of the crowd to watch Alt-J. I’m staring into the strong afternoon sun now as it slowly moves behind the pyramid itself, making watching the black clad band somewhat of a challenge as the whole stage sits in silhouette. For the first time the people surrounding me in the audience almost spoil the gig. I’m surrounded by ‘Gap Yahr’ posh late teens who just chat bullshit the entire way through the set. “I just luuuurve this baand sooo much, I tried to get Daaaddy to book them for my Yaaacht paaaarty for graduation” or some such utter toss… Anyway… I enjoyed what songs I could hear, but it left me with a strong desire to avoid the pyramid as much as possible.
I had intended to see the Fall, and Goat later on on Sunday, but by this point I was running on empty, it took me an hour to walk back to the tent and at this point I just had a lie down for a while.
The Manchester Group come back to the camp to prepare for the evening. So it’s a quick blast of dry shampoo, a baby wipe wash, fill up the hip flask and its time to head out for the last time of the weekend.
We are down in the mix for the Chemical Brothers. 20,000 people all moving as one. Giant robots are lowered from the roof of the Other Stage and they shoot lasers out of their eyes. My friend Stuart releases a red flair… It’s broadcast live across the BBC! The two Chems on stage drop their Block Rockin’ Beats on us, and we love it! By the time they play this, and Music Response, the crowd is in a frenzy. Arms raised to the sky, aching legs stamping in the mud. They may not be the most relevant Superstar DJs in the world now, but they know how to have a party, they brought the main festival to a rousing finale!
Now the story comes full circle, back to the Temple in the Common with that mud dance floor and the pounding, pounding house music. The DJs were Bicep, Joy Orbison, and Jackmaster.
And that was Glastonbury 2015.
As Emily and Michael Eavis said. “This was the best one yet”
Post by modulorMAN