For many, Green Man Festival is a highlight of the festival calendar, and ones which offers the best of both worlds – blending major artists with the more obscure gems of the music world, and evolving into a major platform while still maintaining a maverick, essentially ‘indie’ core. In short, it very much has a festival ‘feel’ without the festival ‘stress’.
With the exception of a few, many of the artists in this year’s line-up I am only just discovering for the first time and some I have instantly become enamoured with. There is such a diversity of music to select from, and as if that isn’t enough, there is plenty of locally sourced food, ales, and other festivities to keep your tastebuds, as well as earbuds, occupied. As myself and photographer Gareth Bull arrive on the site on a drizzly Thursday night, the welcoming vibe that greets us instantly offsets the dread of camping out in a damp field in the Welsh mountains for three days.
So Friday arrives and kicking off our weekend musical fix in the Far Out Stage is none other than Zefur Wolves – the side project of Super Furry Animals member Cian Ciarán. They conjure up the type of surreal psyche-infused rock that Cian’s fellow band have become renowned for, but take it down a much darker road with dirgy guitar riffs, socio-political conscious lyrics and the mystical vocals of lead singer Estelle Ios.
The Mountain Stage, with its picturesque backdrop, marks the perfect setting for the luminous, aptly saccharine sound of bilingual North Walian tunesmith Sweet Baboo. His distinct sound combines warm, autumnal melodies with sweetly sardonic, Kinks-ian lyrics, while a string section augments the intimate atmosphere.
It is then the turn of Natalie Prass to grace the Mountain Stage, as she struts on adorning a pair of orange sunglasses that were probably the brightest thing on this rainy Friday. What follows is a set of timeless-sounding R ‘n’ B-influenced pop derived from a heart and soul the size of a Nashville moon, and distilled through a voice of pure, honey-tinted beauty. Having listened to her music regularly prior to the festival, this was perhaps the most surprising performance for me in terms of what I was expecting, and I mean that in a good way. While her elegant voice was still on display here, she exuded a quiet swagger and presence that completely offset the sugary sweet persona on record.
As the sky draws even darker than usual, Vietcong energise the Far Out crowd with a set of raw, primal DIY post-punk fuelled by gruff vocals and distorted bass riffs, while Villagers bring a suitably more mellow vibe to the Mountain Stage with melodies stirring enough to warm the senses on a wet summer night.
One of the bands I have been particularly excited about seeing (having already seen them two years ago at Swn Festival in Cardiff) is psych-rock princes Temples in Far Out. Once again they did not disappoint, serving up 60’s-dusted garage rock of the highest order and proving that quality guitar music is far from dead in this day and age. Had they formed in an earlier era when guitar bands once reigned supreme, they would be much bigger than they are for sure. With a new album currently in motion, they are sure to go on to bigger pastures soon.
The first day eventually draws to a close with headliners Hot Chip bringing their infectious electro indie-disco to the Mountain Stage, provoking a tsunami of bobbing heads in the pit. Meanwhile, Danish alt-rockers Mew conjure up a wall of swirling guitar riffs and soaring melodies from the Far Out stage that entrances everyone in its wake, and ends on the day on a hallucinogenic high.
Saturday approaches and so do the first minor signs of a hangover and camping fatigue. We make our way to the Far Out Stage as Trust Fund open proceedings for the day, looking more like a group of Topshop models than a festival band, and providing a gentle hair-of-the-dog with some polite punk-pop imbued with sunny melodies and idiosyncratic lyrical themes evoking teenage mundanity.
From one extreme to the other, London garage-punk band Yak take over on the Far Out Stage and assault any pair ofears within distance with a grunge-inspired sledgehammer assault of feedback-heavy guitars, distorted bass riffs that sound like they are on speed, vocals that sound like they drink Jamesons in their breakfast cereal and drumming so frenetic that one of the cymbals is knocked off in the process.
In stark contrast, H Hawkline arrive on the Far Out stage all the way from nearby in Cardiff and are just as contrasting in their lo-fi indie rock sound with riffs that hit you more like a gentle breeze than a hurricane, interspersed with fittingly dry interaction with the crowd. Just as decidedly laid back are fellow compatriots Colorama who take to the Mountain Stage performing a mellow hybrid of blues, folk and rock embellished with a sunny pop glean. Shortly after, Icelandic Vök shake the four walls of the Walled Garden Stage with melancholic, string-laden indie trip-hop of the sort their native island specialises in.
Songhoy Blues bring a touch of the blues to the greenest of festivals as they play within the increasingly humid cauldron of Far Out, just as the first chimes of thunder and rain descend from the sky and send more people scuttling into the arena for shelter. The real storm though takes place on the stage as the band perform an electrifying set that is as raw and potent as it is uplifting. The band are a testament to the cathartic, storytelling power of music. Their back story is no less than inspirational – with all members having fled their war-torn home in northern Mali out of which the band was formed – and the band tell it in the best way possible through their music.
Then it is the moment of reveal at Far Out as to who the mystery act is. It is none other than TOY and Natasha Khan aka Bats For Lashes marking their debut performance underneath their new moniker Sexwitch (a name almost deliberately destined to send a few heads scratching), with the name’s announcement initially greeted by a fairly confused response from the audience, which is sustained somewhat by the visceral, oversexed sound and banshee-like vocals that follow it. Whether you loved it or just weren’t sure what to make of it at all, Sexwitch certainly got a few people talking with their set (which they are sure to continue to do so for the next few months), with Khan stalking around the stage with vigorous intensity.
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires manage to bring the Saturday night feeling perfectly as they perform a white-hot set of southern-fried funk and northern soul. The man himself Mr Bradley is charisma personified, at one point calling for the impending rain to stop and let love win, and enunciating an inspiring mantra of ‘never giving up on your dreams, as they live within you’.
Then there is a choice of two legends of the post-punk genre performing adjacent to each other – Television on Mountain Stage and The Fall on Far Out. We opt for the latter and are greeted with a performance that is idiosyncratic in every sense of the word, barely grasping a single word or note from the mouth of founder/vocalist Mark E Smith. It was certainly one of the more ‘unique’ performances of the weekend and certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of pure peculiarity.
From one group of rock longevitists to another, as 90’s Welsh psych-rock wizards Super Furry Animals mark their anticipated arrival which is greeted by an enthusiastic crowd applause matched only by the incessant rainstorm in its verve. The band once again deliver a marathon set, except it is less a marathon and more a long-distance, neon-fuelled sprint through their back catalogue. The unfailingly moving Hello Sunshine being sung in unison amidst the downpour provides one of the standout moments of the entire weekend and brings the halfway point of the festival to an memorable close, with fans departing soaked to the core and smiles firmly etched on their faces.
The final day descends and by Sunday, the effects of camping in a soggy field and feasting on burgers, carbonera and ales start to take their toll. Thankfully, there is still plenty of sweet music to provide the perfect remedy to it.
Ryley Walker supplies a soundtrack suited to a lazy Sunday within the serene setting of the Walled Garden Stage, serenading spectators with a stirring stew of blues, jazz and folk. A lengthy, hallucinatory jam eventually segues into Primrose Green. Midway through the set, the sky returns to a shade of blue and the sun pokes its head, as Ryley’s husky tones and intricate melodies provide an aural medicine for the soul.
Over at the Far Out Stage, US electro duo Sylvan Esso – the pairing of Mountain Man vocalist Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn aka Made Of Oak – justify the growing hype heaped on them with atypical ease, treating a plentiful audience to their slinky electro-soul with equally slinky dance moves to match
courtesy of Amelia. Her seductive vocal is a perfect fit for the dreamy soundscapes of Nick, who just as effortlessly laughs off a few minor mishaps on the mixing desk and provokes a few laughs from the crowd, as well as a newfound respect for how complicated mixing a few sound effects together actually is.As the final dusk approaches, folk rock siblings The Staves wind down spectators on the Mountain Stage with finely tuned harmonies and luscious melodies that recall the sounds of classic folk artists, while adding a modern take to it with yearning escapist lyrics. Father John Misty follows suit performing his solo catalogue of rousing Gothic folk while dragging the microphone around every inch of the stage he can, interspersed with deliciously dark and dry humour.
Eventually, we reach a climax as St Vincent and Goat headline the Mountain Stage and Far Out Stage respectively. It’s perhaps simultaneously one of the best and the cruellest aspects of this festival that two top-draw acts are both slotted to perform at the same time, and it presents a sheer dilemma as to who to see. So while St Vincent dazzles everyone with a set oozing theatricality of epic proportions, Swedish sonic mavericks Goat deliver a psychosis-inducing blend of kaleidoscopic rock riffs, Afro-funk grooves and psych-pop melodies together in one irresistible melting pot that bring s our Green Man weekend to an euphoric end. Finally, the festival concludes for another year with the burning of the eponymous Green Man and an impressive firework display.
For me, the sheer range of artists on offer typified everything that was great about this festival, opening doors to a universal corridor of song. The overall atmosphere, untainted even despite everything the weather could throw at us, elevates it a cut above other festivals. Having spent three ways living and breathing this musical melting pot within the Welsh wilderness, myself and Gareth are ultimately left pining for more of the same. Another weekend at Green Man Festival is definitely on the cards for next year and beyond – but we do advise bringing an extra set of wellies just incase.
Check out the video montage of some of the highlights of the festival (directed by Gareth Bull) below.
More from Green Man Festival