Glanusk Estate | 16th – 19th August
Photography: Jessica Bartolini
It’s Wednesday evening, and deep in the luscious green forages of the Brecon Beacon valleys Green Man Festival is beginning to stir, preparing to glow effervescently once again for another year of thoughtfully curated arts and wholesome, fulfilling activity. Settlers, having arrived on Monday, mingle excitedly amongst each other, embracing the week-long camping experience and taking the infamous Green Man Pub quiz as serious as you can take it after three pints of potent Growler ale. It already encompasses the hearty feel of a quaint festival in such a unique setting, the unmistakable feeling of joyous escape enveloping you as soon as settle in.
Ensconced within the awe-inspiring Black mountains, with the weather making up its own mind as it pleases, Green Man Rising winners Park Motive evoke vibrant synth-pop that explores layers of evocative rhythm and pleasingly atmospheric notions. The maximalist nature of their live show allows for every subtle rhythm to effervesce and stand prominent. The band bounce about the stage with glee, seizing the opportunity and pulling a big crowd for the first band of the day.
Glowing in gold, Amber Arcades deliver driven yet subtly quaint Americana, expressed prominently through the bolder nature of their full-band sound. While at times a hint of lethargy hangs, there is a gritty expression to Annelotte de Graaf’s music, her smooth voice projected with genuine sombreness and silky harmonies amongst a rocking backdrop like ‘Where Did You Go’. Gloomy yet spectrally-layered psych, Perfect Body provide a driven, bolshy sound that can still experiment. The set builds fruitfully though, the consistent transition of vocalist opening their sound up considerably.
While at first they don’t sound as seamlessly tight as usual, Duds quickly warm up and find that integral kinship that makes them so invigorating. Giulio Erasmus spits into the microphone with more vehemence than before, and the band jump wildly around him while maintaining their rapidly shifting structures. Quickly following, Omni sound meticulous and immaculately in sync to their recorded output, yet it leaves the trio feeling slightly static. While they don’t explore far out of their formula, they remain one of the more melodically pleasing creators of angular punk, and none of that is lost live.
Squid pull the first big crowd of the day to the rising stage, their wonky noise-pop is intensely rowdy while drenched in excellent hooks and singalong moments. They reward the crowd with one of the most pleasing sets of the day. Also winning over a sizeable crowd, The Lemon Twigs have quickly become kings of theatrical bravado and bombastic power-pop that’s delivered with such audacity and assuredness that it doesn’t feel dated. Live they take all of their flamboyance and let it loose. While it may not be to some tastes, their star power can’t be denied. There’s an anxious, unsettled energy to Haze before they hit the Rising stage, a humble appreciation of the opportunity. They release it with one of their most frenetically loose shows, the snarling wit that rings deep within their music really protruding live as they thrash around the stage.
So to King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, playing their first ever UK headline festival set and absolutely tearing it, as they were born to do. Their festival set is packed full of the most raucous and indefatigable cuts of their arsenal. ‘Crumbling Castle’ incites a giant pit after the band tear through ‘Rattlesnake’ with fierce visuals, depicting crocodiles flying planes glaring over them. With this they prove themselves to be a band of two ilks, one that can go deep into a psych dream of eastern guitar fascinations and the jazzy inflections of ‘Cellophane’ and ‘The River’ and on the other, can belt out a tune like ‘Vomit Coffin’ and incite a crowd into literal pandemonium in both ways. The 1,2,3 salvo of ‘Robot Stop’, ‘Gamma Knife’ and ‘People-Vultures’ is the most apoplectic 20 minutes you could ask for, searing guitar weaving itself around Stu Mackenzie’s overwhelming howl. They are a force, and you can only see them get more and more tighter and focused as they carry on.
Saturday morning is spent meandering, appreciating the ease in which you can get yourself lost in such an intimate festival. Sweet Baboo is no stranger to such fascinations, tender, crafting lovestruck pop songs that twinkle with fond Britishness and catching, yearning melodies. The songs live are subtly delivered with gentle optimism, Stephen Black showing the wonderful melodic rewards of a bass guitar. In Black’s words the group are “economising” by stripping back to a trio, and the songs still flutter with instilled nostalgia and longing.
Sorry sound fierce, the big stage affording them a fuller, brisk sound that suits their lilting to searing progressions. Their songs continue to blossom, each turn revealing an unsuspecting hook that hangs for much longer than their songs actually last. The clanking synths that pierce their songs live retain a sense of unease, a suitable anxiety that fills their music.
A massive crowd descends for Welsh heroes, Boy Azooga. They reward it with a set that vibrantly displays their songwriting acumen and their eclectic energy live. ‘Face behind The Cigarette’ rips with its grooving bassline, while ‘Waitin” displays their more tender, 60s-indebted style. They are a humble and jolly bunch, constantly smiling throughout and thoroughly enjoying what they do. ‘Jerry’ has become their anthem, a pining tune that’s equally buoyant and bittersweetly nostalgic. A joyous cover of ‘Jungle Boogie’ with extra friends, including Big Jeff, amalgamates their psych and soft-pop elements and caps one of the most jubilant sets of the weekend.
Nubya Garcia has become a household name within the London Jazz movement in recent years. Taking to the Mountain Stage, Garcia fronts a four-piece including fellow trailblazer Joe Armon-Jones and lets loose on a grooving, liberating three-suite performance of consistently evolving, free-form Jazz. Jones’ fingers swim amongst the keys if separate from his body but plays with pinpoint precision, while Garcia’s sax takes centre stage, burning heartily, whether within a funky, bouncing phase or a more spacious, timid number.
Campbell Baum from Sorry’s other project, Adults, craft Tender and atmospheric dream-pop that simmers boldly and thrives within in a full-band dynamic. The songs are mellow but simmer with a wiry undercurrent, contrasting against the lushly woven pace and vocals. It’s a complete contrast to his other band, but beams just as much potential. The clouds have parted for blue skies, ready for Courtney Marie Andrews to deliver her affecting Americana. It’s the perfect setting, a calm afternoon with Andrews’ voice travelling far across the festival. Live, she explores the space that formed by her voice, trilling guitar and weighty keys playing amongst her vocal, a moving accompaniment to Courtney’s honest notions and powerful performance.
Another massive crowd descends on the Rising stage for Cardiff’s garage-glam lads, Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard. It’s a high-octane, melody-filled set that is utterly enrapturing, Tom Rees spinning with high kicks and chicken dancing throughout like a star. Where their strength lies is in the timeless power of their songs, ‘Last Night In Sweden’ is dirty and grooving and ‘John Lennon Is My Jesus Christ’ bold and audacious. They put on joyfully bombastic shows with seamless ease.
There aren’t many artists that hold the power to enrapture a crowd into silence quite like Phoebe Bridgers. Whether it’s in tranquil coo or in the slowly building nature of her songs, it arrests you as if you were just in the room with her. Now playing as a five-piece, the band add beautifully atmospheric accompaniment, ensuring Bridgers’ striking chords and all-encompassing vocal remains the priority. In this setting it loses none of its intimacy, allowing you to take a quiet moment to reflect and appreciate.
What’s great about Teenage Fanclub is you may have never heard one of their songs yet, but once you do, they immediately sound like old friends returning home. With their outstanding knack for melody, the band are able to explore any part of their now lengthy back catalogue and pull out a gem that could be a firm or new-found favourite. Live, it’s no different, their set ringing with vibrancy as Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley and Gerry Love combine together to resonate the love and unison of their songs, as in the yearning of old favourites like ‘About You’ and ‘Ain’t That Enough’.
There is a real sense of belonging about Fleet Foxes and Green Man Festival, as if they were intended for each other. The calm and clear night settles over the biggest crowd of the weekend as Robin Pecknold and Co. lead a trek through ‘I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar’. Anticipation to hear the latest cuts from ‘Crack-Up’ is rewarded, the songs embracing the earthy naturalism of their earlier work and really unifying the set as a whole. Sadly, whether due to natural issues or the way the sound was mixed, there are points where the group sound slightly quiet and as if breaking through a telephone line, the echo warbling with static as Pecknold delivered ‘In Time’ in solitude. It’s disappointing, and while ‘White Winter Hymnal’ and ‘Mykonos’ are pleasing, the feeling of disturbance can’t be shaken.
Sock’s jazz-infused slacker-rock goes down like honey for a warm Sunday afternoon. Jacob coos softly over the bands tranquil and slightly wonky melodies. The guitars, while minimalist, are like a soft cuddle, spritely and winsome. When they start to shuffle brightly things pick up a gear, showing their knack for a rhythm. In the more intimate setting of the rising stage, Park Motive’s serene, jazzy inflections are more prominent, giving their already grooving sound an extra layer of dynamism. ‘Troubadour’ is once again joy, a kaleidoscope of percussion weaved into a tropical chant. It’s been a definitive weekend for the group.
“If I’m a little anxious I apologise. I wanted to impress you by bringing a twelve-string guitar and I nearly hit a long-tailed sheep on the way here. It’s really quite beautiful here,” Haley Heynderickx explains before playing ‘Ride A Pack of Bees’. If any nerves are there, they don’t show. She’s bold, considered and arresting, her songs delivering such impact in their minimalism, a sense of danger and grit lurking in her tranquil progressions. She’s humble and honest, and it meets the genuine nature of her music.
In a climate where music journalism has been completely reshaped and moulded in the wake of several factors, it’s a shame that none of these lead the discussion The Future of Music Writing Post-NME had here today. A lack of youthful representation on the panel also harms a discussion about the changing climate. Had perhaps a leading light in online music culture (Pitchfork/Stereogum) or the several independent music zines (So Young, Femme Collective), which is where the form is heading, been a part, it would have offered more insightful discussion.
As the sun settled over the final evening of Green Man, the Mountain Stage rewarded us with a punching reminder of Kevin Morby’s striking ability. His songs possess this timeless concoction of melody and introspection, and live that’s explored boldly. The band are driven and rough, whether in the animated passion of ‘1234’ and ‘I Have Been To The Mountain’ or the tender sombreness of ‘Destroyer’. Choice cuts from Morby’s growing collection of work feature and it cements him as one the weekend’s most moving songwriters.
While Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever perform at a mile a minute, there’s still more than enough chance to lose yourself in their enrapturing melodies. With the three songwriters all sharing vocals throughout, it’s a pretty unified and exhilarating set. They sound supremely tight also, the drums hammering home throughout as the guitars sweep you along. They keep this up for the whole set, ‘Exclusive Grave’ quickly following ‘Time In Common’, while ‘Talking Straight’ is barked out like the anthem it is. The band don’t need to use shock or bravado to deliver an exciting set; it’s purely in the energy and magnetism of their music.
Where Fleet Foxes’ meticulous preparation of their set may have undone them, for Grizzly Bear it could not of been more of a success. The band sound majestic. The way the instruments weave within themselves as misty smoke descends from the stage under the sheared cloths that hang above them, it sets the tone for their immersive set and the exploration of their latest, Painted Ruins. The way in which Ed Droste, Daniel Rossen and Chris Taylor’s harmonies fit like a soft glove is stunning, ‘Sleeping Ute’ and ‘Ready, Able’ wistfully sweeping up the crowd into striking piano and off-kilter tempos that are uncompromisingly compelling and emotional. They remain a gleaming, progressive light within the US ‘indie’ scene, and long may it continue.
So with a sparkling firework display and the traditional burning of the Green Man statue, the festival once again comes to a close, just as we were prepared for at least a couple more days. That is when it hits you, Green Man Festival has the power to remove you from all vestiges of common life and provide you with a sense of rejuvenation that couldn’t come more naturally. It’s a truly special experience.