Green Man 2018: Livewire's Review
This year we had the pleasure of being able to go to the award winning Green Man Festival. With a line up full of the incredible artists from King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard to Fleet Foxes, we sent over some of our best people: Joshua Davis, Christopher Hambling and Katie Pilbeam. Read below to see their experience of this wonderful and special festival...
The festival started big, with Public Service Broadcasting’s Far Out Stage headline set on Thursday night. I was dubious on how a band who make music without lyrics could make an audience feel involved, but those worries were quickly swept away. As they performed songs from 2017’s Every Valley, we could feel a kind of symbiosis between the music and the surrounding hills. A predominantly Welsh crowd resonating with their country’s past to the sound of thundering guitar, drums and brass. But despite the large mining headstocks on stage and lanterns hanging from the tent’s ceiling, this show wasn’t all about coal – they powered through favourites from The Race for Space and Inform-Educate-Entertain all while stunning visuals flashed on the screens, and incredible light shows danced around the stage. A particular highlight was their performance of GO!, an incredibly energetic, driving and optimistic piece of music – everyone was dancing, and as the chorus came around we were surrounded by hundreds of people shouting its refrain.
Due to the nature of Public Service Broadcasting’s music, requiring the bandmembers to switch between instruments and concentrate on lining up music with archive audio, their performance was somewhat static. However, the band’s brass ensemble who accompanied the band more than made up for this with their dancing, and in the way they hyped up the audience. Not only this, but PSB had some surprises up their sleeves, bringing out guest vocalists and dancing astronauts at one point. The highlight though, was after their encore, when the band introduced the Beaufort Male Voice Choir who closed the set. The atmosphere was electric, the performance was beautiful, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the tent. “If this is what the first night is like,” I thought “how good must the rest of this festival be?”
The first act performing the next day were Cardiff-based HMS Morris, an art-pop band that combined funky guitar licks with synth keyboard sounds. The pressure of being the first band of the day, and the size of their crowd did not seem to faze them, as they played bop after bop, both in English and in Welsh. People were dancing, the atmosphere was cheerful, the sun was shining, and Green Man was shaping up to be one hell of a festival.
Following the upbeat start of HMS Morris, I went back to the Far Out tent to see something completely different. Hailing from Lancaster, The Lovely Eggs brought in a dedicated crowd, which made me feel out of place as a casual fan. But nonetheless I thoroughly enjoyed their set of fuzz-laden, nursery rhyme-esque lo-fi punk rock. Not even technical difficulties mid-way through their set put them off, shouting “this is how you know we’re DIY – NOTHING WORKS!”. They got through it though and closed with a song they claimed to be their mantra, a delightful singalong called Fuck it - good attitude to have in this day and age, I think.
Saturday brought more impressive performances on the Far Out stage, opening with Wrexam band Seazoo, who’s bizarre but upbeat brand of guitar pop enchanted everyone in the audience. Counting down how many songs they had as they went along (they played 11) – each song provided some new catchy lyric or riff that stuck in my head for the rest of the festival. For some of the songs, they even used a severed doll’s head, with glowing LED eyes, and buttons and knobs poking out of it in every direction. I don’t know how one masters this instrument, but Seazoo’s keys player certainly seems to have done just that. Following that was a competent, but boring performance from Sorry, a band which Green Man’s programme describes as “riot grrrl” – but I personally couldn’t hear any riots. They did pull a large crowd though, so they must be doing something right, but not for me.
Next on stage was Cardiff band, Boy Azooga, one of the freshest new sounds coming out of the Welsh music scene in a few years. They drew the biggest crowd so far, and they were eating out of the band’s hands. People were singing, people were dancing, and Boy Azooga were putting on an excellent performance. Switching instruments throughout the set and displaying incredible musical skill throughout. I suspect we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of them in the coming years. Not content with showing me just two impressive Welsh bands on Saturday, I saw Adwaith on the rising stage, who filmed their set with a funky looking 360 degree camera (I can’t wait to see that video). Like HMS Morris, they have songs both in English and in Welsh – all of which have a feminist indie-rock feel. This is another band well worth keeping an eye on, and I would highly recommend seeing them live and checking out their upcoming debut album.
Playing the Mountain stage on Satuday night just before Fleet Foxes was American singer-songwriter John Grant, who brought his piano laden gay country-ish ballads to the festival. He played a mix of upbeat and mellow songs, and was perfect for someone, like me, who just wanted to lie down and listen to some good music. Illness struck me again on Sunday, so I caught very little acts, but I did see an endearing set from Australia’s fresh, new talent Stella Donnelly, who rather unexpectedly also happened to speak Welsh. Her performance was intimate, and her songs were powerful, with lyrics about sexual abuse and horrible employers. Standing alone onstage with just a guitar, it didn’t feel like anything was missing at any point, and she captured the feel of her EP, Thrush Metal, recorded in a living room, perfectly. This was one of the best performances of the weekend.
Green Man festival was my first real experience of a music festival, and I feel slightly spoiled by it. The weekend was consistently sunny, the variety of food was amazing, the lineup was diverse and the site itself was beautiful. Green Man was all I could possibly have asked for from a festival and more. Nothing sums up Green Man for me more than the last day, when the wooden green man in the center of the festival was burned. The flames rose 50ft up into the sky, and emitted thousands of shining orange embers, the moment was peaceful, and brought a tear to my eye. The peace was then broken by an incredible fireworks display, which was so joyful and celebratory - and most of all loud. For me this was Green Man festival, moments of beautiful peace, broken by moments of joyous noise - I loved it, and I can’t wait to return.
Green Man 2018 hands down has to be one of my favourite festival experiences to date. It boasted a stellar line up, a wealth of fun to be had beyond the music and the loveliest festival atmosphere I’ve ever experienced. My musical highlight came as darkness drew up on the festival’s Saturday night and Phoebe Bridgers took to the idyllic Walled Garden stage. Not only was the set sonically perfect, but the stage looked heavenly as Bridgers stood in a flowing white dress with her guitar at a fairy-light adorned mic stand, surrounded by her band who were dressed up in black suits and ties. Together, they weaved through her stunning debut album ‘Stranger In The Alps’, from the soaring highs of ‘Motion Sickness’ (cut to me bawling my eyes out as I sing along) to the harrowingly beautiful lows of Bridgers sat alone on the stage, singing as if to nobody but herself.
Elsewhere, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard were mind-blowingly fantastic as they headlined the Mountain’s Foot stage, relentlessly powering through a perfect selection of their biggest, fuzziest bangers from their huge back catalogue. IDER bought their sunny smiles and gorgeous harmonies to Saturday, and sealed their set with a brilliant Outkast ‘Roses’ cover, sung in true IDER style. The Green Man rising stage was home to the festival’s freshest talent, and was the stage which hosted buzzy mystery London band Black Midi, who’s reputation has grown through word of mouth praise of their live show, as very little else about the band can be found online. Naturally, I was keen for a slice of the action – and was not disappointed – with melodies that chopped and changed at every awkward angle, thrashing guitars, an unrelenting drummer, the hype around these guys is to be believed.
Across the weekend I also loved sets from Public Service Broadcasting, The Lemon Twigs, Matt Maltese, Fleet Foxes, HMLTD and Snail Mail, but most of all, I loved the places I was seeing these bands – at the foot of a mountain, in a walled garden, dancing through the early hours in a tent that served chai tea. For me, the beauty of Green Man was found not only in the grandeur of its breath-taking setting, but also in its attention to detail; the friendly artwork and font adorning screens and programmes, the reusable plastic cups which eliminated a huge amount of waste (not a speck of rubbish in sight) and the huge wicker ‘green man’ standing proudly over the festival with ‘wishes’ written by festival-goers tied to him. It was also found in the spirit of its festival goers, in revellers of all ages; children, families, groups of young adults who all co-existed respectfully in the world of the festival. It’s hard to describe everything that made Green Man so wonderful, because there was so much joy to be found in discovering it all for the first time – so all I can say is, go and discover them for yourself, I’ll be back next year doing the same.
Green Man Festival is deeply tucked away within the landscape of The Brecon Beacons, Wales, but make no mistake, this hidden treasure is the proud home to one of the nicest festivals on the planet. It may take an entire day – via two lifts from parents, two train journeys and a shuttle bus – to get to it, but the moment you’re within its mountainous walls, you know you’re home.
Any regular festival would have you lumping your camping gear, your crates of strongbow and your fellow gang through endless, tiresome and loathsome queues – be it through rain or shine – only to have your bags checked through and through and a wristband tightly clasped to your arm, cutting off any and all circulation. You’ll stink of sweat (already), but you’ll persevere, and once you’ve set up camp in some overcrowded swamp, you’ll smile through the pain and down the closest tinny in sight.
I’m already beginning to sound bitter, but the immediate atmosphere, cleanliness and friendliness of Green Man taught me within seconds how every other festival is simply doing it all wrong. Fresh off the shuttle bus, we were met with sparkly and tropical volunteers, donned in wacky outfits, who were dishing out good vibes and wristbands in spades. After making a small donation to The Green Man Trust, the accompanying charity which supports arts & culture in Wales, we made our way over a bridge, and into festival paradise, along with every other hippy, family, child, teen, youngster and life-lover. When crossing this bridge you knew you were entering something removed from the everyday and separate, more so, from the shadowy corporate greed that lurks between the cracks of big-time festivals. Monster energy stalls are swapped for boutique, independent juice bars, Hyundai adverts are traded for luscious signage illustrated by Sunniva Krogset (in collaboration with Bread Collective) and a Carlsberg tent is transformed into an independent Welsh beer festival. You won’t find a single non-descript burger or fried chicken van. Instead, you’ll treat your insides to a plethora of vegan and veggie options; from deep-fried cauliflower and tofu wings to Indian Dosas (a fried lentil wrap, chock-full of veggie curry) and sushi burritos. Don’t panic, there are meat options too.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The festival grounds span across the beautiful landscape, enclosed by hills, mountains and forests, but the solar system of stages all orbit the centrepiece of Green Man: a huge wicker man, carrying a basket of fruit, in which customers can attach their wishes to before it is burned in the closing ceremony, complete with a firework display. If that doesn’t sound like a dream then I don’t know what is.
Again, I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface as Green Man held host to a wide variety of stages. Whether you were boxed in by stone walls in the (you guessed it) Walled Garden stage, watching a lineup of new acts from Wales’ own HMS Morris to Matt Maltese, or if you visited the Chai Wallahs tent after dark for a boogie with the Tropical Tea Party, there was always something for you. However, stand out moments at the Walled Garden for me had to be the bands that performed after the headline acts. HMLTD, although overrunning with their sound check, blew the heads off teenagers and parents alike making it well worth the wait, but most of all, I found myself entranced by Snapped Ankles on the Saturday night. Dressed in ghillie suits or god knows what, the weird dance-rock band insisted on phones being pocketed and they shuffled and jumped around on stage with their fellow… characters? By the time their set was ending and coming to a climax, a whole gang on hairy monsters danced to the music and I wasn’t sure if I was watching a deleted scene from the Mighty Boosh, or if there was stronger forces at play in my cup of Green Man cider. Either way I made it back to camp at who knows what time with a smile from ear to ear and ready to do it all over again.
Luckily for me, Snapped Ankles weren’t the only band to impress. During the day at The Far Out stage, Green Man’s NME tent, Japanese noise-rock band Bo Ningen graced us with their epic presence. With hair down to their waistlines and riffs as long and progressive as my journey to Wales, Bo Ningen insisted on being a joy to watch, and a pleasure to photograph. What’s more, their live performance not only expands the sound of their records, but it perfectly captures the sheer HYPE that is laced within every single song. They could have played forever, and I would have been totally cool with that. Later on, when Fleet Foxes were finished at the Mountains Foot Stage, we hurriedly made our way back to witness the almost religious experience that was Simian Mobile Disco presenting their newest record Murmurations alongside The Deep Throat Choir. Who knew an all-female choir and two DJs would go so hand-in-hand, but the final result was a dance experience that transcended your everyday DJ set. Simian Mobile Disco and The Deep Throat Choir took us elsewhere and beyond, and I will never forget it.
Without a doubt, the absolute highlight of my Green Man experience was the frantic, psychedelic, montage-like performance delivered by none other than King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard at the Mountain’s Foot stage. Understandably, suspicion and speculation was among the camp prior to their performance. With five (5!) albums out in one year, and so many other records previously recorded, what were they going to play? Are we going to know any of it? Is it all going to be a bit too much? Is it just going to be some kind of joke? And I can assure you it was easily one of the most impressive headline acts I have ever seen, and this is against seeing bands like Metallica, Muse, and Biffy Clyro over the past few years. King Gizzard took these fears all in their stride and rather than playing tracks from recent albums like any other band would’ve, they instead cherry-picked a wide variety of tracks from multiple albums, weaving in and out of different records, lacing different songs with similar melodies. It was incredible and it was the most fun I have ever had… sitting down. I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like slap-bag in the middle, amongst the sweat and the smoke.
After taking it all in – the landscape, the food, the drink, the music, the atmosphere – I easily decided within myself that I’d go back next year, but in all honesty I think I knew that the minute I walked through the front door.
Check out the podcast they made along the way covering the highlights of the festival as well as interviews with Phoebe Bridgers, Public Service Broadcasting, Snail Mail, Sorry, Stella Donnelly and a selection of unexpected festival goers: