In Henri Lefebvre’s book, the Critique of Everyday Life, there is a chapter entitled Notes Written One Sunday in the French Countryside. Here, he details the idea of ‘festival’ in medieval French peasant culture. He identifies a Bacchic celebration and release of pent-up emotion over the course of a few days, ending with an orgy of destruction and festivity. Lefebvre’s symbolic and realist observations have echoed down the years and seem to have found root in Green Man festival, set in the heart of the Brecon Beacons. Although the orgiastic carnality of Lefebvre’s notions of the festival were (probably) absent from the 16th Green Man, 2018 possessed all the visceral euphoric celebration of culture identified by Henri. As it always is, Green Man was a belter. Four days jam-packed with the loud, the flamboyant, the strange, the intriguing, the confrontational, and the beautiful. Chilean krautrock, catatonic anti-comedy, swamp creatures, and Welsh male voice choirs all found a place in one of Britain best festivals, set against the sublime beauty of the Black Mountains.
I think Green Man is my favourite festival. It deals in the cult, the refreshing, the avant-garde, whilst remaining accessible for all. It’s the kind of festival that appreciates how influential bands like the Brian Jonestown Massacre are. This is why they were given top billing at the Far Out stage on Sunday night, plying a beaten, battered but never broken Green Man crowd with an immediately identifiable blend of psychedelia that takes in krautrock, electronica, and 60s pop. The festival seems to appreciate the need for innovation and the new. This is why Australian psych shamans King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard headlined the main (‘Mountain’) stage on Friday. Green Man will hopefully be the first of many festivals to come that include wildcard headliners; Glastonbury take note.
Although Green Man is primarily a music festival, one of the most enjoyable sets was from comedian Ed Aczel. For those that don’t know, Ed Aczel is an anti-comedian that has the dry, desiccated manner of a bank clerk that belies the strange, almost other-worldly nature of his comedy. Not that he’s a surreal comic, or that he deals with cosmic matters or futuristic concepts, but that it’s incredibly hard to describe quite why he’s funny. He outlined his aims for the show (to ‘metaphorically blow the roof off’ as well as be ‘showstopping’), he divulged a few possible titles for the show (‘Ed Aczel: From the Corners of his imagination’, among others). Imagine these delivered by a Transport Secretary and you might start to get a sense of why this was so funny. He was one of the acts I was most looking forward to and he did not disappoint. Although his set was at 9 o’clock on a Saturday night, surely a graveyard slot for a leftfield comic, his magnetism and talent were demonstrated by the size of the crowd when he started (big), as well as how big it was when he finished (bigger). Incidentally, the last part of his set consisted of him drawing (with black Sharpie) a national flag and asking the audience to guess what country it belonged to. His set was brilliantly post-modernist and provoked as much of a reaction as the blistering psych of Bo Ningen or the simply sublime Follakzoid.
The best band I saw other the course of the weekend played two songs over the course of an hour, walked off stage after technical mishap- no – cataclysm, and were made up of misfits: a drummer who looked like he could drum for Iron Maiden, a clean-cut synth player wearing New Balance shoes and sensible trousers, and an oh-so gaunt guitarist/singer who barely played guitar and sung even less, preferring to mince around on stage using his guitar strap to mimic a noose around his neck. This band was magisterial, brave, and righteous. It was, of course, Follakzoid. Like with Ed Aczel, it was hard to pinpoint what was so great about them. The drummer played one beat for an hour, the synth player mostly played just one droning note, and the guitarist produced squeals and squalls of white noise every so often; he also sang four lines during the set. Despite suffering from technical problems throughout the set, instructing the lighting people to turn all the lights off for a good three minutes, and one of their roadies accidentally pushing both guitar amps over, the set was a triumph. After the amps fell over, the band walked offstage to a chorus of queries from the audience. Presuming that their set had finished, I moped out of the Far Out tent. However, as I reached the edge of the cavernous arena, a huge blast of white noise and guitar feedback filled the air and the band were back – this was hands down one of my favourite Green Man moments.
Mount Kimbie were another highlight, a semi-spiritual collection of the best in electronica and ambient music. They thoroughly deserve their place in the pantheon of modern-day electronic greats. This was reflected in the size of the crowd, which filled up to the outer reaches of the Far Out Tent. The great thing about Green Man is that they clearly have their ear to the ground and aren’t afraid to give smaller acts good slots that allow them to show off to their proper potential. This was never truer than for Black Midi who headlined the rising stage on Friday Night. Black Midi are a band that deserves the buzz surrounding them. As well as being sickeningly young, they produce a sound that’s taut, refined, and powerful. Four Mark E Smiths, they glowered at the audience throughout and were one of the best things I saw this weekend. A word on the Black Midi drummer: if you know you know, and if you don’t you won’t. That is all.
Another band given the freedom of a headline slot were Snapped Ankles. Dressed in swamp creature costumes, their music was a combination of krautrock, psychedelia, proto-punk and demented electronica. Aside from Follakzoid, they were the weirdest artist on at Green Man and that’s saying something. Their set was anxiety-inducing but wonderful and it will be amazing to see what they do next. Their single ‘Johnny Guitar Calling Goster Berlin’ is one of the best of 2017 and maybe the decade, it’s a cosmic blast of krautrock with Devo-esque vocals and deserves to have the U2 Apple treatment: everyone must listen to it.
Some honourable mentions: Horsey were a glitter suited South London band making songs that had a weird showtune vibe to them. They’re like if Pink Floyd had done less reading and/or farting about. Duds were amazing, a seven-piece band making skintight, wiry, gaunt, bastard ska fused with post-punk, underlined with groove after monstrous grooves. All these new bands show that modern music is alive and kicking and that those who say otherwise should go to Green Man.
The festival manages to cater (I think) for everyone. It has stuff for kids that isn’t patronising, and a science bit that isn’t an afterthought. One talk I went to called ‘The Poetry of Science’ was fascinating, and explained fracking properly to me. Of course, there are always going to be accusations that it’s a genteel middle-class festival, but its prices are no different to any other major festival (perhaps even a little cheaper). It also somehow cut the Gordian knot of managing to provide bog roll from Thursday through to Monday in most toilets – mesmerising. Green Man moves from strength to strength every year. It’ll be interesting to see where they go next, whether they keep it small and perfectly formed, or decide to expand the site and scope. Whatever happens, Green Man 2019 will surely be one to remember as well.