The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Three Songs No Flash

Beacons Of Light: Green Man 2019 Reviewed
Julian Marszalek and Patrick Clarke , August 21st, 2019 08:30

In torrential rain and beautiful sun, Green Man once again stakes its claim as one of Europe's very finest festivals, and an event that continues to evolve into something even brighter each year

Photo by Eric Aydin-Barberini

There’s a gorgeous spot on the B4560 that overlooks the mountains surrounding Glanusk Park, the home of Green Man festival. It’s worth taking a few moments to pull over to breath in both the fresh air and the sumptuous view of a vista that stretches far into the shimmering haze of the horizon. And then to take one last glance of the real world in the rear view mirror before heading down the hills to lose oneself in this highly anticipated annual Shangri La of music, literature, comedy and crafts.

Green Man is that rarest of festival beasts in that’s it managed to evolve and grow from its folky roots without actually having to sell its soul to do it. And by widening its initial remit to embrace a wider range of musical styles and flavours the weekend becomes a rolling series of twists, turns and surprises. So no matter your circumstances and who you are there’s always something of interest and substance.

This multi-generational crowd are the hardy souls prepared to go that extra mile when the weather takes a downward turn on Green Man’s opening day. This comes as no surprise to the festival’s many veterans who come appropriately attired, but it’s impossible not to feel sorry for one unfortunate Snapped Ankles fan who really does snap one of his sliding in the mud while waiting for their late night turn in the Walled Garden. Their appearance last year in the same location saw the band set an impressively high bar. This time round they clear with it with metres to spare. And while it’s a joy to see the converts properly lose their shit to the throbbing, kosmische pulses of ‘I Want My Minutes Back’, it pales in comparison to seeing the novices who get sucked in by ‘Tailpipe’. Surely the Far Out stage beckons next year?

There’s something very fitting about Green Man’s backdrop, particularly in the torrential Friday rain, when it comes to Fat White Family’s Friday night set. As the heavens lash downwards and mist shrouds the peaks of the Black Mountains that loom behind them, it’s as if the cover of their new album Serfs Up! has come to life. Since that record’s release they’ve been on colossal form as performers, but the scene around them lends that extra air of rumbling, ancient power to their sinister sleaze, particularly as that low, resonant chorus opens ‘Tastes Good With The Money’ and the sun sets behind thick dark clouds, as if they’re being guided by some primordial energy.

Fat White Family, photo by Nici Eberl

The inclement weather should at least reap plenty of rewards for many of the bands playing the Far Out tent. Though it acts as a welcome shelter, it also houses many of the artists welcomed by the festival’s widened booking brief, with many of them rising to the challenge with aplomb. Perhaps stung by the appalling sound that hampered his set at the Mutations festival in Brighton at the turn of the year, TVAM’s Joe Oxley has wisely decided to expand the project from a solo venture to a trio that includes bass and drums. Consequently, the electronic paranoia of ‘These Are Not Your Memories’ is given much flesh to hang on its bones.

But when it comes to flexing muscles, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs are pumping iron. There’s a sense of security when faced with Orange amps and speaker stacks, and when frontman Matt Baty emerges wearing shorts and a boxing dressing gown, then you know they’re going for the prize. By their own admission, their psych-metal collision is forever playing Donington sometime after a Judas Priest slot, but it feels equally at home here. Rocking righteously against a muddy mix, they can claim a victory on points instead of a TKO.

Elsewhere, those with nary a care about a few drops of rain reap rich rewards from Squid’s early evening post-punk disco at the Walled Garden. Such is the crackling energy with which they play ‘Houseplants’ that it takes some convincing that they’re not wired to the mains.

If any one act is indicative of Green Man’s evolution over the years then it must surely be Four Tet who headlines the Mountain Stage on a wonderfully dry Saturday night. For sure, dance and electronic music has always played its part at the festival, not least in many of the late night parties that have come to characterise the event’s after-hours shenanigans, but here it takes centre stage. Four Tet has always been at the more cerebral end of beeps and bleeps, but this nonetheless remains a brilliantly paced set for those feeling the love. From the delicate chimes of ‘Planet’ through to the more considered grooves and pulses of ‘Lush’, this a welcome primer not just for the excesses that follow into the early hours, but hopefully for increased bangers on the Mountain Stage in the years to come.

Closing Saturday at Far Out, meanwhile, is Car Seat Headrest. Their rise to become one of indie rock’s biggest bands has not gone unnoticed, but standing amongst a colossal crowd of euphoric fans, thousands screaming every word of every song at the top of their lungs, it’s hard not be taken aback at just how massive the band are. It’s a funny feeling when you’re the only one in this immense throng who didn’t get the memo, and a joyous scene to observe as an outsider. It’s as if you’re watching people have their lives changed before your very eyes.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Photo by Parri Thomas

As for Sterolab, they are not headlining the festival, but they draw what is perhaps its biggest crowd. Their set is supreme, a blissful and otherworldly rush in the glow of a sunny Saturday evening. They’re a band that immediately appeals to the most common kind of Green Man attendee, middle-aged with good taste, but what’s most notable about their gig is how universally it’s loved. Acid tripping moshers, old-school folk heads, drunk teenagers and the festival’s sizeable population of under-fives all seem enraptured by the group’s utopian sound and gorgeously deft musicianship.

Embracing Green Man’s eldritch subtext are The Comet Is Coming, whose charged afterhours set separates those with a sense of adventure from folk after something more prosaic. And make no mistake; few are things are as genuinely out there as this trio. The combination of careening sax skronkage, bowel-quaking synth bass lines and frenetic beats are a little disorientating at first, but prolonged exposure results in a deliriously wonderful derangement of the senses. And it all kicks off for an excellent ‘Summon The Fire’. Earlier that day, saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings is also on the Mountain Stage with Sons Of Kemet for a similarly earth-shattering set. As a musician, he and his projects are forces of nature.

Of even greater satisfaction is Hen Ogledd’s earlier stunning performance, which is appropriately played out in the Far Out tent. Though their name (it’s Welsh for ‘The Old North’) conjures up images of hand-woven sweaters, frothy bears and pipes, this is music that not only reminds you of what century we’re living in, but also that there are so many musical avenues left to explore. Hen Ogledd’s fusion of electronics with the distortion of traditional instruments such as the harp encapsulates the Green Man aesthetic at its very best. And while that may sound worthy but dull, it’s far from reality. As evidenced by ‘Sky Burial’ and ‘Problem Child’, Hen Ogledd are underpinned by an accessible melodic sensibility that’s instantly welcoming and their clear sense of fun and love of what they do is utterly infectious.

If those tired feet and an aching head are threatening to derail Green Man’s final day, then Yak’s high-spirited ramalama is the perfect antidote. Dialling back the more chaotic and improvised elements of their previous performances, they’ve instead replaced them with a focus that serves their glorious stink particularly well. Whip-smart and knife-sharp, Yak are on explosive form, not least when detonating the audience with the combustible ‘Blinded By The Lies’ and ‘Fried’.

Sons Of Kemet, Photo by Nici Eberl

That same day, Aldous Harding’s set might first seem like a crowd-pleasing wash of beautiful and easy folk music, perfectly suited for a sunny Sunday afternoon, but she’s an artist of far more complexity than that. Her artistic vision does not make itself known only through her music, although that is lush and sublime on its own, but about her very presence, her strange and alien movements and her angular and intense facial expressions. She conjures a transfixing mix of darkness and light, casting an enormous blanket of otherworldly weirdness over the Brecon Beacons.

Eels, meanwhile, take a route that’s somewhat less subtle. They open with a cover of The Who’s ‘Down In The Street’, which segues with a yelp from Mark Everett into Prince’s ‘Raspberry Beret’. Mark Everett is on brash and manic form, his hilarious and foulmouthed monologues between songs as much of a draw as the music itself. “We played the fucking Shrek song for the kids, to make up for all the ‘fucks’,” he jokes after ‘I Need Some Sleep’, which was used in Shrek 2. It’s a wild ride of a set, which also features new drummer Little Joe take lead vocals for a musical introduction to his love of drumming, performed in the style of a wholesome 1970s sitcom, goofy synchronised dancing and a catwalk strut from guitarist Jeff Lyster (aka The Chet), in tribute to his former modelling job. Musically they’re tight, but as performers they’re one of the weekend’s very best.

Sharon Van Etten, however, has it all. Since expanding her sound with lavish and opulent new layers, her music has taken on an intricate kind of power, and as a live performer she wields it with breathtaking skill. Her set bristles with defiance and it sparkles with joy, equally magisterial when swimming in atmospheric gloom (‘Memorial Day’) as it is when she ramps up her penchant for the anthemic (‘Comeback Kid’). When it comes to evolution, Van Etten’s progression as a performer is wondrous. It is hard not to see her as a future headliner of not only Green Man, but the world’s very biggest stages.

Sharon Van Etten, photo by Parri Thomas

With Idles drawing a mystifyingly large crowd over at Far Out for their by-numbers punk thud, it is left to Father John Misty to close the Mountain Stage before the ceremonial burning of the Green Man. Backed by an orchestra, dressed in a sharp suit and armed with an enviable arsenal of witty repartee, in many ways there’s more than a touch of the classic, consumate performer about him. He’s thrilled to be headlining, too, having spent a festival season more often than not playing a few hours before The Cure to a front row of goths unimpressed by his “bearded male harmonising”, as he tell us. Though his longer, more wandering ballads grow a little wearing after a while, he creates a grand sense of occasion that makes him nothing but a crowd-pleasing closer.

Come Monday morning and there’s a slight sadness in the air knowing that it’s all over for another year. But even as we pull away from one last glance at that spot on the B4560 to return to what’s deemed as civilisation, the road ahead becomes that little bit more easy to navigate in the knowledge that it’ll lead here again in 12 months’ time.